Book Reviews, October 1965, October 1965

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“Grand Prix Racing-1906-1914,” by T.A.S.O. Mathieson. 300 pp. 10 in x 12 in. (Autobooks Ltd., Bennett Road, Brighton, Sussex. £6, 6s. post free)

This book is one of the more exciting pieces of motor-racing literature to appear in recent times. It is a fabulous pictorial history of the Grand Prix de l’A.C.F. from 1906 to 1914 inclusive. The pictures come from a selection of over 10,000 negatives, including the complete Branger collection and the Monde et Camera files and from them ex-racing driver T.A.S,O. Mathieson has spent part of his exile in Sintra choosing 320 with which to illustrate his unique book.

These splendid pictures are reproduced on fine quality art-paper, many of them the full 10 in. x 12 in. page size, most of them very large, and because most are from the original glass plates the detail of cars, drivers and backgrounds is superb. It is a pity that many are so large they suffer from being bisected by the binding but as a collection of motor-racing photographs of the most important race of their era they are magnificent. If any have been seen previously, it will be in ” stills ” from Bill Mason’s great Shell films or perhaps as Mercedes-Benz hand-outs. Some of them may have been taken during training, judging by the sparse crowds in the backgrounds. .

The text supporting them, with a clear circuit map of each race, is undramatic and factual and brings to light some significant fresh facts about the pre-First World War French Grand Prix races, such as the Fiats being oversize in the 1914 race, so that had they won they would have been disqualified, the fact that during their epic battle in that race Boillot (Peugeot) and Lautenschlager (Mercedes) were never in sight of one another on the road, and that before 1912 these great, heroic races were run on week-days. Mathieson makes no excuses for Boillot’s Peugeot, describing it as in a very sorry state after its retirement, its brakes useless— although they were apparently excellent earlier in the race and far more powerful than the Delage front-wheel brakes. The reasons for retirements in the 1906 race are otherwise rather meagre, however.

The lap positions and final results are given in tabular form, these tables, it is claimed, being the product of infinite trouble on the part of Gies Pluim, who has also compiled very interesting specification tables relating to the competing cars.

It is rather an anti-climax to find many spelling mistakes in the text and to discover that the author has twice rendered the Christian name of Mr. Pomeroy, whose help he acknowledges, and the surname of MOTOR SPORT’s Continental Correspondent incorrectly, while a liberal sprinkling of commas would be welcome. But this magnificent book is mainly a photographic record and represents a valuable sequel to Gerald Rose’s “A Record of Motor Racing”; it obviously owes a lot to Kent Karslake’s book of the same French GT. races, which in my opinion has never been accorded the praise it deserved except by this reviewer.

T.A.S.O Mathieson’s stupendous and quite enthralling work is handled here, in Australia and New Zealand only by Autobooks Ltd.„ who send it out in an attractive dust-excluding slip case. recommend that you order a copy without delay. I also look forward to the next volume, presumably covering the French Grands Prix of 1921-1930.–W. B.

“Bluebird And The Dead Lake,” by John Pearson. 188 pp. 8.5 in x 5.75 in. (Collins, 14, St.James Place, London, S.W.1 21s.)

This is a quite remarkable book. It is concerned with Donald Campbell’s attack on the Land Speed Record at Lake Eyre in Australia in 1964, as seen by a journalist who was present for most of the tedious yet dramatic performance. Although John Pearson is concerned with the day-to-day happenings at the desolate camp headquarters of Campbell and the “Bluebird” technicians, and not with the car or L.S.R. history as such, his technical approach cannot be faulted, while his attention to detail, including quoting the make of every aeroplane and car he refers to, is highly commendable—except for a faint suspicion that Campbell’s Aero Commander had lost one of its motors, on page 20!

Pearson’s story of the long delays, the disappointments, the tension and the ‘danger as Campbell’s record bid dragged on for three months is superbly told, so that, although it is factual, and not over dramatised, you can no more put it down than you can an 007 thriller.

Words are not minced, and Campbell is the subject of a critical analysis, so that the reader sees the man in a new light, sympathises with the burdens he had to bear, while wondering if he was unduly cautious in taking so long to get “Bluebird” to do 403 m.p.h

To read “Bluebird And The Dead Lake ” in conjunction with the history of the L.S.R. as told by Boddy and others is to appreciate the very specialised nature of this sort of undertaking and to understand how crucial is the nature and condition of the course, how heavy the strain on the one person fully committed—the driver of the record car.

On the other hand, Pearson’s book tends to recall the comparative ease with which John Cobb twice broke the L.S.R. in the Railton Mobil Special, and to emphasise the long delays and doubts which beset the last “Bluebird” bid.

Pearson cannot describe every trial run Donald Campbell made but those he does write about can be summarised as follows :—
(1) Well up to 220 m.p.h. on the second run on 25% power.
(2) Only 130 m.p.h. on the second run, suspension showing 1.8 G.
(3) Less than 25% power, wheels went through the surface.
(4) Around 250 m.p.h. on a new course. Surface torn up. Then a run at 295 m.p.h.
(5) No-run: fault in from brake caliper. Then one run in afternoon. brought to an end by high-frequency vibrations at 320 m.p.h.
(6) Suspension units changed. 60% power. Vibrations still there at 310 m.p.h. Wheels changed—better run. at something over 300 m.p.h
(7) Vibration cured by clearing wheels of dried salt. 352 m.p.h. through the mile.
(8) Timekeepers summoned. 85% power. 389 m.p.h. Wheels going through the salt. Campbell went to inspect ruts. Second run made 8.5 min. over the time limit officially allowed.
(9) Run at 300 m.p.h., hampered by 6-m.p.h. cross-wind.
(10) One run—fault in throttle control.
(11) Days and days of delay. Test run in cross-wind on 110%, power, at 260 m.p.h.
(12) July 17th, 1964. Record, at 403.1 m.p.h.

It was no wonder the Press and the cameramen got bored, that Superintendent Brebner found it difficult to console his policemen, that Andrew Mustard of Dunlops was sacked by Campbell and quickly reinstated, that the Stewards banned Campbell as unfit to drive ” Bluebird ” had a first-class fuss amongst themselves, and then rescinded their decision, that B.P. pulled out and Ampol took over the fuel supplies for the car. For it must be remembered that Donald Campbell’s “Bluebird” project started in 1955, the car crashed at Utah in 1960 and did not raise the record, by a margin of 9 m.p.h.., until 1964.

All the drama and suspense at the bleak Muloorina camp as Campbell and his wife Tonia waited and wasted, and fought against overwhelming prejudice and technical odds, is told splendidly in this very astonishing book which paints clear and convincing word pictures of Ken Norris, Leo Villa, Wally Parr, Carl Noble, Elliot Price, Evan Green, and the other personalities of this record bid. The other pictures are excellent, too.—W. B.

“Electric Model Car Racing,” by D. J. Laidlaw-Dickson. 127 pp. 9.75 in x 5.5 in. (Museum Press Ltd., 26, Old Brompton Road, London, S. W.7. 21s.)

Editor of Model Cars, no one is better fitted to write a book about the very popular hobby of racing miniature electrically powered cars over slot tracks than D. J. Laidlaw-Dickson. And in this book he leaves nothing out, starting with the history of this pastime and quickly passing on to practical matters, such as how to make racing, sports-racing cars and dragsters, both from chassis and body aspects, how to erect the track, put up suitable scenery, make speed-controlling and timing devices, and effectively ” drive ” the-cars, etc. There is an appendix giving Club addresses, racing colours, E.C.R.A. regulations, etc. Altogether, this hook is a worthwhile investment. Incidentally, that this is no kid’s game is -emphasised by a picture of the author racing against the novelist Elleston Trevor on a track the latter has contrived in his garage, the whole layout lifting up on pulleys to enable his Rolls-Royce to be garaged underneath !—W. B.

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Newnes have issued a very comprehensive gazetteer of Scotland, the” Newnes Motorist’s Touring Maps and Gazetteer of Scotland,” priced at 12s. 6d. With hard covers, it contains clear maps to the useful scale of four miles to the inch, with minor roads well marked, town maps, etc., with a quick-reference index. We withheld a review of this gazetteer until it could be tried on a Scottish tour; the driver who used it reports it first-class and of very real value. The book runs to 24 very large pages and is published by Newnes, Tower House, Southampton Street, London, W.C.2.