“The Salmson Story” by Chris Draper. 167 pp. 8 3/4 in. x 5 1/2 in. (David & Charles Ltd., South Devon House, Newton Abbot, Devon. £4.50.)
This long-awaited explanation of what Salmson cars and aero-engines and aeroplanes were all about is a model of how one-make histories should be compiled. Although the author may not have known Salmson products when they were new, he has written a very complete, erudite and readable account of them, and has been able to include much fresh material and to explode old fallacies, through access to the archives of SMS and talks with Emile Petit, the great Salmon designer. The outcome is a most valuable contribution to motoring history and an enthralling book for lovers of the vintage sports car in general and those individualistic Salmsons in particular.
The odd four-push-rod engine, the development of these into the later touring Salmson power units, the twin-cam engines, and the advanced straight-eight twin-blower racing engine are dealt with in considerable detail. The racing achievements of Salmson are very adequately covered and Draper is able to show that the supercharged four-cylinder Salmsons were by no means at the mercy of the Amilcar Sixes, as is commonly supposed. If there is any sign of the author’s great affinity for the Salmson, it shows in Draper’s quite justifiable defence of its reputation in later years when racing against the Amilcar Six that was inspired by the 1924 V12 OP Delage engine.
I was pleased to find that Draper is another who is convinced that Ernest Henry was responsible for the 1912 GP Peugeot. Indeed, he points out that the valve gear of Petit’s straight-eight Salmson engine seems to have been borrowed to some extent from the Henry Peugeot design, and the tappet arrangement from that of Henry’s 1919 Ballot. But it is left to Peter Hull, in the Preface, to remark on the overall similarity of this Salmson engine to that of the P3 Alfa Romeo which it predated by some five years.
Apart from this being a complete Salmson history, with Appendices covering the various models and their chassis numbers, details of who owned the San Sebastian cars, and the two eras of Salmson aero-engines, compiled with authority by a writer who has done his research properly, there are many enjoyments for the enthusiast within the book’s covers, from the autocratic interview Ettore Bugatti had at Mirimas with Petit in 1926, to study of the excellent engineering line-drawings and the many pleasing photographs.
I like the treatment of dividing the descriptions of the production Salmsons into clearly headed sections devoted to the Grand Sports, Grand Prix Special, San Sebastian and Grand Prix models, with quotes from contemporary motor papers where applicable, including Twelvetrees’ road-test reports in Motor Sport. Salmson achieved great racing victories in the 1,100-c.c. class with virtually four cars only and Draper is obviously proud to emphasise this and to acclaim rightly the excellence of the production Salmson twin-cam engine – Anthony Blight is going to love his remark that if an engineer of the standing of Georges Roesch had adopted and developed such a layout instead of preferring to perfect push-rods and spend his remaining years defending this decision, a truly wonderful car would have resulted! Yet Draper is absolutely fair in crediting W. O. Bentley, after he had studied the British Salmson valve-train, with producing, in the 2 1/2-litre Lagonda, “the kind of engine the design was born for”.
There is a good index. A very worthy book, in every way. – W.B.
“A Passion for Cars” by Anthony Gibbs. 202 pp. 8 3/8 in. x 6 1/4 in. (David & Charles Ltd., South Devon House, Newton Abbot, Devon. £3.95.)
A difficult book to review, this one! It is a sort of long “Cars I Have Owned” thing, by an author famous in the non-motoring field. Not that he has owned many very exciting cars, but he does contrive to capture excellently the appeal of unusual and even mundane models exert on those who, for all their passion, are not what you and I would term real motoring enthusiasts. As the author’s ownership of personal cars and his motoring adventures run from the vintage to the present eras, the book nicely portrays the fun and the impact motoring made on such persons, over a considerable, changing period of time.
That Gibbs is not a true devotee is apparent from some terrible blunders which have crept into the text. I never trust anyone who writes of production six-litre Bentleys and I doubt very much whether you would have encountered many Gregoire-Campbells on our roads even when these were a current production, and certainly no “Palladians” or “E.N.V.s”, although you might have seen a very occasional Gregoire-Campbell and the odd Palladium and B.N.C.
The book is rather crowded with howlers of that kind, and I am pretty certain that an AV Monocar would have been unlikely to have attained a “cool seventy” on the road, and quite sure that its centre-pivot front axle would never have rotated through 180 deg. without severing the cables from the control bobbin. I was about to run through the book picking out such errors when I realised that this is intended to be a light-hearted book (unusual, from this serious-minded publishing-house) and that the laugh might be on me if I did so. But I will offer the same prize of fifteen new-pence to the reader who finds the greatest number of motoring “dangers” in Gibbs’ somehow rather appealing book, just as he bets us 15p that the motor car will have largely died out by 1989. . . .
There is a fine pen portrait of the late Phil Paddon, if it is true; but here again, surely Gibbs has named wrongly the excellent Captain who was employed by Paddon Brothers and who advised him about his Rolls-Royce and Bentley purchases? How Gibbs is going to escape libel actions from certain of the car manufacturers and neighbours he refers to, I cannot guess. Let it be said that Renault should be very pleased with him, Jaguar and Fiat just the opposite! One amusing chase story, five Police vehicles following his Rolls-Royce in London, seems to have been culled from another Gibbs’ book and I am astonished that this author is so foolish as to put into print the account of how he bribed a London Police Station Superintendent (with £20) after he had knocked down an old gentleman on a pedestrian-crossing with this same Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental. But Gibbs is an honest writer, even to explaining in some detail what a careless driver he has become!
The weak thing about this book is that nearly all the pictures are of cars something like those the author refers to but are not his own pictures, having come from a variety of modern sources, which puts the thing into the casual category. The boom in old cars has been responsible for some odd manifestations. “A Passion for Cars” is one of them! But you will still enjoy it. – W.B.
“The Romance of Renault” by Edouard Seidler. 256 pp.11 3/4 in. x 10 in. (PSL, Bar Hill, Cambridge. £12.50).
There have been previous books about Renault, the brothers and the cars. This one breaks new ground as a magnificent pictorial coverage of the great French make, with lively supporting text. It is an Edita of Lausanne publication, beautifully produced. Moreover, it is history brought up to date, because the later models, such as the Renault 4 and the subsequent bigger cars, are fully covered. The story starts in 1898, however, so much ground is surveyed, in the text and with black-and-white and fine colour pictures. In works of this kind it is customary to find many familiar hand-out illustrations. But in this book those so used are very large and so nicely presented as to almost break fresh ground. Even the old chestnuts of history are made welcome by this means, so that I was disappointed not to find any illustrations of the 45-h.p. record-breakers. This does not imply that Renault’s competition activities are neglected, for the successful Alpine Renaults get ample attention and there is a colour plate of the Etoile-Filante 192-m.p.h. Renault gas-turbine car with 270-b.h.p. Turbomeca engine, in 1956. Early Renault racing activities also get attention.
This is a book of personalities as well as of cars, featuring prominently Pierre Lefaucheaux and Pierre Dreyfus, as well as the Renault brothers. The crash in which Lefaucheaux was killed when his Fregate skidded on a patch of ice in 1955 is published and it is admitted that this was not one of the most successful Renault models. Early racing pictures, colour reproductions of Renault badges, factory shots, experimental Renaults that were not proceeded with, celebrities with their Renaults, Renault advertising, all the stages in the changing pattern of the Regie’s successes and failures are depicted, in a volume that will be irresistible to incurable Renault fans. I have always mildly chided Renault for closely copying the Citroen 2CV when introducing the Renault 4 and this is reflected in the text, when it reports a letter which Pierre Bercot, President Director General of Citroen, wrote to Dreyfus, saying “You have openly copied us. You have even imitated our Yoder profile and our seats”. To this Dreyfus is supposed to have answered: “Yes, but you can claim no monopoly of the market and we had those seats in 1936, covered by a patent.” (I am never quite sure how authentic reported conversation is, but it makes for a readable book.)
“The Romance of Renault” is largely an industrial history of the famous Company, and a full technical history of the Renault has yet to be written. But all Renault owners and followers should be well pleased with this fine portrayal of the Regie Renault collosus. – W.B.