Books for the Autumn

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“From Bleriot to Spitfire” Edited by David Ogilvy. 180 pp. 8 ¾ x 5½. (Airlife Publications, 7 St John’s Hill Shrewsbury. £4.95)

Those who enjoy driving different vintage cars and studying their varying control and other characteristics cannot fail, I think, to understand the purpose behind this book and derive pleasure from what it will tell them. The idea, cleverly conceive by Airlife Publications, was to persuade the six skilled pilots who are entrusted to fly occasionally the precious historic aeroplanes owned by the Shuttleworth Trust at Biggleswade to describe the specialised techniques required to do this safely and effectively, and what this entails.

The result is quite a fascinating account of piloting some very rare flying machines. Thus we have John Lewis on the Pieriot XI the Sopwith Pup, the Hawker Tomtit, and the Granger Archaeopteryx, Neil Williams on the Bristol Boxkite, the Avro Triplane IV, the 1912/13 Blackburn monoplane, and the Supermarine Spitfire Vc, Air Commodore Alan Wheeler on the Avro 504K and the SE5a, Wing Commander R. P. Martin on the Bristol Fighter and the Gloster Gladiator, Desmond Penrose on the LVG CVI and the tiny DH 53 “Humming Bird” and David Ogilvy on the DH 51, the DH 60 Moth, the Avro Tutor and the Miles Magister.

Some of these old aeroplanes are replicas, others are genuine originals carefully restored. The text explains which is which and is enhanced by a Foreword by Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Elworthy, and by chapters about rebuilding old aeroplanes and how they differ from modern ones, by David Ogilvy, operating a rotary engine by Air Commodore Wheeler, biographies of the pilots involved in the book, and a postscript about aircraft operation, 1914/18, by Wing Commander T. E. Guttery. This, with plenty of pictures, makes “From Bleriot to Spitfire” very good value, as book prices go today.

David Ogilvy, who has done the editing, used to write “air-tests” of light aeroplanes for Motor Sport in the early 1950s, the machines he tested for us being the Percival Mew Gull, the Aeronca 100, the Miles Falcon, the Tipsy Trainer, and the Comper Swift (Photostats of these articles are, of course, available from us if wanted). With the increase in post-war motoring sport and perhaps the fact that so erudite were David’s evaluations that few mere car-drivers understood them, I had to discontinue the series.

The new Airlife book is in the same idiom, but about machines which are now historic. I am pleased to find two of the 1923 “motor-gliders” included, because I find these very low-powered (or under-powered?) aeroplanes especially fascinating, although it may not be fair to refer to the EEC Wren or the DH 53 as motor-gliders. The book recalls the story of a DH 53 owner who paid £50 for his aeroplane in 1929 and who preferred to take-off downhill, but who had to walk beside it while going uphill to the departure point! And Beaumont’s description of taking-off in the EEC Wren leaves the reader in no doubt as to just how little power the 398 c.c. ABC engine has! Indeed, this book is redolent of the difficulty the most experienced of modern pilots has in flying these ancient aeronautical heirlooms. Of the Avro Triplane Neil Williams says he would have given a months’ pay to be safely back on the ground the first time he flew it; and what a handful it must be. The momentary panic when Williams was flying the Blackburn monoplane for the first time and couldn’t get the control wheel to respond – it goes down to get the nose up – comes over well. After that first flight he says: “I was covered with castor oil and my hand was still tingling”, from electric shocks through the blip-button.

This book is a splendid tribute to the Shuttleworth Trust for restoring such aeroplanes and to the brave aviators who still take them up. It is just the thing to re-read before attending the next Open Day at Old Warden. – W. B.

“Mario Andretti –World Champion”

by Nigel Roebuck. 176 pp. 9½” x 6¾” (The Hamlyn Publishing Group, Astronaut House, Feltham, Middlesex. £6.00)

Some racing drivers love money, some love themselves, but Mario Andretti loves motor racing in any shape or form, and this fact comes over strongly in this book by Nigel Roebuck, sports editor of Autosport. This is essentially a book about motor racing, the whys and wherefores of the Lotus-Andretti Championship year of the 1978, the Italian-born American’s years on USAC ovals from Midgets on quarter-mile ovals, to Indianapolis. Andretti is not a driver who is ever lost for words, though he never pontificates or bangs the drum, what he says he usually means, and he says it clearly even though some of his phrases are more colourful than grammatical. But that is Mario Andretti and the majority of this book is the 1978 World Champion actually speaking, recorded on a tape machine and transcribed into the first person singular. Roebuck joins the tapes together with appropriate anecdotes or observations, never wandering away from the subject matter, but prompting Andretti into telling us in his own words about racing and himself.

The book doesn’t dwell on Andretti’s private life, for as he says “my private life is private”, but it does cover a vast range of subjects, from his opinion of Concorde “. . . I love the look of it. It’s a racer”, to his philosophy on life “. . . I’m 39 years old, and I’ve never had a steady job in my life! I’ve been making good money for upwards of 10 years now, but I don’t kid myself it’s going to last forever,” and his views on racing, “the thing of it all is I just love to win. Okay we all do, that’s why we race. But I’ve never gotten complacent about winning.” And his view on circuits: “The track itself I didn’t like at all. Plastic”. And his views on people, “I mean, BRM were singing their song, and Louis Stanley gave me a lot of sales talk, but there was no way,” and of cars “To pitch those things sideways into a turn (USAC sprint car on the dirt) at over 130 m.p.h. is just something else.”

You will enjoy this book because it is about racing by a racing driver, it’s not a hero story, a sob story, or a glamour story, it’s motor racing. – D.S.J.

“Flying Clothing – The Story of its Development”, by Louise Greer and Anthony Harold. 176 pp. 10½” x 8½” (Airlife Publications, 7 St. John’s Hill, Shrewsbury. £7.95).

The first impression must be “What odd subjects they think up for books, these days”. But study of this very informed, extremely detailed, comprehensive study of flying clothing from the earliest times to the Space Age brings respect for the author’s knowledge, and admiration for the great many illustrations the publishers have amassed about all manner of flying garments, and subsidiaries such as goggles, helmets, face masks and gloves, etc., worn in balloons and aeroplanes. There are some very technical photographs, drawings, diagrams, even cartoons and colour plates, to explain it all, as well as more lighthearted picture of Air Hostesses’ uniforms, well-known pilots, famous RAF Squadrons, all clad for action, of course. As the pages turn nostalgia for the passing decades comes to life and great aeroplanes and flights are recalled.

But the book’s main purpose is to tell us how pilots dressed from the 1700s and 1800s through to the present. There is an Index, and there are Appendices about RAF Stores Reference Numbers, the Conservation of Flying Clothing and Altitude Diagrams. Motoring in sports-cars and open vintage machinery has so much in common with flying that Motor Sport readers should find this book enthralling. As one who never quite feels he has been “up” without dressing-up, the present-day business of going out to an aeroplane to fly it in a lounge suit, starting its engine by pressing a button, seems rather a pity. Progress through this comprehensive book, and you will see what I mean. It is a work that should be in every reference library. The Foreword is by Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir Dermont Boyle, GCB, KCVO, KBE, AFC. – W.B

“Jaguars in Competition”

by Chris Harvey. 208 pp. 10” x 7½”. (Osprey Publishing Ltd., 12-14 Long Acre, London WC2E 9LP £7.95).

Yet another tome to weight down the bookshelves of Jaguar enthusiasts. Most of the body text covers familiar ground – there’s a limit to how much more Jaguar competition history can be dug up. The value of Harvey’s latest book is in its marvellous photographic portrayal of Jaguars in competition, from SS 100 onwards to the Broadspeed XJ 5.3C and Group 44 XJ-S, and the in-depth captions accompanying each, compact stories in themselves. Indeed, it’s worth buying just to browse through the pictures and captions. All the text pictures are black and white, but the dust-jacket is one to treasure for Tom March’s rare colour pictures of Stirling Moss in a C-type during the 1953 Daily Express Trophy Meeting and winning the 1951 Daily Express Production Car Race in an XK 120. – C. R.

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Having written the story of the Land-Rover, that prolific wordsman Graham Robson has completed for David & Charles, Brunel House, Newton Abbot, Devon, a new book about this great British motorised workhorse and the more refined Range Rover. “The Range Rover/Land Rover” runs to 191 9½” x 6¼” pages and is filled with an enormous amount of information about these two different types of BL 4WD vehicles. With the expected Robson thoroughness there are not only masses of pictures (and colour-plate end-papers) and good stories of Land and Range Rovers in civilian and military usage, but also plenty of tabulated statistics. The price of this dual-coverage book is £7.50.

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Warne’s Transport Library has published “Blue Blood”, a big landscape-sized (243 pp., 8¾” x 9¼”) study of Grand Prix racing in France, by Serge Bellu. It is packed with excellent pictures, almost all of which have been used previously, with a colour set of additional illustrations, including, curiously, a snow-bound Talbot-Lago T-26C. But the book is up to date, inasmuch as this colour-section begins with a Moutant study of a 1906 racing Renault and ends with a colour cutaway of the Renault RS-01, of 1978. The picture collection is, to some extent, worthwhile although serious historians cannot fail to wonder if all the effort of re-presenting old chestnuts is justified, especially at £9.95. John Bolster has done the translation of the text, and the entire work is very nicely got up. Some pictures are new to me, and others induce nostalgia, the end-paper, for instance, taking me back to hot, dusty Rheims in the 1950s, while one of a Gordini reminds us of the lamp-posts and kerbs at Pau in 1953. There are tables off specifications and the caption to that picture of a 1923 GP “tank” Bugatti on a dais suggests that it was sold to finance Ettore’s experimental department, which perhaps explains why one of these cars ran at Boulogne apparently in private hands. The publisher is to be found at 40 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3HE.

Airlife (address above) are giving us some very good aviation books and they have now come up with “Sky Fever”, The Autobiography of Sir Geoffrey De Havilland, CBE. Running as it does from the pioneering days to the supersonic age, and including quite a lot about cars and motorcycles – a reader sent me a copy of some notes Sir Geoffrey had compiled about automotive engineering in the very early days, not long ago – this is another book both informative and enjoyable. It costs £5.95 – W.B.

Cars in Books

This column is giving itself an enforced rest this month but just comes in to say, as it is always interesting to know what cars an author uses while researching a book, that A. L. Le Quesne tells me that when writing “After Kilvert” (see last month’s column) he was driving a Morris 1000 Traveller, “a marvellous old workhorse which I bought second-hand from my aunt, one of the best cars I’ve owned. We sadly said farewell to it after 108,000 miles and I’ve found no alternative since”. He has, more recently, had two successive Renault 12s. – W. B.

Miniatures News

Lesney UK Sales Ltd., 240 Lincoln Road, Enfield, Middlesex, tell me that the “MATCHBOX” miniatures have been called the “75-series” because there are always just 75 miniatures available at any one time, even when obsolete ones are withdrawn. The 1979/80 “Matchbox” catalogue, which costs 5p, lists all these and many other toys, as well as the Company’s miniature electric race-tracks, and “Super Kings” miniatures. The die-cast “Models of Yesteryear” are going strongly, and include some unusual vehicles. Thus there is a First-War Crossley RFC tender converted into a coal lorry, as must have happened after the 1918 Armistice, and that Roesch Talbot Lipton’s Tea van, and another used by Menier, the chocolate people. Other’s number a Rolls-Royce fire-engine(!), a 1912 Rolls-Royce landaulette with top open, a 1906 Silver Ghost R-R tourer, a Simplex tourer, a drophead Lagonda, Model-T Ford vans, a 1931 Stutz Bearcat, a 1930 Packard Victoria, an MG TC, an SS Mercedes-Benz, a Cord, a 1938 Hispana Suize coupe, a Jaguar SS 100, a Prince Henry Vauxhall, a Riley MPH, and a Deusenberg Model J, these real miniatures varying from 89 mm to 120mm in length.

Looking in on VSCC Madresfield

In a journal reporting on such weighty matters as the actions of the FOCA, the products of industrial giants, and top races in the International fixture list, I found myself wondering whether there is room for comment on the VSCC driving-tests held annually at the delightful setting of Madresfield Court, one-time speed venue, near Malvern. However, having been asked whether space should be kept for a report thereon, to which I must have said “yes”, I have no option but to devote a few lines to this pleasant event, as social as it is scarcely serious, and where some interesting vintage machinery abounds. Its popularity in this inflationary year was confirmed by an entry of 60.

On the latter score, Sunday, September 2nd was no exception, for Tom Threlfall shared what must be the ultimate light-car, his 10 h.p. vee-twin BSA with his wife, Barry Clarke his little Edwardian racing Singer Ten with his daughter, and what I took to be a Lagonda turned out to be Sutcliffe’s Rover Meteor. Then sheer dignity prevailed in the guise of Hancock’s 5.7-litre sleeve-valve Daimler motor-carriage, which Neale attempted to counter with his Silver Ghost Rolls-Royce, Jeddere-Fisher peré coaxed the belt-drive Baron Ackroid racing cyclecar to perform, at all events for part of the time, Hamilton Gould, who specialises in the unusual, produced another Edwardian, in the form of a 14/16 Darracq, and that rare 18/50 Bean tourer made another of its rare appearances.

After Cadwell Park the previous Sunday, it was all very calm and peaceful, especially the slow-running which preceded the sprint. Here Bullet’s Austin, which he said was very retarded, took pains to be the slowest Ulster of all time, and didn’t seem much different when advanced, Showell’s nice 3-litre Vanden Plas Bentley did both parts of this test quietly and well, Jim Whyman in a Morgan 4/4 (several of these, due to the proximity of the factory perhaps) had it nicely tied up, Walker’s very fine blue 3-litre Bentley produced the authentic rumbles, and Ghosh had the handbrake of his 30/98 Vauxhall stick half on for the first half of this go-slow/accelerate exercise. Templeton just prevented his very subdued E-Type 30/98 from stalling, but Clark’s Type 40 Bugatti didn’t much care for crawling. In contrast, Bick’s 14/40 MG took it very slowly, whereas Bell’s Ulster Aston Martin wouldn’t be tamed. Beebee was clever with his Chummy Austin, which just didn’t stop when it wasn’t intended to, Edwards put more emphasis on good acceleration than hanging about, in his Ulster Aston Martin, and Harvey’s Riley Lynx had a good go at STD.

With the arrival of torrential rain came Clarke’s 14/40 Talbot coupé, with a starting-handle of which I thought Roesch didn’t admit to, and Harle’s six-light 12/40 Lea-Francis saloon. Col. Weeks was driving an ex-Cameron Miller Lea-Francis and Harcourt-Smith’s 12/50 Alvis couldn’t do justice to its copper exhaust tail-pipe in this test. Keith Hill was excellent in his hooded AJS and Collings demonstrated the sheer versatility of his 1903 Mercedes Sixty. They did the usual garaging and judgement frolics later, in one of which Heath’s Ulster Aston Martin with drilled hand-brake and chromium exhaust system broke its gearbox and Angela Cherrett in her 2.3 Alfa Romeo with impressively smart open body by an unknown coachbuilder and helmet wings ignored a box in which she should have temporarily deposited a back wheel and Shaw’s Marendaz Special overshot. But let’s have some results . . . –W. B.

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