Book reviews, October 1988, October 1988

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Apex – The Inside Story Of the Hillman Imp
By David and Peter Henshaw. 148pp. 9½ x 6”. (Bookmarque Publishing, Minster Lovell, Oxford. £12.95).

Once upon a time the late May Cunliffe, the lady who raced a GP Sunbeam, told me how proud she was of her son, who had written a book about the Hillman Imp. It was a good book, but more about how this cheeky little car could be hotted up than about its origins and history. Now you can have the latter too, in fascinating detail.

The Henshaws take you through everything – from the time 24-year old Mike Parkes and 20-year old Tim Fry set out to design a British minicar known as the Slug, and later the Apex, through the replacement of its Viliers flat-twin engine with a four-cylinder light-alloy Kuzmicki-inspired Coventry Climax unit, to the building of the Scottish Linwood factory to put the Imp into production. Fry himself contributes the foreword, and I found the whole account of absorbing interest.

The car’s early problems, its competition successes, the Series 2 Imps and later derivatives such as the Sport, Husky, Singer Chamois and Sunbeam Stiletto are not neglected. Nor is the Chrysler takeover and adoption of cost-cutting and other policy changes, and the story covers the “hot” Bevan and Hartwell Imps and the use of Imp engines in other spheres, including motorcycles.

The questions of why the Issigonis Mini succeeded whereas the Imp failed, and whether it was this little Hillman which killed the Rootes group, are answered, and there is a chapter on what to look for if you fancy an Imp today: the authors say you can pick one up for between £50 and £500. Specials are dealt with, and the book has tables, charts, index and 130 photographs.

In spite of Imp-tester Wyse being quoted as coming fifth in the 1912 French Grand Prix in an Arrol-Johnston (the Coupe de l’Auto is meant) and the authors’ inability to spell “desmodromic” (which kind of value-closing was contemplated at one time for the Imp,) I enjoyed it. WB

The Best Of Christophorus 1956-1963
edited by Mike Cotton, 159pp. 12” x 8½”. (Porsche Cars GB Ltd, Bath Road, Calcot, Reading RG3 7SE. £19.95).

Christophorus is the high-grade house magazine of Porsche of Germany; I have not seen it for a long time, but I am glad to learn that it prospers. Bill Aldington found some English-language editions, and I seemed a good idea to get Michael Cotton to select the better pieces from them and make up a book. So here you have a rich hotch-potch of old Porsche material for rich Porsche owners to put on their coffee-tables.

Many of the articles are from the jolly pen of the late Richard von Frankenberg, who started the journal: how Porsches are (or were) made, races, personalities and technical explanations are there, although the speed-records from long ago and a detailed description and diagram of how James Dean died might have been better left out.

One droll piece suggests that Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh drive themselves about in Rolls-Royces and that cars such as 2-litre Lagondas and 30/98s are owned mostly by titled people – with the present VSCC membership, this must mean that Britain is very well-endowed with aristocracy! WB

The Cecil Kimber Centenary Book 1888-1988
Edited by Richard L Knudson. 208pp. 11” x 8¼”. (Malcolm J Green, Knowle House, Hooke Road, East Horsley, Surrey T24 5YD. £15.95 plus £2 postage UK, £3 overseas).

If you thought all known information about MG cars and their creator had long ago been published, think again! This American softback packs in a great deal of fresh material, largely contributed by one of the late Cecil Kimber’s two daughters, Mrs Kimber-Cook, who has also dug out hitherto-unpublished family photographs.

She writes in most interesting manner about her famous father, sparing little and going deep. His achievements and disappointments, his two marriages and his work after leaving MG are covered in much detail, and rather as other great men have been treated in non-motoring biographies, with warts along with praise and affection. She also corrects some inadvertent errors in the books of British MG expert Wilson McComb.

That alone makes this centenary publication unique, and essential to all serious MG enthusiasts and historians; but there is much more. Kimber’s own articles and lecture about the motor industry and MG racing (about which he is very honest) are reprinted, and there are chapters by ex-employee Norman Ewing on publicity, by John Dugdale who raced an MG and knew Kimber well when he was with The Autocar, by friend of the family Robbie Walkington, and by editor Dick Knudson himself about “Old No 1 MG”. There is plenty, too, about Kimber’s love of sailing and his boats.

The book is also well provided with pictorial MG memorabilia of many kinds, including large specially-commissioned paintings which deserve framing. Pictures of the family’s MGs, the Singer in which Kimber took his first wife on honeymoon, his only crash (and an explanation of the cause), his water-colour non-motoring paintings, and a rather tasteless newspaper cutting about the 1945 railway accident which killed him – all this adds up to some wonderful nostalgia.

It is the work of the New England MG T-Register, which could not afford to have it professionally published, but very fortunately Malcolm Green is distributing it here. MG badges, racing scenes and sixteen colour plates, including a portrait of Kimber himself, help make this essential reading. WB

Video: The Silverstone 1000km
Produced by Videovision Broadcast, 53 minutes. (Duke Marketing PO Box 46, Douglas, Isle of Man. £24.95)

As usual with Videovision Productions, the pictures are superb, this time aided by superb racing as the Cheever/Brundle Jaguar battled it out with the two Sauber-Mercedes.

There are short pre-race interviews with pole man Schlesser, front row man Cheever and with Derek Bell, but they are hardly illuminating. There is also a camera in the C2 class Spice of Costas Los which luckily for us, but unfortunately for him, started the race from the pit-lane due to his engine not starting on the warm-up lap. We therefore have the pleasure of Los carving his way through the field. Unfortunately it all comes to an end at the first routine pit stop when his car refuses to start again and is pushed away into retirement.

The criticism concerns the commentary, which has a tendency to be trite and repetitive while the on-the-spot interviews with drivers as they leave the car are uninformative. Altogether, though, this is a worthy production and one worth considering. WPK

Foulis/Haynes has reprinted the large-format Inside 100 Great Cars (formerly published by Orbis and resurrected by Marshall Cavendish), featuring fine colour cut-away drawings of vehicles from 1908 GP Itala and Model T Ford to Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, and priced at £24.95.

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