Book Reviews, October 1991, October 1991

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Classic Racing Cars by Doug Nye and Geoff Goddard. I59pp, 10″ x 8-1/4″. GT Foulis & Co, Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset BA22 7JJ. £16.99.

This book comes in the “pot-boiler” category if you accept that the post-war front-engined GP cars have been covered frequently and often adequately before. However, this new book does provide an opportunity for a fine display of hitherto unpublished photographs of these cars, both F1 and F2, with usefully long captions. These cars, as the authors’ preface says, belong to a “rather more gentle, and certainly more genteel, age of motor racing, in which the private owner could still compete with the big battalions”. The pictures certainly make the book, and their reproduction is to a high standard, so it is a pity that the page size has caused some of them to be bisected, and only part of Sommer’s Maserati to appear.

Otherwise, a memorable look back at this period of racing, so different from today’s, as the penultimate photograph reminds us. It depicts Jack Fairman cornering in the 4WD Fergie P99 within inches of a dangerous-looking length of fencing during the 1961 British Grand Prix at Aintree, and in the rain at that, the car’s nose already dented from a start-line coming together. . . As well as brief descriptions of racing seasons involved, there are appendices of the race results of 1945-53 and 1956-59. — WB

***

More Motor Racing by Rivers Fletcher. 224 pp. 11″ x 8″. GT Foulis & Co, Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset, BA22 7JJ. £24.99.

No-one is more dedicated to motor racing and the healthy continuation of the sport than AF Rivers Fletcher. Here is the sequel to his first motor racing autobiography Mostly Motor Racing. More Motor Racing tells of Rivers’ personal association with many aspects of the game since the war, in six parts, divided into 26 chapters (and an Index), backed up by 289 mostly well-reproduced black and white photographs (and colour on the dust-jacket), the majority of the author and his cars. The index lists 548 personalities but omits the cars.

Those who know Rivers will be eager to know what has been his close association to a way of life he loves, along so many years — for this remarkable man shows no sign of relinquishing his part in amateur motor racing at the age of 80. Indeed, as he tells us at the conclusion of his book, he has formed the Rivers Fletcher Motor Racing Team, as that in company with some half a dozen friends and Alvis, Bentley, Lagonda, MG-A and Replica C-type and D-type Jaguars, he can continue his keen association with motoring sport, saying modestly that the younger members of the team will “usually do the driving of the faster cars”.

That nicely sums up the enthusiasm for competing which Rivers has long had. It comes over for page after page in this second volume of his motoring memoirs. I say motoring memoirs, but this volume opens with experiences of fire-fighting, with the AFS in the London Blitz in WW2, after which Rivers worked for MAP (as I drove ambulances prior to joining MAP), before he embarked on various jobs associated with racing — part-time with Peter Berthon, (whose indifference to danger he recalls), then with Peter Monkhouse at Monaco Engineering.

The book reminds us of how Rivers organised those war-time Rembrandt meetings for racing-starved enthusiasts (I attended in my 12/50 Alvis) and later planned and put into action the first postwar gathering of racing cars, at Cockfosters (which I went to in a Scott-engined Morgan 4/4. So the memories are nostalgic). He recalls the first post-war speed-trial at Elstree (in which I drove my Hispano-Suiza Alphonso). He then recounts his time with BRM, from the days of the controversial V16 onwards, before joining Alfred Owen to develop BRM racing, under this remarkably understanding, supportive and sympathetic boss. Who else would have let Rivers continue working for him after a bad accident in the HWM-Jaguar at Prescott had resulted in a five-year spell of speech-loss and blackouts for the author?

On a more cheerful note, there are the stories arising from the great variety of cars which Rivers has raced and used in sprint events, his opinions of road-cars, his decision to turn to vintage and historic racing, and becoming a consultant, lecturer and author, etc.

Those who know Rivers will love the excellent photographs of his cars and his many friends. Although he has written other books about his Bentley and MG days, and a booklet about his favourite cars, there is no noticeable repetition, although I think perhaps the first volume had rather more anecdotes about famous personalities. The book closes with some sentimental thoughts about past motor-racing compared with today, and Rivers’ conviction that sports-car racing at top level should be for road-useable cars, taxed and driven to the races. His delight that Anthony Mayman is extending the fame Mays gave to ERA R4D, but faster, is evident.

The book may emphasise Rivers Fletcher’s enthusiasm, but he can be modest, not only about his driving abilities — he admits that some cars he has tried have been too fast for him and that after opening up from the start on his Shelsley Walsh demonstration in the V16 BRM, he toured up cautiously from the Crossing to the summit. And who else would admit to an MG refusing to run properly because, in spite of an expert reminder, it was warmed up on hard plugs and raced on soft ones?

Rivers has been at it for a very long time and knows almost everyone worth knowing in the game, which makes this a fascinating book. He has had a charmed life, interlaced with secretaries who are invariably pretty, marrying Penny, moving from one nice house to another, travelling the world in pursuit of motor racing interests, associating with theatre folk, all of which gives this autobiography a wide canvas. There are some interesting revelations, too, such as what the ERA sports-car based on the racing E-type might have been like (with a magnifying glass you can make out its power graphs), and about Peter Monkhouse’s still-born hopes of producing a light aeroplane engine, which might have powered the Chrislea Ace monoplane.

Foulis have let a few printing errors creep in, Rivers will spell The Autocar’s HS Linfield as Lindfield, and one might have liked more about the dramatic debut of the BRM V16 from the inside, although the history of the car has been done by other authors. We learn, however, of the fate of the Type 51 Bugatti which Ettore Bugatti gave to the Bugatti OC before the war. It was sold to Peter Monkhouse and written off in a rather naughty accident when it hit a lorry head-on during a run on the road with Peter’s new wife’s sister on board, on his wedding day. It is a book that may make you jealous, nostalgic, sad at the passing of the Golden Age, or optimistic about the future. Whatever, you should enjoy it. I read every word at one sitting and enjoyed them all. The book is dedicated to Sir Alfred George Beech Owen, CBE, the Christian gentleman who after a long struggle brought BRM to World Championship status.– WB

***

Racing At Crystal Palace

by Phillip Parfitt. 128 pp. 10-3/4″ x 8-1/4″, Motor Racing Publications Ltd., Unit 6, The Pilton Estate, 46, Pitlake, Croydon, CRO 3RY £12.95.

I suppose I may have been the first author to do a book about motor racing at one particular circuit, when I wrote my first book on Brooklands Track in 1948, following with the history of Montlhéry Autodrome, and the Motor Sport book of Donington. Since then there have been books about Silverstone, Monza, Monaco, Indianapolis and many other circuits and now here is Phillip Parfitt’s study of what happened at the Crystal Palace. He has got it absolutely right. The whole history is there, from the start of motorcycle racing in 1927 to the last of the car racing in 1972, with a very good description of the Crystal Palace itself, from 1851 to 1911. Moreover, the photographs, some 170 of them, are very clear and effective.

This is a book that deserves better than soft covers, durable and well-illustrated in colour as these are. The author went himself to many of the Palace races. He hopes that many memories will be rekindled — this is definitely so in my case. I, too, was able to go to the London course by ‘bus, a No.49, getting back to my ‘digs’ in time for a late tea, until I went in my A7 Mulliner coupé, which needed a push to get it up the ramp out of the Paddock until a four-speed gearbox was installed.

The picture of Esson Scott’s Bugatti after it had gone off the road reminds me that I was chased by it and ran away not only to escape injury, but because I was on the infield without a Press pass! Nor has Parfitt forgotten the veteran-car races.

It is so well done and pictorially depicted and there is so little omitted. In the latter category Parfitt does not mention early cars climbing the Crystal Palace steps, nor the Aeroplane Exhibition held there, and surely after the disastrous fire the South Tower was demolished, as it had become dangerous during race practice? The North Tower was brought down in 1941, as it might have aided German bombers to locate London, and this is illustrated.

Nor is it correct to say that most races at Brooklands and Donington were run over distances of 200 or 500 miles; this applied only to a few events. Those niggling comments apart, this is a 100 per cent good job, a history which should be added to every enthusiast’s bookcase. All car and motorcycle lap-records and a complete list of every race meeting are given in an Appendix, and there is information about the Crystal Palace Foundation & Museum, the address of which is 84, Anerley Road, London, SE19 2AH. — WB

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