Specials, especially amateur-built ones, form an important part of the overall motor sport scene. This prompted the late Gregor Grant to persuade one of the keenest and most successful specials builders, the late John Bolster, to describe more than 77 such cars in Specials (Foulis 1949/71). It ran to four editions, but is now rather dated. So a fresh book on the subject must be welcomed, if we regard Aston’s Directory of Historic racing cars and Chris Mason’s Uphill Racers as covering only some of these cars, the latter mostly the more modern sprint cars, and Shire Publication’s little book Motoring Specials obviously only touching the surface.
Consequently, Foulis’s new book, The Enthusiast’s Guide to Vintage Specials, by John Bateman, is now very much needed by those who want to sort out the complexity of the many specials which continue to grace VSCC and other events. The author, a VSCC member, has a commendable command of this difficult subject. His book covers 92 Specials, many of which were born pre-war, tracing their histories and their technical complexities and changes. A formidable task, very well achieved, and backed up simply marvellous photographic enlargements, altogether one of the most fascinating books to come in for review for some time. The reservations I feel I must make are that sometimes I found I was reading information and verbatim passages from my own articles and books, which is fair enough but rather galling when the repeated information was a “first” for me, obtained by letter or interview. That I have not imagined this is emphasised by 13 references to MOTOR SPORT articles in Bateman’s bibliography. . . But curiously, although he quotes items from my Brooklands book, this is omitted from his booklist, although my Profile of the Chitty-Bang-Bangs gets in!
But what a readable book this is! It will be the current reference work on its subject for a very long time, and will provide us with a very acceptable “browse” before and after visits to see Specials in action. One wonders, however, why “Babs” and the FIAT “Mephistopheles”, the Chittys, the Maybach-Metallurgique and the Napier Railton were included by the publishers when longer descriptions and more pictures of these cars are included in Foulis’s just-published book about aero-engined racing cars? Could the space occupied not have been used to describe other Specials omitted from Bateman’s book — the Freikaiserwagen, for example?
But I did truly enjoy, and shall continue to enjoy, this timely £24.99 study of Specials, from AEL St Phall and All T’Cok to the Vauxhall Villiers, Wasp and Young Special. Not all are strictly vintage, so instead the Fairley Special, the Steyr-Allard, the Jameson Merlin P1 Royce and some of the other aero-engined cars, all of which are alive and running, might have been included. But an author has to stop somewhere, and Bateman has coped admirably, and with welcome light-hearted touches, with a difficult subject. Just a few of his chapters are a shade out of date (the Parker-GN has four Amals, not two SUs), and he leaves some gaps in the brief but useful specification tables for us to try to fill in.
I spotted few mistakes. But, for the record, Cobb’s TT Vauxhall did not lose the Sporting Life 100 mile race to Purdy’s Thomas Special in 1927 because Purdy retired — I know, because I was there — Eyston’s record car was Speed, not Spirit, of the Wind, the first DH Moth had a Cirrus not a Gypsy engine, and Geraint Owen’s Morris-JAP has proved to be much more than just “an enjoyable little sports car”. And Mays’ Vauxhall-Villiers was converted to Clayton Dewandre from Westinghouse-type brakes, not vice-versa. No matter — this much needed book is one all VSCC-minded readers will need to help them relish even more the Specials scene. W.B.