Reviews, October 1995

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Mercedes-Benz Quicksilver Centenary, by Karl Ludvigsen. Transport Bookman Publications, Isleworth, £69.95 (£250 signed and leather-bound).

Karl Ludvigsen has done it again! His great work Mercedes-Benz Racing Cars, was published in 1971 by Bond/Parkinson Books.
Now this painstaking American author has eclipsed even his previous achievement with his latest 617-page complete study of the Mercedes competition cars. In this weighty, beautifully produced book, there is almost all that any student or historian could wish to know about these very successful cars which have been so dominant in racing.
This time Ludvigsen runs right on to the the C-Class competition era, and aims at American readers “hood” for bonnet, etc.
I am not knocking the floods of excellent one-model history books, but Ludvigsen gives us a massively complete, entire Mercedes and Benz technical survey — marvellous! Plus an index, specifications and a bibliography (from which I see, sadly, that Karl works with my first Brooklands tome!). You see, it’s all there, each chapter imparting fresh facts and intimate technical data. It’s as fascinating as it is essential to historians.
Inevitably some of the text is to some extent a repeat of that from Ludvigsen’s earlier Mercedes book, but where the author has more to impart he adds the most interesting footnotes. Naturally many of the illustrations have been seen previously, especially the classic photographic studies from Daimler-Benz’s own archives. But here again, fresh ones are to be welcomed, and the complete presentation of well-reproduced pictures in this Ludvigsen masterpiece is very acceptable.
So here you have a full record of the celebrated saga of the cars and men that made Mercedes-Benz the most feared and revered name in racing, from 1894 to 1995, to quote the volume’s sub-title. The author had the privilege of access to the records at Unterturkheim some 40 years ago, as a result of Mercedes-Benz having held an internal inquiry as to how he had disclosed the secrets of their desmodromic valve-gear in an article he had written — which he had done simply by careful reading of their own drawings. . He has also been allowed to drive a W196 on the Unterturkheim test-track. Hence the very special quality of this book. Ludvigsen has not sorted out the 1914 GP Mercedes post-race history, but he does quote Edward Eves on this subject.
Ludvigsen says he fought hard to curtail the use of words like “probably”, and “possibly” and “perhaps”, which he regards as anathema to the historian; he is a better man than I am! (The aforesaid footnotes are used to dispel assumptions, false sources and myths.) I am impressed, although may I say I am not enamoured of the term “Silver Arrows”, as applied to cars that raced, or should have, in the white hue of their Fatherland.
If you you regard the book’s price as high, just examine it and I think you may change your mind. You get over 700 pictures in its 617 pages. If you can scarcely afford it, forego those coffee-table tomes and acquire this solid engineering appraisal of the fabulous Mercedes racing cars.

Making MGs, by John Price Williams. Veloce, £12.99.

For avid MG enthusiasts here is yet another book they will need to add to their bookshelves — more than 80 pages of good black-and-white pictures mainly from the Abingdon archives, of the factory interiors, showing how the popular British sportscars were put together. I say mainly because this ingenious book closes with similar depiction of the very latest MGs for the 21st century, and with tables of production figures for the various MG models from 1945 onwards — a remarkable total of 898,998 up to 1980.
Veloce liked the idea, so expect more books of factory interior pictures in due course…

Three-Wheelers — The Complete History of Trikes 1885-1995, by Chris Rees. Blueprint Books, £25.

I still see no logical justification for three-wheelers, but if you simply enjoy reading about the clever, the creative and the bizarre machines which have hit the road one wheel short of a quartet, then this 168-page hardback is a feast. Morgan and Reliant have their own chapters, naturally, but there is much of interest on bubblecars, early tri-cars, the ’50s economy boom (Bond and Berkeley, Frisky, Peel) and the positive explosion of ’70s fun-chariots and ’80s kit-cars, many if not most of them illustrated here in 300 photos. And just when you have begun to shake your head in amazement, Rees springs another section of utterly wacky trikes on you — and that’s not counting the one-offs and experimentals. Why anyone would build themselves a 2CV-powered trike is quite beyond me; but it’s all in here, with an A-Z, from the All-Cars Snuggy to the Zoe Zipper.

The Triple-M Yearbook – 1994 has now been published by the MGCC. As expected, it is full of good material for MG followers to enjoy, including dates on the type-NO MG that was never built, the MMM 1994 record attempts, lots about oil and water pumps, a list of the famous who bought J-types, competition results, etc.

Rolls-Royce — The Crewe Years by Martin Bennett. Haynes/Foulis, £45.00.

I would not like to have to count all the Rolls-Royce books I have reviewed, most of them of top quality like the cars they describe, but a few we need not trouble about. The present review subject is definitely in the top bracket. And although the older Royces may have more allure, the later models deserve to be fully documented.
This beautiful 384-page study of the Crewe-built cars with over 885 illustrations comes up to the best standard. The coverage is of all models of both R-R and Bentley of this period. There was a lot for the author, himself the owner of many different kinds of Rolls-Royce, to include, because production of the “Best Car In The World” has been maintained at the Crewe factory, from which the war-time Merlin aero-engines emerged that contributed so much to eventual victory, for 48 years — up to now a dozen years longer than the R-R Manchester and Derby period combined. Moreover, the output of these mainly hand-built Crewe cars was nearly four times greater than pre-war.
It is all there — the 1945 to 1994 cars in their many body styles, the mechanical details, pictures of the craftsmen making them, some of the key personnel, etc, all superbly done. Moreover, there is a chapter on the coachbuilders involved and the appendices list all chassis and engine numbers, delivery dates, and production figures. In short, another book to keep the R-R fraternity happy for a very long time — books being for ever — and the publishers should reap a further benefit from those who collect these cars or sell them, and who need all the facts.

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