Book reviews

The BMC/BL Competitions Department

By Bill Price

Haynes, £29.95. ISBN 1 85960 439

This is scarcely a second edition of the book which first saw the light of day back in 1989. Described alternately as an `updated re-issue' and 'reprinted with minor amendments' it tells the now familiar story of the competition successes and failures of BMC and BL from 1955-1980 starting with Pat Moss in enigmatically sideways form on the 1955 Monte Carlo Rally in an MG TF working up towards the end of the TR7/8 project.

The prose aims more towards accurate presentation of historical fact than anything which might be mistaken for flowing style and this is perhaps as well given the amount of information it crams into almost 400 pages. This no-nonsense approach is completed by straightforward and unimaginative layouts and mainly black and white photography.

The result is a book of worthwhile reference and, as such, will doubtless be of use to those interested in the subject matter who missed it first time around. But if you're after something to engross and enthral, you're looking in the wrong place. AF

Jaguar Collectables

By Ian Cooling

Bay Kew Books, £24.95. ISBN 1 870979 94 X

The price may sound steep for a book that contains less than 200 pages but you'll not quibble with the content of Ian Cooling's new book, itself the second in the Collectibles series after Michael Ellman-Brown's work on MG. Seemingly every single item of Jaguar automobilia that has ever been produced has found a happy home here. Items of near negligible worth such as old key-rings and badges from the back of unremarkable XJ6s are given all the space they need alongside rather more valuable items up to and including the priceless trophies from the competition successes of the '50s and late '80s.

The photography is excellent with the well known car snapper James Mann responsible for all bar two of the literally hundreds of frames included; a labour of love if ever there were one. They are complemented by words which prove informed but not so overwhelmingly intense to lead you to suspect that the author's lot in life would be radically improved by getting out more often.

If the work is to be criticised it is that there is too little information in the captions to the photographs. It is all very well to identify and place the object in any given shot but the work would have been considerably enhanced by more information on the rarity of each given object and an idea of its current value, information which could be updated in later editions. Also, an index of addresses and telephone numbers where people can find the objects of their desire would have been useful. Even so, see this book as a straightforward, attractively presented and well written celebration of all that is Jaguar save the cars themselves, and you'll not go too far wrong. AF

Scalextric Cars and Equipment, Past and Prssent

By Roger Gillham

Haynes, £1799. ISBN 1 85960 432 3

I think it's a reasonable bet that almost everyone reading this magazine right now played with Scalextric slot-racers in their youth; I'd wager, too, that many of you still do. Some people, of course, have taken their interest to extremes and have gone on to become thorough collectors, and it is these people that are the target for this volume, which catalogues every car, controller, accessory and track section produced by the company.

That may sound a trifle dull if you're not actually amassing a collection, but a quick drift through the pages soon has those memories rushing back – ah, that smell of frying motors and the finger-piercing fiddle of replacing pick-up braids...

There's a surprising amount to read here, as Gillham explains the development of the firm from its birth making wind-up tinplate kits regularly advertised in Motor Sport, through the first metal slot-cars to the plastic versions most of us recall. And inevitably one succumbs to some 'if only' musings – in my case about my Alfa Romeo 2300 which went missing and turns out to be rather rare...

If you still have your Scalextric set, this book grades each car by its rarity, though without giving actual values, and may even inspire you to start buying a few more. Then, of course, you will need to test them out, just to check they're working. If you are one of many who gave up their tracks along with other childish things, it might well have you searching for an excuse to start up again. GC

The Goodwood Motor Circuit 1948-66

The Goodwood Festival of Speed 1993-97

The Goodwood Road Racing Club, £50.00 (see text)

These two delightful books are available only to members of the Goodwood Road Racing Club and arc, in fact, given away as part of the overall £50.00 membership package. No author is credited.

They come in the same box and, while small, are exquisitely bound, printed complete with the embossed logos of the respective events.

Of the two, the book of the motor circuit is better by far simply because there is so much more material, both anecdotal and photographic, upon which to draw. The black and white photographs also suit the uncluttered, elegant layouts rather better than the colour shots from the Festival. There are tales from the track and those explaining how this satellite station of Tangmere found a new life as host to racing cars once the Spitfires had gone away for good.

The book of the Festival of Speed still makes an agreeable read and presents a simple, almost blow-by-blow account of the first five Festivals. Presumably pressure of time and publishing deadlines excluded this year's damp event from the running order. The photographs are good and used sparingly, avoiding what must have been the considerable temptation to splatter the pages with dozens of images.

On their own, these books probably do not amount to sufficient temptation to part with fifty notes so it is perhaps as well that membership of the GRRC comprises many other benefits including discounts on race tickets and, most importantly, exclusive access to the paddock which will be fenced off to those not sporting the right badge. AF

Into The Red

Nick Mason and Mark Hales

Virgin Publishing, £20.00, ISBN 1 85227 717 3

Neither of the authors of this work should need much introduction, and not simply because it's contents has been occupying a sizeable chunk of the Daily Telegraph's Saturday motoring section. Mason is a stalwart of the historic racing scene, while Hales is a member of that tiny breed of racers who can also write. Or is that writers who can race? I never could tell.

The subject, however, needs a little explaining. This is not another armchair-view of a bunch of racing cars. For a start, Mason owns all seventeen cars featured within its 176 pages which, while dearly providing focus for insane jealousy (mine in particular), also means he is well qualified to talk about them. Second, each car has been tested by Hales for the book and includes comparative lap times of Silverstone's mighty South Circuit for the lot. Except, of course, the BRM V16 which, you will not be surprised to hear maintained its noble tradition of failing to complete even a single lap on each of the four occasions they tried it. As Mason laments, "I once made the mistake of working out the cost per yard travelled was approximately the same as laying the finest Wilton carpet"

The statistics alone will tell you that a 1936 ERA will lap to within a single second of a 1962 Ferrari 250GT0 and that a 1961 Lotus 18, with a 1.5-litre, four cylinder engine, loses just 1.6sec per lap to a 1987 Ferrari F40. Easily the most startling fact of all is that the skinny-tyred 1953 BRM will hang onto a 1990 Porsche 962 all the way from rest to 70mph. When it's running, that is.

Yet there's more to this book than bald facts. The photography is excellent and the twin tales that accompany each car, Hales on the track, Mason on the history, make for usually engrossing reading.

The cherry on the cake is the CD containing in-car recordings of every car in the book. If you ever doubted that a racing Ferrari sings a greater song than any other, by the time the five on the CD are finished, you'll know what it's like to be proven wrong. It's a great touch and proof positive that this is not just another book about old cars.

There is some temptation to be cynical about this book. For a start it would be merely uncharitable rather than inaccurate to see self-indulgence between its covers. Anyone with a stable such as Mason's who chooses to air his reasons for acquiring each one naturally exposes himself to such attack. Secondly, the authors approach their subjects with considerable fondness and are, at times, a little kinder than some of their previous exponents. Mason mentions that Fangio and Moss were "fairly unenthusiastic" about the BRM whereas the latter is on record as having described it as "without doubt the worst car I have ever driven in my life."

This matters little. Not for one moment does Mason crow about the breadth and depth of his acquisitions, appearing instead simply to wish to share his enthusiasm with a wider audience. And it would be curious and sad for someone to own such cars without being a little in love with them.

The way to approach this book is to choose a car and look first at its statistics to provide a skeleton image. The photographs and the words then flesh out the picture. Finally, make sure you're alone, turn on the CD and listen to it howl, wail or shriek its way around Silverstone. The result is that which is so often boasted of but so rarely delivered: a genuinely new insight into some the greatest cars ever to have roamed the race tracks of the world. I nearly forgot. It's exceptional value for money too. AF

Spirit of Adventure

By Brian Ashby

Hawk Publishing, £20.00. ISBN I 900686 02 3

An interesting and well written driver's eye view of the famous 1997 Peking-Paris Rally even if £20 is a lot to pay for 120 pages of smaller than A4 paper. Qualitatively, it stacks up much better, providing the right blend of gung-ho prose and thoughtful analysis of the event. Ashby does not, by any means, attempt to overstate the achievements either or himself or his co-driving son, nor even those of the organisers; the result is a surprisingly measured account which proves rather more refreshing and readable as a result than the more head-in-the-clouds approach that such treks often provoke.

Their steed is a broadly trusty 1930 Delage D8, (pictured on the cover unconvincingly superimposed upon a Himalayan backdrop) which brought them to Paris in 43 days, 20 hours and 36 minutes to earn them 45th place overall and 8th place in their class.

The most illuminating sentence in the entire book comes in the dying moments of the final chapter:

"If we had been allowed to enter a modem Range Rover the balance between enjoyment of the moment and retrospective joy and satisfaction would have been a much happier one but that was not the deal." AF