The Fast Set: three extraordinary men and their race for the Land Speed Record by Charles Jennings, ISBN 34911596 6, published by Abacus. £8.99 (paperback)
Campbell, Cobb and Segrave — Britain’s Speed Kings, in an era when the country was clinging to the remains of imperial glory. Their various record battles have often been told in the specialist press, but this book, by an outsider as it were, gives a deeper and broader picture of the trio and their world.
Jennings has excavated a great deal of detail not only about the three men but also the others in their motoring and social circles — his picture of Locke King and the Brooklands adventure told me much I didn’t know — and every chapter is furnished with useful background detail of political events, personalities and current affairs. Most of all he shows that these men were not always heroes being heartily cheered by an adoring nation, but obsessives who often had to drum up interest in an activity which, to many, looked like the pointless indulgence of bored and wealthy men.
Jennings makes some bold personal assessments (“Campbell lived a life almost entirely devoted to Contentiousness”) but supports them firmly with a wealth of references from contemporary letters, articles and newsreel footage.
The aristocratic Henry Segrave and the stolid, painstaking John Cobb are vital ingredients of the story, and other record men such as Parry Thomas and Eyston are colourfully outlined. But the binding is Malcolm Campbell, the impatient, mercurial self-promoter. His abrasive behaviour and restless drive for new sensations runs throughout the story and illuminates the unspoken tensions between the three rival record-setters.
Full of unexpected asides (did you know that Campbell was captured by Riff tribesmen in Algeria while looking for a record venue to replace Daytona Beach?), the book is surprisingly strong on the technical side too, showing how at least some of the LSR monsters relied on much outdated technology, overcome by brute force. Jennings calls Campbell’s Bluebird in its final form “a masterpiece of inefficiency”, and he’s probably right.
Altogether, this is an impressive assessment of an era as well as of three privileged compulsives. — GC
Motorfilms Quarterly: Volume 13, DVD, 90 minutes, www.motorfilms.com, £19.99
Entertaining as ever, but this latest volume is extra special for us. It features an interview with our own founder editor Bill Boddy on his early life and how he fell in love with cars. Watch out for some choice language!
Other highlights include footage from Crystal Palace, Mallory and Brands Hatch of the 1961 BRSCC racing scene, complete with bizarre Spike Milligan-style sketches from film maker David Roscoe, and the mother of all US stock car shunts from Langhorne. Both films have to be seen to be believed. — DS
Autodrome: the lost race circuits of Europe by SS Collins and Gavin D Ireland, ISBN 1904788 319, published by Veloce, £34.99
Damn! The staggeringly enthusiastic Sam Collins, a man who could well drink petrol for breakfast, has only gone and written a book that people have been encouraging Motor Sport to produce for years. Strongly related to our series of track visits, this hardback picks out nine circuits, relates their history and brings you up to date on their current state. The author’s wistful melancholy is a different approach and I was intrigued about the fund of Brooklands ghost stories, but there are mistakes (passing mentions to ‘Spa-Franchorchamps’) and some of this book is inevitably going over old ground. For that reason I found the chapter on Keimola most interesting. Where this pricey book really scores, though, is on the superb photography: Gavin Ireland really is very promising indeed.– MS
The Ford that beat Ferrari by John S Allen & Gordon J Jones, ISBN:184425113 6, Published by Haynes, £75
First published in 1985, this work on Ford’s iconic GT40 is described as a “complete remake” on the dust jacket. The facelift includes new photographs and revised words where new information has been unearthed over the past 20 years.
Its hefty size (480 pages) is matched by a hefty price. But don’t be put off. The collection of more than 800 photographs of one of the great racing cars is unmatched, while the depth of research within the accompanying long captions is obvious. Fascinating images are made more so by the authors’ detail. An example: how Carroll Shelby’s valuable alligator-leather belt was used to help lash the tail back down on to Mark Donohue’s MkIV after it had flown off on the Mulsanne. A welcome return for an accessible — yet definitive — classic book. — DS
The Paddy Hopkirk Story: a dash of the Irish by Bill Price with Paddy Hopkirk, ISBN1844251101, published by Haynes, £18.99
An engaging biography of an archetypal UK sporting ace, this book is written by a man who spent much of the 1960s as a mechanic to the Northern Irish folk hero. It covers Hopkirk’s sporting deeds in meticulous detail — and it’s often forgotten that he was a pretty handy circuit racer, from Formula Junior to Le Mans, as well as the most famous of all rally men (before Colin McRae, anyway). But Price’s insight of the off-road trials, tribulations and escapades (and there were more than a few) provide colour so often lacking in motorsport books: Sir Jackie Stewart, who wrote the foreword, will surely cringe at his geekiness at Jim Clark’s birthday party! Not altogether sure that feminist readers will appreciate Paddy’s cats being named Beaver and Muff though… — MS
McLaren Memories: a biography of Bruce McLaren by Eoin Young, ISBN:184425119 5, Published by Haynes, £17.99
The author has already written a biography of his old friend, so you might be forgiven for wondering why he has produced another.
Young points out in the book’s introduction that this isn’t a straight biography (even if it says it is on the dust jacket), but a selection of memories from friends and excerpts from Bruce’s regular columns in Autosport. But it still follows the predictable format of the racing driver biography: chronological, with plenty of race reportage.
As you’d expect from a man so close to the subject, there are anecdotes aplenty which paint a rounded portrait of the Kiwi star. The combination of Young’s easy style and McLaren packing so much into his short life ensures a good read, but does it really add anything that we don’t already know? — DS