Reviews, October 2016

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My Life at the Wheel

John Fitzpatrick

Custom dictates that the worthiest books often fail to attract the audience they deserve – and one suspects this might fall into just such a category. Biographies about vacuous celebrities sell in significant quantities (for 10 minutes or so, at least), even though the content has precious little substance. This, though, is an engaging tale of a racing life well lived – and during one of the sport’s most interesting periods, too.

It is a chronological look at the career of one of the UK’s most successful sports and saloon car drivers, the racing memories sprinkled with many incidental anecdotes – such as racer Toine Hezemans and entrant Georg Loos throwing each others’ watches against a wall, to see whether a Seiko was as resilient as a Rolex, the kind of thing that was fairly standard 30-odd years ago, yet would nowadays doubtless be dismissed as puerile
or unprofessional.

It combines the factual and the amusing with the poignant, Fitzpatrick’s reflections of Rolf Stommelen’s final race – and its aftermath – serving as a powerful reminder of the era’s potential perils, yet the author came through it with nary a scratch.

A worthwhile read. SA

Published by AMA

ISBN: 978-0-692-72543-6, £49.99

Thrill of the Chase

Colin Crabbe

The tales Colin Crabbe – collector, seller, racer and tracker-down of fine cars – tells in this enjoyable book would stand by themselves as an entertaining biography even without the wonderful cars in his life. 

Born into privileged circumstances, he moved in an intriguing circle and throwaway lines about annoying Orson Welles, dining with Margaret the infamous Duchess of Argyll (“the plates were solid silver but the food stone cold”) or being thrown out of Daphne’s restaurant with Christopher Plummer make the biographical element highly entertaining. 

But after his rackety time in the Scots Guards he moved into cars. Special cars. Old, exotic, historic vehicles became a passion and he roamed the world tracking interesting cars, either to sell through his Antiques Automobiles firm or to race. Tales of Alfa Monzas from Brazil or finding a Ferrari Mondial in Eritrea make rich reading, and who hasn’t fantasised about discovering a GP Silver Arrow in a shed. Crabbe found three – and raced them. 

Page after page is loaded with supreme machinery and laced with tales of parties, police and customs contretemps; his almost accidental move into Formula 1 with Vic Elford is just one chapter in a stimulating life tale, told with mischievous frankness. GC

Published by Dalton Watson

ISBN: 978-1-85443-276-6, £59

Motor Sport’s Golden Years – The Era of the ‘Old Farts’

Robert Soper

For all that this is a recent production, the design and production belong firmly in the period of the content – but that’s no bad thing. There are many books staking a claim to cover the ‘golden age’ of motor racing, but you’ll find few references here to Rosemeyer, Moss or Clark.

Rather, this is a personal account of time spent at the hub of grass-roots racing in Yorkshire and north-east England during the 1960s. When the author later began meeting former cohorts for an annual reunion lunch, he decided some of their recollections would form the basis of a book.

Some of the featured names will be familiar, others not at all, and the prose tends towards the functional rather than the poetic. None of that really matters, though, for this is mostly a charming snapshot of a very specific time and place. SA

Published by Pompacalie

ISBN: 879-1-326-40719-3, £12.99

ERA – The Autobiography of R4D

J Mac Hulbert

With their slick presentation, lavish illustration and fastidious detail, these Porter Great Cars offerings have established themselves as a peak of single-chassis works. 

Normally by marque aficionados, this one is penned by a business expert – who happens to be Mac Hulbert, the successful VSCC and HGPCA racer, and more important, for many years the owner of the most famous of ERAs, R4D, subject of this latest volume. It means he speaks with authority of the car’s characteristics, surprisingly telling us that it doesn’t handle as well as the A- and B-type ERAs. But it is fantastically quick as drivers from Raymond Mays onward have proved. Ron Flockhart, Ken Wharton, Willie Green, Neil Corner have all wielded the black voiturette, and all the time it has got quicker and broken more records, especially under Anthony Mayman. 

While giving more pages to Mays and Flockhart, Mac outlines all owners through 80-odd years, backing his history with more footnotes than I’ve ever seen in a book – a page per chapter! But that underscores its completeness in telling an epic story. GC

Published by Porter Press

ISBN: 978-1-907085-40-6, £60

Speed Trial – The Chateau Impney Sprint 1957-1968

Guy Loveridge

Chateau Impney’s 2015 resurrection has been one of the recent feel-good stories within the ever-expanding world of historic motor racing. The modern course might differ from its forebear, but those who know say the spirit of the current event remains true to the original.

This charming booklet, produced in a style that would have been familiar in the 1960s, looks back on the original event with a blend of text, photos and programme covers. The price might appear steep for something so petite, but tucked inside the rear cover is a worthwhile DVD containing period footage – monochrome and colour – of Chateau Mk1.

It’s as grainy as hell, but utterly lovely – a perfect complement that adds context for those of us (slightly) too young to have attended in period. SA

Published by Douglas Loveridge

ISBN: 978-1-900113-09-0, £35

Lancia – A Winning History

Luca Gastaldi

Any book with an Alitalia Stratos on the cover starts with an unfair advantage, but there’s a lot of Lancia’s racing history to cram into a smallish book, especially when you only have half the text – the other half being Italian. No surprise then that after a flying leap through the early days we’re straight into those lovely D-series sports-racers, the Grand Prix adventure and various Fulvia rally projects, which are disposed of in fourth if not fifth gear, while trying to squeeze in lots of facts about carbs and cams. 

Things relax with the Beta Montecarlo and LC racers while 037 and Deltas get much photo coverage, though the text still feels compressed. Perhaps a tighter focus on modern rallying alone would have allowed the author time to expound his obvious knowledge. GC

Published by Gastaldi

ISBN: 978-12-200-0997-3, 29

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