Book Reviews, September 1970, September 1970

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“A History of Sports Cars” by G. N. Georgano. 320 pp. 10 in. x 8 in. (Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., 36 Park Street, London, W1. 70s.).

This is a hackneyed subject. There have been other works of the kind, by Richard Hough, by the late Gregor Grant, who confined himself to British sports cars, by John Stanford and Colin Campbell and there was my own Sports Car Pocketbook. There is also the disadvantage of spending the years in such a history and reference work, that many readers are interested in but one confined period of history and consequently the bulk of the book is of less value to them. In the face of these objections to another work covering the entire story of what are called but are difficult to define as sports cars, this author seems to have got away with it, or at least has produced one of the best books there is on this overworked and devious subject.

He has done this by his profound knowledge of motoring history – I find it interesting that Georgano was for eleven years a teacher, for so was another erudite motoring historian, Michael Sedgwick, whose detailed study of the marque Fiat is eagerly awaited and must surely be an epic? – perhaps it is the long holidays which give time for browsing and the scholarly training which makes good technical writers of mentors? – and the use of some excellent illustrations from many sources, including the Motor Sport archives.

Obviously this book covers much previously-published ground, so that it is a problem whether to recommend it for its text, or as a nice picture book, with 61 good colour plates. Like most of its kind it suffers in the latter context from mixing contemporary and modern studies of old cars, although some may even like this treatment. Georgano has divided the complex subject into The Emergence of the Sports Car, the Twenties, the Thirties, Post-War Recovery and Sports Cars Today, by which he implies from 1961 to 1969. Each of these chapters is sub-divided into nationalities. The coverage is comprehensive, the prose flows easily but one feels the repetition if one tries to digest it all at a sitting and one is not sure that much of the material has been researched, apart from a study of all the other available works on the subject.

For all that, a nice book, nicely presented. One does not presume to sift through a book by Georgano looking for errors, so apart from his statement that several Alfonso Hispano-Suizas were to be seen in pre-war VSCC events, whereas they did not appear in triplicate until after the war (I should know, because one of them was my ex-Lycett car) and a picture of a side valve Aston-Martin which, if it is a Bamford & Martin, is hardly a representative one, we can leave well alone. As I have said, you should like the pictures, even if you remember many of them, and the text will teach those knee-high to a Bentley what sports cars were and are all about clearly and accurately. – W. B.

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“International Motor Racing Book No. 4”, edited by Phil Drackett. 144 pp. 9 2/5in. x 7 1/5in. (Souvenir Press Ltd., 95, Mortimer Street, London, W1. 25s.)

This is a not-too-serious contribution to the present flood of motor racing books. But it merits review because Dracken has a happy knack of getting the big names to write for it and because he manages to include a fine selection of mostly new pictures, some 150 of them.

This time we have an interview with Stewart, an article by the late Bruce McLaren, Brabham recalling his black 1968 season when he nearly quit, Hulme describing some of the racing near-misses he has experienced, Amon writing about his future as he sees it, Guba with a profile of Siffert, Bochroch telling us about America’s leading drivers, Eoin Young on the March Racing background, Naylor on learning to be a racing driver, Kahn on how to be a rally driver at armchair-age, chapters on Rindt, Duckworth, the late Paul Hawkins, Colin Chapman F5000, Goodwood, and so on. Mrs. Drackett has looked to the historic side with a piece about “Williams”, the mysterious Bugatti driver of the ‘twenties, which, if it says nothing new, neatly puts the career of Capt. William Grover together. One criticism; there was no need to include that picture of Hawkins’ crashed Lola, or all that was left of it. – W. B.

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“Race Report – 3”, by Eddie Guba. 154 pp. 9 1/2 in. x 13 1/2 in. (Fountain Press, 46, Chancery Lane, London, WC2. 63s.)

This is another annual reporting on the previous season’s motor racing, largely pictorially, but with the important difference that it provides reports of all the important 1969 races, including those run as late as last December and including not only the leading European fixtures but also Formula Vee, NASCAR, SCCA, USAC and NHRA dragster events. The pictures number 150 photographs, but for our taste there are far too many crash, incident and stunt shots, and some of those terrible captions which make drivers say things they most certainly were not saying as the camera caught them. But everything is there, circuit diagrams, hill-climb course outlines, the cars, the drivers, the girls, the hangers-on. There are cutaway drawings of outstanding competition cars, including two from Motoring News, technical drawings of the different GP suspension systems, photographs of same, plans of GP cars, colour plates and details of cameras to use at races, etc.

A bit of a hotch-potch, but lots for the money. – W. B.

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“My Life In Steam” by K. Judkins, 71 pp. 8 3/4 in. x 5 1/2 in. (The Oakwood Press, Tandridge Lane, Lingfield Surrey. 24s.)

Once someone starts something, there are almost certain to be copies. We have reviewed favourably the steam memoirs of Jack Hampshire. Now Mr. Judkins – with a name like Judkins he had to be a steam-engine driver, surely? – has written another little book on the same subject. Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery but “My Life In Steam” stands as excellent reading in its own right, and not merely complementary to the works by Mr. Hampshire.

At first the English seems stilted and queer but it soon improves, as Judkins unfolds his enthralling tale. It is mainly about driving steam waggons, at first for a haulage and ploughing contractor, then an Aveling & Porter steam roller and Foden waggons for the Staffs. County Council, finally test and demonstration driving of steam waggons for Foden themselves. This all took place just before, during, and after the First World War. The author puts in enough detail for his story to live. He advocates steamers for all he is worth, backing accounts of long-distance runs in excellent time with data on coal and water consumption, etc. Many of the epic runs described were through the Staffordshire roads, on one occasion as far down as Newbury in Berkshire. Somehow commercial steam seems to have the right background in this area and Mr. Judkins gets it across splendidly – the hard work, the dirt, the anxieties of looking for water, stoking correctly for a difficult driver, the horse and tram traffic of the ‘twenties – it is all included, in a book which no steam enthusiast will be able to put down.

Not only are runs in Fodens, the like of which can today never be fully recaptured – much as I have enjoyed going on two HCVC Brighton Runs as a passenger in such waggons – graphically described by one who really knows what he is writing about but the job of test-driver to Foden at Sandbach takes us into the works, with fascinating information about how Fodens were built and tested, the test procedure obviously having been dramatic even to those daily engaged on it. Incidentally, Foden fans will find information about prototype and little-known Foden steamers in this book, and livery and control aspects nicely rounded out.

To read “My Life In Steam” is to return to an unhurried past, when machines were individualistic and humans were often “characters”. The journeys of those days are difficult to comprehend today – three hours to negotiate the Blackwall Tunnel, behind slipping horse-drawn drays, in a Foden, for instance, and being caught speeding, by motorcycle combination police, at the controls of such a steamer.

The author knew not only the cruder, solid-tyred Fodens and some other steam waggons but the final types, before diesel took over. His final chapter is equally enthralling; it concerns demonstration driving of Sentinel steam industrial locomotives and selling them against the growing competition from diesel-powered locos. Great stuff!

Some of the intimate details about Foden may never have appeared in print previously; certainly steam fanatics should be very grateful to Mr. Judkins and the Oakwood Press for the advent of this unique little book. The author frequently hints that he could fill many books with similar reminiscences and I hope he will not be long in doing so.—W. B.

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“Auto-Biography. My Forty Years Of Motoring” by Arthur Knowles. 163 pp. 8 3/4 in. x 5 1/2 in. (George Allen & Unwin Ltd., Park Lane., Hemel Hempstead, Herts. 45s.)

There is nothing new under the sun, we are told, and one of the early motoring books I read was also called an “auto”-biography, the “Autocar-Biography of Owen John”. Now Arthur Knowles, who wrote Donald Campbell’s biography and “With Campbell at Coniston”, has perpetuated the idea.

The dust jacket of his book carries a picture of Jack Field in the single-seater Talbot racing on Southport sands with an Ulster Austin Seven. This suggests some enthralling reading to follow but, although there is much of interest, the author writes more as a journalist who enjoys motoring than as a motoring enthusiast who writes, and the accounts of the cars he has owned would have been more justified in a magazine than in a book, especially as they are padded out with brief histories of different makes, information which is decidedly repetitive.

This is, perhaps, being unduly harsh. The book, in fact, captures well the atmosphere of someone in the pre-war years who took to motoring, and mild, unofficial motoring competition, as a hobby, while never intending (until he finally restored and sold used cars) to make motor cars his whole life. Moreover, as the author’s father held a position at the Vulcan factory when these cars and commercials were in full production, the early part of the book is something like a fragment of forgotten makes, dealing with the Vulcan. This I found fascinating.

The author describes seeing Segrave break the Land Speed Record at Southport in the Sunbeam “Tiger” (then “Ladybird”?) and other Southport and Brooklands races, although nothing much that is new emerges from these descriptions. He has his first ride in a racing car at Southport beside the late Billy Cotton but, alas, cannot recall the make of car . . . It is of note that Southport attendances in those days are given as 60,000, which is a very big crowd even by 1970 standards (I, too, spectated at Southport, going there and back through consecutive nights in a friend’s Morris Eight). Perhaps it is the journalist in the author which gives him an obsession with death – having rather luridly described that of May Cunliffe’s father at Southport when her GP Sunbeam overturned, he says “This was the first death I had witnessed in high-speed events, but, as I shall attempt to show, it was not to be my last.” Later Knowles was present when Segrave died following his successful attack on the Water Speed Record in “Miss England II”, which is also described.

There are visits to Shelsley Walsh, tales of illicit speed hill-climbs contrived by local car owners, and so on, but detail is sadly lacking in some of the accounts, used too liberally as padding elsewhere. Some of the Southport pictures are good but hand-out photographs have been resorted to, in depicting the cars owned by the author, which gives a very dead tone to the book. The Vulcan part is the best part of a rather lukewarm offering. –W. B.

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A little book about dashboard instruments has appeared, explaining the development and function of each dial. It is really a Smiths Industries benefit, because all the instruments illustrated are Smiths, so you might think it should be a free issue. If you do not agree with us you can obtain a copy for 15s. The publishers are PSL, 9, Ely Place, London, EC1.

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When James Leasor was writing his thrillers with Cord-owner Dr. Jason Love as the central character we thought that he was a natural successor to Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. What a pity, therefore, that Leasor now finds it necessary to introduce cheapjack pornography into his books and to have a dubious old-car dealer instead of a doctor as his hero. And we are sorry to find this proprietor of Aristo Autos sending an advertisement for his stock to Motor Sport – see page 88 of “Never Had A Spanner On Her” ! These books reflect the times in which we live but perhaps Leasor’s slogan should be: Bring back Love. . .

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Blandford Press, 167, High Holborn, London, WC1, have a picture book which includes the world’s armoured cars as well as tanks. It is called “Tanks and Other Armoured Fighting Vehicles, 1900-1918”, by B. T. White, and sells for 25s.

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G. T. Foulis & Co. Ltd., 50, Bell Street, Henley-on-Thames, have brought out an English translation of Anton Konrad’s “The VW beetle handbook”, which covers tuning and maintenance and costs 36s.

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Another Foulis title, and an important addition to one-make history, is “Healeys and Austin-Healeys”, by Peter Browning and Les Needham (316 pp, 85s.). It traces the original evolution of the Healey, with chapters on Donald Healey himself, the Healey-Elliot and Westland, Healey Silverstone, Nash-Healey, Healey-Duncan, Sportsmobile, Tickford, Abbott and sports convertible versions, before dealing with the better-known Austin-Healey 100, 100S, 100M, 100-Six and 3000, with a separate chapter on the Austin-Healey Sprite.

There are useful appendices, on Donald Healey’s competition career, tuning the different models from the Riley-engined, Warwick-built cars onwards, with specifications, production figures and data on the maker’s competition successes and International records broken. Finally, the works rally cars from 1958 to 1964 are listed individually, with their Reg. Nos., engine and chassis numbers and competition careers. The illustrations, too, are excellent.

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