Gilles Villeneuve, The life of the legendary racing driver by Gerald Donaldson, 352pp. 9 1/2″ x 6″. (Motor Racing Publications, Unit 6, The Pilton Estate, 46 Pitlake, Croydon CR0 3RY. £14.95)
The epitaph “late, great” is much overused, perhaps not surprisingly in sport which has been cruelly deprived of many of its heroes. But how can it be such a reverential prefix is so commonly applied to a man who won only six races in a five-year Grand Prix career? Though the author of this long-awaited definitive biography does not give impression that he knew Gilles very well personally, he has drawn successfully on the genesis of the memoirs his subject was planning to co-write with another journalist, has spoken to the important people in his life (including his widow and many of his fellow drivers), and has researched his childhood and career exhaustively. The result is a compelling insight into how “il piccolo Canadiense” won the hearts of the world’s motorsport enthusiasts, and especially the Italian tifosi, to an extent which is quite out of proportion to his racing achievements.
What comes across most clearly is the simplicity of the Villeneuve mentality: his honesty, his steak and chips lifestyle, his love of speed for its own sake, his desire, as Jody Scheckter put it, “to win every lap”. There are glowing, and terrifying, descriptions of his skill and bravery, but this is no whitewash — his personal faults are also discussed at length, and his failures on the track are more prominent than his successes. The bottom line is that this is a great story. It has a down-to-earth hero, a rags-to-riches plot, a monstrous amount of action (from the man whom Enzo Ferrari called “this prince of destruction”, and whose early Formula One mishaps won him the transient nickname “Air Canada”) and, of course, a desperately tragic climax. GT
The Motorcycle Club by Peter Garnier. 221 pp. 9 1/2″ x 6 1/4″. (David & Charles, Brunel Publications. Newton Abott, Devon. £15.00)
Another piece of important English motoring history is properly documented, by this “celebration in words and pictures of our oldest sporting club for motorcycles and cars.” Peter Garnier has tackled a difficult subject admirably, and what might have been a dull account is very readable, reflecting the author’s enthusiasm for the MCC and the long-established classic trials in which he has competed, officiated, reported, and generally enjoyed, for many years.
As Sports Editor and later Editor of Autocar, Peter is well-qualified to write such a book, and he covers not only the three great MCC trials — the Exeter, Land’s End and Edinburgh, which are still held with the traditional night-sections — but the whole history of this pioneer club from 1901 onwards. This means that its Brooklands races and High-Speed Trials, the Sporting Trial, the Daily Express, Redex and Hastings Rallies, the socials, the committee meetings and all the rest have been sorted out and set down for posterity.
In their heyday, MCC trials attracted up to 553 entries (the Land’s End in 1928), the cavalcade of motorcycles, three-wheelers and cars taking six hours to pass the massed ranks of onlookers on the hills, so the MCC’s history is not to be ignored! This book has it all, including a foreword from the Chairman, John Aley, many appropriate pictures, drawings, reproductions from old route-cards and programmes, appendices about the hills, the personalities and the regulations — and there is a chapter (spare my blushes!) devoted to how Motor Sport took a Betson Hillman Imp through the 1977 Land’s End. I am glad that another chapter has been devoted to Jackie Masters and his wife Bea, who had so much influence on MCC trials in the vintage years. All those who support the Club, and hope to see its long-established trials with their varied entries continue unchanged, will enjoy Garnier’s well-balanced history. All, as far as I can see, with only one slip: the 1906 French GP was run over 770 miles, not 390. WB
In the driving seat by Nigel Mansell and Derek Allsop. 171pp. 11″ x 8″. (Stanley Paul Ltd. 62-65 Chandos Place, London WC2N 4NW. £15.95)
Despite the loss of such venues as the real Nurburgring and the Osterreichring, the myth that Formula One racing no longer goes anywhere interesting can be easily debunked. This second collaboration within a year between Britain’s top driver and the Daily Mail’s racing reporter, subtitled “A guide to the Grand Prix circuits”, does the job rather well.
Race by race, Allsop describes the atmosphere and provides the potted history, then Mansell gives a driver’s-eye view of the place and takes the reader through a lap, noting gearchanges, approximate speeds and potential hazards. An extraordinary production error seems to have omitted two of the vital accompanying circuit maps, unfortunately. The full-colour format is well designed, and the photographs well chosen to illustrate the environs of each location, although some are poorly printed and one enormous blunder tries to pass the Hungaroring off as Jerez! A series of double-page oil paintings add little to overall pictorial coverage, lacking the detail picked up by the camera.
The text is just sufficiently up-to-date to acknowledge the co-author’s victory in Rio in March, but the chapter on the United States fixture does not work very well due to this year’s change of venue! Grand Prix racing is not only about men and machinery. If you berate television producers for screening too much track and not enough atmosphere, on what is after all a genuinely globetrotting annual tour, you will appreciate this insight. GT
An unusual but fascinating publication from Bookmarque of Minster Lovell is Connaught, a sort of diary by C E “Johnny” Johnson recalling his time as a drawing-office employee of this remarkable, if small-scale, company which put Britain on the Grand Prix map.
In some places the story is naive and repetitive, yet iris so readable that one goes on wondering what next will befall the at first inexperienced Johnson as he unfolds the tale of racing car development under Rodney Clarke, Mike Oliver and Kenneth McAlpine. It in no way professes to be an engineering or racing history of the team which achieved so much on a very restricted budget, and it is perhaps surprising that it found a publisher, but it is good that it did. Connaught fans will find drawings, photographs and inside stories which are too good to miss. Press cuttings are also included, and a list of all the items sold by auction when the firm sadly closed down in 1957. DSJ found the book so worthwhile that he wrote the foreword, and it sells for £16.95. WB
Picture books can be enormously evocative and this is certainly true of Motorcycle Road Racing — The 1950s in photographs by Denis Jenkinson. Published by Aston Publications Ltd (Bourne End House, Harvest Hill, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire) at £15.95, it has short chapters by DSJ with his inimitable captions and a foreword by Geoff Duke OBE, who says he will treasure his copy. Why 1950s? Because the author recognises this as the golden age of professional international motorcycle racing, leading to a peak from which the sport declined and fell. It is nostalgic stuff: those Italian riders with the splendid names, the German challenge, the brave efforts of British riders, it is all there to enjoy again. Masses of good pictures, over 152 pages, including several shots of sidecar racing, with a happy Jenks acting as acrobatic passenger to sidecar champion Eric Oliver. I couldn’t put it down! WB
Alfa Romeo Veloce — The racing Giuliettas by Donald Hughes and Vito Witting de Pram has been published by Foulis at £24.95.
The work of two dedicated Alfa enthusiasts, here is an intimate study of the fascinating Zagato-bodied Giuliettas, their many competition successes and the SZ and SZT models from 1956-63, all in great detail with 188 pictures. There are comparisons with Lotus Elite, Abarth-Simca and Porsche, exclusive tuning information based on the work of Conrero, Fachetti and Bosato, tables of European and American competition results, and illustrations of surviving cars. The foreword is by none other than Emer son Fittipaldi. WB
Anyone wishing to investigate the history of Ford’s famous American sportscar need look no further than The complete book of Mustang from Foulis, a coffee-table tome which tells the story of these cars from the Forties to the Eighties, including the Shelby-Mustangs and the all-new 1979 model. The engineering, the ironies and the developments are backed up by more than 500 illustrations, many of which are large colour plates, in this 320 page offering. The price is £14.95. WB GT
Foulis of Yeovil has published Dave Pollard’s Haynes manual of In-Car Entertainment — how to choose, install and improve equipment which is now so very much part of the motoring scene. For £10.95 it covers just the ground most of those who invest in ICE need to know. WB
A third edition of Foulis’ Land Rover — The unbeatable 4 x 4 by K and J Stavin and G N Mackie goes remarkably thoroughly into all aspects of these famous British vehicles. There are 324 pages, well illustrated, in a book written by dedicated experts and costing £14.95. WB
Another Foulis book looks to another mass of lost causes, namely British family cars of the early sixties by Michael Allen. Rather than ask why, enjoy if can the reproduced advertisements and studies. Austin A40, Morris 1100, Ford Anglia and Consul, Hillman Minx and Imp, Triumph Herald and Vauxhall Victor feature strongly, with performance figures, the pictures are very good indeed, better than the cars they depict! This 189-page backward glance will cost you. WB
Castrol, whose first Achievements book was published in 1910, has issued a new-format 1988 edition, a reminder that this company’s oil was used last year by for its Le Mans and Daytona 24 Hours victories and by the Sauber Mercedes team and championship motorcyclists. WB