It may be late, but the first volume of Doug Nye’s eagerly anticipated BRM tome will have true enthusiasts salivating
The best things, we are told, are worth waiting for. And here is something that falls precisely into that category.
Doug Nye has been working on his BRM book for years now. Indeed, its gestation seems every bit as long as that of the original V16. In all probability, it’s longer.
It is, however, significantly more successful than any of the Bourne products that encompasses.
BRM – The Saga of British Racing Motors Volume 1 Front Engined cars 1945-1960 is a brilliant book. In concept, in execution. In the sheer depth of its research. In every way, just flicking through its 432 pages once it has finally fallen into your hands, you begin to appreciate just why it has been some 15 years in the making, for this is indeed a massive project.
Nye commences his labour of love by chronicling the career of the father of BRM, Raymond Mays. And immediately he establishes it as a brave book that does not shy away from contentious issues. Precisely as such a work should, it does not pull any punches while nevertheless looking at a colourful character in a benign manner. There will no doubt be many who will feel that Nye has slandered the dead, but he has tackled Mays’ predelictions with honesty and in a straightforward, non-prurient manner. If this purports to be the definitive work on the subject which undoubtedly it always will be there was no question but that a complete portrait of the man was essential to understanding his character and his relentless desire to further the reputation of Britain in Grand Prix racing. The fact that some of his tastes have been recounted Publicly for the first time in no way detracts from the story, nor denigrates his memory. After all, that was the way the man was and he himself made little secret of it.
Likewise Nye delves deeply into designer Peter Berthon’s character, we learn more of the mysterious Peter Spear who worked as Sir Alfred Owen’s inside man, and of course the numerous drivers of this great period of motorsport also leap from the pages.
Naturally, the great V16 project is covered in Proustian detail over nearly 200 pages, and it is difficult to envisage anything you would be left trying to discover after reading them. The same holds for the birth and racing pains of the Type 25 four cylinder cars and their rear-engined Type 48s which are mentioned briefly towards the end. Quite rightly, publisher John Blunsden decided at an early stage of this book’s development that two volumes were essential, and this merely touches on the first rear-engined BRMs where apposite. Volume two concerns those BRMs with the engine behind the driver.
The narrative is cleverly constructed. It charts both the technical and personal stories in chronological detail, but while there will be some for whom the engineering side may exert less appeal, it is still possible to flip over that without losing the gist. And where things are too esoteric for inclusion in the main text, or where it is better that they stand alone, sidebar stories are included throughout. The result works perfectly, and on a personal level I devoured the book in only two sittings despite the usual frenetic workload involved with two publications. I may not have had much sleep, but that’s a testimony to the lure of this stellar work.
Nye has succeeded in avoiding a dry formula by blending an authoritative style with technical incisiveness so that the text never becomes bogged down with minutae, and in this he is also helped by former BRM Chief Engineer Tony Rudd. The latter recently penned his own recollections of life at Bourne, It was Fun my fifty years of high performance, and this nicely balances (and sometimes colours) views expressed by his contemporaries. As well as adding even greater detail, this ploy allows one to read the text with complete faith that it is exhaustively accurate.
The Fifties was a glorious period of motor racing, when the likes of Mays and Berthon, together with rival Tony Vandervell, laid the foundation for the domination Britain still enjoys in Formula One, and this book also stands as a reminder of how that success was won. BRM may never have reached quite the reputation for success enjoyed by Vandervell, who quickly came to believe that the original Trust set up to run the project wasn’t going to get anywhere and quit to found his own team, but it was capable of some splendid engineering and there was something glorious about its persistence iraollowing its own nose rather than slavishly running with the herd.
The book is profusely illustrated and one can detect that Nye must have been a publisher’s nightmare with his absolute obsession for continuous improvement, as he insisted on adding newly discovered facts long after pages had all but been passed. But that makes his work a reader’s delight and worthy of the range of cover prices*. He has also done an outstanding job of wading through the politics of the tangled relationships between Mays, Berthon, Spear and Sir Alfred Owen and his Owen Organisation. In masterly style he has been able to pull together a morass of facts into a thoroughly readable whole.
Such effort with tape recorder and word processor was, behind the scenes, dogged by difficulties that would have sapped the determination of one less besotted with his subject, for the author (though he would probably be embarrassed for it to be known) had to cope with taxing health and family problems at times during the critical, final stages. Fortunately he has proved a resilient character. We are promised Volume 2 by December 1995, and one hopes desperately that it does not suffer the delays inherent in Volume I. Now that the latter has finally seen the light it is all too apparent what a fantastic job Nye has done and that he has achieved his aim of writing the book by which he will be remembered. I want my copy of Volume 2 now! D J T
BRM The Saga of British Racing Motors is available in three specifications, ranging from the lavishly slip-cased editions numbered 1 to 100 at £250, through the part-leatherbound editions numbered 101 to 300, to the standard jacketed version at £59.95. All 2500 are likely to be sold out by Christmas, so be warned.