Starting a motor racing library

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Biographies, as a rule, tend to fall into the headline-related, her-today-gone-tomorrow category mentioned at the start of this article. But there are exceptions, of course; and probably none is more exceptional than Gerald Donaldson’s acclaimed 368 page Gilles Villeneuve, published by Motor Racing Publications a decade after the driver’s death. Stirling Moss’ car-by-car autobiography, My Cars, My Career (Patrick Stephens) written in collaboration with Doug Nye, is also well worth acquiring, as are Fangio: My Racing Life (Patrick Stephens), Michael Cooper-Evans’ Rob Walker (Hazleton Publishing), and Tony Rudd’s autobiography, the aptly-named It Was Fun: My Fifty Years Of High Performance (Patrick Stephens).

One welcome development during the past two or three years has been the appearance of a series of quality books on American motorsport history by the prolific US publishing company, Motorbooks International. Books on Scarab (by Preston Lerner), Chaparral (by Richard Falconer with Doug Nye) and Cunningham (by Dean Batchelor and Albert R Bochroch) score uniformly high on both words and pictures and cover their subjects in comprehensive style. All three are distributed in Britain by Haynes Publishing. As pure reference works, one would have to recommend Duncan Rabliagiatti’s ongoing multi-volume Formula One Register Factbooks, each volume containing a multitude of facts and figures and frequently quoting individual chassis numbers. On a more colourful note, the comprehensive Autocourse annual (Hazleton Publishing) has for years survived, prospered and improved as would-be rival yearbooks have come and gone. A complete run of Autocourse would be exceptionally difficult to put together and would cost a fortune, but it’s worthwhile finding as many editions as circumstances and budgetary constraints will permit.

A few general tips. In the search for motor racing books, do not confine yourself to the specialists. Any secondhand bookshop has the capacity to yield up a bargain or two, as the person in charge of such a shop will not be as au fait with prices of such books as will the specialist bookseller and will almost certainly under-value them. Public libraries periodically sell off books for which borrowing demand has dropped, and these too are worth attending. And remember: when a book finishes up in the “remainder” shops at half-price or less, it does not always mean that it isn’t worth having. The publisher’s decision to sell it off cheaply is taken purely on commercial grounds and has nothing to do with the book’s intrinsic quality. In the early 1970s, three highly distinguished books, The Grand Prix Car 1954-1966, Power & Glory, Volume 1 and G N Georgano’s The Complete Encyclopaedia Of Motorsport were sold off in just this way and were available collectively for less than ten pounds! Doubtless anyone really interested in motorsport books will have his or her particular favourites, and will probably be incensed that they have not been mentioned in this article. All one can say to that, apart from pleading limited space, is that any choice of the best books will be a highly subjective process. We do believe, however, that most of these books would gain a place on most people’s lists and that, at the very least, they are worthy of consideration.