Book reviews, September 1998, September 1998

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Goodwood Festival of Speed
By Ian Lambot
Watermark, £35.00. ISBN 1-873200-20-X

It’s not easy to sum-up a sporting event where no-one really cares about the results, but this substantial book does a pretty good job. It’s a collective look at the first five years of the Goodwood Festival, and while it is divided year by year, the dates don’t really matter: instead, short three or four-page ‘chapters’ focus on drivers, car marques, designers, race-teams and restorers, all stylishly illustrated with excellent pictures from this photogenic venue.

Authors for these sections include the likes of Phil Llewellin, Tony Dron, Liz Turner and Jesse Crosse, who variously interview the great names — Brabham, Phil Hill, Amon, Shelby — or reflect on BMW and Porsche, the Cartier concours, consider collectors and restorers, or sketch out the event organisation, the marshals, the commentary team and even the timing system.

It adds up to a thorough and readable picture of an occasion which is as much atmosphere as action. If you’ve been, this is a fine reminder; tasters rarely come more tempting. GC

Watkins Glen 1948-1952 – The Definitive Illustrated History
By Phillippe Defecherux
TPR Inc, £19.99. ISBN 0-929758-17-X

If you’re looking for the Watkins Glen which hosted Formula One in the USA, look elsewhere. This large paperback only covers the first five years of racing at the Glen because it concerns itself with the original road circuit and not the later purpose built racetrack, constructed with such namby pamby ideas as safety in mind.

In 1948, young enthusiast Cameron Argetsinger decided to bring European-style road-racing to his family’s summer hometown in New York state. Amazingly, he was allowed to contrive a 6.6-mile route through the winding valleys of the state park, with a start/finish line down the main street, a narrow stone bridge, a railway crossing (“All trains stop” says the circuit map) and four different surfaces including “oiled gravel”.

Sadly the Boys’ Own appeal of road-racing through ‘Archie Smith’s Corner’ and ‘Thrill Curve’ turned, almost inevitably, to tragedy, and after a fatal accident involving spectators, the racing shifted to a purpose-built track nearby. Defechereux has talked to many of the people involved in this romantic but mad idea, and interlaces the stories of the various races with the constant political struggle between Argetsinger and his rivals at Sebring to attract the Continentals across the Atlantic. While the text is often over-written (“The blood-red fenders were about to become speeding scythes…”) it is packed with quotes, documents and letters, and tells a thorough tale. The many interesting photographs include early colour, though some of the black and white is poorly reproduced. Still, shots of the early grids combining pre-war European sportscars with US specials and one or two single-seaters are absorbing. GC

Formula One Through the Lens
By Nigel Snowdon
Hazleton, £25.00. ISBN: 1-874557-18-7

Nigel Snowdon, with wife Diana, has photographed motor racing for 35 years, so this glossy presentation extends across several eras. Sensibly it does not attempt to tell the history of racing; instead the pictures stand alone with chatty captions commenting on the picture or recalling a circuit or a person.

Grouping the pictures into subject areas — Circuits, Fans, Drivers, Sporting Types — has the beneficial effect of getting away from too many cars on racetracks and the “he finished third” caption approach. I found the Circuits section particularly evocative — the oft-ignored background elements like marshals and transporters, hot-dog stands and ticket-queues are all recorded as well as the racing, bringing out the flavour of a race weekend. And the settings too: the mountains framing the Österreichring or the dusty remains of the now-threatened Monza banking standing in vigorous contrast with the concrete wastes of Las Vegas.

Similarly the informality of the people in many shots appeals: Bernie in swimming trunks, Ken Tyrrell mowing his lawn, as well as the journalists and photographers who are usually invisible.

On the other hand the formal portraits are rather less revealing; perhaps because the reproduction seems somewhat flat. Unfortunately some pages suffer with similar shots distracting from each other, and in places the layout looks crowded, always a risk where quarts and pint pots are involved. GC

Chaparral Can-Am & Prototype Race-Cars
By Dave Friedman
Haynes, £24.95. ISBN 0-7603-0508-0

Friedman has been photographing American racing since the 1950s, and thus knew all the players in the Chaparral exercise. His book contains no text as such, apart from a short summary opening each chapter; the majority of the book therefore consists of hundreds of photos with informative captions, interspersed with quotations from drivers, like Phil Hill, Brabham, Andretti and Suttees, from team members, and from Jim Hall himself.

The result is easy to pick up and enjoy, and though the plethora of pictures is dense, even overlapping, they keep you turning pages. Jim Hall’s early racing and Formula One career leads into the first Chaparral and the succession of ingenious technical ideas which constantly made every new Chaparral the focus of paddock attention and also apprehension. The wing which appeared on the 2E and the 2J ‘sucker car’ are the best known, but details of the early fibreglass chassis, the auto ‘boxes and the outrageous and unsuccessful 2H (dubbed by Surtees as the worst car he ever drove) all emerge through the photos and their captions, demonstrating the outstanding lateral thinking of Hall and his team. There is even a shot showing on-board data collection (a Nagra tape-recorder strapped to a 2C chassis) as far back as 1965.

Inevitably this one can’t offer the insight and anecdotes of Richard Falconer’s Chaparral book from the same American publisher, but it’s full of interest, and ideal if you can’t tell your 2A from your 2E and would really rather like to. GC

The Lea-Francis Story
By Barrie Price
Veloce, £29.95. ISBN 1-901295-01-X

Who better to outline the history of one of Britain’s earliest manufacturers than Barrie Price, who, apart from his Bugatti interests, has lately tried to resurrect the defunct Lea-Francis marque.

From conventional bicycle beginnings L-F made hesitant and unsuccessful car experiments in 1903, but it was L-F motorbikes which took off, until a post-WWI small car arrived.

From then the pattern is a familiar one: knowing attempts to rival Morris and Austin were futile, the company tried to distinguish itself with well-engineered niche products, but spread itself too thinly. Price recounts the receiverships, refloatings and final demise, reproducing company letters, including one from 1929 which suggests L-F should be gunning for Alfa Romeo and Bugatti. Certainly sporting success helped the company considerably, especially the 1928 TT win, but in the end L-F followed so many British makes into ’60s oblivion.

Those sporting machines are the only ones which have kept the name alive, especially through Tom Delaney, whose father was a director of L-F, and who bought the 1928 TT-winning Hyper in 1931, and races it still.

Price’s extensive research brings us photos not only of the cars, but also family portraits of both Lea and Francis, and even such recondite offerings as a shot of a special L-F carpet being woven. The text is detailed, if somewhat staid.

What is unusual here is that the author himself steps in to the story, having built a new L-F in 1988. The less said about its looks the better, but the book tells us that a new sportscar and a seven-seater limousine are both under development. How rare to read the tale of an old British name which ends on a positive note. GC

Klemantaski Himself
By Louis Klemanatski
Palawan Press, £95.00. ISBN 0-95230095-8

It is certain that no other book on racing has ever included photographs of severed heads and ballet dancers, Russian baptisms and Chinese funerals, secret wartime weaponry and a royal lavatory seat. All these and more have formed part of legendary photographer Louis Klemantaski’s exotic life, and all fall neatly into place in this completely fascinating memoir. From his faraway origins in Manchuria, Northern China, Klem journeys to places equally exotic Paris and London in the 1920s, meeting rogues, idols and beautiful women before becoming absorbed by a love for photography, especially of motor racing and children.

He tells of this precarious career with a rare and self-deprecating humour, and shows himself immersed in cars, not merely snapping from the sidelines. A founding .spirit of the Junior Car Club and its purchase of the 101/4-litre Delage, he raced (albeit unsuccessfully) his own MG and Austin, meanwhile photographing endless races both here and abroad; later he socialised with the likes of Reg Parnell, Stirling Moss and Peter Collins, competing as co-driver in Monte Carlo rallies and with Collins on the final Mille Miglia in 1957, the source of some of his most famous images.

But the racing chapters are upstaged by others. Klem’s fertile mind blossomed in his wartime ‘Department of Wheezes and Dodges’, where he was involved with the invention and photography of floating runways, bouncing bombs and bizarre rocket weapons. Afterwards, he augmented advertising work by photographing the goings-on of the Royal Opera House and then orchestra conductors – one picture shows von Karajan reading The Motor.

While wordy in places, Klem’s stock of tales makes the text bubble: how he drove Ascari to London, the time he damaged Jenks’ Porsche 356, being blown up by an army experiment not to mention Freddie Dixon’s eye-watering party trick… I laughed aloud more than once.

This is not a picture-book (many pictures are, in fact, of Klein, rather than by him), but a handsome and well illustrated memoir of a man who seems very pleased with his life. For the Palawan Press it’s rather conventional, and even relatively cheap though the luxury edition does cost £500.

Klem described his varied personal disasters as “Klemantastrophies,” and one has to smile upon reaching the very last page of the book to see “Klemantastrophy!” written in bold above the admission that a certain photograph has been miscaptioned. A suitably wry finish to a book which is revealing, nostalgic, and amusing. GC

The Chequered Flag: Revised Edition
By Ivan Rendall
Weidenfild & Nicolson, £25.00. ISBN 0-297-82402-3

There was little wrong with this chronological history of motor racing when first published in 1993 and, as the brief for the new edition was merely to bring the story up to date, the observation remains. That said, as each of the ‘new’ seasons is given a mere two pages in the book where most from the original book received four and some as many as six, it is likely to appeal only to those who have not seen it before.

Newcomers will find a well written book which manages to be both engaging to mad and useful for lightweight reference, while the price is more than reasonable for a work stretching to over 400 pages. The shame is that it continues to be peppered with quite needless photographs of fatal accidents which, while doubtless adding an dement of tawdry titillation to the book, does little to convey a sense of good taste. AF