By Chris Nixon, ISBN: 0-85184-059-0
Transport Bookman, £39.95
It’s a surprise to realise there has not so far been a book on the Lancia D50, that innovative and distinctive racing car. Here it figures in conjunction with what should have been its great rival, the Mercedes W196, but this is not so much a case of half a book on each as two books in one.
In the event the expected battles did not have a chance to evolve, after the crash of the Lancia company and Mercedes retiring from racing. But Nixon doesn’t dwell on what might have been; his angle is to restore to the 1)50 and its designer Vittorio Jano much of the credit lost when Ferrari steadily diluted the cars to also-rans. In fact he argues that the Mercedes was not as brilliant technically as we tend to think, but benefitted from quitting while ahead, while Jano’s V8 design incorporated much innovation which was gradually stripped away after the cars were handed over to Ferrari.
From the start he alternates between the two marques, giving a fast-forward racing history of each before switching to normal speed for the detailed development of each car and its part in the racing of 1954-55. Though packed with information, the text is presented in short chapters making it easy to compare these parallel stories, and there’s scarcely a page without a photo, including some rare colour. It’s not all technical: human stories include Gianni Lancia’s struggle to create an F1 team and the devastating loss of Ascari, but in this case the cars are the stars, and the book offers two pin-ups in the form of beautiful colour cutaway drawings. These are the icing on an exceedingly good cake.