Book reviews, September 2003, September 2003

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WO Bentley — The Man Behind the Marque

By Malcolm Bobbitt

ISBN 1 85983 352 7

Published by Breedon Books, £25

Surprisingly this is only the second biography of the quiet man who gave his name to the most British of cars. There is fresh information here, though it tends to be scene-setting, about contracts and places, rather than personal.

The exception is the correspondence about WO’s affair with a married woman and the unpleasant divorces which followed, recorded in some detail, down to the sums WO had to pay the husband he cuckolded.

It’s hardly the prettiest book; the picture choice is a bit erratic and clumsily cropped. But if most of the personal stories have been seen in Bentley’s autobiography, or the Hillstead or Nagle books, this is nevertheless a thorough single source to learn about the tribulations which dogged the man who strove to build the perfect sportscar. GC

* * *

Sun, Rain… and Even Snow — 50 Years of Motor Racing at Oulton Park

By Derek Lawson

Published by LR Publishing, Tbn

Words. Lots of them. Massively long paragraphs stretching across page after photo-less page. This book is not a thing of beauty — although there are some interesting pics among the mainly dull selection — nor is it a fund of purple prose. It is, however, an almost race-by-race account of one of Britain’s best circuits – a huge task that only Mr Lawson has bothered to do, so fair play to him. It comes as no surprise that he has also given up many days of his time to act as an unpaid Oulton marshal so that others can have their fun. They broke the mould…

The book could have done with a serious edit (I would say that) and a snappier design, but this tome is clearly one man’s labour of love. That said, it also falls down as a reference work: no results tables and no index. PF

* * *

Les Triumphs en Competition 1954-61

By Frederic Reydellet

ISBN 2 9516767 2 7

Published by Frédéric Reydellet, 46.50 Euros

Frédéric Reydellet’s passion for these tough little sportscars must match any homegrown support, for this is the third of his slim, softback volumes on the marque.

Concentrating mainly on the rallies, he shows us how Ken Richardson, the organising genius behind the marque’s successes, managed with a small budget to keep the flag flying on some of the toughest events on the Continent. Alarming pictures of hairpins, snowdrifts and landslides on the way to Monte Carlo made me hanker for my own alpine rallying days, and there is a further section on the Tour de France Auto.

Personal tales from and about chief figures such as talented Frenchwoman Annie Soisbault enliven the French-only text, and Paddy Hopkirk, who began his career in Standards and Triumphs, writes an enthusiastic preface, cheerfully pointing out that he was finally sacked by Richardson. GC

* * *

Peter Coltrin — Racing in Colour 1954-59

By Chris Nixon

ISBN 88-7960153 9

Published by Automobilia, £89.99

American journo and photographer Coltrin went to Italy to cover the Mille Miglia, and got hooked by the country. Living in Modena he had direct access to the Italian teams, and this photo collection gives a brilliant picture of racing in the 1950s, in Europe and the States.

Coltrin mainly used colour for practice, with faster monochrome for the race, so these tend to be casual paddock shots and all the more evocative for that. Much of it is so far unseen, too.

Nixon’s long captions describe every shot, though the trilingual layout can make the text hard to follow in places. Perhaps Coltrin was no Klemantaski, but for atmosphere this is a winner.

And I liked Ak Miller’s mother’s dry comment: “Winning isn’t the important thing. Coming home is.” GC

* * *

Lotus 72 — Formula One Icon

By Michael Oliver

ISBN 1 902351 061

Published by Coterie Press, £39.95

Big doesn’t always mean clever, but this hefty book combines its bulk with heavyweight research. As a result it’s not only attractive, with large photos spiced by magazine covers, letters and drawings, but full of readable information.

Oliver has spoken to every surviving driver of the 72 as well as all the important figures who guided this rule-changing car from its faltering start ( “very bad in the dry,” said Jochen Rindt) to a race career longer than some drivers manange.

What with insider tales from mechanics, heated defence from Lotus people who feel that history ‘done them wrong’, assessments from rival designers and every chassis history, it’s the complete 72 in hardcovers. GC

* * *

Maserati — A Racing History

By Anthony Pritchard

ISBN 85960 871 X

Published by Haynes, £35

It seems to be Maserati book season just now. This one ignores the road cars and sets out to cover every Maserati race entry from 1926 up to the final ignominious Le Mans appearance of 1965, the clumsy T65.

It’s hard to see much here that is new in the main text, but the reminiscences from de Graffenried, Salvadori and Halford add a personal dimension. Otherwise, a very complete record of the marque’s track enterprises, which extends to the Cooper-Masers of 1966-67.

There are some nice 1950s colour photos, as well as interesting shots of oddities such as the road-equipped single-seater 4CM and the dramatically styled Vignale A6GCS.

At the back is a useful spread of short biographies of all the marque’s characters, plus chassis specifications. GC

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