A Life And Times With McLaren
What a life Tyler Alexander has led. From his first contact with Teddy Mayer in the early 1960s to his retirement from McLaren at the end of 2008, it’s been flat out wall-to-wall motor racing all the way, through five decades in which the sport changed almost out of recognition. Impressively, Alexander adapted with it, a rare quality that meant he was as comfortable in the digital age as he was in the analogue. That gives this book a very special perspective.
His autobiography is a straight story in every sense. It’s a no-nonsense chronological retelling of motor sport history from one man’s inside view, Alexander’s salty turn of phrase the perfect tool to lift the lid on tales from the garage and pitlane.
The early stuff is, of course, fascinating, Alexander offering a first-hand account of the ‘Bruce and Denny Show’ in Can-Am. His memories of the moments of tragedy are to the point, blunt even – but not without emotion. He just doesn’t wallow or dwell on the dark side of the sport he loves and reverts more than once to a phrase that could be his own epitaph: “Best that I get on with things.”
Alexander rattles through his Indycar experiences with McLaren in the 1970s and Mayer in the ’80s, plus the unhappy Haas/Beatrice F1 interlude that promised so much. But if anything it’s his accounts of ‘modern’ McLaren in the 1990s and 2000s that offer the most, partially because it’s fresh ground less often trod. He maintains a rapid pace as he whips through the years with good humour (and the odd barb), concocting an effect that highlights the intensity of life on the road in F1.
It was tough back then, and it is now: something that hasn’t changed in the past 50 years. DS
Published by David Bull ISBN: 978-1-9350072-1-0, $55
Shooting Star on a Prancing Horse
He started only one Grand Prix – and in a works Ferrari, too – but Jonathan Williams was a far more accomplished racer than such a simple statistic implies. The Englishman, who died last year aged 71, was part of the band of travelling brothers who roamed Europe during the 1960s, living as best they could on start and prize money paid by Formula Junior and, later, F3 race organisers, and recollections of such adventures forge much of this book’s charm. From Enna, for instance: “Several cars had spun and ended up in the reed beds on the end of the lake. When the crews went to retrieve them they found snakes entwined in the suspension, which made the clean-up rather unusual.”
These days, paddocks tend to be infested by snakes of a different kind…
For the most part this is a delightful chronological journey. Formula 1 received scant media coverage at the time and in the UK Williams’s world was known only to readers of Motor Sport or the specialist weeklies – and that tended to be limited to short reports and race results, which scarcely told the full tale.
As well as being a distinguished competitor, Williams was also blessed with a relaxed writing style – so this is infused not just with engaging content, but elegance, too.
If you are wondering why Ferrari dropped him, incidentally, he puts it down to two things: wrecking an F1 car during a test at Modena… and declining an invitation to join Enzo Ferrari for a pizza, following a chance meeting at a fuel station.
It’s a fascinating voyage through a long-extinct world. SA
Published by AMA ISBN: 978-0-692-41595-0, £32.99
Mille Miglia, A Race in Pictures
The Mille Miglia has a justifiable reputation as one of the most emotive and recognisable events our sport has ever known. Stories of heroism, bravado and endurance emanate from every crumbling rock along the roads from Brescia to Rome and back. Our own DSJ famously won in ’55 (with a little help from Stirling Moss, of course), and the magnitude of that success resonates even today.
It’s incredible to think that, from 1927 to 1957, 24 races were run at full racing speed on closed roads, through the Italian countryside and across bustling towns and cities, for hour after hour, mile after mile, crews resting only once the epic adventure was over.
Official race photographer Alberto Solini was lucky enough to cover the event between 1947-57 and a collection of his work has finally come together in this compelling book. Many of the pictures here are previously unpublished and, together with input from Italian journalist Leonardo Acerbi, help to relate some amazing stories.
The quality of the early images varies, but things improve dramatically over the years to illustrate just how much spectators loved the Mille Miglia and, indeed, how seriously this event was taken by teams and drivers. Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, BMW, Lancia and Mercedes-Benz all won the Mille Miglia with star drivers such as Nuvolari, Moss and Ascari.
This weighty book comes in dual Italian/English text that provides just enough information to be useful, but it scores really highly because of the evocative images that lead irresistibly into a chaotic, charming world, the essence of how Italian road-racing used to be. DC
Published by Giorgio Nada ISBN: 978-88-7911-618-3, €60
Harry Lester, His Cars & The Monkey Stable
You couldn’t say the Monkey Stable was a central element of racing history, but Harry Lester’s name crops up through post-war racing, and the Lester-MG specials he built provided successful mounts for Jim Mayers’ team (named after the three wise simians).
This is one of those labours of love, with finely focused detail more crucial than presentation, and covers the various Lester cars and the Monkey Stable’s outings up to Mayer’s death in the 1955 Dundrod TT, concluding with a run-down of all Lester’s machines. Programme covers, adverts and contemporary reports from long-gone places such as Boreham and the Curragh spice up the layout. If you find one of the missing cars in a barn, this is where you’d look for its story. GC
Published by BR Books ISBN: 978-0-9931979-0-1, £25
France, The Essential Guide for Car Enthusiasts
There are thousands of French travel guides, all very useful providing Calais isn’t submerged by blockades and Operation Stack hasn’t closed the M20, but to the best of our knowledge this is the first that’s tailored specifically to car lovers.
France remains one of the world’s finest inventions and this follows its contours by highlighting the whereabouts of racing circuits, hillclimb venues, museums, car shows, specialist bookshops, themed cafés and almost anything else that has a whiff of internal combustion. And all for about the price of a couple of croissants and an espresso.
I would say more, but feel a sudden urge to rush off to the Citromuseum in Castellane, so please excuse me… SA
Published by Veloce ISBN: 978-1-845847-42-5, £14.99