Christmas is coming fast and Mrs Frankel doesn’t have a clue what to get me. As ever my request for a Lola T70 MkIIIB has fallen on deaf ears so I think I must lower my horizons and ask for a book. For which I need your help.
Over the years I have derived more pleasure from the very modest motoring library I have accumulated than any of the cars I have owned. For while there may be individual journeys that will stand out in my mind forever, the truth is that for the vast majority of their lives, they sit in my shed and cost me money to keep them there.
By contrast it is the literal truth that when I am at home not a day passes without me sitting down and losing myself in one tome or another. Indeed while most of you might think driving a new Porsche is the highlight of any motoring journalist’s working life, for me assignments that compel me to spend hours immersed in the automotive literature are among the best of all. As I write this, every word I can find on Peter Revson is strewn about the desk and floor of my office.
For me a great car book has to have two qualities, neither of which requires me to be inherently interested in the subject matter: rather it must simply be beautifully written and illuminating. Charles Jarrott provides the perfect example: there are many eras of motor sport I find far more captivating than the pioneer years, but his Ten Years of Motors and Motor Racing 1896-1906 is irresistible for these very reasons. By stark contrast, if the subject is one of my heroes and the era my very favourite, a book can still be rendered unreadable by a poor choice of writer, as Graham Hill’s choice of Graham Hill to write his autobiography bears all too stark witness. His Life at the Limit should have been one of the greatest racing books ever written, as it is I forced myself to read it, put it back on the shelf where it has sat untouched ever since. By contrast All Arms and Elbows by his contemporary Innes Ireland is a masterpiece.
So these are my favourite books and my hope is that in sharing them with you, you might feel tempted to spare a minute to tell me your best book, resulting in me being but an Amazon order away from a happy Christmas:
1. Best biography: Archie and the Listers by Robert Edwards. Still the most captivating tale of the life of a racing driver I have read.
2. Best co-written autobiography: Speed with Style. Peter Revson and Leon Mandel take chapters in turn to tell the story of the Revlon heir’s extraordinary life on and off the track.
3. Best ghosted autobiography: Mark Donohue’s The Unfair Advantage. Doesn’t read like a biography at all, yet you come away feeling you’ve known the man all your life.
4. Best translated biography: Rudolf Caracciola translated by Charles Meisl. Meisl’s very great skill here is not making Caratsch sound English but still providing an easy, consistently interesting read.
5. Best single marque reference book: Excellence was Expected by Karl Ludvigsen. The definitive history of Porsche across three monumentally well researched volumes.
6. Best motor sport reference book: The Grand Prix Car by Laurence Pomeroy. That rarest of characters, an engineer who could write, he penned this history of half a century of Grand Prix racing in 1955 while technical editor of The Motor. Breaktaking in its scope and knowledge.
7. Best road car book: Driving Ambition by Doug Nye. This is the definitive history of the McLaren F1 road car, written with full access to the directors and engineering team that made it. Wonderfully detailed and illustrated, leaves you feeling there is no more to be known about the fastest, most expensive road car that had then been built.
8. Best polemic: Enzo Ferrari by Brock Yates. You might not agree with Yates’ startlingly iconoclastic view of Ferrari, but it’s probably the most fluently constructed and robustly argued book about an industry figure ever written. Outrageously entertaining to read too.
9. Best book Mrs Frankel definitely won’t be buying me this Christmas: Time and Two Seats by Janos Wimpffen – nothing less than the definitive reference work for sports car racing. Haven’t seen a nice example for less than £1000 in years, which is why none adorns my shelves.
10. The book I’d save from the flames: Full Throttle by Sir Henry Birkin. The book that did more to nurture my passion for cars than any other. Dedicated ‘to all schoolboys’ and read for hours by torchlight under the covers at night when I was one.
So what else do you think I should be reading this Christmas?