Three motoring books worth reading
Receiving review copies of the latest titles every now and then, Iain Robertson reports on his favourites and reveals a number of tenuous links between the three of them.
Stirling Moss Scrapbook 1955
Stirling and me have history. When I was a babe-in-arms, the great racer gave me his autograph. To be fair, I was too young to appreciate it but it is stashed away safely now. How did I receive it? Well, my dad was the British Consul in Bordeaux in the 1950s and my mother presented the winner’s trophy to Mr Moss upon his victory in a local grand prix.
A few years ago, as the editor (at the time) of Competition Car magazine, I requested an audience and Stirling invited me to his ‘high-tech’ home, located behind Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London. We sat in his office, complete with its enclosed garden, illuminated by a ‘light tunnel’ from several floors up. It was in this hallowed location that he highlighted the bookshelf of diaries that had been created for him, by his long-standing friend and co-driver, Denis ‘Jenks’ Jenkinson.
While 1955 was a legendary period of Moss’s early motor-racing career, the defining crash in which he careened off the Goodwood Circuit (near Chichester, Sussex) in 1962, would lead to significant cranial among other physical injuries. Of the problems that occurred for the much-loved racing driver was a profound loss of memory and ‘Jenks’ was his means to restoring it, through a judiciously reproduced series of diaries, to which Stirling would refer for factual verification. They are shelved in his office.
Philip Porter’s exquisite, large-format tome consists of 160-pages of reflective notes, editorials and diarised details of 1955, that seminal year in Moss’s wonderful, exciting and fulsome existence, before he was knighted but while he was admired world-wide for his driving prowess. Consisting of printed copies of newspaper cuttings, timely reminders of life 51 years ago, amusing cartoons and headlining treats that honour the great man’s array of sporting achievements, it is as much a social commentary, as it is a welcome review of the period.
Naturally, the picture quality is perhaps not as brilliant as it could be but, as the pagination relies on a lot of ‘reprints’ of questionably low mega-pixel resolution, it is inevitable. Stills images have moved on in leaps and bounds in more recent times. Yet, they only serve to add to the overall appeal of the book and, as a ‘scrapbook’, it more than meets muster.
You do not have to be a Sir Stirling Moss fan to obtain a massive amount of reward from reading, or leafing through, this fine title and it is sure to garner as much attention from being placed on your living-room table, as it ever would stashed in your domestic library. Often regarded as the ‘British World GP Champion, who never was’, Moss remains, in his 87th year, one of the UK’s best-loved exponents of an era that was packed with derring-do, controversy and excitement. This is a great way to recall just one year, 1955, of a sterling career and life.
By Philip Porter
Porter Press International
Death Drive – There Are No Accidents
One of the UK’s most charismatic critics, columnists, consultants and curators is Stephen Bayley. I am proud to call him ‘a colleague’ and we do meet infrequently on my regular motoring jaunts, when he can fill any downtime with an endless array of motoring stories, because he is also an intuitive story-teller and fan of most things motoring, albeit predominantly from a design perspective.
As a subscriber to the monthly classic car title, ‘Octane’, his is the page to which I turn firstly, upon receiving each issue, mostly because he provides an editorial slant, adopted from some precarious and often curious angles, about the motoring scene, with which I find massive agreement, in the main. While not wishing to insult Stephen, I do regard him as the perfect replacement for another motoring journalism hero of mine, Leonard J K Setright, who passed away sadly in 2005 but whom had been a stalwart, regular commentator in ‘CAR’ magazine, for more than thirty years.
Quite different to Setright but no less beguiling to read, Mr Bayley is a skilled exponent of the design arena and had been the driving force behind the establishment of London’s influential Design Museum. His car books are fascinating and very design-centric, which makes them both eminently readable and utterly fascinating and this 232-page hardback is no exception. Yet, its subject matter is underscored in a simple preface statement: “Had Volvo patented the three-point seat belt in 1927, instead of 1959, this book would have looked rather different!”.
While there is a somewhat macabre aspect related to investigating and reflecting on car crashes, as Bayley highlights, so many of them have acquired cultural respectability that their glamour is a genuine fascination. Yet, the message of this book’s contents is based more on our innate fascination for the motorcar, despite its often tragic life and death involvements.
It is beautifully written and I would expect no less from such a valued applicator of the English language; his turn of phrase can fluctuate between cute and convoluted, with as much ease, as it can veer from stab-fire staccato commentary to intense depth of feeling. He loves his words. So do I. The subjects range from Jean Bugatti, son of Ettore, founder of the now VW-owned supercar firm, that established both design and engineering influences in the automotive scene of the 1920s, to Helmut Newton, high-end photographer of nude women, who died in 2004, and both Marc Bolan and James Dean, for inevitable good measure.
There is no mawkishness. There are no regrets. Yet every page is packed with informed commentary and penetrating personal opinion. I have found it no less than riveting, from start to finish.
By Stephen Bayley
The Formula One Miscellany
With the 2016 F1 season upon us, albeit with a television relocation from the BBC, to Channel Four (although the independent does promise that there will no advertising interruptions in the race coverage), the premier world motor racing championship will, once again, beguile and entertain us with its spectacle, its colour, its unceasing action and its unutterably tedious politics.
Now into its seventh decade as a championship, irritation levels will be matched by ardent satisfaction, as we grip onto our armchairs, or attend any of the races in the international calendar (as long as you can afford to do so), and criticise another round of legislative senselessness (it’s ‘halos’ for 2016), while revelling at phenomenal cornering speeds and low-height camera angles. There is nothing to beat it, unless you watch US, or Australian, Truck Racing, which is markedly more exciting and far less competed in by spoilt brats.
Regardless of what your personal view is of the F1 scene, there is no doubting its international credibility. One way to prepare yourself for the new season, which commences in the third week of March, in Australia, might be to read the Formula One Miscellany. This is the fourth edition and it remains no less enticing than the three that preceded it.
Packed with snippets small and large, across 192-pages of hardback, about Formula One, its drivers, its teams, its circuits and its racing cars, it might be described as ‘scatterbrained’, so diverse are the subjects covered in no particular order. However, it is also one of those books that you can hardly put down, because no single element of its contents is anything less than engaging. Yet, you can dip into and out of it at your leisure, while grappling with factoids that will fascinate all and sundry prepared to listen to you reciting them.
It is one of my favourite small books and it will be beside me, as I view the first to last race of this year’s World F1 Championship.
By John White
Conclusion: Three decent motor-related titles: one for F1 fans, one for history buffs and another about fatal car crashes. It is a fascinating mix. The link between them is Sir Stirling Moss, as he wrote the Preface to the F1 Miscellany, is the star of the 1955 Scrapbook and he survived a crash that might have killed a lesser individual. You can buy the books on-line, at your favourite bookshop, or at various motoring events, but I can warrant that each will be a worthwhile acquisition and a darned good read.