IAIN ROBERTSON

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Not sure whether the bookbinding is indicative of something, only one of this batch of titles reviewed by Iain Robertson features a hardback cover but do not let that detail discourage you from delving into five gloriously readable and enjoyable new books.

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Mini Scrapbook – 60 years of a British icon

By Martin Port

ISBN: 978 1 907085 94 9

£20.00

Porter Press International

Easily one of the best value books that I have read this year, over 175 packed pages that contain the author’s engaging commentary and around 436 photographs and illustrations, with only the final ten pages dealing with the BMW Mini (one feels ‘out of courtesy’ and possessing the potential of BMW dealership sales!), this is a truly fun title. Martin Port is a highly regarded journalistic contributor to various but mostly classic motoring magazines. I would venture to describe this book as ‘of our times’, because it lacks the intensity of some of the more concise Mini titles but also avoids too much ‘skimming’ of details. If you need reminding, designed by Alec Issigonis, suspended by Alex Moulton and reaching deep into the hearts and minds (and pockets) of a progressive, post-WW2 society, the original Mini (and I shall cease using the term ‘original’ from this point) captivated the car buying public, the motor racing community and a never-ending run of celebrities. The ultimate irony is that Mini arrived, in 1959, while the British motor industry was at the peak of its powers; a level from which it was about to tumble spectacularly within a decade. Mini benefited from a lack of true rivals, of which one of the only viable members was the Fiat 500 (original). In all ways, Mini’s raft of innovation in the automotive scene was only mildly challenged by the (original) smart car of the early-1990s. The book uses clever and informative historical and societal evidence of the Mini’s importance, including memories of its original media launch, which took place at the Forces Vehicle Research & Development establishment, at Chobham; a venue now renowned for its test road use by film and TV companies. From model cars to fashionistas, special builds to prototypes, many of which have never been seen before, and all manner of advertising and promotional exercises, this first-class ‘scrapbook’ will act as a colourful memory-jerker for some, eye-opener for others and an accessible record book of a car that warrants the title ‘Best Car in Great Britain’ for all the right reasons. It is another of Porter Press International’s excellent publications.

 

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A Hitch In Time

By Andy Smart

ISBN: 978 0 7495 8189 3

£12.99

theAA.com

Not to be confused with the other AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) books, this immensely funny trip down a well-known comedy legend’s memories joins a fine mix of travel guides published by the AA, one of the UK’s foremost motoring organisations. The author is Andy Smart, a contemporary of other comedy legends such as Bill Bailey, Paul Merton, Mike Myers, Marcos Brigstocke and Josie Lawrence. Having starred at no less than 40 consecutive years of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, while many observers may recall his unique observational twists, they may not be entirely aware of his Kerouacian-inspired six years’ worth of hitchhiking all over Europe, often in pursuit of his ‘other love’, football. While many of us can lay claim to an exciting, enticing, game-changing and even life-enhancing experience at some stage during our existences, Andy’s list of scenarios outlined in this excellent paperback will raise eyebrows, make you wince and more often than not have you guffawing like a good ‘un, while rolling on the floor laughing (rofl). Andy slept rough. He accepted lifts from an array of ne’er-do-wells. He ran with the bulls in Pamplona, juggled pigs’ kidneys in Covent Garden and slept on the beach at Biarritz. He covered no less than 72,000 miles during his bohemian six years road trip and has wrung every ounce of excitement, adrenaline and travel information as might be imaginable from it. If you enjoy a really good belly laugh, then this is a must-read from a big fan of the belly laugh.

 

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The Fate of the Sleeping Beauties

By Ard and Arnoud op de Weegh and Kay Hottendorff

ISBN: 978 1 787113 33 6

£25.00

www.veloce.co.uk (Veloce Publishing Ltd)

For the first time available in paperback form, I can recall the original hardback version of this excellent title, which was highly revelatory about a collection of fifty ‘priceless’ classic cars that were seemingly deposited in a farmyard, in the French village of Villemarechal, around 60 miles south of Paris. When the press got a hold of the story, it kickstarted an emotive automotive journey for their owner, Michel Dovaz, who desired neither publicity, not the inevitable (and unwanted) attention they would generate. To the lovers of historically relevant classic cars, it was believed that the only person capable of determining their fate should be their owner…but, seemingly, every man and his dog wanted a stake. Under intense bombardment, the enthusiastic but aging Dovaz moved his collection, in 1984, to another ‘secret’ location. Over the years, with impending tax bills and other considerations to take into account, Dovaz was forced into selling some of the collection, many of which, including nine rare Bugattis, have been restored subsequently. He passed away in 2005. This book also highlights the father and son team (Ard and Arnoud) and their pursuit of some of the world’s most wondrous motorcars, which include ‘barn finds’, all of which are photographed for this book. They also wrote the best book about Bugatti and the infamous Schlumpf Collection, a title which I reviewed a couple of years ago and continue to recommend strongly (‘Schlumpf – The intrigue behind the most beautiful car collection in the world’). The contents of this book are totally fascinating and also give an opportunity to appreciate their original owner, Michel Dovaz, and his driving force.

 

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Lotus Europa – Colin Chapman’s Mid-engined Masterpiece

By Matthew Vale

ISBN: 978 1 787112 84 1

£40.00

www.veloce.co.uk (Veloce Publishing Ltd)

The only hardback book in this group, this title follows a style inspired clearly by many of Porter Press’s single marque series. Its subject matter is certainly niche but also valuable. Also known as the Type 46 (the Type 47 was the racing version), the Lotus Europa was in the vanguard of mid-engined cars being produced in modest volumes. It was actually the fourth of its type, following the Lamborghini Muira, the De Tomaso Vallelunga and the Rene Bonnet ‘Djet’, none of which was produced as energetically as the Europa from its 1966 launch. Europa was known as a ‘breadvan’ model (named after the earlier Ferrari ‘breadvan’ racing cars), for its extended side bodywork. Powered initially by standard, 78bhp Renault engines and four-speed transmissions, from the R16 model of the period, by 1971, they were replaced in the Series 2 versions by the ubiquitous Ford Twincam engine. I can recall being drawn to the car, as a schoolboy, recalling that it had a price tag of around £1,400. Yet, it was its unusually squared-off wheel arches, deeply scalloped nose and long, low-line, and aerodynamically inspired fibreglass bodywork that grabbed attention. This book serves to highlight the brilliance of Colin Chapman as an innovative engineer, whose sole aim was to produce enough first-rate road cars to fund his Formula One racing ambitions. As a record of one of Lotus’s finest sportscars, there is an excellent interview with Mike Kimberley, former boss of the company, and a collection of 175 colour and monochrome photos in its 160 pages. The author (Matt Vale) is a bike and car enthusiast, who has been prepared to share many Europa owners’ experiences and driving impressions of their own cars. It is a lovely book.

 

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John Chatham – ‘Mr Big Healey’

By Norman Burr

ISBN: 978 1 787115 35 4

£25.00

www.veloce.co.uk (Veloce Publishing Ltd)

The final paperback of this batch is a biography of one of the real characters in British club category motor racing, John Chatham. My recollections are of a burly gentleman, who clearly kept large biceps within his racing overalls, which were necessary for wielding the largely unruly Austin Healey 3000 (registered DD300) in various races at UK circuits. To suggest that Mr Chatham is anything less than a member of a ‘dying breed’ would be insulting. He falls into that class of fun racer, for whom living for the moment is the only criterion. Today’s racing fraternity is just a bit too serious, or earnest, by comparison. Chatham has raced, rallied, sprinted, trialled and hillclimbed for more than forty years and, while the author owns up to some ‘inaccuracies’ within the biography, they have arisen from the fact that Chatham has seldom kept records and seems to be even less concerned about the trophies he has won. Yet, as this well-written biography commits to print, he is single-minded in his approach to racing, although his little universe does consist of decades-long friendships, associations and fanatical support. Chatham is well-loved and admired. Now over 79 years of age, having retired from racing in 2000, he is remembered fondly in this book, which is crammed with more than 150 pictures in its 160 pages of sometimes confusing but seldom less than engaging text. There is a lot to admire in this excellent book.