IAIN ROBERTSON 

Book Review

It is that time of the year, when book sales increase and both coffee-table and readable materials assume fresh levels of relevance, writes Iain Robertson, as he contemplates another fine hardback either for present, or personal interest.

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The Light Car Company Rocket – The Singular Vision of Two Men

By Clive Neville

ISBN: 978 1 913089 14 6

£75.00

Porter Press International (sales@porterpress.co.uk)

There have been many tremendous pairings in business; two people, possessing similar end goals but often bringing individual but synergetic skills to the table. In this instance, drawing together the talents of former racing driver, Chris Craft, and automotive design guru, Gordon Murray, The Light Car Company was formed. Its singular aim was to manufacture the lightest performance car in the world, the name of which would sum up its pretensions: Rocket.

Murray was a long-time admirer of Lotus founder, Colin Chapman, whose own efforts to produce lighter, more efficient and purer sportscars led to the early development of the relatively ubiquitous Lotus 7. However, as a consummate designer, who now has over 50 separate car designs to his credit that include both road and racing machines, Murray perceived a concept like no other.

The idea of tandem seating (for strictly two occupants) in a pretty and uncomplicated 1960s race car-influenced body was radical thought. Yet, Craft arrived at the concept some fifty years ago, the Vanwall-like mental image being intrinsic to what he considered to be a British motor racing icon. Naturally, Murray’s work with the world dominating McLaren, the F1 racing team, drew several parallels, the greatest of which was to introduce minimal frills but maximum thrills.

Around thirty years ago, both gentlemen collaborated on the Rocket , setting a target weight of just 350kgs, an amazing 150kgs lighter than the aforementioned Lotus 7. Powering it was always going to court criticism. Craft envisaged a Metro 6R4 V6 unit but Murray, always seeking lightness, insisted on a Yamaha motorbike engine. Murray wanted a single seat but Craft insisted on two (thus upping the target weight to an acceptable 380kgs). While proprietary suspension and brake components might reduce costs, they added to the unwanted bulk, leading both to agree to bespoke componentry.

This 292pp large format hardback (300mm x 300mm), contains in excess of 400 high resolution period and current photographs that chronicle the development of a remarkable sportscar like no other. While a lot of observers may not be familiar with either LCC, or Rocket, it is truly a case of once seen, never forgotten. The author, Clive Neville, is an enthusiast, who bought an early example. He is also a Yamaha bike enthusiast, which makes his tireless task of compiling the words and images that commenced almost a decade ago something of a personal achievement.

Thank heavens that Murray is a well-ordered individual, as every sketch, every drawing and every note had been filed for future reference. While some are sure to be absent, you would struggle to believe that to be the case, as many are reproduced faithfully in the pages of this tome. However, Philip Porter, the owner of Porter Press International, also recognises the value of comprehensive reportage, his publishing house harbouring a consistently growing portfolio of some of the finest automotive art titles in the world.

Rocket represents every ounce of Gordon Murray’s automotive enterprise and expertise and Chris Craft is only too happy to acknowledge the 100% engagement factor. While he was working intrinsically with the successful McLaren F1 team, Murray would head home after work to continue the intense and solus design work demanded by Rocket. Generously, while the book itself was designed by Rick Ward, who also penned the colourful car badge and much of its publicity material, appropriate credit has been provided.

As a true story of automotive endeavour and ultimate achievement, cult following, or not, The Light Car Company Rocket and its very existence as a legal, road-going sportscar makes fascinating and compelling reading. Of course, there are unavoidable ‘warts’, not least that Craft reckons each of the 47 fully-homologated Rockets sold at £38,000 probably cost him £5,000, but they only serve to supplement the charisma and engineering delights of the finished machines. The book is expensive at £75, which will demand careful consideration of its ultimate owner but, as an ultimate reference work, with detailed listings of almost every Rocket produced, it is unparalleled.