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 tackles three new titles for travel, car and engineering fans alike to consider.
The AA British Road Map Puzzle Book
By Helen Brocklehurst
ISBN: 978 0 7515 7897 3
After many years of travelling the length and breadth of our sceptred isles, I believe that I have amassed a fair amount of knowledge about the best routes, their history and how to maximise driving enjoyment. Yet, this handy 240pp paperback (protected by a heavier, ‘Flexiback’ card cover), produced in conjunction with the AA (Automobile Association) has added not only an extra series of fun-filled assets, such as puzzles and problem solving aspects, but can also improve map-reading skills and general knowledge. While appreciating the benefits of sat-nav in a car, not least for the ability to pop in a post code and reach it with pinpoint accuracy, I remain a staunch supporter of road maps, which provide vital information that most electronic devices cannot. Although she has now left her former role as Head of Publishing at the AA, the authoress, Helen Brocklehurst, remains an ardent fan of maps and atlases. She has compiled a delightfully entertaining book that is almost named improperly, as it contains so much more than just ‘puzzles’. As with most AA map-related titles, a useful glossary of map symbols, a mileage chart and a brief history from c.AD50, when the Romans laid the Fosse Way, which runs from Exeter to my local City of Lincoln (parts of which I use frequently), to 2003 and the arrival of the UK’s first toll road bypassing Birmingham, are central to its make-up. As a fun method of understanding the highways, byways, bypasses and backwaters of our roads network, it provides a most educational route-book that can involve the entire family during those interminable treks on holiday, or to visit distant, UK-based relatives. Kept in the car, it represents great fun and is also superb value for money.
By Jack Challoner
ISBN: 978 023 3005 393
Carlton Books (Andre Deutsch)
A recent visit to the Science Museum, in London, revitalised my fascination for engineering feats, from the smallest to the most magnificent. Although I never trained as an engineer, I have always felt that design engineering would have been my most logical career path and I retain a deep interest in developments and inventions, many of which have been led by a perpetually inquisitive automotive industry. Published in association with the aforementioned and much-loved museum, this high quality, 160pp hardback book provides an almost unrivalled, insider’s view to many of history’s greatest technological breakthroughs. The timeline running through the book’s contents starts at c.2.6mBCE and the invention of the first stone tools and ends up in the New Millennium. If that sounds like a bit of a rush over such a limited pagination, believe me, when I tell you, that its author, Jack Challoner, a man well-versed in scientific subjects, writes so engagingly and informatively that it gifts this title with the readability of the hottest novel. You will find it difficult to put down but you will be guaranteed to return and continue reading it. While it touches on most of the renowned developments in both ancient and modern worlds, supplemented with excellent illustrations and photography, it also delves into some of the lesser known stories behind inventions that have shaped modern society. However, it is not a ‘Boys’ Own’ clarion, as Mr Challoner has been very judicious in highlighting and balancing the content with the vast number of female inventions, the stories of which have seldom been told before. For teenagers of either sex contemplating their future careers, this book should be required reading. Our educational system seems to be packed with academic subjects but there exists a strong need to direct our children towards those of a scientific nature. Most exciting reading and enticing content make this a book worthy of family digestion and it represents very good value for money into the bargain.
The MGC GTS Lightweights – Abingdon’s Last Racers
By David Morys
ISBN: 978 1 787 114 45 6
Veloce Publishing (veloce.co.uk)
Renowned publisher Veloce owns a tremendous portfolio of automobilia titles, of which the latest deals with a personal favourite: the MG MGC racing cars. Invariably quirky, unbelievably compromised, the MGC model was always intended as a replacement for the Austin-Healey 3000, even though it never fulfilled that role. It sold in modest numbers, as many as the Healey, as a production car for just two years, but MG had a racing pedigree to support, which led to the troubled development of the GTS version of the car, featuring extensive weight-saving processes, redeveloped engine technology and an effective investment to resolve the car’s inherent dynamic issues. The MGC was always a controversial model, even to ardent MG fans, of which there are millions worldwide. Sadly, the world was changing at a faster rate than the MGC and its demise, let alone that of the infamous MG Competitions Department, was all too close. The author, David Morys, is determined to place a more realistic spin on the short-lived project, which achieved only minor racing successes that failed to highlight the unsung efforts expended by the team at Abingdon. Ironically, only two of the original racing cars are memorable: MBL 546E and RMO 699F; there had been a third (MBL 547E) but it was written-off during its debut at the 1967 Targa Florio event on Sicily. Yet, the contents of this excellent, large format, 144pp hardback provide a valuable insight into these rarities, which have not been catered for elsewhere. The book details the ADO52 project (the inside BLMC reference code) and the decision to install the Austin 3.0-litre, 125bhp, straight-six engine from the firm’s large saloon. It was so bulky that it needed a bubble to be designed into the MGB’s aluminium bonnet to cover it and, in production form, it developed a modest 145bhp. Skinny tyres and greater ride height harmed its handling. In racing form, it started out with 202bhp, which resulted from extensive re-engineering. You can read all about the build process of the ‘works’ racers, supported by period monochrome and colour photography. Much more than a reference book, it tells the full story of a most exciting racing series development.