Motoring 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 giving, or personal possession.


Quest for Speed: The Epic Saga of Record-breaking on Land

By Barry John

ISBN: 978 1 910505 59 5


EVRO Publishing (evropublishing.com)

This is the second book that I have reviewed this year, which deals with speed records, although this one is the strict preserve of the LSR set. It is also the maiden literary effort of its Kent-based author, Barry John, whom, as a retiree from the field of graphic design, has used his career skills to great effect in also producing this large, landscape format hardback book.

As a child of the 1950s, Barry grew up fascinated by the likes of Messrs Cobb and Campbell and their gargantuan passions for speed. Thank heavens that 60 years later he is able to express most fluently, across 184 pages of stylish, high quality publishing (by EVRO), the chronological exploits of every known Land Speed Record achievement from Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat (1898) to Dave Spangler (2018).

Of course, a new British contender (Bloodhound) is undertaking tests currently that have so far proved to be immensely successful; its pilot, Andy Green, is already a much-lauded hero to so many people of all ages, having last smashed the LSR in 1997. The new target is a remarkable 1,000mph, somewhat greater than the 39.24mph achieved by the pioneering French Count. What is intriguing about that initial achievement lies with its 36hp electric motor and lead acid battery, which is highly apposite, when you contemplate the present changing face of motorised transport.

Yet, internationally, speed remains a fascination for innumerable observers, not just the brave souls prepared to raise funds, develop the engineering and even drive in the rarefied atmosphere of listed record-holders. The prospect of driving flat out is an undoubted pinnacle but record-breaking is open to everybody, thanks to the Guinness family. Even I have held a World Record, as a member of the Honda Accord Diesel team responsible for achieving 19 speed records at a German test facility (Papenburg) and over-95mpg in a subsequent, two-days, cross-country fuel economy drive…where frugality not speed was the key criterion.

The nation has another member of the ‘Speed Kings’ fraternity in the form of Guy Martin, the North Lincolnshire truck mechanic and bike racer, who seems to have captivated an immense TV audience with his exploits that range from skateboards to fast Transit vans and even massively modified JCBs. While this serves to highlight our appetite for speed, the ultimate Land Speed title remains a motivational force in many other areas too. While feted on the public speaking circuit, the dedication, strength of purpose, determination and single-mindedness displayed by the surviving LSR holders is applied educationally across the generations, from school children to business executives.

As you leaf through this delightful book, it is almost hard to believe that the original Stanley Steamer managed a remarkable 126mph in 1906…on steam power. Naturally, Malcolm Campbell and Blue Bird became synonymous with British LSRs, Campbell being the first man to breach the 300mph target in 1935. However, the chronicled achievements of Henry Segrave, George Eyston, John Cobb and the inimitable Donald Campbell, who raised the LSR bar to 403mph in 1964, are accorded near identical cameo headshots, car images and double-page stories (mostly), which ensure democratic fairness to every contender, great in their respective eras.

Of course, there are the absolute record holders but the book also contains the national and class records of wheel-driven, diesel, motorcycle and more recent steam-powered motor vehicles. Rather than taking deep dives into technology, the author maintains a knowledgeable overview that avoids potential boredom and, while some facts are sure to have been elbowed out, the end result is beautifully even-handed and concise enough to maintain high interest. To a certain extent, the graphic excellence is overwhelming and even the occasional period photograph might not have gone amiss. However, there is a distinct cleanliness, if not clinical attention to detail, that is all-pervading and more pictures would equate to greater costs and copious credits being necessary.

It is a charming and interesting title that more than justifies its cover price, in a field that remains so apparently slow-moving but perpetual in its ultimate endeavours. It makes great seasonal reading and will look fantastic on any bookshelf, or coffee table.