The Octane team reviews some of the latest automotive books to hit the market.
Every month, the Octane office is overflowing with automotive literature – from brand new books to reprints of classics. When it comes to dividing the books between the team, long and heated discussions often follow.
Here’s what we think of this month’s selection:
Mille Miglia Portraits
Leonardo Acerbi | Giorgio Nada Editore | £60 | ISBN 978-88-7911-673-2
With room here for only a few lines of copy, there is no hope of doing justice to a book that contains hundreds of pictures of the Mille Miglia, many of them worth more than the proverbial 1000 words.
Most are drawn from the archive of the late Alberto Sorlini, the official photographer of the Mille Miglia between 1947 and 1957. His shots are complemented by a selection of pre-war pictures from other snappers, making this a complete photographic history of the world’s most famous road race.
Somewhat disorientatingly the pictures jump backwards and forwards through time, but their impact is not lessened. Page after page of narrow, crowd-lined roads, battered cars and blackened faces: this is a collection of images that reveals the reality of road racing in the middle-1900s – dirty, brutally physical and inescapably dangerous.
It was that reality, though, that drew millions of spectators to the Mille Miglia each year, and the pictures of men, women and children swarming cars, climbing trees and billboards to get a better view, remind us that racing has never again been as central to the culture. Sixty years on from the last running of the Mille Miglia, motor racing is much faster, much safer and much less relevant.
The writing that accompanies the photographs is in large part taken from period publications, and underlines the esteem in which the racers were held. ‘Oh stout-hearted Biondetti. You limped as you headed to the podium, but your tread was not heavy with fatigue and the grip of your iron hands was resolute and your voice was robust.’
People don’t write about drivers that way any more. These were sometimes feckless playboys, but more frequently hard, middle-aged men – men like Felice Bonetto, a picture of grim determination in an Alfa Romeo in 1951, trademark pipe clenched between his teeth, the bowl sticking out beneath his visor.
A candid shot shows an elated Isabella Taruffi greeting her husband, Piero, immediately after his victory in the deadly 1957 event. She had desperately wanted him to stop racing; he had concluded that he could not retire without regret until he had won the Mille Miglia. The value of Leonardo Acerbi’s book is that it makes both positions entirely understandable. Chris Bietzk
E-Type Jaguar Restoration Manual
CMC Staff | Crowood Press | £40 | ISBN 978-1-78500-284-7
You’ve probably seen serialised restorations in magazines, but this is the whole thing as done by Jaguar specialist CMC to the 60th production E-type. Each part of this once sad-looking car’s 3000-hour resurrection is described in great detail by the CMC specialist responsible, with photographs, to make a highly useful guide to managing your own rebuild. If you’re doing it yourself, it will be your bible. If you’re paying someone else, at least you’ll know where all the money goes. The seven post-rebuild road tests make very interesting reading. John Simister
Cobra Pilote The Ed Hugus Story
Robert D Walker | Dalton Watson | £69 | ISBN 978-185443-283-4
The ‘Cobra Pilote’ part of this book’s title is a tad misleading, as Ed Hugus raced a wide variety of cars during the 1950s and 1960s. Although possessed of an outgoing personality, Hugus never courted celebrity, which may account for the fact that so few people know he competed in 10 consecutive Le Mans races. Or that, as a highly successful car dealer in the US, he bankrolled the first batch of Shelby Cobras when Carroll Shelby couldn’t pay for them. An intriguing and nicely illustrated tale. Brett Fraser
Stile Transatlantico/Transatlantic Style
Donald Osborne | Coachbuilt Press | $100
This book complements two simultaneous exhibitions, one in Museo dell’Automobile in Turin, the other in the Blackhawk Museums in Danville, California. The 284-page, 14in-square, bilingual hardback is mostly written by US car historian Donald Osborne, with delicious studio photographs by Michael Furman and contributions from, among others, our own Massimo Delbò. There’s much archive photography too.
The premise is that, post-WW2, Italian car design was influenced by the look emerging from the US, a country largely unscathed by the war and embracing consumerism. Yet by the end of the 1950s the tables were turning, with a new generation of simpler American designs reflecting the developing, cleaner-cut Italian look.
So we see a 1954 Lancia Aurelia B52 PF200 with a nose like an F-86 Sabre jet fighter’s, a Hudson Italia derived from a ‘Touring Jet’ (by Touring), which was sketched on a napkin, the BAT cars, and mid-decade Ghia creations full of fins. Sometimes the US/Italy link is a bit forced, but it’s an educational read. John Simister
Eric Dymock | Dove | £20.95 | ISBN 978-0-9574585-5-0
Eric Dymock’s well researched and affectionate tribute to the late, great Jim Clark has been out of print for the past 20 years, but is being reissued to commemorate the forthcoming 50th anniversary of the world champion’s demise in 1968. The text has been lightly tickled and the design modernised, but the essence of the book is unchanged – an intelligent, lively and easily read examination of every facet of Clark’s life, from his school days and time on the family farm, all the way through to his golden years on the front row of global motor sport. Brett Fraser
Ford Design in the UK
Nick Hull | Veloce | £45 | ISBN 978-1-845849-86-3
Maybe the cover and title don’t sell this well. But the production values are high, as is appropriate for a £45 book, and the author, Nick Hull, is a highly respected design commentator and tutor. He also spent many years in industry as a car designer, working for Honda for ten years and contributing to the Jaguar XJ220 – so he knows what he’s on about.
Fortunately, he’s managed to humanise the story of Ford design, which came to the UK in the 1930s when Ford of Britain products began to diverge from Detroit’s offerings. There are wonderful descriptions of the characters in the design team in the immediate post-war years; these included Vister de Wit, ‘who reputedly wore a thick black overcoat, even in summer’, and who was ‘a prodigious pipe smoker, famous for regularly setting fire to the waste-paper basket, full of his discarded sketches’.
There was also Eric Archer, who initiated ‘Sartorial Days’ in the design department. As Hull points out: ‘Quite what the blue-collar guys on the Dagenham production lines made of them parading down Chequers Lane, and the comments they made, can only be imagined.’
Many better-known names come up too, through the years: Roy Axe, Harris Mann, Bob Gregorie, Tom Karen, Ian Callum, Moray Callum, Patrick Le Quément, Martin Smith and many more.
Interesting, too, to note not just the expansions of the design teams over the decades, right up to the present day, but also the methods used. From early gouache, the mid-’60s brought Prismacolor crayons and Magic Marker felt pens, while the ’80s saw the Quantel Paintbox, followed by the Shimi Seiki touch tablet and pen a decade later, before all this went in favour of Photoshop and Illustrator software.
The one constant, remarkably, is the clay modelling, though initially they were built on plywood bases rather than later, easier, polyurethane. So, an interesting book after all. Good job! David Lillywhite
Collector’s book of the month
Various contributors | Automobilia | Published in 1990 | Value today £125
This two-volume set of hardbacks in a slipcase was described by the publishing house Automobilia as a catalogue raisonné – an art-world term meaning a comprehensive listing of all works by a particular artist.
In this case, the artist was the coachbuilder Pininfarina; other books in the series covered Ghia, Giugiaro, and a number of marques such as Lancia and Alfa Romeo.
These Automobilia books were authoritative works, packed with period images and generally consisting of two or three volumes each, and always slipcased. They were produced in Italy to a high standard, with good bindings, and they were quite expensive – around the £100 mark in the mid-’80s.
Fortunately for today’s collector, a cache of unsold books survived the demise of the publisher, and Pininfarina can be bought for £125 today. That situation won’t last forever. Ben Horton