The Bookworm Critique
"Into The Red"
By Nick Mason and Mark Hales;
Published by Virgin.
by Mark Glendenning,

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Popular opinion would have it that people who like Formula One are automatically capable of intelligent discussion about anything else that has four wheels. If you can talk for hours about the virtues of a two-stop strategy at Magny Cours as opposed to the three-stop option, then it's assumed that you are equally comfortable chatting about the power-to-weight ratio of a Ferrari Dino.

And for many of you, I have no doubt that this is true. But before going any further with this review, I think it's important for you to know that I'm not one of those people. Sure, I'm in awe of the engineering and aesthetic elegance of many of these machines, and I love watching them in full flight when they're being controlled by someone who knows what they're doing. But my general knowledge of sports cars, GTs, and other non-F1, high-performance vehicles is pretty much limited to the bits and pieces that I used to glean from the back of trading cards that came in breakfast cereal boxes when I was a kid. (Man, I wish I still had those cards now). The reason I'm telling you this is that there's every chance that someone in the course of writing this critique that I'm going to say something stupid. Bearing that in mind, I figured it would be easiest if I just plead ignorance right from the beginning, rather than trying to pretend that I actually know what I'm talking about and then tripping myself up by making some bizarre statement somewhere.

OK, now that we know where we stand, we can get on with the business of talking about the book. 'Into the Red' was released a couple of years ago, and is a collaboration between exotic car collector extraordinaire Nick Mason and driver Mark Hales. Mason's day job as drummer with Pink Floyd has provided him with the necessary means (i.e. cash) to assemble a staggering collection of cars that date as far back as 1901. Unlike a great many other collectors however, Mason eschews the idea that rare or exotic cars are mere museum pieces. In his view, this machines are best appreciated when doing what they were designed to do - being driven. That's where Hales comes into the picture.

A book that simply took the reader through Mason's collection, showed a few photos of each car, and give a bit of information here and there, would be reasonably interesting, particularly because of the fact that he has accumulated representatives from each decade of the twentieth century. But 'Into the Red' manages to do so much more than simply tell you about the cars. Mason and Hales state at the beginning that their intention was to convey as much of the feeling of each car to the reader as possible. In other words, where other books tend to simply describe each model, this one attempts to communicate the personality and character that is unique to each vehicle. It's a tough assignment (as they themselves soon discovered), but one which they achieve admirably.

The book presents the cars in chronological order, starting with a 1901 Panhard B1, and concluding with a garishly pink 1990 Porsche 962. Each of the twenty-one examples was test-driven (usually around Silverstone, though the BRM V16 apparently refused to perform anywhere other than Donington) by Mark Hales, who then proceeds to describe the feeling of each car with a relaxed affability reminiscent of Martin Brundle. Hales takes the reader though the whole experience - the physical sensation of sitting in the car, the changes in the handling at various speeds and locations on the circuit, and other generalities relating to each model's assorted advantages and shortcomings. The greatest thing about Hales' contribution is that he is one of those people who are able to convey a great deal of information, but in a manner that is comprehensible to both enthusiasts and know-nothing ignoramuses like myself.

Mason, meanwhile, talks about his own experiences with each car. While he has actually raced a number of them himself, he tends to leave that aspect of the writing to Hales, and concentrates instead on chatting about the history of the particular model, the circumstances under which he acquired it, and any other little odds and ends that he deems relevant or interesting. It's good stuff, largely because Mason manages to talk at length about his personal experiences without overstepping the mark and becoming overly self-indulgent. Also great is the fact that many of the cars in Mason's collection have distinguished race pedigrees, which are shared with the reader whenever possible.

People who know about things like oleo pneumatic struts are not forgotten either, for the section about each car concludes with a reasonably extensive list of the vehicle's technical specifications. This made for some interesting comparisons between different models and eras, and I'd guess that those of you who actually know what all this stuff means would find it even more fascinating than I did.

The one other aspect of a racing car that distinguishes it from all others is its voice. This is concept that is widely accepted; yet rarely addressed by books that deal with the subject. Mason and Hales, though, were seemingly determined to leave no stone unturned in their efforts to express as much of each car's character to the reader as possible; hence the CD that accompanies the book. Clocking in at a little less than 38 minutes, the disc features digital recordings of 17 of the 21 featured cars, usually recorded under two or three different situations; e.g. the engine being started, the car passing at speed, or an in-car recording.

These recordings are absolutely superb, and contribute an enormous amount to the overall impression that one builds of each car. It would seem from the introductory pages that the recording logistics were among the greatest hurdles faced in the process of getting the book together, but the end result is well worth it. Being something of an audiophile, I was also pleased to see that recoding information and an equipment list were provided - a detail that might have been overlooked, had the author not been a rock star!

There is one small criticism that I'd like to raise, and it concerns the layout. Each chapter sees Mason and Hale's little sections laid out side by side down each page. This is presumably to maintain an impression of equal standing between the two writers, but it has the unfortunate effect of forcing the reader to flick backwards and forwards all over the place to read each section. It's a not a huge problem; more of a niggling annoyance. One other small point is that the cardboard CD envelope seems to have been designed to be childproof, resulting in me nearly destroying the cover trying to get the thing out. (In the interests of book preservation, the CD now lives separately in a plastic case).

This is a great book that should be required reading for anybody with any interest in motorsport. Those who are passionate about historical marques will find an opportunity to get closer to some classic vehicles than they may ever do otherwise, while people who's forte is the modern era will benefit greatly from being able to trace the way in which the cars evolved into what we see today in such a vivid and lively manner. There is a great variety of machinery to be explored here, including some that were famous landmarks in engineering (such as the Ferrari 250GTO), and others with an irresistible historical background (the 1978 Gilles Villeneuve Ferrari 312T3 springs immediately to mind here).

Speaking for myself, I was delighted to see the BRM V16 Mk2 from 1953 included, partly because after having read so much about the distinctive engine note produced by this car it was great to finally hear it, and also because I have a particular fascination with this model, which was possibly the most overly-enthusiastic yet ill-conceived racing car ever produced. (Mason mentions that he raced his BRM in 1997 - apparently it was the first time that one of these cars actually finished a race since 1955). This book is one of the most enjoyable works I have come across in ages.

Mark Glendenning© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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