ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 40 Email to Friend   Printable Version


The Bookworm Critique
By Stirling Moss with Doug Nye
Published by Haynes.
by Mark Glendenning,

Click here to buy this bookBooks like this are really tricky to review, because it's hard to gauge the audience that you might be speaking to. 'My Cars, My Career' has been around for a while, so the types of motorsport fans that would normally gravitate toward a Moss autobiography would probably have already bought it. And it's hard to know how many fans of modern-day Formula One would be interested in what happened forty or fifty years ago. So I'm going to take the middle ground instead, and talk about the book in general terms. Hopefully I'll win a few converts along the way, because this is a really excellent read.

After Fangio, Moss was the greatest driver his era; a man who has done more than any other to underline the inherent problems with the World Championship through the simple (and unbelievable) fact that he never won it. He won an awful lot of other things though- the Targa Florio, the Mille Miglia (in record time, no less), and he would finish second at Le Mans twice, retire from the lead on several other occasions, and be withdrawn from the race while leading in 1955 after Pierre Levegh's catastrophic accident.

Included with the book is an excellent record of all the races Moss was known to have contested, the car he drove, and the result. The attention to detail here is hard to flaw - if Moss retired, you are usually told why; often you can also find out where he was running before things went wrong. Other significant tidbits, such as fastest laps, pole times, and significant landmarks such as the first Grande Epreuve victory, are included where applicable. It's easy to kill a lazy half an hour browsing through this section, and along the way those of us that weren't there can get some idea of how much racing has changed in the past few decades.

If Michael Schumacher had a five-week break between races, he would probably spend a fair chunk of it playing soccer somewhere in the Swiss mountains. Faced with that very situation in 1954, Moss raced in the RAC Tourist Trophy, the Goodwood Trophy, the Formula Libre Woodcote Cup, the Daily Telegraph Trophy, another Formula Libre race, a sports car race, and two 500cc races. He finished on the podium in all but one of them, and that was because his D-Type Jaguar lost oil pressure. That's more a reflection upon the way racing (and indeed most professional sports) have changed rather than anything to do with Schumacher personally, but for those of us who, in 1954, were still a couple of decades away from being born it's eye-opening stuff.

The book follows Moss' career in what world seem to me to be the most natural way to trace a driver's history - through his cars. Each and every car that Moss drove in anger, from the Maserati 250F to the Micromill, and even some that weren't (hello, Humber Super Snipe), is here. It's a cool way to do it, because not only do we get the lowdown on Moss' racing career, but we are also effectively treated to a road-test of each of these cars - eighty-four in all. Most are also accompanied by photos. (If you happen to own Nick Mason and Nick Hales' 'Into The Red', you can double your fun by using the CD that accompanied the book to remind yourself of what some of the cars that Moss describes sounded like). Interspersed with all this are little bits of advice on driving techniques, an in-depth look at the Goodwood crash that ended the Englishman's career, and a whole bunch of other cool stuff.

As far as value for money goes, this is a hard book to beat. It is very substantial - there's no way you'll be knocking this one over in a single night. It's also one of those rare books that is equally suited to being read cover-to-cover, or just being dipped into as a reference. Each car has its own chapter, and the index for the major personalities in the book, so finding what you need isn't too much of a problem. I'd have also liked to see the significant races included in a separate index, but its omission is only a slight flaw in what is otherwise a great book.

This excerpt was one of my favourite moments in the book, and hopefully it will whet you appetite sufficiently for you to go and read the whole thing. The passage is drawn from the chapter about the Jaguar XK120, which Moss drove between 1950 and 1952.

"...Then in mid-summer Leslie Johnson had another of his ideas. Having averaged 1000mph for 24 hours at Montlhery he now talked Jaguar into attempting 1000mph for a week!'

'We used an XK120 Coupe, Leslie and I sharing the driving with Jack Fairman and Bert Hadley, the pre-war Austin OHC Racer star. We again drove in three-hour spells. The speedbowl lap was under a minute at 120mph, so it was quite a strain. After each straight we hit the banking high up near the lip, then plunged off, twice every fifty seconds, night and day. In each spell we would cover about 2000 laps. It was impossible to keep one's mind occupied on a job like that. We had a two-way radio which helped keep boredom at bay. We talked all the time, called each other names, even told stories. One dare not let the mind wander, because we were running within four feet of the banking lip at around 120mph. One had to concentrate on something. I worked out how many million revs the engine made in a day, how many times the wheels turned, things like that.'

'The weather did not help; hot by day, cold at night. Night driving was a strain too, because we couldn't afford the drain on the battery of extra lights. The headlights had to be set very high to let us see the top of the banking when we were on it, and this meant that on the short straights we could see nothing at all because the beams were playing in the air.'

'We hit several hares, rabbits and birds, and Leslie swore at one point that he'd seen a huge ten-foot tall figure in a long cloak, wearing a tall pointed hat, striding toward him along the verge. Next time round the figure had worried the life out of him for the rest of his stint. In fact I had donned a Shell fuel funnel, pulled a tarpaulin around me and sat on Jack Fairman's shoulders as he strode along the verge. After Leslie had whizzed by we ran away and hid...All very childish, but good fun in the circumstances. Leslie then had an extraordinary idea to get his own back during one of my stints. I came whistling off the banking to find him sitting with Jack Fairman in the middle of the track, playing cards!'

'Then he took the pit signal board and out it out on the track, so that my natural line past the pits took me between it and the timekeeper's hut. He was lounging beside the hut so I waved to him as I shot though the gap. Next time round the board had been moved closer to the hut. The gap was narrower, but I couldn't leave the fast line so I shot through it again. Next time round, he'd moved the board closer still. Each lap he narrowed the gap which made me concentrate harder to pass through it. Eventually he gave in, and the board went back to its proper position, hung on the tent. At least it passed the time..."

Mark Glendenning© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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