ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 44 Email to Friend   Printable Version


The Bookworm Critique
By Innes Ireland.
Published by Transport Bookman Publications.
by Mark Glendenning,

Click here to buy this bookOooooh yeah, now this is the good stuff. Generally speaking, books about drivers should never be relied upon to contain anything particularly enlightening. All too frequently, they are not even especially interesting. The variable quality of biographies and autobiographies does have one advantage though, and that is the way they serve to highlight just how good the really exceptional examples are. And as far as this genre goes, 'All Arms And Elbows' is up there with the best.

Actually, it was only when I first picked this book up that I realised just how little I knew about Innes Ireland. Sure, I was aware of his exploits away from the track, - in fact, I suspect that the notoriety that Ireland's appetite for revelry developed has to some extent overshadowed his racing achievements. But his racing record was far less familiar to me. Sitting here confessing my ignorance is rather embarrassing, because on the right day Innes was capable of running wheel-to-wheel with Moss, Brabham, Hill, or Clark. Of course, he was equally capable of making an early exit, either through over-exuberance or the terrible lack of reliable machinery that plagued him throughout his career.

'All Arms And Elbows' was first released in 1967, and was re-released with a few revisions and additions in 1994; not long after Ireland succumbed to cancer. Innes Ireland was perhaps the last true amateur spirit in motorsport. His sole motivation for driving was the exhilaration of pushing the best available machinery to the absolute limit. Reimbursement was never much of an issue; indeed, even in the 1960s he was lamenting the growing prominence of money in Formula One contracts. (God only knows what he would have made of Damon Hill's decision to reject the performance-based McLaren offer a couple of years ago).

Ireland approached his racing and his celebrating with equal enthusiasm, and this book manages to strike an even balance between the two. He is a regular feature in anecdotal Formula One books such as 'It Beats Working' by Eoin Young and 'Chasing the Title' by Nigel Roebuck, and the stories that he relates in this book are invariably brilliant. Most of them are also very funny. Actually, Ireland's exquisite sense of humour is dished up very liberally right throughout the book, and this in part is why it is such a joy to read. In fact, this book is so consistently funny that it's virtually impossible to pick one particular passage that stands out. So I didn't. Instead, I decided to try an experiment - simple open the book at random, and reproduce something from that page. It worked - here's what I came up with:

"Speaking of being a terror-stricken passenger reminds me of the time...when I went for a ride with Enzo Ferrari himself in a little baby Ferrari which he was considering putting into production but never did. It was an extremely fast little machine with something like a 1,500cc engine. Anyway, Ferrari decided to take me for a run in it.'

'We left the factory with a tremendous flourish, no suggestion here of stopping at the factory gate and taking a quick look up the main road that runs by - but a blare on the horn for the gateman to open up as we sped towards him, and out on to the road with the tyres screeching madly.'

'The road past the factory winds through endless little cobblestone villages and the speed at which we travelled was quite alarming. I knew that Enzo Ferrari had been a racing driver once. What puzzled me was why he didn't still go on racing. I can only imagine that the local villagers must have got used to Signor Ferrari screaming sideways round the corners of their streets. Everything on that drive was at maximum. On the way back, he made no attempt to stop at the factory gates but went bounding on down the road with the horns blaring. I notice that the factory gates were firmly closed as we fairly rocketed past at about 125 miles an hour. But we had only passed the factory by a matter of three hundred yards, when he just stood on the brakes. I mean, he really leapt on the brake pedal and we came to a grinding, screaming halt. He looked at me with a great grin on his face and said: 'Hey, freno bene, si?' or whatever the Italian is for 'Aren't these brakes good?'

"It was impossible to answer. My stomach was way out somewhere on the front of the bonnet. Much as I love Mr. Ferrari's motor cars, I can't say I am too anxious to go for another ride with him."

Which brings me to the other great thing about this book. It is extraordinarily well written. Ireland was unusually sensitive, observant, and eloquent, and all of this is evident from first page to last. He was also extremely honest and related things exactly as he saw them, both about himself and others. These qualities would go on to serve him well when he took up journalism after his retirement from racing, but his gift as a storyteller is obvious in 'All Arms And Elbows'. His innate ability to get himself into the most extraordinary situations, both on and off the track, was matched by an equally well-developed capacity to relate the tale to others. Ireland must have been an amazing dinner guest.

There's not much else I can say about this book, because I don't really feel that I can do it justice. I enjoyed 'All Arms And Elbows' more than any other driver biography that I have ever read, and I think I'll be waiting a while before something comes along that can match it. It is engaging, honest, and extremely funny. Irrespective of the degree of your interest in 1960s Grand Prix racing, this is a book that you should pick up at all costs. It doesn't get much better than this.

Mark Glendenning© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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