March motoring book reviews

14-Mar-2018

The publishing scene continues to launch new motoring books and Iain Robertson has read four of the latest titles that could not be more different if they tried, covering classic cars, a legendary racer, journalistic wit and a glimpse into driving’s future… 

Wow Gilles! – Villeneuve. The Undying Legend  
By Ercole Colombo and Giorgio Terruzzi
ISBN: 978 88 572 3605 6
£40.00
Skira Publishing

In a Formula One racing career that lasted just five years (1977 to 1982), ending with his untimely death at the Zolder racetrack in Belgium, Gilles Villeneuve, a French-Canadian racer, created an unforgettable legacy. His driving style effectively directed his destiny. Some observers spoke of his obsession for speed, mentioning a hushed ‘dangerous’ in the same sentence. Villeneuve flew choppers, raced speedboats and snowmobiles, played backgammon and drove racing cars with remarkable verve and intensity. Yet, he seemed to court death and engage with disaster regularly, which is not to decry his innate car control skills but, rather, his ability to wring every ounce of energy from his activities. In his first season as a Ferrari F1 driver, a terrible accident at the Fuji Speedway, Japan, resulted in his car spearing off the circuit and into the crowd, killing tragically two spectators upon impact. Villeneuve was said to be the ideal size for an F1 driver, more jockey than sprinter, although he was a veritable powerhouse, possessing a character far larger than his stature. However, he was far less interested in outright race victories than providing support to his various team-mates, an aspect for which he was roundly criticised, yet also admired immensely. A succession of minor and progressively severe accidents, from which he walked away unscathed, seemed to afford him a god-like, non-stick personality. You could tell that a car was Villeneuve’s, because it was sure to be minus a wing, or a body panel, let alone with rubber deposits on its flanks. Niki Lauda referred to Gilles as the craziest devil he ever came across in Formula One. Two F1 protagonists are responsible for this large format 206pp hardback book: photographer Ercole Colombo and journalist Giorgio Terruzzi. Both had first-hand experiences of Gilles’ life and career. The words are few in number but enough to provide necessary information, while the abundant photography is superb. A book like this provides a lasting memory of one of racing’s true greats. Gilles was only 32, when he died. 

The Good, The Mad & The Ugly…not to mention Jeremy Clarkson
By Peter Dron
ISBN: 978 1 787111 84 4
£14.99
Veloce Publishing (01305-260068)

Two of the greatest errors I ever made in my working life were not taking up an offer to work on Top Gear and not joining Peter Dron at Fast Lane Magazine. While I am not really upset 25 and 30 years ago respectively, in reading Peter’s 256pp of paperback delights, there is ever such a thin sliver of regret emerging from the man’s printer. He is as fortunate as me, in that we both experienced what he refers to questioningly as ‘The Golden Age of Motoring Journalism?’, which came to a grinding halt following the world economic crash of 2008, after which its excesses would never be repeated. Yet, strangely and studiously, he avoided the Concorde flights of fantasy, the excessive payola (bribes) and several of the specific details of some of the glorious locations and venues that were the preserve of the motor industry in its most pompous era. Peter is an outstanding writer and I forgive his use of American ‘z’s’, as the book, which verges on memoirs, is set to sell in North America too. Cleverly, he uses brief chapters (99 in total) to illustrate many of his tales of derring-do but the content, while charming in parts, only serves to highlight that, what a writer might find amusing, does not always translate into ribald wit for the reader, despite its potential to do so. In balance, away from the ‘in-jokes’ and personalities that will be largely unknown outside the journalistic closed circle, Peter’s descriptive prowess highlights many of the issues that have led to the merry-go-round (or gravy train) falling off its rollers. Even if your interest in cars, or the motor journalistic scene, is minimal, you will find much to enjoy in this book, mainly because it is just a darned good read! 

Autonomous Driving – How The Driverless Revolution Will Change The World  
By Andreas Herrmann, Walter Brenner and Rupert Stadler
ISBN: 978 17871 483 45
£19.99
Emerald Publishing

Put three senior level academics into a room for a few hours and they are unlikely to emerge in fits of hysterical laughter. While Herr Stadler is Chairman of the Board for Audi, he also holds an honorary role as a Professor for Business Administration at The University of St Gallen, which is also home to both Professors Herrmann and Brenner, and together they have authored a most positive outline of a driverless future. Naturally, it could be suggested that their hands are not only on the tiller but also in the till, as, despite an intention to highlight a topic that is immensely important for all of us, their favourable arguments and perspectives cannot be described as anything less than biased. In fact, their very roles could be placed in jeopardy, were they to contemplate a contrary stance to the total acceptability of autonomous motoring, in which they believe so assuredly. Yet, they do admit that writing a book on the subject is immensely difficult, when the findings can be out-dated within hours, such is the changing face of the technology and also governmental demands. However, the subject matter is transformational and it will affect our economic positions and social lives. As a result, a lot of the content is anecdotal…well, as anecdotal as ever-so-dry university papers can get. The bottom-line, even for these academics, is a potential utopia that is fascinating for its speed and intensity of digitisation. Perhaps most fascinating is the aspect that Information Technology will no longer be factored into car production but that the vehicle itself will be constructed around Information Technology, which is either as scary as it sounds, or as invasive and anti-personal security as it might be. The deeper you read into this book, the greater are the risks and fears, doubts and concerns that are presented. It is a heavy subject and one in which it is immensely difficult to obtain even a whiff of levity but it is no less than fascinating. This book is not the most entertaining but it is enormously informative. 

An Austin Anthology  
By James Stringer
ISBN: 978 1 787111 91 2
£14.99
Veloce Publishing (01305-260068)

Lovers of motoring history, especially when imparted in such a charming manner, will adore this little hardback book. In a mere 112pp, it tells an Austin fan’s most engaging short stories about products emerging from the lines at Longbridge, Birmingham, the sometime home to the British car brand once owned by Herbert Austin. In a timeline that covers the origins of the company in 1905, up to the end of the Great War and a little bit beyond, the tales of local murder, the bi-plane compact enough to park in a domestic garage, the Austin Twelve that lapped Australia in 1926 and just what did happen to pensioned-off taxi-cabs are covered in cheery detail, complete with humorous recollections and intriguing conclusions. It is exceptionally well written and accompanied by a wealth of monochrome plates and period illustrations. It is not intended to be a history book, although much of its content is historically relevant. There is as much local detail, as international intrigue and it is not a model-by-model encyclopaedia of Austin but it does provide a valuable insight to the British firm’s enterprise at an early stage of its existence. It is one of those books that is as easy to put aside, as it is to pick up and read, but you will come back to it, because of its sheer readability.