Lots of books to read!

Posted on May 22nd, 2005 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

With the availability of eBay and Amazon, these days it’s not hard to source specific secondhand books. What would have once required a nightmarish time-wasting procedure of calling bookshops, paying fees, having searches done on your behalf, never hearing back – well, all that’s now gone. Instead, it’s just a case of typing into search engines!

I am a prodigious reader, not just of books automotive but also of books aeroplanes, books trains, books ships – and also books Nazi Germany, books sociology, and others. But back to car books. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve acquired a handful of interesting car books, all secondhand and all interesting.

Let’s take a look.

  • The Motor Makers, by Martin Adeney, ISBN 0-00-217787-0

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This book was published in 1988. It’s a history of Britain’s car manufacturing industry, from the very first cars that were produced, up until the publication date. You can absorb the book in two ways – as a readable history of car production over the years, or as a scathing indictment of what happened to British car manufacturing after World War II.

I am particularly interested in the latter: think about it. You had an industry that could produce cars such as the Jaguar XK120 (for its money, at the time the world’s best sports car), the incredibly innovative Mini and the equally innovative but unsuccessful Hillman Imp (don’t know it? Try a rear-mounted all-alloy Coventry Climax engine that revved like the race engine it nearly was). And yet, over a space of 30 years, the industry pretty well went bust. What were the mechanisms that produced such wonderful cars but in such an apparently unprofitable way?

Mr Adeney’s book contains some technical errors on models and specifications, but the main thrust of the book is fascinating. Like, how Ford looked long and hard at the Mini, pulled it apart and decided that the makers must be making a loss on every one that they sold, and then went and built a completely conventional car – but one that then made them a lot of money. (It was called the Cortina.)

If you’re interested in the background of why car companies succeed and why others don’t, The Motor Makers is an interesting and well-written book.

Score: 8/10

  • Driving Force – the Evolution of the Car Engine, by Jeff Daniels, ISBN1 85960 877 9

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This is a frustrating book. It’s written abysmally (there’s barely a single page where the author doesn’t say: “as mentioned last chapter” and the author’s continual self-awareness is exhausting) and he simply doesn’t have a feel for the topic, but the content is fundamentally interesting. Published in 2002, the book attempts to recount the full development of the automotive engine. It’s arranged with roughly a chapter per decade, starting prior to 1900 with the very first cars.

Fascinating snippets appear all over the place, but you get the strong feeling the author – despite what he says in the Forward – simply hasn’t done enough research. He also often attempts to cover the engines while ignoring the cars that they appeared in – which means there’s a complete lack of ‘driving’ discussion. Was an engine a torquey, rip-snorting powerhouse on the road? Who knows…

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Mr Daniels is completely out of his depth in his coverage of US engines, and even with European designs (the author is British) he often falls back on simply quoting specifications like bore and stroke as if they’re an adequate explanation of an engine’s genesis and long-term import. Simply, the sights were set too high – if the book had been just on British engines (or Italian engines, or…) it would have been potentially vastly better.

It’s still worth buying, if only for the numerous cutaway line drawings. But don’t pay a lot for it…

Score: 6/10

  • Famous Racing Cars, by Doug Nye, ISBN 1-85260-036-5

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This is a book of a very different order, written by a confident and well researched author who is prepared to have opinions and state them!

Published in 1989, it covers fifty different racing cars – their drivers, mechanical make-up, success and failure. There are some great photos and cars that will appeal to almost all interests – from the incredible W125 Mercedes-Benz of the late ‘30s to the Formula 1 Brabham Alfa-Romeo “fan car” of 1978.

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With one chapter per car, you can either read it in historical sequence or dip in and out at random – literally, every chapter is interesting. There is sufficient depth for those who want to explore the operation and appearance of supercharged cars of the Thirties to those readers just wanting to see some very powerful racing cars in full-bore action.

Score: 8/10

  • Scientific Design of Intake and Exhaust Systems, by Philip H Smith, ISBN unknown

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This is an oldie – first published in 1962, with this a 1968 revised edition. As the title suggests, it aims at being a complete coverage of the design of intake and exhaust systems.

A very detailed book, its age is both an impediment and an advantage. An impediment because it doesn’t discuss Electronic Fuel Injection intake manifolds (let alone variable intake manifolds, cat converters, turbos, emissions – or a host of other things) but an advantage in that it’s a very detailed, back-to-fundamentals book of the sort now rarely published. How fundamental? Well, it takes you right through the idea of how sound travels, how a tuned length (organ!) pipe works, and so on.

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Pretty well all the engines shown as ‘state-of the-art’ are now well outdated, and don’t look for a quick and easy mathematical solution for fitting extractors to a Honda S2000 – that engine would have been regarded as beyond belief at the time the book was published! However, if you want a detailed (and, it must be said, at times stodgily written) book covering the theory of intake and exhaust systems, it’s a valuable and worthwhile reference.

But it’s a book that definitely needs to be slowly and thoroughly studied, not skimmed…

Score (for the right reader!): 9/10

  • Lamborghini Countach, by Jean-Francois Marchet & Peter Coltrin, ISBN 0-85045-390-9

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An unassuming small format book with mostly B&W pics and a large font text, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that it’s one of those numerous books on great cars that are aimed at those wanting little detail. But you’d be wrong.

Copyright 1981 – with this edition published in 1984 – it’s much more about the development of the car than its later incarnations. But it’s the development which is most interesting, anyway. There’s plenty of ‘insider’ information – and even more insider pics. The photos that show the tubular chassis and aerodynamic wool-tuft testing are riveting, and while there are not a lot of words in the text, the impact is high. There are also some lovely line drawings (including of the suspension!) and a few complete reprinted road tests of contemporary cars.

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The Countach is one of the all-time most fascinating cars, and this book makes a good introduction if you want plenty of tech detail and less of the glossy pics.

Score: 8/10

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