“Brooklands Giants: Brave Men and their Great Cars” (Bill Boddy, 2006)

Brooklands GiantsGrand Prix motor racing reaches its centenary in 2006 so this retrospective look at some of the behemoth racers from the dawn of the century is well-timed.

It may be a little on the dusty side but you don’t need thick-rimmed glasses and an enormous beard to enjoy this book.

In this title Bill Boddy has chosen a curious specialism: cars of at least 10 litres in capacity that competed on the Brooklands race track. This was the first purpose-built circuit when it opened in 1907, and lasted until the outbreak of World War II.

But it is very much Boddy’s specialism – he is already the author of a three-volume history of Brooklands and several other books on the topic. This edition incorporates his 1995 title Brooklands Giants and his 1992 book Aero-engined racing cars at Brooklands.

The second section has it its focus the extraordinarily huge cars that derived their enormous engines from contemporary aircraft. There is quite a bit of overlap between the two and some chapters that are basically repeated.

Both are conspicuously detailed and feature a large amount of photography (monochrome, of course).

Now, I know what you’re thinking – this all sounds very worthy. And the copy is dense and the subject matter is on the dusty side.

But Brooklands Giants has both a romantic charm and a very British sense of a pursuit for slightly eccentric engineering excellence. It has a Wallace and Gromit feel to it.

It also has some genuine surprises in parts, like the young and petite Kay Petre, a female racer who manhalded (womanhandled?) an enormous 10.5-litre V12 Delage around Brooklands at an average speed of 134.75 mph. There are other examples of proto-Katherine Legges and Danica Patricks, too.

The technical details of the gigantic machines are genuinely hair-raising, too, particularly regarding the aeroplane-engined monsters.

It’s not exactly a blistering read. It has the completeness and dedication to detail that a thorough telling of an historical account demands, but that does not lend itself to such frivolities as entertainment.

As such, it’s not a Grand Prix book for the masses. But that in itself is no bad thing.

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