“Cars at Speed” – what a fantastic title. I’d like to think that if the TV programme “Top Gear” had been created in the 1950s it would have been called “Cars at Speed” and presented by plummy-voiced Raymond Baxter instead of rant-meister Jeremy Clarkson.
But no, “Cars at Speed” is a book about motor racing first published in 1961 which has just been re-printed.
And if you’re looking for a last-minute Christmas present it should be very high on your list.
Author Robert Daley is an interesting character – an American journalist who covered early Grand Prix and road racing for his home audience. He brings a different perspective to early motor racing than his European contemporaries.
British readers may be familiar with the likes of Denis Jenkinson, whose early F1 reports in Motor Sport magazine provided a comprehensive record for Grand Prix fans.
But while the often venerated Jenkinson would be in thrall about the spectacle of racing and brush the gruesome details of the many fatalities to one side, Daley was quite horrified by the carnage he saw and tackles the matter head-on, rather than minimising it. (For more on which see his similarly excellent book “The Cruel Sport”).
In 13 chapters Daley takes us through the great motor races of the time. Not just the biggest Grands Prix at venues such as the daunting Nurburgring Nordschleife and glamorous Monte-Carlo, but also the great road races like the Targa Florio and Mille Miglia.
It’s hard to imagine how Jenkinson the racing romantic and Daley the uncompromising realist might have viewed each other’s work. Daley is certainly not one for letting the intoxicating thrill of motor racing get the better of his sensibilities.
While many writers about 1950s F1 waxed lyrical about the brilliance of Juan Manuel Fangio, many ignored the dictatorship of Juan Peron that supported his efforts. Daley does not.
It is this which makes “Cars at Speed” is a fascinating insight into F1’s past, and a refreshingly unsentimental one.
2007 (first edition 1961)
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