GLOBETROTTER

Winter in the library...

The other day I was in the bath, reading "Country Living" magazine (as one does), and I found something so distressing that I nearly drowned. There was a company advertising leather books "by the yard". When I recovered my composure (and a rather soggy copy of "Country Living") I ruminated for a while on what people who buy books by the yard are trying to achieve. In such a case books are simply fashion accessories. They infer a certain intelligence but any intelligent person knows that you learn a lot about a person from their library and anyone analyzing a yard or two of books would quickly realize what had occurred.

The other day I had to tidy up my motor racing library and as I was doing it I realized that I have some weird and wonderful books. Unlike some of my colleagues collecting racing books is not an obsession. I have some pretty rare ones which I have picked up along the way but I use them for work. Somewhere on the shelves I have a technical book issued by Honda called "A decade of continuous challenges" detailing the Honda F1 efforts in the 1980s, signed by Nobuhiko Kawamoto. They say it is like owning gold dust. I have a copy of Ginny Williams's extraordinary book about her husband Sir Frank. The value of this goes up every time Lady Williams finds a copy, because she burns them creating an increasingly limited edition...

Another (very) limited edition I have is a history of the Monteverdi car company which was given to me by Peter Monteverdi. He was one of the maddest Formula 1 team bosses I have encountered (and there have been quite a few) and I do not think I will ever forget the shock when he informed me in 1990 that he thought F1 designers were overrated and that he would be designing his own cars. Weird.

When it comes to wonderful I have a magnificent history of the Grand Prix of Cuba which relates, in English and Spanish, all about the racing in Havana in the 1950s. It tells the forgotten tale of how in 1958 Juan-Manuel Fangio was kidnapped by Fidel Castro's freedom fighters while standing in the lobby of the Hotel Lincoln. The story includes some wonderful newspaper headlines from the US newspapers at the time: "Fangio Kidnappers Commies?" asked The Miami News .

Motor racing has an amazing capacity for weird and wonderful stories and most of them are never told to the public who snooze in front of the TV every second Sunday and say they are race fans. I have always felt this was such a shame.

One could create such huge interest by telling some of the madder tales. In among my books is one called "Les Croisieres Automobiles" which would make a complete TV series in its own right. It tells the story of the great automotive adventures in the early years of the 20th century, including accounts of the Peking-Paris race in 1907 and the New York-Paris the following year. And if you think that New York to Paris sounds like a lengthy boat trip and a few drinks, think again. They went the other way. From New York to San Francisco and then on a boat to Japan and then right across Asia.

This year I acquired my first religious book about motor racing. Called "The Driving Force" it managed to find a large number of references to racing in the Bible and these are laid out amid moody shots of NASCAR racers. The book is subtitled "Handling the curves of life" and it makes for an unusual read.

So too does the culinary section of my motor racing library which begins with a biography of Rene Dreyfus, who went from being a Grand Prix winner to running a successful restaurant in New York City. Next along I have a motor racing recipe book which gives me details of the favorite foods of motor racing people. My favorite motoring cookbook, however, is "Manifold Destiny", which claims to be the one and the only guide to cooking food in different locations on various makes of engine and how far you need to drive before your dinner is ready. The recipes include Hyundai Halibut with Fennel (cooking distance 55-85 miles), Cruise-Control Pork Tenderloin (distance 250 miles), and Enzo's Veal (75 miles) with the marvellous instruction: "Start this in Manhattan. Turn once in Stamford and lunch will be ready in New Haven."

The recipe for Upper Class Road Kill is not exactly politically-correct but it is splendid. It instructs the driver to take to the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut and "kill a deer, one that is anxious but not too afraid to cross the road". It adds, "this should not be too hard - on some mornings that quaint highway looks like the local butcher's delivery van door swung open and half the stock popped out".

After basic preparation work at home the venison should then be placed on the engine and one should drive off "humming a chilling tune".

Chilling is a word which leaps to mind when I get to the political section of the library. There is a space there for a book I saw a few months ago on the automotive shelf in one of the surviving books shops on Charing Cross Road in London. It was called Daimler-Benz in the Third Reich. I thought I might buy it as a gift for the Mercedes-Benz F1 press officer but concluded that perhaps it would stretch his sense of humor a little too far and so left it on the shelf. I have regretted that decision ever since.

History may be embarrassing but it is there. This is something I have discovered recently while writing a series on the background of some of the current Formula 1 sponsors. I had no idea, for example, that the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank was built up on money from the opium trade, nor did I know that Hugo Boss was the official supplier of uniforms to the SS. This sort of stuff never appears in press releases.

I remember searching for years to find one scurrilous book, published in the early 1980s and banned within a matter of days, which purported to blow the lid off the financing of Grand Prix racing and the people involved in the sport. It included all the usual stuff of legend but included an extraordinary photograph of the then FIA President dressed in some of Hugo Boss's creations from the 1944 collection. Jean-Marie Balestre, it should be pointed out, has proved on many occasions in courts of law all over Paris that he was only in the SS because he was working as a secret agent for the French Resistance.

One day I must write that book...

My most treasured book is a (bad) biography of another racing person who was involved in the Resistance Robert Benoist, the great Delage champion of the 1920s. This book is so rare that a normal copy goes for several hundred pounds. This is a lot of money for a 1945 paperback. A few years ago I had a rush of blood to the head and bought a copy. It was advertised as having some unidentified inscriptions on the fly-leaf.

When I opened the book it was like Christmas used to be when I was a kid. I knew the signatures the moment I saw them. There was one from the author Roger Labric, one from the artist Geo Ham and dotted about the page were the autographs of some of Benoist's friends: Jean-Pierre Wimille, Pierre Veyron and a well-known test pilot and aviation record breaker called Marcel Doret. The secret of the book was in the knowledge that Benoist, Labric, Veyron and Wimille were not just a bunch of friends but had been the four drivers of the Bugatti factory team at Le Mans in 1939. Wimille and Veyron won the race.

When I mentioned I had this book to a collector I know, he tried very hard not to sound as though he was having a cardiac arrest but clearly he was rather short of breath.

I say I am not obsessive but there is another hole on the bookshelf that one day I will fill. For about 10 years I have been hunting for a book which is as rare as the Holy Grail. It is the story of a multi-story car park in Paris called the Garage Banville.

Weird or what? Well, the reason I want it is that when the Garage Banville was opened in 1927 it hosted a hillclimb event with the Grand Prix cars of the day using the up ramps to race up to the roof. I cannot tell you the story until I find that damned book...

Print Feature