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Speed Reads: ‘Classic Racing Cars’

Eric Rood February 3, 2014 Speed Reads 12 Comments

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This book’s cover wears one of those crinkly dust jackets just like they put on library books. This book wears a crinkly dust jacket because it is a library book. Cyril Posthumus’ Classic Racing Cars caught my eye when I investigated my municipality’s cheap DVD rental place that also loans free books. As someone loathe to pass up free anything (Are you going to eat those peanut shells?), I decided maybe I should check out the “Cars” section, being a semi-responsible automotive journalist and all. I wandered for a good bit looking for it, being both ignorant of the library filing system (No wonder you lost to Truman, you useless bastard, Dewey) and too stubborn to ask for directions. When I found the section, the bold red print on the book’s spine leapt out among the boring volumes about collector cars. As someone who–in addition to being loathe to pass up free things–likes bright colors, I naturally picked up the volume and leafed through it.

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Perhaps my enthusiasm at opening to a two-page color plate of an bright-red Alfa Romeo 158 was a bit much, as other patrons were soon staring at me like I was some common pervert flipping through Hustler in a crowded Greyhound station (Not that I’d know what that’s like). This book was different and it was amazing and, after seeing an insanely detailed cutaway drawing of the 1951 Ferrari Type 375, I knew I must make it my initial library checkout so I could obsess over it for a good three weeks.

Posthumus was a British automotive writer of great surname who possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of Formula One and—before it was called that—Grand Prix racing. His book is amazingly technical, covering mainly the unique aspects of Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500 cars stretching back to the road-racing-monster early days of the 1906-1912 and leading up until the book’s publishing date in the late 1970s. He occasionally gets wrapped up in technological babble and sometimes assumes the reader knows about historically significant races that may not necessarily be common knowledge, but these minor quibbles hardly steal from Posthumus’ passion for racing at its pinnacle.

By and large, Classic Racing Cars holds a longitudinal history of the highest-performing racecars of their respective days and also of the performances, the drivers, and simply the ways that formula racing has grown from its infancy more than a century ago. For someone like me who is slightly later to the historic racing game, it’s an illuminating volume. Many cars’ designs highlight the deadly stakes of early motor racing, but each also possesses its utter brillliance, described in detail by Posthumus. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t cover my beloved sportscars, but it turns out Posthumus wrote another book about that, which my free-book dispensary does not have and which I shall track down post-haste.

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Even if you possess no desire to read a book, don’t let the beige jacket fool you. This is a profoundly beautiful volume full of thorough illustrations for each of the 40 discussed cars (except the Maserati 250F, very unfortunately). On the page, you see every stroke of the artist’s pen, paying nearly as much painstaking detail to the illustration that the builders poured into the car. Cutaways and detail sketches are simply incredible; I’ve stared at the Auto Union D-Type drawing for what seems like hours. Sure, you can see and even hear some of these cars on the Internet, but the web’s car-porn indicator needle points directly to “Smut” most of the time. Classic Racing Cars is instead carefully crafted and classy. While the book features plenty of racy visuals, there’s plenty of narrative to give it artistic depth.

Sadly, my time is ending with the Posthumus’ volume, which is due back for an unceremonious drop into the library’s oversized returns bin in a day or two. I suspect I will find a way to obtain a copy for my office bookshelf to flip through when I feel that urge to see the cutaway drawing of the 1912 Peugeot’s motor, the first twin-cam engine. Until I do, those red letters on beige will be there every time I pick over the slim automotive section, beckoning me with monocoquettish Lotus 25 drawings and ribald looks at the 2-1/2 liter Cooper-Climax.

Photos copyright Eric Rood/Hooniverse

  • OK, you convinced me. I just picked up the only one I could find off ebay out of the UK for about $8.

  • Posthumus?

  • I used to read Cyril Posthumus' Formula 1®℠©™ writeups in Road & Track.

  • Gorgeous book is gorgeous.

    I found Wood Through Water at the Library, and had to buy a copy for my bookshelf to leaf through when the impulse hits. Years later, I still have to take it out and flip through it whenever my eye catches the writing on the spine.

    <img src="http://cache0.bdcdn.net/assets/images/book/medium/9781/5866/9781586635657.jpg"&gt;

  • "Are you going to eat those peanut shells?"

    Yes, but only whole, along with the contents. You're welcome to any shells by themselves.

  • mr smee

    Don't hate on me, I just sent a copy of that to the recycle bin. Sometimes I just got way too much stuff.

  • ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

    Just checked, going to need to visit the reference desk to get it from some other library, thanks.