Motoring: The Golden Years: A Pictorial Anthology, compiled by Rupert Prior
Published in 1991 by H. C. Blossom Ltd.
ISBN: 1 872532 14 4
Purchased from a used book store.
Motoring: The Golden Years: A Pictorial Anthology presents a collection of images and articles from the earliest days of motoring, spanning from about 1895 through 1939. The source for the items is the Khachadourian Gallery, a collection of automotive art. The subject matter is predominantly British in origin, and favours British and European events, though there are a number of references to happenings in America.
I have to admit, I had a hard time reading and reviewing Motoring: The Golden Years: A Pictorial Anthology. There were things I didn’t love about this book. The title threw me off a bit as it leans heavily toward racing, though some vignettes about motoring in general are found. An anthology? Yes, with a great number of items collected. But fair to say it’s 50/50 pictures to text, so to call it a pictorial anthology seems a little misleading. There are indeed a good amount images, and most of them are wonderfully colourful and interesting to look at. The images are not necessarily directly related to nearby text – that is to say that the images don’t really illustrate what they text is about specifically.
The text is dense. A number of the articles stretch over 6-7 pages, longer than a vignette or simple story. More than that though, the style of writing is obviously ‘of the time’. At times it’s overwritten, overly descriptive, and I found it tedious to chew through some of the longer pieces. That said, being contemporary to the subject matter, one does get a sense of how the general public would consume stories of motoring and racing then. There are some passages that today (and I suspect even in 1991 when this book was published) would be considered ‘unacceptable’. There’s a few pages devoted to the German auto exhibition of the 1930s, and the nationalism of the time is apparent in the writing. There’s also a passage about American racing in the 1930s which specifically refers to Joie Chitwood (of Cherokee ancestry) as ‘redskin’. There’s a 1907 article that marvels at the temerity of a letter written by a woman who was seeking employment as a chauffeur. These articles certainly reflect the era they come from.
I was pleased with other parts, as some familiar names cropped up. I reviewed an issue of Automobile Quarterly, which featured a number of articles about Rudi Caracciola. In Motoring, I found an article written by Caracciola himself. There are also articles about his contemporaries, like Hans Stuck, Tazio Nuvolari and Dick Seaman, all of whom had been referenced in AQ. Further, AQ had featured Bob Burman’s Buick Bug. Well, Motoring contains an overview of Burman’s racing career, providing more info into this driver’s life. I’ve mentioned before I do enjoy when I find a book that relates to other books I have in my collection.
I found ‘Racing Improves the Breed’ – the final section of the book – the most interesting. Here the articles focus on some of the great racing venues – Le Mans, Montlhèry, the AVUS, Bonneville, Brooklands. These seemed less of a chore to read, possibly I was simply more interested. Oddly, despite the section title, a few articles had little to do with racing. One suggested how motorists could beat police speed traps by simply retreating back up the road and awaiting the next car, passing along a warning before proceeding on their journey (the subsequent motorist remaining in place to warn the next driver, and so on). In another, a writer explains how California provided a much superior motoring experience compared to Europe, due to easier rail crossings, numerous service stations, and wonderful scenery. These were interesting anecdotes, and I had hoped there’d be a lot more of this ‘every day driver’ type of story.
The writing itself is scarce on details as to where the writings originated. None have any kind of note as to where the piece was first published. Some have dates attached, some have a name given as a by-line, but many are simply titles. That said, some are written by famous racers and people involved in the sport, such as Roland King-Farlow who (after some digging) I discovered had been the Chief Timekeeper at Brooklands track before World War II.
As expected, I found the imagery to be the best thing about the book. This a wonderful collection of racing posters, advertisements, magazine covers, paintings, even mascots and automobilia from a long ago era. Some well-known automotive artists are found, including Géo Ham and René Vincent, and glass mascots by Lalique. In contrast to the text, which seemed too dense and detailed, the posters and automobilia easily conveyed the speed, elegance and romance of motoring in those early years. Like the writing, the art is also ‘of the time’. That means Art Nouveau pieces with their organic lines, as well as the clean, bold style of Art Deco.
I thought many of the pieces were stunning and very interesting. There’s a number of Shell Oil ads, instantly recognized by the yellow and red that dominate the picture. There’s also a number of pieces featuring Bibendum, otherwise called The Michelin Man. There are models and small sculptures of race cars. One of the most interesting to me was what seems to be a 9-piece solid silver desk set, a Christmas gift “presented to principal Rolls-Royce distributors”. Each piece features the Spirit of Ecstasy and is very impressive.
Ultimately, Motoring: The Golden Years is an interesting book. Admittedly, my collection doesn’t include much in the way of pre WWII content, or much British and European content, or much racing-related content. As such I can’t say that I’m familiar with books that would present the information found here in a more palatable way. Then again, as much as I might not have enjoyed the style, I do appreciate the fact these accounts were made in real time, contemporary to the events and environment of the era.
For me, this is the kind of book that, should you find it at an inexpensive price, pick it up and you’re likely to find a couple of items that will entertain or impress you.
Pros: some really great pre-WWII items shown; some interesting accounts from the time the events occurred
Cons: I found some passages difficult; hard to understand how or why items were selected, or arranged
Where to find it: used bookstores, Amazon