Category Archives: Book Worm

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Best Supporting Actor

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In the movies, and indeed in life, there are the stars and then there is the supporting cast, those of us who do not top the bill but nevertheless are part of the script, without whom the plot would be diminished.

Since the beginning of motor sport there have been the headliners and the grid fillers and also rans. The Porsche 917 was a pure mega-star from the day it was revealed at the 1969 Geneva Salon to the end of its life at the top in August 1975, when Mark Donohue rattled round a lap of Talladega SuperSpeedway at a record breaking 221.160 mph.

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So the question is who was the supporting act that allowed the 917 to display its fantastic talent, the answer is obvious, the Ferrari 512. This racer only had a brief career in 1970 and 1971 but was immortalised in Steve McQueen’s epic movie “Le Mans” where it was the foil for the Gulf 917s, Michael Delaney versus Eric Stahler.

Ferrari 512 S (1970)

 

As if on cue, last week there was a ring at the door, the postman handed me a package from Haynes Publishing and the content was revealed to be a Haynes Owners’ Workshop Manual for the Ferrari 512 S/M (all models). I had given some small assistance to the author, my old friend Glen Smale, and he had generously repaid this with a copy of the book, so a review is in order.

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Books on the 512 are in short supply, I could only find one that fitted the bill, part of the Cavalleria set on various notable Ferraris, and the 512 book fetch prices around £250. So this comprehensive account of the 512 represents amazing value at £22.99.

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For those not familiar with the concept Haynes Publishing made their name and fortune on producing a series of manuals aimed at assisting owners repair their own cars. A while back someone with a sense of humour extended the range beyond Mondeos and Allegros to include all manner of things that no one would ever work on, even if they owned the item. So subjects as diverse as Concorde, Titanic, Chickens and even Dads now have a Owners’ Manual.

Ferrari 512 M (1970)

Glen sets the scene with an introduction to the endurance racing scene in 1969 when the attempts by the FIA to limit the speeds and cost of the leading prototype class were utterly defeated by Ferdinand Piëch and Porsche building 25 Porsche 917s thus qualifying under Group 5 rules. Enzo Ferrari followed suit and thus the fabulous Ferrari 512 S was born.

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There is detailed look at all aspects of the Ferrari’s interior and exterior and matters mechanical. Nick Mason was his usual generous self in letting Glen examine his example, 1026, arguably the most important 512 of them all. It was badly damaged in a fire during the making of the McQueen movie but rebuilt by Mason. Prior to that it scored an amazing victory in the 1970 Sebring 12 Hours, regarded by Mario Andretti as one of his greatest ever drives.  It also finished third at Daytona and fourth at Monza that year before being sold to Ecurie Francorchamps.

Ferrari 512 S (1970)

There is a chapter giving the engineer’s view of the 512. Dick Fritz, team manager of Luigi Chinetti’s NART outfit gives an insider’s perspective as does John Woodward of Penske Racing Team.  From the contemporary classic racing scene both Bob Houghton and Ben de Chair describe the challenges of running such a valuable racer, all in all a warts and all tale from the guys behind the scenes.

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The role of being an owner is also chronicled with Kirk White recalling his partnership with Roger Penske and the iconic Sunoco 512, arguably the best known Ferrari never to win a race. Nick Mason tells the reader how he came to acquire his 512 and the experiences of owning such a legend.

Ferrari 512 S (1970)

The drivers are also part of the story with Mario Andretti, Sam Posey and Derek Bell getting a chapter, recalling their races behind the wheel.

Ferrari 512 S (1970)

Finally, there is a summary and brief history of all the Ferrari 512 chassis, whether in S or M form.

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This book is a comprehensive, well researched and well written account of a Ferrari that is often overlooked, especially when compared with the interest in its principal opponent, the Porsche 917. At twice the price it would be a bargain…………buy it today.

John Brooks, September 2016

Photos and illustrations courtesy of Haynes Publishing

 

 

 

 

The Spa 24 Hours A History

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A new book has just been published, The Spa 24 Hours A History. Its author is David Blumlein, a regular on this website and an automotive historian of note. The subject matter is a comprehensive review of one of the world’s greatest endurance motor races, the Spa 24 Hours. It is the first such history written in English.

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This year marked the 90th anniversary of the classic race and the book traces the events down the decades and illustrates the changes that the Spa-Francorchamps has gone through from the earliest days.

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The chapters are arranged in a logical fashion to cover the races that were run to common regulations as the event has changed from Le Mans-type sports cars to Touring Car and now to GTs.

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Each chapter is enhanced by a selection of “Further Facts” which give detailed background information that might otherwise be missed. Similarly the photography seeks to show the more unusual aspects of the race such as the Ferrari Mondial of Keke Rosberg in 1989.

One of the successful Škodas at Eau Rouge in 1948. (Chpt 6)

There is a comprehensive set of Appendices detailing such subjects as those who lost their lives at the race, a profile of some of the more important Belgian drivers and, of course, the results. The author is candid about the conflicting records on the lower placed finishers and has attempted to use the most reliable sources.

Moskvitches lined up before the start in 1971 (Results)

There are forewords from François Cornélis (President of the RACB), Stéphane Ratel (CEO of SRO Motorsports Group) and Belgian drivers Pierre Dieudonné and Eric van de Poele who have eight victories in this great race between them.

Here is the Peugeot 806 People-Carrier!

There can be very little left to be discovered about the Spa 24 Hours that is not covered somewhere in this book.

2004 Spa 24 Hours

I must disclose a personal connection as I have supplied some of the photos used including the one above of Lilian Bryner at dawn on her way to victory in 2004 driving the BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello.

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Furthermore I assisted David in this enterprise in a capacity of Project Manager, so it would be fair to say that I am not objective about the book.

A view of the daunting Burnenville section on the old circuit. (Chpt?)

When David and I set out on this journey it was agreed between us that we should strive to produce something that we could be proud about and in my opinion we have done just that. It is a good read and will be a valuable reference work in the years to come.

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The design is clean and elegant, just what you would expect from Marcus Potts. There are many others who given significant assistance along the way and when you buy the book you will read of them.

The Publisher is Transport Bookman Limited and the book can be found at the link below.

Chaters Motoring Booksellers

26 Murrell Green Business Park,

Hook, Hampshire
RG27 9GR 

UK

T: +44 (0)1256 765 443
F: +44 (0)1256 767 992

E: books@chaters.co.uk

Price £39.99 or €52 plus postage

 

John Brooks, December 2014

 

Bob Wollek – En marge de la gloire

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Ten years or more has passed since Bob Wollek was killed in an accident on Highway 98, near Lorida, Florida. Last summer has seen the publication of a biography of the great French endurance driver, written, appropriately, enough by his close friend, Jean-Marc Teissedre.

Jean-Marc is now unquestioningly the leader of the journalistic pack in the endurance sportscar racing media circles. The proud Frenchman has been covering that aspect of the sport since the 70’s and now, since the retirement of Mike Cotton, is probably the only one, other than Mark Cole, who can remember witnessing the glory days of Group C. Jean-Marc was a confidant of Bob Wollek and there can be no more appropriate author of a book celebrating the life and times of a very successful racing driver.

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However the book is far from a hagiography, it is a warts and all account of a man who spent nearly 30 years at the top of the sport. A indication of the honest tone of the book is found right from the start as Jean-Marc gives an account of his first encounter with Mr. Wollek.
“Can you imagine a worse introduction to a guy who had a reputation for being pretty unsociable than having to ask him for money? This is what happened to me in the paddock of the old Nürburgring on Friday evening before the final round of the 1977 German Circuits Championship. Auto Hebdo sent me to Germany to cover the event, and I got the exchange rate between the  French Franc and the Deutschmark a bit mixed up. The only solution was to find a Frenchman who would get me out of this mess. And they were thin on the ground in that era. So it looked like my only hope was Wollek! I didn’t know him, but the magazine asked me to follow him closely as his reputation was just beginning  to expand beyond the banks of the Rhine. But at this particular point in time I had to introduce myself to him not as a journalist but as a beggar! So after a very careful approach I had to come clean. I told him who I was and asked for what I wanted almost in the same breath in a barely audible voice. 
“Who the hell do you think you are asking me for money? We don’t know each other- do you think I’m the Bank of France, or what?” he shot back. A long silence followed our first contact. By the time I’d got round to thinking up an answer, Bob had already gone to the rear of the car and was talking to the Porsche Kremer Racing mechanics in German.
I walked a little further away and tried to think. I didn’t know anybody, the future was looking grim. But now it was time for practice so I said to myself that I’d see about it later. After things had calmed down I went into the press room, and as luck would have it I found myself face to face with Bob. “Have you got your one hundred marks?”
“Well, er .. . no. I don’t know anybody here……”
“It’s not bloody possible…”
I couldn’t  make out the rest  of the sentence, but  it was probably a sarcastic comment about the level of intelligence of  the journalistic profession. But I didn’t have to be asked twice when Bob told me to follow him. He flipped open his wallet and gave me fifty marks. But now there was another problem- how was I going to repay him? At best we’d meet up again in the same spot in March of the following year for the first round of the 1978 DRM. This is what I said to him. He rubbed his hand across his forehead asking himself what kind of half-wit  he was dealing with. “And a cheque, you don’t know what that is? It’s a little piece of paper you take to your bank and get money in exchange!”
Mumbling vague excuses for not having thought of this solution I promised  to send him a cheque on the Monday following our meeting.”

Not an auspicious start.

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And the book continues in a similar vein, the story of Bob’s career as a skier, then a rally driver and finally to the circuits. Interwoven into the tale are pieces from his contemporaries and also artifacts from his estate. One that caught my eye is the invoice from Motor Racing Developments for a Brabham BT28 the weapon of choice for a Formula Three campaign in 1970, all for the princely sum of £1,860-0-0.

It was in the Brabham that Bob’s career nearly ended before it began. Contact with none other than James Hunt sent Wollek into the trees of Rouen, bouncing from one trunk to another, the car was destroyed and the final destination for Bob was the local hospital for a couple of weeks. Racing at the time was a blood sport, for two others (Jean-Luc Salmon and Denis Dayan) were killed in the race, the drivers adding their impetuosity to the fragile nature of the cars. Bob’s friend of the time and 1980 Le Mans’ winner, Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, recalled the race in the book, “They tried to pass four abreast in a place where there was only room for two.” What can one add to that?

Tribute

Tribute

The story continues on with Bob soon ascending to Formula Two, and ultimately more significant in the long run he found his way into endurance racing with Lola and Matra. It is all here in chronological order, the privateer Porsche years, his successes in IMSA, the titles and the race wins, culminating with factory drives for Lancia and Porsche.

The book is spiced with comments from his contemporaries, not always complimentary, as evidenced by this passage from his 1995 Le Mans co-driver, Eric Helary. “In my life I’ve only had problems with two drivers: Christophe Bouchut and Bob Wollek. I respect everything that Bob did but he made our 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours sheer hell. Right from the start he behaved despicably. He didn’t want Mario or me to get in the car. He wanted to do the start, the finish, practice, qualifying, the lot.”

And then, “At the finish Mario and I were in the motorhome and we asked each other what the hell was going on in Bob’s head? And it didn’t stop there. After the race he wrote me a letter telling me I was an arsehole!”

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Eric concludes, “Maybe I’m not a good example as I drove with him in only one race and I never came across him again. I have the impression that I didn’t see the real Bob Wollek. I never knew the other side to him.”

Mario, in diplomatic mode, was less critical. “I always had good relations with Bob who I’d known for a long time as we’d done tests in the open WSC Porsche at Charlotte which had gone off without a hitch. I respected him as he had an exceptional set of results.” Team Owner, Yves Courage, also found Wollek to something of a Jekyll and Hyde personality but I will let you buy the book to read the full story. For every negative there is also a positive view from those not easily fooled, like Klaus Ludwig and Norbert Singer.

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When I sat down to write this review I was inclined to include some personal experiences and I have to say that my own somewhat limited dealings with Bob were, at best, mixed. At the time I started out in motorsport he was one of the stars of the scene and I was another anonymous face in the mob of photographers, so there was no call for any form of interaction. I witnessed Wollek win races, join teams at the wrong moment and endure all manner of indignities at Le Mans. He grabbed pole position in 1987 and then in the race did not even get to drive as the engine went bang. Bob was driving a werks-Porsche, the ones with Rothmans’ signage, they were not supposed to fail, after all excellence was expected. However a rash of top line Porsches retired early in the race, all victims of a batch of fuel supplied by the ACO that was found to have a lower octane level than it should have, which played havoc with the turbocharged cars. Typically the sister car did not blow a piston and went on to win the race against all odds.

27 May-01 June, 1986, Le Mans 24 Hours. Norbert Singer and Bob Wollek.

The 1987 edition of Le Mans was perhaps the first time I really saw how forceful Wollek could be. The ACO would have a Friday afternoon press conference which in theory was to champion the great race. However the President of FISA, Jean-Marie Balestre, would also manage to be present and would always take the stage. Balestre was prone to giving the assembled hacks a stern lecture on whatever topic was troubling him at that moment, so although we were at Le Mans we would usually receive a rant about Formula One. This was delivered in the theatrical style of a proper tinpot dictator, thumping the desk and getting red in the face all the while bellowing about FOCA or the drivers, or some other iniquity.

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Craven cowards that we in the media were, we would endure these bizarre performances without protest, partly because we wanted a pass the following year and partly because there was usually some form of gift or bribe to encourage our attendance. For instance in 1986 it had been a Magnum of vintage Moët & Chandon Champagne, I can certainly remember that high point of dubious incentives. Well I still have the bottle in my office though it is sadly empty, the bottle that is.

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There was the usual matinée idol performance from J-MB and then as the floor was opened to questions Bob stood up and gave Monsieur le Président a full blast. My French comprehension is poor at the best of times but I was no doubt that this was about safety standards at Le Mans and the irrelevance of the Formula One blather. The drivers were very concerned about the speeds down the Mulsanne Straight, which pushed to the limits of the tyres’ performance, a year earlier Jo Gartner had been killed during the race in an unexplained accident. Klaus Ludwig, a three time winner, had refused to race at La Sarthe unless changes were made. Balestre was shaken by the direct line that Wollek took as he was more accustomed to dealing with a tame bunch of scribblers. Bob made his point quietly but he left the Président in no doubt. The message was clear, force the ACO to do something before someone else is killed. As if to underline this point there were several accidents in that race week culminating in the monumental crash of Win Percy’s Jaguar, after a puncture at around 230 mph. Win survived but it was a lottery, the next victim might not be so fortunate. Within a year or two the Chicanes on the Mulsanne would appear. Bob had made his point.

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I continued to see Bob at the tracks but the next time we had any real interaction was less enjoyable. His final race as a Porsche driver in the prototype class was in 1998 at the Suzuka 1000kms, a round of the 1998 FIA GT Championship. Porsche had endured a horrible season being beaten at almost every turn by AMG Mercedes Benz. The exception, of course, was Le Mans but Bob had only managed yet another second place, once again the glory went to his team mates. Looking through the viewfinder at the podium ceremonies, it would taken a heart of stone not to be moved by Bob’s tears as the realisation set in that the dream was over, there would be no triumph at La Sarthe.

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For the race in Japan he was paired with Uwe Alzen and Jörg Müller but the trio could not match the pace of the other factory Porsche, let alone the Mercedes duo. During Bob’s mid-race stint he had contact with a GT2 in the final chicane and recovered to dive into the pits to check for damage, unfortunately to do so meant driving against the traffic and he received a three minute stop/go penalty for his pains. I reported this in a Swiss magazine that I was working for but something in the translated report incurred Bob’s ire and he threatened to sue us all! The Editor assured me that he would sort it out and I got the impression that this was not the first time that he had Angry of Strasbourg on the phone.

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The next encounter with Bob was much more convivial. At the Le Mans Test weekend for the 2000 race I was filling the hire car up at the petrol station near to the Parc des Expositions next to the track. A Porsche pulled in at the next pump and out got Bob, who nodded hello and gave me a smile, it made my day, maybe I had stopped travelling, perhaps I had arrived. Like Porsche AG itself, Wollek was confined to the supporting ranks of the GT class. He continued to go flat out, frequently surprising the Young Guns like Lucas Lühr and Dirk Müller with his turn of speed. He certainly seemed more at peace, reconciled to the fact that he would never take the great prize.

2000 Le Mans 24 Hours

The following March I was at the Sebring 12 Hours. Arriving at the track on race morning before the sun rose, there is always a photo briefing to look forward to, a great assembly of grumbling, groaning snappers. I understand that the collective noun for motorsport photographers is a Moan. 2001’s race-day photo meeting  was an unexpectedly solemn occasion though.  First to arrive, and in those pre-digital days, first to leave, the vast majority of us snappers had not heard the news, Bob Wollek was dead. It was unbelievable, Wollek had survived during a truly dangerous period in motorsport and now, as he contemplated retirement, he was killed in a pointless traffic incident. There would be no more chance encounters.

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Every year that I make the trek to Sebring for the 12 Hours I try and get out to the marker post near Lorida where Bob Wollek was knocked off his bike and killed. Others also make the same pilgrimage, evidence such as fresh flowers and wine bottles attest to that.

Bob Wollek was a complex, contradictory character, much loved by those who he allowed to get close, less so by those who were not. This book is a fascinating account of a man who lived by his own terms, well researched, written and translated. It lacks an index but that is about all, buy it, treat yourself, especially if you are in Sebring this week

John Brooks, March 2013

I See It Shining Plain………..

The internet has for the most part been beneficial to me. It allows me to conduct what passes for my business in some sort of order and it has introduced me to many good people around the globe. It is also the biggest time waster invented since bureaucrats crawled out of the swamps in Jurassic times, but I digress.

Michael Keyser is someone who should be familiar to sportscar fans, especially the more fanatical amongst you. Real anoraks will recall him winning the 1976 Sebring 12 Hours with Al Holbert, well the few that were sober at that particular event. As the doyen of chassis plate fondlers, Janos Wimpffen, describes the scene in his epic work Time and Two Seats.

“None of the on-track incidents were as thrilling as those of the notorious Green Park spectator area. Several large bonfires had been started, wild parties were in full swing, and one section by Turn Seven had been taken over by a motorcycle gang. In full view of the passing race cars, a woman mounted a bike and performed a striptease. Needless to say, lap times slowed considerably.”

Typical of me to miss fun like that, still ’76 was the long, hot summer of James Hunt and I am sure that he would have enjoyed racing in such conditions. I certainly have some vague memories of a few wild days myself that year, it was the spirit of the time, but perhaps I imagined it all.

Michael Keyser is also known for his work as an author and film maker, in particular “A French Kiss With Death” about Steve McQueen and the making of the movie Le Mans.

Le Mans is certainly a candidate for the Oscar awarded to maddest film ever conceived. No plot to speak of, no dialogue really and obsessively focused on a race that most the audience had never heard of. It was a commercial disaster when released but since has grown to achieve cult status. Partly this is a consequence of the purity of the production, no CGI and McQueen’s insistence on emulating real racing from the time rather than allowing a Hollywood blockbuster approach.

Perhaps the greatest appeal lies in the cast of cars, Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s, surely some of the most evocative racers ever run. Like racing dragonflies they emerged in mid-69 and were gone by ’71. A golden time immortalised on screen, we can all be young again while drinking at this fountain of youth.

Steve McQueen was the coolest guy on the planet when he started making the film, he had just enjoyed huge success with Bullitt and here were the coolest cars, at the coolest race. What could go wrong?

Well that answer to that question judged in the long term, is not much. That is why the original book about the film sold so well, that and the fact it is a well researched and written account.

Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans tends to attract obsessives and Hollywood’s version of the race receives similar attention, hence the raison d’être of this photo book. It is produced to the usual high standard associated with any Michael Keyser project. For those interested in the movie and its background, these images will add to their understanding and enjoyment of the film.

The majority of the shots were taken by the great photographer, Nigel Snowden. I was lucky enough to meet him in my early days trackside. He and his charming wife, Diana, were always very gracious to a complete no hoper like myself. The monochrome images have a depth to them that reflects a master at work. Despite what many of the up and comers of today imagine, there is nothing new in the world of photography. Composition, the ability to see the finished product before firing the shutter, is as important today as it always has been. The images in this book could act as a guide to many, of course they are too talented to see that.

The whole story of the process of making the film is covered from the planned mayhem inflicted on two Lola T70s, disguised as a 917 and a 512.

Art imitates life and as with real racing back then, there were unplanned accidents, this one costing David Piper his leg.

Perhaps the question is why should you buy this book ? That almost answers itself. Anyone who has more than a passing interest in the McQueen epic will enjoy this book, it has integrity and is a faithful depiction of the greatest movie ever made, or likely to be made, about the sport.

And who can resist this iconic, very British gesture, The Longbowman Salute? We have been winding up the French with it since Agincourt. Clearly Steve was one of us………………..

Those who might like to purchase a copy of this book can do so HERE

Apologies for the poor quality of the scans,

John Brooks, January 2012

911 Heaven

OK, before we get started I have a financial interest in this book. Showing rare taste and perspicacity the authors of this fine tome bought (and paid for!) some images from me. Of course the really good stuff comes from elsewhere but I am very pleased to be part of this book.

So my interests disclosed, I can now talk about this new volume. OK, the first question is do we need another Porsche history, another 911 book? Surprisingly the answer after reading this book is yes.

The authors, Michael Keyser and Bill Oursler (who also contributes on DDC) are Porsche experts of long standing. Michael raced a 911 with great success during the 70’s including a win at the Sebring 12 Hours. To most of the sportscar fans these days he is best known for his book “A French Kiss With Death”, the definitive story of Steve McQueen and his film “Le Mans”.

Bill Oursler is, well he is Bill. Anyone who has been receiving end one of his long phone calls knows about the passion, deep knowledge and understanding of all things Porsche. I doubt if he can even recall the number of books, let alone articles that he written over the past 40 years.

As to the subject matter, the competition history of the Porsche 911 in all its mutations and evolutions give a very broad canvas on which to paint a compelling picture.

Engraved Slip Case

 

The first thing that strikes you when you pick up the book is the quality of the production that oouzes out. The engraved slip case is typical of the high standards of reproduction that match the quality of the content.

Barth & Singer

 

The Forewords are written by two figures who have been central to the story of the 911 in competition, Jürgen Barth and Norbert Singer. This is supplemented by the story of Michael and his relationship with the Porsche 911, from 1966 to the present day.

Boost Control

 

The content follows on in a chronological order. I especially enjoyed the sections dealing with the early years. The opening double page spread showing Eberhard Mahle completely sideways on the Rossfield Hillclimb back in 1966 makes you imagine that you can hear the throttle, full on, no lifting. Another favourite is the chapter on the customer developments of the 935, which grew more radical with the evolutions of the “Moby Dick” concept.

Four Wheel Drive

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 959 programme is also covered with the various developments both on and off road as are the GT1 projects.

Wallpaper

The final chapters look at the recent 911 GT3-R Hybrid and another of my favourite pieces, 911 In Posters that are extremely evocative.

So if you are a 911 nut, this book is for you. Well written, well illustrated and well produced it has a place on any Porsche bookshelf.

Only 2,250 copies have been printed, so get your order in soon.

HERE

John Brooks, October 2011