Book Review: Blood Sweat and Tyres

The man, “who blew his mind out in a car,” according to the Beatles in A Day in the Life was the Hon. Tara Browne (1945-1966) son of Lord Oranmore and Browne, who died at the wheel of his Lotus Elan after hitting a parked car in Chelsea. I didn’t know that until I started reading Blood Sweat and Tyres, The Little Book of the Automobile, by David Long. I have been in this business so long that it isn’t often I pick up a book about cars crammed with things I didn’t know. Here’s another. After crashing at Brooklands in 1913 Percy Lambert was buried at Brompton Cemetery in a coffin streamlined to match his car. There’s more. BMW commissioned artists like Andy Worhol, David Hockney, Frank Stella and a dozen others you’ve never heard of to do paint jobs on BMWs. They had half a dozen on display at Le Mans Classic last week, looking bizarre. I can’t imagine what they were thinking about. Seemed a waste of perfectly good 3.0CSLs, 635CSi, M1 M3 and many more and judging by the display at Le Mans nobody is remotely interested in them. They are listed among a mass of useless (but invariably absorbing) information in Blood Sweat and Tyres.

Long enjoys lists. He includes the list published in Classic and Sports Car of what designs car designers a) were most proud of and b) most admired. Giugiaro, Peter Stevens and Marcello Gandini all chose the Citroën DS as the most admired. Ian Callum admired the Ferrari 250GT SWB and said he was proudest of the Jaguar XK but that was probably because Jaguar expected him to. Talk to him and he’ll probably say the exquisite Aston Martin DB7.

What a fascinating book of things you didn’t know. There are some things I thought, “Ho-hum”, such as Long’s assertion that thousands of migrating birds use the M5 as an aid to navigation. I think I’d like to see the research. Also not sure about supporting Earl Mountbatten’s claim to have invented headlamps that swivel with the steering.

Long might also have elaborated on a few items. I actually did know that Eleanor Thornton was the model used by Charles Sykes for the Spirit of Ecstasy and she was drowned en route to Egypt. The SS Persia was torpedoed on 30 December 1915 and what he doesn’t say was that she was accompanying Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, with whom she had been having an affair since she became his secretary in 1902.

The entry on Britain’s first sports car (maybe debateable) was a Vauxhall long describes as, “inexplicably named after a Prussian nobleman”. This was the Prince Henry. It was of course titled in recognition of being built for the 1910 Trial sponsored by Prinz Heinrich. See The Vauxhall File, Dove Publishing, 2007, page 50.

Blood Sweat and Tyres is published by The History Press at £9.99