Advertisement feature: S&G’s book

Did you know that Ronnie Peterson agreed terms with Ferrari to fill Niki Lauda’s seat after the Austrian’s fiery crash in 1976?

Or that Lauda himself fully expected the whole field to pull into the pits behind him at Fuji?

Or that James Hunt’s deal to drive for Ferrari was scuppered by Vauxhall?

Or that one of Ferrari’s senior designers was kidnapped and, sadly, murdered in a story that could have been ripped from the pages of an Inspector Montalbano mystery?

Not for the first time, the S&G has written a book. It is the latest in the series of Haynes Manuals for enthusiasts of the most iconic cars in motor sport history – in this instance, the Ferrari 312T series. So if you like pretty red things and are looking for something to leaf through on holiday this summer, here’s the sales pitch:

This manual contains a guide to owning, restoring and enjoying one of these iconic 1970s Formula 1 cars.

If you happen to have a spare couple of million dollars that you don’t know what to do with, there is guidance on owning a 312T, T2, T3, T4 or T5. Even a T6, if you will… although not the fictional T8. There is also expert advice how to tackle an auction from the chaps at Bonhams and insights into ownership and maintainance from Hall & Hall.

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If you want to get under the skin of this little beast, there’s now a book for you

This book won’t follow Haynes tradition and give you a step-by-step guide to replacing the wiring loom but then we are talking about a Formula 1 car and not a Morris Ital. If you can afford a 312T then you’ve doubtless got a man in a mews garage with grubby fingernails who can handle that sort of thing.

Alternatively, you might want to give it back to Ferrari, where Gilles Villeneuve’s former crew chief, Pietro Corradini, will tend to its needs in the Corse Clienti workshops. He is also a prominent contributor to the book.

But for those who want to revel in the history of the 312T there is, we hope, plenty to enjoy. Lots of pictures. Quite a few words. Many of those words came from the mouth of Mauro Forghieri, designer of the breed and of pretty well all things Ferrari from 1962-82. That interview, ladies and gentlemen, was a good day’s work.

Forghieri also had plenty to say about the storied summer of 1976 and the epic battle for the Formula 1 world championship between Niki Lauda and James Hunt. And if Forghieri had plenty to say then the team manager from that fateful season, Daniele Audetto, was a positive Vesuvius of information that had been bubbling away unseen by anyone for decades.

Certainly unseen by anyone in the English speaking world. The story of that summer of ’76 is often told but much of Audetto’s version of events was news to your humble scribe as it will be to any of you in the English speaking world because, let’s face it, the coverage at the time was rather patriotic in tone.

Unsurprisingly the Italian version of events is significantly different to the ‘official story’ as told by the Anglo-Saxon contingent and benefits from a whole host of scandals and intrigues never before mentioned in polite society.

This was all somewhat exciting to be told, but then it was rather an exciting project to be given. The 312T belongs to an age of unalloyed heroism exemplified by Lauda’s return from the Nürburgring, the likes of Hunt, Scheckter and Reutemann wrestling with their considerable fears about surviving each and every race weekend and Gilles Villeneuve’s devastating speed. Revisiting those days with such expert guides was a joy.

The making of the movie Rush and the cars that starred in it is also a feature. So too are those vital ingredients to the true story of 1976 that Rush missed out like the British Grand Prix riots – as reported by someone who was there lobbing beer cans onto the track.

The Ferrari 312T Owners’ Manual marks the second time that Haynes has offered the S&G an opportunity to write about the red cars. Almost 14 years ago your scribe was allowed into the inner sanctum at Maranello to document Ferrari’s resurgence under Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Michael Schumacher. This resulted in the book Cavallino Rampante, which was one of the few times when life offers the chance to create something that will last a good deal longer than you will.

It’s been a pleasure to revisit that sort of territory again and one hopes that some of that enjoyment is passed on to the reader. So if all that tickles your fancy, please do dive in with both feet.

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There are a few handy hints for those awkward plumbing and wiring jobs

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Signed With His Honour

A forgotten literary gem

Imagine, if you will, a novel about the Royal Air Force in which there are tantrums about the quality of equipment available, criticism of the strategies employed and doubts about the political ethos which drives the entire war effort.

Garnish this with unflinching personal rivalries, ineptitude on an individual and collective basis and the fact that almost everyone is killed by the end. ‘How very revisionist’, one might think. ‘Some pipsqueak writer is trying to make a name for himself by rewriting history towards today’s agenda’.

But that would be wrong.

Signed With Their Honour is a story based very closely upon that of the pilots of 80 Squadron in Greece and Crete during 1941, who attempted to hold back a mighty German and Italian aerial assault with just a handful of Gloster Gladiator biplanes. Yet that is not the most remarkable thing about the book.

It was written by Australian-born writer James Aldridge – who was actually in Athens and Crete alongside the legendary ace ‘Pat’ Pattle and the rest of 80 Squadron as a wartime correspondent. Yet that is also not the most remarkable thing about the book.

What is simply staggering about Signed With Their Honour is that it was published in 1942.

At one of the darkest points in the war for Britain, with the Japanese running rampant through the Empire, with wholesale slaughter taking place on the beaches at Dieppe and with the North African campaign in full swing, it was possible to buy a novel which depicted exactly how and why these reversals were being suffered.

Even the love story of the heroic pilot who falls, with admirable chastity, for the charms of a beautiful Greek girl has an edge to it.

Her father is a known communist whose refusal to flee the advancing Nazi hordes can only end in tragedy – encapsulating the courage of the Greeks, in Aldridge’s mind – and neither did the apple fall far from the tree when it came to the old Greek’s daughter and her political views.

Perhaps, you are thinking, it was given the Lady Chatterley treatment – published but instantly banned. But no: it became an instant best-seller in both Britain and the United States, receiving effusive critical acclaim.

Indeed, the British propaganda wizards even began making a feature film out of it to follow the likes of Target for Tonight and In Which We Serve – but were stymied when two of the Gladiators being used for filming collided in mid-air – more of which is to follow.

A captivating account of long-forgotten heroism

Signed With Their Honour is a remarkable achievement and a piece of writing which clearly inspired the brilliant canon of Derek Robinson decades later and, thus, many writers and scholars to this day.

As for its author, James Aldridge was born in White Hills, Victoria in 1918 but emigrated in 1938 from Australia to England, from where his father – also a writer – and mother both came.

His time was divided between university life in Oxford and family life in the Isle of Man until the onset of war. Throughout his youth, Aldridge had been a prolific writer, taking whatever work he could get for local newspapers, and managed to wangle himself a war correspondent’s job.

The young scribe’s war began in Finland where he covered the Winter War – until he was deported for showing some sympathy with the Soviet soldiers. He then covered the doomed British campaign in Norway in 1940 before heading to Greece and Crete. After escaping the Axis onslaught in Greece, Aldridge covered the campaigns in North Africa and Iran – during which time he penned Signed With Their Honour.

A second novel followed, The Sea Eagle, which retold the battle for Crete from the perspective of the Australian soldiers on the ground, which was published in 1944. Aldridge then went to cover the Soviet advance towards Germany.

After the war, Aldridge continued as a specialist foreign correspondent in the Middle East whilst turning out a further 24 novels up to 2006, set mainly either in North Africa and the Middle East during World War 2 and the Cold War or in Australia.

Throughout his career Aldridge’s prose, heavily influenced by Ernest Hemingway yet filled with his own observations and experience, resounded with readers in the West. Yet equally his willingness to sympathise with individuals in the Soviet states earned him the Lenin Peace Prize in 1972.

Today at the age of 95 James Aldridge is enjoying his retirement in south west London and his work still makes for compelling entertainment.

Malta’s Spitfires – revealed at last?

One could be forgiven for thinking that the model making community was a tranquil oasis amid our turbulent world: a place for calm, reflective pursuit. Yet this is not so – indeed, the pursuit of accuracy can create more online mayhem, hair-pulling and name-calling than a busload of boozed-up celebrities accessing their Twitter accounts at the same time.

Undoubtedly one of the greatest causes of model making fracas is the question of what colours the Spitfires which valiantly defended Malta against unspeakable odds during World War 2 were painted. These aircraft hold a semi-mythical status not only for the deeds done 70 years ago but also for their allegedly unique paintwork – and now one brave soul, Brian Cauchi, has revealed the results of his 14-year research into the matter.

A great Spitfire riddle resolved? This new book offers an exhaustive trawl through the possible permutations.

Mr. Cauchi’s new book labours under the title Malta Spitfire Vs – 1942: Their Colours and Markings, which makes up for its lack of blockbuster appeal by delivering an accurate summary of the contents. Within we find forensic analysis of the many and various colour schemes captured in often poor quality photographs during the dark days of 1942, backed up with fragments of original paint from recovered wrecks and an array of accounts both firsthand and by respected historians on the subject.

The mystique of the Malta Spitfires stems from the fact that they have often been described as being blue – and a blue-painted Spitfire is far more exotic than the muddy tones of camouflage that typify its wartime history. The prospect of R.J. Mitchell’s timelessly beautiful fighter with its lines drenched in blue paint is one that has beguiled model makers for many years – and their interpretations have varied from mild to wild, thus sparking many a heated debate.

Why should we care about such minutiae? After all, the world has moved on and now we are preoccupied by reality TV shows and the Eurozone crisis and… oh, hold on. Let’s have another look at these Spitfires, shall we?

S&G didn’t make a bad stab at deciphering this one, according to Mr. Cauchi

Malta was beseiged from June 1940 until November 1942, standing alone in the centre of the Mediterranean with 1000 miles of open sea between it and friendly soil – while the massed ranks of Italy and Germany sat just 60 miles to the north in Sicily. Despite being only the size of the Isle of Wight, the strategic importance of Malta was absolute as it was from here that submarines, aircraft and ships were able to all-but sever the supply routes to Rommel’s Afrika Korps, and in so doing safeguard North Africa, the Suez Canal and the invaluable oil fields beyond.

As Sir Winston Churchill put it; Malta was the master key to the entire British Empire.

The Luftwaffe devastated the Island in January-May 1941 but when these forces were redirected to the invasion of Russia, Malta was soon back in action. As a result the Luftwaffe returned to the Mediterranean in the winter of 1941-42 with even greater strength and made the Island the most bombed place on Earth. At its peak, during March-April 1942, the tonnage of bombs dropped on Malta was greater than that dropped on London during all 12 months of the Blitz.

It was in March 1942 that the Spitfires finally arrived; replacing the few outdated Hawker Hurricanes that hadn’t been shot out of the sky or blown up on the ground. They came in small numbers and were quickly bombed out of existence but in the weeks ahead more deliveries followed and, despite continued losses on the ground, the Spitfires began to hold the Luftwaffe to account and blunt its furious assault – while the hope which these aircraft brought to the beleaguered Maltese was more valuable still.

Were they painted blue? Yes – more or less. The reason was that they were ordered with desert camouflage of sandy yellow tones which stood out like a sore thumb over the Mediterranean, while flying against enemy forces which outnumbered them by a ratio of more than ten to one. As a result the Island’s defenders took it upon themselves to paint the Spitfires in a more suitable scheme for the unique conditions in which they fought.

About as blue as it gets: a reasonable representation of a Malta Spitfire

Despite the unprepossessing title given to his work, Brain Cauchi’s book is beautifully laid out and his long years of painstaking research are brought to vivid life in the text, photos and colour profiles within. Ultimately there were almost as many different paint schemes worn by these celebrated Spitfires as there were aircraft themselves, because they were usually painted on an ad hoc basis under severe bombardment with whatever materials were to hand.

Even after all his hard work, Mr. Cauchi is at pains to point out that his hypotheses are still only the best guesses he can give in each case. It won’t end the grouchiness among modellers seeking to create an accurate Malta Spitfire but his book does bring some order to the chaos and gives non-modellers a much-needed insight into a story that is too often overlooked by the major historians of World War 2.

In 2005 a Hurricane and a Spitfire returned to Malta to commemorate 60 years since the end of the war in Europe – and both were painted to represent aircraft which flew from the Island. The Hurricane was spot-on but while the Spitfire was perhaps a touch too ‘Hollywood’ in recreating the mythical blue defenders it made for a stirring spectacle…

World Book Day with an old friend

It’s World Book Day, which is an ideal time to revisit one of the most influential books I’ve ever read – Mini: Icon of a Generation by L.J.K. Setright.

Doyen of motoring scribes: Setright in later years

Doyen of motoring scribes: Setright in later years

The story of the Mini, as retold by Setright, is almost as enjoyable as being in your first, doubtless rusty, 1000cc screamer with your foot on the floor. Rather than recount the hoary old tale of Alec Issigonis’s wonder-baby in a straightforward fashion, Setright veers from one theme to another: covering the entire spectrum of influences, applications, successes and failures of one of the most brilliant designs and designers with panache.

It’s brilliantly conceived and enjoyably written but most of all it makes me smile. Precious few motoring books can lay claim to that achievement, while many of us who earn a crust from writing about cars would do well to refer back to this old master at times.

Peter Sellers, Britt Ekland and their famous 'wicker' Mini

Peter Sellers, Britt Ekland and their famous ‘wicker’ Mini