Something Old, Something New: May 2015

by | May 2015

The Grand Prix Saboteurs

By Joe Saward

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The subtitle for this fascinating book is “The Extraordinary Untold Story of The Grand Prix Drivers Who Became British Secret Agents In World War II.” It represents and presents an astonishing amount of research – 17 years of it – and delivers it nearly to the end in a style that is as quick and exciting to read as the Grand Prix races that frame the story. And that story is an intricate pas de deux in which one partner was French car manufacturers and their racing drivers, and the other was the coming war with Germany which, by the mid 1930s had Hitler’s extraordinarily generous backing.

Saward concentrated his efforts on several French drivers, William Grover (who raced as “W Williams” to keep his wealthy social family from understanding his passion), Robert Benoist, and Jean-Pierre Wimille. Each of them drove for a man of his own military-like precision, Ettore Bugatti. When the war broke out in late 1939, these three drivers and countless more racers enlisted. The army quickly recognized those with multi-language skills and other abilities – quick wits, rapid reactions, and immense courage – and France sent them to England to train as spies under direction of the Special Operations Executive. Many of these individuals returned and sunk into the underground. Saward’s book follows their lives, their exploits, their harrowing adventures, and in several cases their deaths.

Cars, racing, and most of all these characters, is the thread forming both the warp and weft of this tale and weaving it together as German officers confiscate the Delahayes and Voisin’s of France’s wealthy – and sometimes of the racers fighting against them. And drivers and cars pull the reader to the first race staged after the war, one intended to raise awareness and money for French prisoners of war still in Germany, an event called La Coupe des Prisonieres, staged just seven days after the U.S. bombed Nagasaki.

Saward’s writing is engaging and as quick-paced as the Grand Prix races and some of the spies’ war-time escapades; in many places it reads like a thriller it legitimately is. Imagine a Ludlum or a Robert Harris, only all of it is fact! The book alters pace only at the very last as Saward races to answer the inevitable questions of, “Yes, but what happened to so-and-so?” And that is where some thrillers go all breathless as well, as they sprint to bring everyone safely home after the adventures.

The Grand Prix Saboteurs; Joe Saward. 2006 Morienval Press. 363 pages. It is available at http://www.amazon.com/The-Grand-Prix-Saboteurs-Saward/dp/0955486807


Porsche in America

By Dieter Landenberger

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Porsche’s seemingly inexhaustible director of historic archives, Dieter Landenberger, has added a new book to the Porsche Museum series of histories, this one chronicling the mutual love affair between Porsche and the United States. As with the other books in this series, Landenberger not only brings readers the history of actions but also insightful portraits of the actors. And, as in the other books, this one is populated with stories known and others scarcely told. He relates the classic encounter between Ferry Porsche and Max Hoffman at Paris’s Hotel George V during the 1950 Paris Motor Show. Ferry expressed his hope that Hoffmann might sell as many as five Porsches a year in the United States. Hoffmann responded that if he couldn’t to sell five each week, he was not interested in taking on the car. Where that brash statement led is the subject of the next 306 pages of this book. From Speedsters to Studebakers, through the roles that mechanic/racer Herbert Linge and racer/supersalesman Johnny Von Neumann played in the text – and wonderful photos – establish the background of Porsche’s reputation, reliability, and success in North America.

Landenberger explains the roles that management evolution played – from the establishment of Porsche Cars North America to the impact that German-American Peter Schutz had – in responding to seemingly endless changes in the American markets and global economies. The company and customer morale boosters – the SC Cabriolet and the Boxster – and on through to customer fascination with and loyalty to all things 911 as well as Cayennes and Panameras are each a part of the tale told here and well-illustrated with a series of Porsche print advertisements.

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Nearly a third of this book concerns motorsports in North America, and Landenberger takes care to explain the many purposes of racing for the company, from advertising and promotion to product engineering and development. This large fourth chapter ventures widely from early club and endurance racing to the excitement of American Le Mans Series and its successor Tudor series, and to the soul-satisfying weekends of Rennsport Reunions and other vintage race weekend. Finally the book revisits the clubs – a topic of an entire museum show and book several years ago.

At 340 pages, this latest edition from the Porsche Museum – with English and German text throughout – is a valuable acknowledgement to North America’s role in the life and success of Porsche’s cars and the company.

Porsche in America; Dieter Landenberger and Porsche Historical Archives. 2015 Edition Porsche Museum. 340 pages. It will be available soon. ISBN: 978-3-946013-01-3. The remainder of the Porsche Museum books shown above are available now.

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