Review by Pete Vack
Some disclaimers. We like Philippe Defechereux’s book, and you will too. However, Philippe has contributed to VeloceToday, and we worked together on a booklet on Deutsch Bonnets several years ago; we have long had dealings with the publisher Dalton Watson and we sell this and other fine Dalton Watson books on our site (with an exclusive discount for our Premium Subscribers); and finally, layout artist Jodi Ellis has done layouts with me for VeloceToday and the Concorso Italiano program and worked on Philippe’s book. Ah, like one big happy family. You may also note the tie-in to the CD we are offering free to new Premium Subscribers; no doubt if you like the CD, you’ll like the book, if you like the book you’ll want the CD.
So am I going to give our readers a fair and unbiased review?
We’ll start off saying this is an improved, expanded and fully updated of Philippe’s earlier work on the same topic. This new book, with a new publisher, is hardbound in a large format (12 x 9.5 inches), with a strong backbone and high-quality glossy paper. Defechereux secured over one hundred new photographs from various sources, including the Harold Lance/Charlie Davison collection, the John Fitch Collection, and the Watkins Glen Research Center. Some differences: the first book had 198 (smaller) pages, the new one 216. The comprehensive and useful race results are now included within each chapter. A new Epilogue links the past to the present, explaining the SCCA Strategic Air Command races, the growth of the SCCA and the Sebring events and how the world of Formula One came to both America and Watkins Glen (suitably addressed in Michael Argetsinger’s new book “Formula One at Watkins Glen” Last but not least, there is an entirely new chapter at the end about what happened to several of the classic cars that raced in those early years – many ended up in prestigious collections and are worth in the millions; plus a color portfolio of remarkable and beautiful cars that did not race but participated in the Concours d’Elégance that always took place on race weekends. The combination of the additional material, revised chapters, enhanced color images, Jodi’s layout, quality paper and Defechereux’s all encompassing text makes us like this book very much.
All new and old information has been thoroughly vetted by Bill Green and others at the IMRRC. Delightful but is it worth it? You bet, particularly for VeloceToday Premium members who qualify for a 10% discount and free domestic shipping, making it just under $40. But remember we are admittedly partial.
So it’s attractive. But does it work, which means, does it work for us? We had previously worn out the pages of the softbound edition as it was, so this was a much needed replacement. The new version works as a great read, a reference source, a good history and in general an excellent hardbound book. Race reports are augmented by complete results for each race, right down to the color of the car entered, the dnfs and the dns (did not start). Unfortunately, there are no serial numbers in any part of the book, but this is a task for others at any rate. The proper name index is very helpful, but I should have liked to see a car index as well as people index. A bibliography and footnotes are missing, something we’ve been urging both authors and publishers to include for some time now. So low marks on that, and too bad, as notably, Defechereux did a lot of interviews with the original participants which should have been properly documented. Their comments and quotes throughout the book bring the era alive.
Defechereux begins not with the first road race at the Glen in 1948, but the Introduction which provides the background to the post war sportscar movement, setting up a basis for chapter one, which introduces Cameron Argetsinger and his dream to create an international race event around the small picturesque town of Watkins Glen. A typical side bar explains the origins of the term “Grand Prix” in reference to motor racing (1906 at Le Mans). Chapter two, then, gets on with the actual first race at the Glen in 1948. And this is what Defechereux does throughout the book; he provides interesting background, commentary and color which clearly help the reader understand the flow of events and their importance to the race at Watkins Glen (and eventually, vice versa).
Although at first glance the chapters seem to document each race at the Glen, they also chronicle the developments of the sport and the organizations both here and abroad, and then segue into the Glen event of that year. The approach is almost unique, very well done, and avoids the boredom of single event reporting and puts everything into vivid perspective. We also applaud this approach for it provides a great deal of relevant information on road racing (both F1 and sportscars) from 1946 to 1953; second, it reminds us all of not just how the sports car movement started, but of its overall importance and influence in the U.S. and abroad. This is in addition to excellent historical reporting of each race, using contemporary sources and many first person accounts to give a full account.
There were many images in the Lance/Davison collection which had to be added at the back of the book, arranged as “Some Splendid Racing Concours and Spectator Cars”. The first section illustrates many of the cars in the various Glen races, and Defechereux brings their current whereabouts up to date in as many cases as possible (the Griswold Alfa 2.9 coupe, the Maserati ‘Poison Lil’, the Cunningham Ferrari 166, etc.). Then a section filled with even larger color images, of some of the cars that graced the parking lots, concours grounds, and streets of Watkins Glen in those street racing years.
I was first a bit dubious about the project; publishing any book today is a risk, and publishing one that had already been out in softback thirteen years earlier seemed to be almost foolhardy. But the team of Glyn Morris, Jodi Ellis and Philippe Defechereux made it work; the results are excellent and well worthwhile and the price is right.
If you are a Premium Subscriber, or have just signed up, you are eligible for a 20% discount off the price of $49.00 for the new book, “Watkins Glen, The Street Years, 1948-1952”, PLUS free domestic shipping. And it’s easy. Just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org letting me know if you would like your copy.