by Raoul F Balcaen III with Jill Amadio and Pete Lyons
2022 review by Peter McFadyen
This is the autobiography of Raoul F Balcaen III, better known as ‘Sonny’ to distinguish him from his father and grandfather who both bore identical names, written with the help of fiction and non-fiction author Jill Amadio and highly respected motor sport journalist Pete Lyons whose authoritative US race reports will be familiar to many Autosport readers. If the main subject’s name is less familiar, then those of the people with whom he worked certainly won’t be.
As a teenager growing up in 1950s Southern California Sonny was soon involved with cars and, in particular, the nascent sport of drag racing and his natural mechanical ability would soon see him working for some of the biggest names in American motor racing. Carroll Shelby for example, the Grand Prix driver and Le Mans winner probably better known for developing Ford Mustangs and, of course, the Shelby American Cobra versions of the AC Ace, with whom Balcaen had a long association and friendship.
Lance Reventlow, son of Woolworths heiress Barbara Hutton, whose dream of conquering the Grand Prix World Championship with his all-American Scarab cars was thwarted by what turned out to be an outdated, i.e. front-engined, approach at a time when Cooper and Lotus had already moved on, is another strong thread in the story. The Scarab workshop was right next to engine builders Jim Travers and Frank Coon’s Traco establishment. Balcaen also worked for a while with Jim Hall on his innovative Chaparral sports cars and piece by piece the story builds into a picture of the wider race scene in America at the time.
After a non-productive spell in the US military, he emerged eager to get on with life and set about founding and building up a successful automotive accessory business before going on to ‘other things in life’ such as gourmandising and wine appreciation. More importantly he was deeply involved in the formation of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
All in all this is an absorbing read complemented by over 100 photographs and, being published by Evro, its high quality presentation ensures it is good value.
Publisher: Evro Publishing https://www.evropublishing.com/
Description: Hardback in dustjacket, 234 x 156 mm, 320 pages, 102 photographs in B/W and colour