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The Lance Macklin Story – A Race with Infamy

by Jack Barlow

2022 review by Guy Loveridge

When a book is released, and a review copy lands on the door mat, I am always excited. When it deals with a figure from an era which is at the centre of my interest in motor racing, I get really excited. When I read and find numerous errors, mistakes, omissions and mis-statements, I find myself wondering why I bothered?

This title had the chance to really do justice to a hugely talented driver, whose career is overshadowed by one event, in which he was a major, though unwitting, player. Instead that chance is massively overshadowed by quite a catalogue of issues that leap off the page. In the first photograph section one image has the comment “second place Froilan Gonzales chats to someone in the middle of the frame” – that someone is Fangio!?! Later in the same section we have a shot of Lance taking a close look at his HWM. The author identifies John Heath and Duncan Hamilton, fair enough, but neglects to mention the figure joining Lance in a close look at his engine is co-owner and team leader George Abecassis! A pretty significant figure in the career of an HWM and Aston works driver…

It also rankles that the author refers to Pierre Levegh having raced in his “little” Talbot” in “Formula 2” races. At four and a half litres the Talbot Lago T26C was the largest car on the grids in the post war years, and most assuredly a Formula One mount. That the author is not from the UK is made painfully obvious by him feeling that he should place names in a national context – a familiar name has “England” placed after it a number of times. There are a few places where the use of a thesaurus would have been welcomed: “… found himself in the most ferocious MGB flotilla of the lot, the ferocious 6th MGB Flotilla”. My last comment on the style is one of clarity and understanding – “Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt taking a famous victory in their C-Type….Behind them was Moss and Walker, also in a C-Type, ahead of the American duo of Phil Walters and John Fitch in the Cunningham. Another C-Type, that of Peter Whitehead and Ian Stewart, was third”. No, Whitehead and Stewart were, of course, 4th… In short some more rigorous editing could/should have been applied to this title before any ink hit the page.

For the comparatively low cover price of £20 this book is “ok”. If that reads as my damning it with faint praise, well you are probably right. That I was hugely disappointed should be clear. I am left presuming that I am not the target market – its small format and small text size would reinforce that but I am forced to ask – if the intended market is NOT me – a middle aged enthusiast of the 1950s motor racing scene, then who on earth is it aimed at?

Publisher: Veloce.

Price: £20.00.

Description:   216 pages, Hardback, 13 x 19.8cm. 40 pictures.

ISBN: ISBN: 978-1-787117-87-7.

8 responses to “The Lance Macklin Story – A Race with Infamy”

  1. Lukas Minton says:

    I read this book and my experience was completely different from the reviewer. I found it vivid, entertaining, amusing and revelatory. I would imagine the target audience is not people who are pedantic nitpickers. And perhaps people who are dedicated Mike Hawthorn fans, such as this reviewer, should not allow themselves to be influenced by the dispute between Hawthorn and Macklin more than 60 years ago!

    Anyone dissuaded from reading this lively biography should do themselves a favour and read the first few chapters that are free to read on Google Books.

    And a hint: If you are the type of person who craves the approval of the “important” people you might find the book disappointing. Lance Macklin was a free spirit and a free thinker and a maverick through and through. He didn’t like stuffed shirts and I think he’d have approved of the tone and approach of his biographer.

  2. Deepa Chopra says:

    I am not a motorsports historian so I perhaps approach biographies differently from Guy Loveridge. Many biographies succeed in telling us, usually in great detail, what someone did. But few succeed in what to me is far more important amd interesting – who someone is.

    Jack Barlow does a brilliant job of bringing Lance Macklin to life. We get a real sense of this man who was without doubt highly gifted and brave beyond belief. But his very human failings and foibles are there to see as well. With every page I found myself smiling and liking Lance more and more and his sad late life decline, burdened by the horror of Le Mans, is told with compassion but also with honesty. A quibble over the size of Levegh’s Talbot matters not a jot to me in the grand scheme of things.

    Jack Barlow writes beautifully, I read a lot of sports biographies and while many plod along like a weary person trudging through mud, this one skips along like a happy child dancing through the woods on a summer’s day. Turning the page was never an ordeal.

    This book succeeded in spades in the ways that matter to me. Clearly Guy reads with different expectations. And that’s fine, we’re all different. But I predict most readers will delight in being transported to a very different world in very different times, and delight in the cast of very colourful characters. When I finished reading my immediate thought was “I hope someone makes this into a movie” – the elements are all there – glamour, excitement, courage, and ultimately, pathos.

  3. Guy Loveridge says:

    Interesting responses, and am glad that Mr Minton agrees that I am not the target audience. I would assert, however, that expecting the facts to be correct in a work of biography is not so much pedantry as normal. I would also mention that I have always been utterly on the Macklin side of his legal case against Mike Hawthorn; it was the ghost author of “Challenge Me The Race” who sought to absolve Mike of the blame for the 1955 Le Mans disaster, not me. That Lance was a unique and particular character has been borne out by many people I have interviewed who knew him. He liked to march to the beat of his own drum.

  4. Richard Jenkins says:

    Firstly, I do understand where Guy is coming from as after all, he is a historian. He needs to be a pedant, as do many of us, because once something is in print, it’s often treated as fact. His points are valid.

    However, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Now, confessions first, as I have always found Macklin a fascinating figure and so I am naturally sympathetic towards the subject.

    But, irrespective of this, I thought this book was wonderful and, actually, where I enjoyed it the most was actually post-racing.

    From his last race until his death, it was a fascinating, insightful, refreshingly honest look at the subject. Too many biographies focus solely on the racing and then their post-racing life is condensed to about two or three pages… if we’re lucky.

    But the downfall from grace, whether by design or by accident of Macklin was captivating to read. The kidnapping, the utterly abysmal business ideas, his attitude towards work and family, his life in Spain, his mind haunted by one race in 1955 was absorbing to read. You wanted to throttle him and hug him at the same time. I thoroughly enjoyed it and in terms of purely explaining the subject’s character to the reader, it’s one of the most insightful racing biographies I have read in years.

    It’s reasonably priced too, which is refreshing in itself.

  5. Deepa Chopra says:

    “You wanted to throttle him and hug him at the same time.” Exactly Richard Jenkins! The joy of this biography is that as readers we get to share the emotion that probably everyone who had anything to do with Lance Macklin experienced. But it seems as trying as he could be no one bore him ill will – he was a scamp but comes across as kind hearted, thoughtful and charming. I hope Guy can take off his school master’s robes and read it again and enjoy the insights and the adventures. The drive from New York to Sebring in the racing Healey had me in stitches. As did the impromptu race in Ireland with “Stirling Moss”. Wonderful!

  6. Guy Loveridge says:

    It seems my point has been missed here. IF the author gets so many facts wrong that are in the public domain and instantly checkable, how is the discerning reader to believe anything he says in other, not verifiable areas?

    • Richard Jenkins says:

      Guy, I would try looking it at with a different approach in that the author has probably approached it back to front chronologically.

      It is clear the author knows or spent some considerable time with the family of Lance. There’s too many nuggets that just couldn’t be made up and failure to know his Talbot Lagos, for example, doesn’t besmirch the latter part of the book in my opinion.

      Barlow has spoken to Macklin’s co-workers, friends, neighbours, son, ex-wife and so on, so there’s enough verification there.

      As with any family, there will be some legends where the truth has been stretched for dramatic purposes, but if Lance told his son the story, who then told the author, who are we to deny it?

      So the way I suspect this book was crafted was that the framework of the book was initially the post-racing life first and then the author went back to cover the racing. I could be wrong, but that’s how it seems.

      I genuinely believe you can enjoy the post-racing aspect of this book despite any factual errors racing wise. Yes, I agree, more research could have gone into the racing aspect and identifying pictures but let me put it like this;

      The last book I read before Macklin was Richard William’s Dick Seaman book. Macklin was like Seaman. A privileged upbringing, went to private school, never wanted for anything. Yet, whether by accident or design, Seaman comes across in Williams’ book as a thoroughly unlikable spoilt brat. Macklin comes across as a loveable rogue.
      To pull off that kind of feeling towards Macklin despite listing all of his very negative attributes is quite some achievement by the author.

  7. GAVIN ASTILL says:

    All this debate prompts me to do one thing. Buy it and find out. I’ll let you know what I think

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