Last week The Royal Automobile Club hosted the annual Motoring Book of The Year Awards at their Pall Mall Clubhouse in Central London, where Crispian Besley was presented with the club’s tenth annual Motoring Book of the Year award for his book Driven to Crime: True stories of wrongdoing in motor racing, published by Evro Publishing, priced at £40.
The book was the culmination of over 10 years of investigations and research, lifting the lid on the various misdemeanours at all levels of motor sport. The judges loved the book and were unanimous in crowning it their ultimate Motoring Book of the Year for 2023, with judge Christian Whitehead saying:
“The motor racing world is filled with stories involving drivers, team owners, manufacturers and sponsors behaving badly, and this fantastic book highlights the many cases that have made headlines in various ways. We Brits love a good true crime story, and this book was very hard to put down. Kidnapping, murder, drug-smuggling, robbery, cheating, corruption, punch-ups and downright dangerous driving are all represented well in this thoroughly researched book.”
Although this was Besley’s first book, he revealed to the audience that he is already working on a second volume, commenting:
“Where there’s money, there’s crime – and there’s a lot of money in motor sport. For me it was about joining up the dots as I collected information. People were very honest with me in talking about their lives, although they didn’t always want to be quoted. But it’s not just about drivers; there are dodgy sponsors and team owners in here too.”
The evening opener, however, was an interview with world-renowned automotive historian and author Karl Ludvigsen who was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his significant contribution to the UK’s motoring book industry.
Ludvigsen has also enjoyed a career in car design, manufacturing and racing, and gave us all a fascinating insight and his take on today’s motor industry, saying:
“I have never known a time when there is so much chaos, and I don’t envy managers at all. But it’s also an exciting time, with so many new things coming along – all-electric motor racing, for example, and new makes of car. So much has already been done but there are always gaps.”
With a writing career that has spanned and impressive 65 years, Ludvigsen has penned over 60 titles, and is a leading authority on the history of Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and the Chevrolet Corvette. He has also held senior posts at General Motors, Fiat Motors of North America and Ford of Europe.
His first book published in 1958, was an MG Guide, and since then he has written about high-performance engines, biographies of Ferdinand Porsche, Reid Railton and Lotus founder Colin Chapman, as well as profiles of well-known racing drivers such as Stirling Moss, Juan Manuel Fangio and Alberto Ascari.
I could have listened to his fascinating conversation with host Simon Taylor for hours, as he revealed that his next title to be published next year, will be the three-volume Power Unleashed charting the development of supercharging and turbocharging, which will also coincide with his 90th birthday and have taken him 15 years to complete.
The Graham Robson Award for Best Debut Author went to Andy Saunders for his book The Automotive Alchemist, published by Dalton Watson Fine Books, priced at £90, and is a vivid illustrated celebration of this design genius’s work with fascinating insights into Saunders’ imagination and workshop as he deconstructs and then rebuilds each vehicle, laying bare his motivations, influences and passions. The book goes into details of the work involved in the creating 60 unique cars, 42 of which now reside in museums and private collections around the world.
Saunders was understandably delighted, saying:
“It’s been an absolute rollercoaster. I never did any homework when I was at school, to the extent that they wouldn’t even let me sit my English GCE! But I wrote this book because someone said to me: ‘If you don’t put down what you’ve done before you pop your clogs then no-one will know about it.”
In addition to these three awards, The Royal Automobile Club also awarded the Motoring Book of Year (Below £50) to Myles Kornblatt for Max Hoffman Million Dollar Middleman, published by Veloce Publishing Ltd, priced at £30.
Motoring Book of the Year (No Price Limit) went to Jon Pressnell for Kim: A Biography of MG Founder Cecil Kimber, published by Dalton Watson Fine Books, priced at £115.
The Motorsport Book of the Year (Below £50) award went to Rachel Harris-Gardiner for her book Speed Queens: A secret history of women in motorsport, published by Pen & Sword Books Ltd, priced at £22. Whilst the award for Motorsport Book of the Year (No Price Limit) went to Andrew Cotton for Bentley Speed 8: The Comprehensive Story of Bentley’s Last Le Mans Winner, published by Sportfahrer Verlag, priced at £225.
The Motoring Book of the Year judging committee was once again led by non-voting chairman Simon Taylor and six expert judges who are totally independent of the Royal Automobile Club. They included Gordon Cruickshank of Motor Sport, Mark Dixon of Octane, Mick Walsh from Classic & Sports Car, BRDC Bulletin editor Ian Titchmarsh, Ben Horton from specialist bookseller Horton’s Books and Christian Whitehead from Oxford bookstore Blackwells.
Ben Cussons, Chairman of the Royal Automobile Club, summed up the evening by saying:
“The awards, now in their tenth year, are globally recognised and celebrate the very best in automotive publishing. Authors and publishers from around the world submitted a record-breaking 56 titles this year, from compelling biographies and crime stories to marque-specific histories.
“No comparable event in the English language does so much to reward such high achievements within motoring and motoring racing books. The calibre for 2023 has been more impressive than ever – our independent expert judges really had their work cut out, so I’d like to extend an enormous thank-you to them for their diligence and enthusiasm.”
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man Behind The Wheel, a member of The Guild of Motoring Writers, professional photographer and former saloon car racing driver.
Photographs by Gary Harman