Book review: Le Mans 1949-59


As an opening gambit, author Quentin Spurring's assertion that 'this is a story about renaissance – not once, but twice', sets the scene perfectly for his book, Le Mans 1949-59.

The third instalment of Spurring's officially-endorsed history of the most famous endurance race in the world covers the decade immediately following World War II when racing returned to a devastated post-war France – the first renaissance – and continues past the second – the 1955 crash – that led to much soul-searching in motorsport and which very nearly brought an end to the race itself.
However, as significant as those two events were in the race's history, there was much more to Le Mans at this time including the rise of Ferrari and Jaguar, the return of German manufacturer, Mercedes-Benz, and the ultimate success of Aston Martin in the final race of the decade after 20 years of trying. This was also the time when racing speeds rocketed: in 1949, the fastest car hit 135mph (217kph) on the unique Mulsanne straight but before the end of the 1950s, top speeds exceeded 180mph (290kph).

All of these developments and more are related by Spurring in great detail to provide a superb and highly readable examination of the period. As with the previous two books covering the 1960s and 1970s, this edition follows a similar pattern: year-by-year accounts accompanied by a huge selection of images, both colour and black and white.

For Le Mans enthusiasts and motoring racing historians, Spurring's book is a treasure trove of information. Meticulously researched and drawing on a wide variety of primary and secondary sources – the bibliography offers much in terms of further reading – this biography (and the others in the series) provides readers with a thorough examination of the races and the teams and characters involved as well as the historical and social contexts of the period. The comprehensive index allows for easy searching of specific topics while the statistics surrounding the decade provide extra detail when the reader wants more than just words.

However, that's not to say there's nothing in Le Mans 1949-59 for the casual reader. The layout of the book with its easy writing style and abundance of intriguing photographs, including many previously unpublished images, means it could sit easily on a coffee table to be dipped in and out of at leisure; with bite-size chunks on Pierre Ferry, the last Nash-Healey's, the arrival of Porsche, the debut of diesel power (Delettrez in 1950 if you were wondering) and many other vignettes more than enough to hold anyone's interest.

At £45, Le Mans 1949-59 may appear pricey but there is so much to enjoy in its 384 beautifully-illustrated pages, that we reckon the book is still a bargain. It's certainly one that features on our Christmas list.
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