by Russell Jaslow
BRM - A Mechanic's Tale
by Dick Salmon
ISBN: 9781845840822. List Price: $74.95.
Many American Formula 1 fans are quite familiar with Steve Matchett, who provides the technical commentary as part of the F1 broadcast team -- perhaps the best racing broadcast team in the world -- on SPEED Channel. Many are also aware before Matchett made a transition from F1 mechanic to broadcaster, he made a stop as a writer. Three books were written providing a mechanic's view of modern F1 racing.
But what about racing in a previous era from a mechanic's viewpoint? Thanks to Dick Salmon, we now have that story. Salmon was a mechanic on the BRM F1 team from 1952 to 1965, including the World Championship year of 1962 for both driver (Graham Hill) and constructor.
F1 racing in the 50s and 60s was a simpler time. Not necessarily better or worse. Just simpler. Salmon does a good job of conveying that time period long before specialization, exotic materials, mega-sponsors, and robotic personality drivers.
Yet, at the same time, it is apparent that some things never change -- the teamwork, the practical jokes, the last minute thrashings, the travel mishaps, the fancy lifestyle of the drivers and team owners contrasted by the working man's lifestyle of the mechanics, and the ups and downs of racing. And, just when you are ready to give it all up, success finally shines to keep you plugging along for the next season.
If you are looking for a hardcore technical description, you will be disappointed. This is done in a laid back storytelling style, similar to Matchett's books. It's like sitting at a bar -- and this being about BRM, you would be drinking a British ale -- with an old friend telling stories of your past adventures. The mechanics of that day certainly took their job seriously, but they also took seriously the notion of having fun.
This is also not a book that complements Karl Ludvigsen's BRM V16 because there is very little crossover. Ludvigsen covers the era of the V16 engine (1947-1954) while Salmon came on board near the tail end of that period. Most of his years with BRM were the transition away from the V16 and eventually into the 1½-litre formula. This book talks about a different portion of BRM's life than the V16 era.
Though most of the text is devoted to Salmon's experience on the shop floor, his travels around Europe and occasionally to other continents, and his fellow mechanics, he does occasionally provide insight into the various drivers they worked with and the bosses they had to deal with, including some harsh criticism on Louis Stanley, laying blame squarely on Stanley's shoulders for the demise of BRM.
Also, the avoidance of dwelling on the tragedies -- a common occurrence for drivers, officials, and even fans of that time period -- is a sobering reminder that not all was good in those simpler times.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the fantastic photos in the book, with surprisingly a good number of them in color. Some obviously came from Salmon's personal collection, many of which add a travelogue quality to the book. The others do a great job depicting the cars, personality, and racing of that time. The paper quality is top notch allowing the photo quality to be top notch.
While Steve Matchett covers the current era of Formula One, Dick Salmon makes sure a unique perspective is not lost by providing us a recollection of what it was like to be a mechanic in the sport forty to fifty years ago in BRM - A Mechanic's Tale.
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