Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Guinness Car Facts and Feats
I look things up in books a lot. How frustrating it must have been to the compilers of the Guinness Book of Car Facts and Feats (1994), to find their collective wisdom was not better served by a comprehensive index in a better-organised book. I relegate it to a distant bookshelf instead of beside-the-desk works of reference, like the invaluable Beaulieu Encyclopǣdia of the Automobile, Anthony Harding’s Classic Car Profiles and any book by Graham Robson. Maddeningly you hardly ever seem to find what you are looking for in Guinness despite being the work of four celebrated motoring historians. Anything of such browsing and argument-settling merit should have more than thirteen pages of index to lead one round an engaging selection of information embracing the origins of motoring, cars, people, racing and rallying. Best of all is a collection of motoring miscellany such as: “The right hand rule of the road - like the metric system (and an extremely silly calendar which was fortunately abandoned) - sprang out of a desire by French revolutionaries to prove that they could order the universe better than God. Because the left-hand rule had been sanctioned by Pope Boniface in the middle ages, they decreed that the opposite should henceforth prevail. Revolutionary republics like the United States followed suit and other countries gradually switched over. But many, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Japan, and much of the former British Empire still observe the left-hand rule. In Britain it was believed to be a legacy of passing approaching horsemen right side to right side, to facilitate right-armed defence against sudden attack. Oddly enough in 1911 France's Commission du Code de la Route (Highway Code) proposed that France should drive on the left, ‘..because it is instinctive’.” This is indexed as ‘left-hand rule of the road’, but not ‘right hand rule of the road’, nor even ‘rule of the road.’ The ‘miscellany’ is the work of the inimitable Burgess-Wise.