Perhaps wisely, Grimsdale prefers to focus on the high-spirited era before that miserable collapse, a sunlit period when British cars such as Jaguar and Lotus were able to keep “those bloody red cars” from Italy in their rear-view mirror. It’s not all sackcloth and ashes, though. Distinguished marques such as Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Land Rover live on, while F1 teams from Mercedes and McLaren to Renault and Red Bull choose to be based here for British excellence in automotive design and engineering. High Performance is a cracking read and an adrenaline-packed tribute to the time when British motoring mavericks “blew the bloody doors off” the competition.
High Performance is about the postwar decades, which, until Harold Wilson and Tony Benn ruined the industry in 1967 by shoehorning Jaguar, Rover, MG, Wolseley, Daimler and others into British Leyland, “produced” (as Grimsdale puts it with more energy than elegance) “an automotive engineering renaissance which spawned a host of inspired, radical, game-changing, trailblazing machines that made British automotive engineering a world leader”... As his name would suggest, Grimsdale is not a French philosopher, and emphatically not a structuralist. He has nothing at all to say about the semiotics of desire, or the dialectic nexus of power, art and sex, which will come as a large relief to the Top Gear viewers such as myself at whom High Performance is squarely aimed (its cover even features “advanced praise” from “The Stig”), most of whom will not care that it is vilely written.
High Performance never rises above the level of a well-meaning school project: the literary equivalent of a Morris Marina. The writing comprises lazy clichés and tropes — “burgeoning”, “perfect storms” and “blue-chips” — that detract from enthralling content...
There is real beauty and true pathos here. Only a dullard would not be moved by an image of Stirling Moss sliding an Aston Martin DB3S around Goodwood: man and machine in perfect balance and at the very limit of ability — or possibly even slightly beyond it.