The 200 MPH Steamroller

The 200 MPH Steamroller

The 200 MPH Steamroller - Book One: Red Reign

by Burt Levy

Burt Levy captures the essence of racing in the fifties and sixties better than anyone I’ve read.  He gets it! And what is even better is that he shares it well. His characters are well developed and we quickly find sympathies with the good guys and wish the baddies ill. We become involved with his novels.

His latest opus is written for the viewpoint of Henry Lyons, a car magazine journalist who is passionate about road racing and struggles with just about everything else in his life. He is chronicling a US car manufacturer’s emerging involvement in a sport dominated by European manufacturers. He also develops a relationship with a young English woman who is involved with motorsports in Britain. Other than Buddy Palumbo’s pal Cal Carrington and a brief, surprise visit to Buddy’s eclectic shop, most of the characters from the earlier books are merely references points in this one.

The book is loosely based on Ford’s early 1960’s foray into road racing that ultimately brought them to victory at Le Mans. Though thinly disguised, the reality is so rich that Levy gives us exactly what we want, the “inside” story on the history we already know. This being a novel, Levy has license not to disappoint. 

Levy’s invention of an American journalist, writing for an American magazine, living in Europe and in relative poverty, has a very familiar feel to those of us who remember the sixties and those rite-of-passage trips to “Europe on $5 a day.” His less than glamorous, ok, “grubby” lifestyle adds verisimilitude to his easy entrance to the racing shops of 1960’s Britain. This was before the tire wars brought big money, agents and PR flaks into motor sports. The British scene really was informal and accessible. His contacts with European racing manufacturers and teams seem equally plausible. Again, for those of us who lived through that era, it is great fun recognizing many of the real-life characters and events that played a role in the real story.

The story of Ford’s attempt to buy Ferrari and subsequent, steamroller assault on Le Mans is a classic piece of motorsports history that has been told countless times from both the sport and business viewpoints. A late fifties English book and cult-classic B-movie entitled The Green Helmet told a similar tale about an American tire manufacturer determined to prove his product by winning the Targa Florio. The fact that this book is based on a history that many of us lived through only makes it more appealing. Therein lays the problem for the historical novelist. We already know the beginning, the middle and the end. His job is to fill in the in-between bits that we don’t know but are eager to learn. Burt knows his history and his audience and he knows better than to deliver a book that wanders too far from historical fact. And yet he’s not afraid to let his imagination run and have a little fun at history’s expense. This is the genius of all of his books: believable and sometimes hilarious fiction based on accepted truth.

As the Brits of the day would have said, “this is a cracking good read.” But it’s not without fault. It is unnecessarily long. Burt obviously has difficulty abandoning words once they have been typed and at several points the reader simply does it for him by skipping on. Even so, it’s a great story and Burt is a great story teller, and you should not miss it.

If you are a first time Burt Levy reader, you will notice that his books carry advertising within their covers. You will also note that his books are very reasonably priced. I’ve never asked, but if one makes the other possible, god bless. Money spent for entertainment derived, these books are an excellent investment.
If you haven’t read the earlier books in the series (the classic The Last Open Road, sequel Montezuma’s Ferrari, sequel-to-the-sequel The Fabulous Trashwagon and fourth volume Toly’s Ghost) it’s really best to experience them in order. We have all of them available through the MMR Store, and Burt will happily sign and personalize them for you. More information is available at the MMR store.