I purchased the paperback version of this book sometime in the late 60s, and I've returned to it many times over the years. Apart from it's hardcover format, line-drawings to lead-off each chapter, and a new introduction by author Robert Daley, this is exactly the same book that was issued many years ago. It captures an era (the late 50s and early 60s) in Formula 1 and international sports car racing that bears little resemblance to what we see today.
As Daley points out in his introduction, the two main differences between then and now are death and money. Then, several top drivers would die every year; the chance of a top grand prix driver surviving into retirement were literally less than the odds of surviving a round of Russian roulette. Now, Formula 1 has not seen a fatal accident since that horrible weekend 15 years ago when Ratzenberger and Senna died at San Marino
And the money: then, the driver's salaries were comparable to that of a successful insurance salesman, and endorsements were few and far between. Why risk an ad campaign on a driver who might be dead before the campaign could even get under way? Now, the drivers make millions on salaries and endorsements, and are part of a jet-setting international celebrity elite.
The world of Cars at Speed was a world in which advertising played a minimal role and in which old national rivalries were still in the forefront. The color of the car was determined by the country of it's manufacturer (red for Italy, green for England, silver for Germany, and so on). There were few if any sponsorhsip logos on the cars or on the drivers' uniforms; it was a game for wealthy sportsman and the manufacturers of world-class sports cars, not for international corporations marketing beer, cigarettes, or clothing.
Daley's format is essentially to focus on the sport nation-by-nation, with a chapter on each major grand prix and sports car event (in the latter group, the Mille Miglia, the Targa Florio, and Le Mans).
Daley captures the color and danger of the era very well, anecdotally and almost gossipy at times. He captures the specifics of time and place, the ambiance of the circuits. Speaking of the circuits, several of those featured in Cars at Speed - the old Nurburgring, Zandvoort, Reims - have not been used for years, victims of economics or heightened safety standards. Others - Monza, Spa, Silverstone - have seen major alterations, mostly in the name of safety - and bear little resemblance to the circuits described in Cars at Speed.
Daley is above all preoccupied with the danger of the sport, and that overriding possibility of death on the track is perhaps the main theme of the book. According to Daley, that aspect of the original book drew a lot of criticism from the fraternity of motor racing journalists, who downplayed the death and danger of the era almost to a fault. (In that vein, I remember a piece in the mid-60s, written - I believe - by Road & Track's then-F1 correspondent, Henry Manney, describing the death of a driver during the German Grand Prix (I forget the specific driver, perhaps de Beaufort or Anderson or Mitter). Manney's terse comment: "Also, sad to relate, poor _________ went off at Bergwerk and suffered fatal injuries." That was it.)
Middle-aged readers will read this with a sense of nostalgia for a more romantic and less commercialized era, albeit a much more dangerous one. Younger readers will read it with a different perspective, perhaps with wonder that so much death and danger was allowed to persist for so long before reforms were implemented. But they may also be fascinated by a look into a day when money wasn't everything, when the drivers seemed to have more varied personalities and interests than they do now, and when even a determined amateur could find his way onto a Grand Prix grid.
A final comment on some of the book's features: unlike Daley's The Cruel Sport, this book is all text with no photographs other than those on the cover. There are, however, diagrams of the circuits, and listings of the winners of major F1 and sports car races through 1961.