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Private Fleet Book Review: How To Drive. The Ultimate Guide From The Man Who Was The Stig by Ben Collins

As we’re less than 100 days away from Christmas, it might be time to start dropping some hints as to what you’d like your nearest and dearest to get you. For most of us, a new car is out of the question in the Christmas stocking, but a new book is probably much more feasible as a present for the typical Australian.

How To Drive by Ben Collins is a book that satisfies a number of appetites whetted by the BBC TV show Top Gear – and I’m talking about the old version with the Unholy Trinity of Jezza, Richard and James. Firstly, you finally get to find out who The Stig really is: the author of this book, former racing driver and movie stunt driver Ben Collins.  Secondly, this is the closest you’re likely to get to being taught how to drive by The Stig like those Stars In Reasonably Priced Cars.

To say that this rather chunky book (269 pages, not counting the index) is comprehensive is something of an understatement. It is packed with tips and facts to make you a better driver, starting with some historical bits and pieces, such as the development of the tyre, and goes from the basics through to advanced stunt driving as you work your way through the book. And when I say “the basics”, I really do mean the basics: starting with the importance of good seating position and holding the wheel correctly. In the final section, you get all the really fun stuff you don’t want to do anywhere apart from a proper track or else a deserted field (with permission of the farmer, of course): doughnuts, burnouts, drifting and the J-turn… and the “don’t try this at home” 180-degree and 90-degree stunt turns into a parking space.

As most of us want to know more about The Stig and who he really is, the book is peppered with anecdotes, not just about Stiggy’s time with Top Gear but also the movie driving and race driving he’s done.  For the record, Ben Collins has been a stunt driver in Fast and Furious, Spiderman 2 and Quantum of Solace… at the very least. Those are the movies cited in the index, anyway.  And yes, he’s body-doubled James Bond for these stunts.  There are photos to prove it.  You also get glimpses of behind the scenes at Le Mans and NASCAR, etc.  The stories aren’t all “look at how good I am” showing off: there are a few “how I got it wrong” tales in there as well.

It’s also not just a how-to book, although there are tons and tons of step-by-step instructions and handy diagrams.  The physics of what’s going on is explained, as well as the psychology, and plenty of it.  Again and again, the importance of having being in the right headspace is emphasised, and it’s not all testosterone-fuelled drive and competition, which will come as something of a relief for those of us whom Nature didn’t give loads of testosterone, aka 50% of the population.  Collins provides tips not just from the motor racing world but also from Samurai warriors and jet pilots.  There’s even a diet to help you stay alert when expecting a long day’s driving.  The physics and the psychology – and the instructions – are all presented in a very readable way with a sense of humour.  It’s hard to forget the mnemonic for correcting oversteer, for example: Steer, Hold It, Turn (the initial letters are probably what you’re saying…).  The ebook version would certainly be great when you’re waiting in the doctor’s surgery and would pass the time very pleasantly (the hardcover is a bit hard to cart about in your pocket).

It’s a British book, so some of the explanations and complaints about roundabouts, give way rules, motorways and the licensing system may not (and in many cases do not) apply to Australia. However, the majority of what’s in there does apply (including, hooray, hooray, the keep-left rule).

This is a book that will keep plenty of drivers happy, as there’s something for everyone in there, whether the reader’s on their L-Plates or whether he/she has been driving for decades.  It’s a goldmine of motoring trivia that will make you chuckle as well as being a great practical tome that ought to be standard issue along with a copy of the Road Code to learner drivers.

How To Drive. The Ultimate Guide – From The Man Who Was The Stig
Ben Collins
Published 2014 by Pan Macmillan, ISBN 978-1-4472-7283-0 (hardback), 978-1-4472-7285-4 (paperback). 272 pages. Ebook available.

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