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The Motoring Press Reviews The Fabulous Trashwagon, Montezuma's Ferrari and The Last Open Road

Atlas F1 - Mark Glendenning

When was the last time you read a really, really good racing novel?

For the vast majority of you, the answer is probably quite some time. Good motorsport fiction is generally quite thin on the ground (unless you include team press releases), so when something worthwhile does come along it's more than worth making a big deal about it. Few sports seem to have the kind of appeal to fiction writers that racing does. The reason should be obvious - motorsport is by nature an action-packed, dramatic, and in theory, unpredictable activity. The attraction in writing about car racing instead of something like golf is that a huge chunk of the work is already done for you. All you need to do is create a 'Johnny Hero', right?

That's the problem. For another element of racing's appeal are the personalities that occupy the motorsport world. And no matter how well an author manages to haul together a decent plot, they are always going to struggle to really captivate the reader, because their book will inevitably be compared with the real thing - almost certainly with unfavourable results.

This may be one reason that the best racing fiction to have hit my desk in the past couple of years has had an historic setting. Richard Nisley's 'The Ragged Edge', built around Grand Prix racing in the 1960s was one, and Burt 'BS' Levy's 'The Last Open Road' was another.

'The Last Open Road' has apparently become something of a cult hit amongst the historic racing fraternity in the USA, and it's also done pretty well for itself in other corners of the world. And with good reason. Based around the glory days of Sports Car racing in the US during the 1950s, 'The Last Open Road' was one of those rare books that the die-hard racing fans could get a kick out of, and then pass on to their less-than-entranced-by-racing better half, who would most likely enjoy it just as much.

It was followed by a sequel, 'Montezuma's Ferrari', which was just as strong as the original, and now there is a third installment to the series. If you are familiar with the first two books (or any of Levy's other writing, which includes 'The Potside Companion' and a number of contributions to assorted magazines around the planet), then you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this new offering.

Buddy Palumbo, the young mechanic through whose eyes the tale unfolds, has come of age. Ill-health has gradually forced his elderly boss at the garage to take a back seat, allowing Palumbo to become increasingly involved with the running of the place, which means an ever-increasing emphasis on preparation of race cars and seemingly endless opportunities to spend every weekend traipsing around the country attending race meetings to strike a healthy mix between working and spending lots of time in the nearest bar.

But in addition to his new status at the garage, there are other responsibilities - namely the small matter of him becoming a father. Despite the difficulties in finding a balance between scooting off to races, keeping the garage running, and being a family man, Palumbo managed to realise his dream of building his own race car - even if it is a Special cobbled together from assorted Jaguar and Cadillac bits. Originally developed with the working title of the 'Jagillac', Palumbo's reliance on scrap to build the car, coupled with its rather ungainly appearance, eventually sees the vehicle dubbed 'The Trashwagon' - the ugliest, but potentially fastest - car in its class.

Levy's writing seems to mature with each novel. 'The Fabulous Trashwagon' still has all the humour of its predecessors, but the movements of the plot in this book required Levy to dig a little deeper to do himself justice, and he rose to the challenge superbly. His handling of the awful accident at Le Mans in 1955 - one of several 'real life' events that make cameo appearances in the book - is simply brilliant, and displays a level of sensitivity that was less evident in the earlier titles.

Also admirable is the seamless interweaving of reality with fiction, whether it be events such as Le Mans, or personalities who make brief incursions into the text such as Stirling Moss, Phil Hill, Smokey Yunick, and Carroll Shelby.

Like all the books in the series, 'The Fabulous Trashwagon' is a self-published effort, which draws upon the inclusion of a full colour advertising supplement disguised as a race program inserted into the centre of the book. Far from being intrusive, the insert is cleverly put together and an entertaining read in its own right.

The other thing that this book has going for it is its length. Levy is not exactly the most economical writer around (I guess one of the advantages of self-publishing is that you can make your book as long as you damn well like!), and even the speed readers out there will find that it keeps them occupied for quite some time.

Downsides? Well none, apart from the fact that unless you go to selected major historic race meetings in the US, you can't actually purchase the book just yet. It is currently being previewed at a few events around North America before being officially released on October 31st. For more details, you can email, or check

If you read and enjoyed the previous two books then this third installment is indispensable. If you haven't read the earlier volumes, then you should take a long, hard look at yourself. Motorsport fiction doesn't get much better than this stuff.

Atlas F1 - Mark Glendenning

Most readers will by now be familiar with the work of Burt 'BS' Levy. In addition to his novels 'The Last Open Road' and 'Montezuma's Ferrari', Levy writes the 'Pure BS' column that runs in Vintage Motorsport, and is a regular contributor to a number of other magazines. For the uninitiated, Levy comes from the old school of die-hard racing nuts who like their cars to be as fast as somebody else can afford to make them, their on-track battles fought hard but fair, and their beer cold. Levy also likes his chicken to be cooked twice, but we'll get to that later.

The 'Potside Companion' contains an assortment of anecdotes, reminiscences, contemplations, and poetry (!). Some of the material has been published previously in magazines, while other pieces appear here for the first time.

Somewhere near the top of my all-time favourite motor racing books are Eoin Young's 'It Beats Working' and Denis Jenkinson's 'A Passion for Motorsport', both of which are collections of shorter pieces. I love anthologies. (Did someone out there say 'short attention span'?). I also have a soft spot for anything that makes me laugh loud enough in public to encourage passers-by to give me a wide berth. It scarcely needs to be said, then, that reading 'Potside Companion' was an almost obscene amount of fun.

The book covers a lot of ground. By the time the reader turns the final page, they'll have learnt a lot about the pitfalls associated with trying to approach a fairly rough Triumph TR3 as the key to future motorsport superstardom, the unique feeling of being relived of a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow convertible at gunpoint while taking a 'prospective buyer' out for a test drive, and what to do when a major hotel misplaces a couple of thousands of dollars worth of promotional decals.

So the stories are good. But the way that they're told is even better. Levy lives and breathes racing, and his passion for the sport is clear in every sentence. Enthusiasm is infectious, and within the first few paragraphs the reader is drawn completely and irrevocably into the action, not able to return to the surface for air until the final page. (Though when you consider some of the exploits that Levy recounts, you could sensibly suggest that this may not necessarily be a good thing).

Levy's writing style helps the whole thing along enormously. The way that the stories are told makes it easy to imagine that the author is seated across the table from you in a pub with a freshly pulled beer in easy reach. As a reader, you feel less like you're standing on the outside looking in, and more like you're engaged in a conversation.

"Potside Companion' works on levels other than that of pure entertainment. There are some genuinely thought provoking pieces in there (I particularly liked the second piece, which was a reflection on the nature of bravery as it applied to racing). Another piece, The Agony of Victory , was originally published as a two-part article in 'Vintage Motorsport' magazine, and takes a look at the difference between responsibility and fault in a racing incident, drawing upon an uncomfortable personal experience. Also of special interest was the final piece, in which Levy explores the highs and lows of being a self-published novelist. Nobody needs me to tell them how difficult it is to get published these days, especially if you're an unknown writer, and even more particularly if you write fiction. This is the path that Levy took for 'The Last Open Road' and 'Montezuma's Ferrari' though, and by normal self-publishing standards he has been enormously successful. If you're in a similar boat yourself and you're finding the whole business a bit of a struggle, the final chapter of this book may justify the cover price on its own.

If you've read and enjoyed Levy's earlier work, particularly his magazine contributions, then I'd recommend this book to you unreservedly. The same goes for those who have ever spent a lot of time and money trying to make a very ordinary sports car go a little bit faster, or that have any interest or experience in vintage or amateur racing. For everybody else, I'd merely recommend it highly. Here's an excerpt to give you a feel for what's in store. This is taken from a piece entitled 'The Car That Never Was', and we join Burt just as he's managed, semi-illicitly, to organise some media coverage for his TVR 2500M's race debut, and he's now getting down to the business of actually preparing the car for the big day:

"Well, the first thing we discovered was that, despite the use of highly accurate measuring instruments (my thumb and fingers, mostly) the intake manifold failed to clear the forward roll bar brace by a scant but solid 3/8ths of an inch. Much heating, beating, sawing, prying, sweating, cursing, gnashing of teeth, and wailing upon with the largest sledge in the shop later, we arrived at a more reasonably tailored fit. Sort of. Then things went swimmingly for several hours until we had it all thrown together for painting, and it was at this juncture that I stepped back for a once-over and realized that the rocker panels of my hopefully low-slung new race car were a good 12" off the floor. It gave the TVR a strange, Crazed-Bullfrog-In-Mid-Leap sort of stance. What I'd somehow failed to account for (among countless other things, truth be known) was that all the shaving and discarding of parts and lopping off of coils I'd done had, by the rules of inverse proportions, made the car that much lighter yet the springs that much stiffer. So now the car was sitting way too high. Summoning all the engineering and organizational skills that made me fit to work on a shitbox like Johnny R's clapped-out Jag for no money, I put the TVR up on jackstands, ripped out the springs, and went to work with a hacksaw while my bleary-eyed crew started spraying the fiberglass a deep and lustrous metallic brown.'

'By the time the second coat of lacquer dried sufficiently to not show fingerprints from more than thirty feet away, I was underneath re-installing the springs, which were by now down to something like half their length. Give or take half a coil. Only now I'd gone a bit too far the other way, seeing as how the car - and especially the sump - was sitting real low. Like so low a mouse running for cover underneath that car would've cracked his skull wide open. But no problem, since, as any chassis engineer will gladly tell you, a coil spring is just one long torsion bar coiled up into loops, and the shorter you make that bar - like fr'instance by cutting off about half of those loops - the stiffer it becomes. So I didn't have to worry about bottoming out, seeing as how you could've dropped a hippopotamus on any freaking corner of that car and not deflected it more than a scant few thousandths of an inch. If that. As an old TR3 racer, I figured that to be a good thing, since most TR3 racers generally tend to think there's no such thing as being too stiff.'

'I understand Healey and MG racer types tend to drink a lot, too...'

'In any case, it was back together, and now it was just a minor matter of readjusting the 12 degrees of negative camber and half-inch of toe we'd somehow developed at both ends of the car, pop riveting the rear window in place, installing the dash and seat, running the wires and cables, hooking up the plumbing and instruments, firing it up, tuning the motor, bleeding the brakes, loading it on the trailer, picking up my racing gear at home, driving out to Blackhawk, clearing tech, putting numbers on the sides, and heading out for first practice. Which, if memory serves, was due to start in about 90 minutes. But I'd actually made it out to Blackhawk in 90 minutes once.'

'In an E-Type.'

'Doing triple digits all the way.'

'OK, so we weren't gonna make first practice. So what? After all, we'd been up about 3 days straight, and I really figured I needed a shower and a shave since HOLY COW, EVERYBODY!! WE'RE GONNA BE ON TEEVEE!!! In any case, following the usual last minute catastrophes ("MY GOD! THE EFFING CAR IS TOO WIDE FOR THE EFFING TRAILR" was my personal favourite), we were eventually on our way, buzzed to the redline with excitement, adrenaline, and far too much caffeine, heading towards an ominously grey horizon and hour promised date with fame and destiny..."

The book won't be on the shelves until April Fools Day, but if you're super-keen you can pick up an advance edition from Think Fast Ink at If you ask nicely, Levy might even sign it for you. If you're in the area, you'll also be able to get a copy at the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance on March 10-11, and the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 16-18.

Oops. The chicken. Almost forgot. In amongst all the racing stories, advice to aspiring authors, and poetry, Burt gives us his special recipe for twice-cooked chicken. I haven't tried it yet, but I'm planning to give it a go in the next few weeks sometime. I'll let you know how it goes... - Eoin Young
The actual review

Telling it like it was… Burt Levy is a motor racing writer who has hit on a character motor racing theme that looks spinning him through a string of books as we follow our racing mechanic hero, Buddy Palumbo, from the 1950s when he was first talked into working on competition cars and then driving with him from New York to Elkhart Lake in a brand new C-Type Jaguar in Levy's first book "The Last Open Road". That gathered my total attention because I had gone to all my first races in the late 1950s in the passenger's seat of a C-Type and Levy tells it like it was. His new book, "Montezuma's Ferrari" takes our race mechanic on the 1952 Carrera PanAmericana and then to Sebring and the early endurance races. I went to Sebring for the first time in 1962 and it hadn't changed a jot from when Palumbo drove in to the airfield circuit with the big new refuse collection dump truck he had borrowed at the last minute to tow the racing XK120 Jaguar down from New York.

Levy knows of which he speaks. He raced a Triumph TR3 in 1970 and then switched to Alfa Romeos. In 1984 he saw his first classic race and was immediately smitten. He now writes magazine columns "As a way to get my racing for free" as well as his books and he has been able to get track mileage in all manner of machinery from MGs, Triumphs and Healeys to Bugattis, a Le Mans-winning Ferrari and NASCAR stockers. He says his first book was refused by "damn near every publisher in Manhattan" so he and his wife published it themselves in 1994 under the "Think Fast Ink" imprint, as is this second book of an on-going series. More strength to his arm, I say. Levy's descriptions will ring bells with all true racing people. "To be honest about it, Big Ed's dump truck was a lousy support vehicle. But then it was never really designed or geared for highway travel, and it took maybe half an hour for your eyeballs to stop jiggling whenever you got out from behind the wheel. Plus there was no way to fasten all the stuff down in back, so all the jacks and tools and spare tyres and gas cans and umbrellas and tarps and folding chairs and God-only-knows what else tended to jiggle and shift and bang and clunk around back there like a big, noisy pile of junk.

'But it wasn't so bad on the turnpike, which was smooth and swift and not bad at all once traffic lightened up after about 6.30. I even got to where I could cruise at damn near a mile a minute as long as I kept a death grip on the wheel and resisted the temptation to react to every little twitch and sashay I saw the trailer do in the side mirror. Not that I could feel it much in the seat of my pants or anything, since that Jaguar/trailer combination was like a little tin dinghy tied to the stern of the Titanic. Still, I figured it was maybe a good time to back off whenever I got a good view of the Jag's profile. Which of course only made things worse. In fact it wasn't until Cal took over that we realised you had to put your foot into the gas rather than lifting off (or, worse yet, going for the brakes) when you needed to straighten things out and whip that trailer back in line. And that was just one of the many ass-backwards lessons we all had to learn about hauling a trailer. Backing up doesn't even bear mentioning here.'

I suppose it helps to have been there and done that in the period Levy is writing about. I can still remember Denny Hulme's expression when I woke him in the middle of the night to tell him that I had gone so far up a wrong road in Switzerland that it had stopped being a road and there was nowhere to turn the Ford Zephyr and trailer with his Cooper Formula Junior on the back. Denis observed with much lack of compassion at my plight, that I could reverse the damn rig back to where I could turn round. That was when I had to tell him that I didn't know how to reverse a trailer - and any glimmer of compassion that might have been there, simply iced over. Conversation was zero from then on through the night and out the other side of Switzerland on the way to Rheims in 1961.

Levy splices real racing people into his narrative with seamless skill so that you don't notice where the reality is sliding into his novel. It's superb faction - fact and fiction mixed. Motorcycle champ, Geoff Duke, drove for Aston Martin but I know it was an unhappy experience for him because he told me over dinner a few years back; he was a proud man with a good deal to be proud about and yet the drivers - particularly Peter Collins - froze him out at Aston. Levy captures the situation. His English playboy driver, Tommy, had a drive for Aston at Sebring but even the fictional Brit worries about blotting his copybook with John Wyer. "I think it's even worse for poor old Geoff Duke. Some of the factory people don't fancy him much. Of course, he made a fabulous reputation for himself on motorbikes - can't tell you how many bloody championships he's won - but a lot of so-called experts believe cars are a different kettle of fish entirely. I think he'll do a bloody good job. After all, he's a racer. Through and through. No bloody question about it. But so much can happen with one of these things…" he looked off into the distance "…you just don't want to be the poor, sorry bloke behind the wheel when it does." And that's when I got my first inkling about the one great, unwritten law of endurance racing - if you're in the car, it's YOUR fault! -- no matter if you get smashed into by another car or the crankshaft breaks because some idiot at the factory didn't torque the bolts properly or a bolt of lightning shoots out of the sky and zaps you halfway down the back-straight or a rhinoceros escapes from the local zoo and charges you broadside from behind the next corner (flag) station, if it happens when you're at the wheel, it's somehow your responsibility. And you feel it too. Even if there was nothing on God's green earth you could do. After all, everything was running fine until you got in…"

Atlas F1 - Mark Glendenning

Experience has taught me that the longer a person lives without a wristwatch, the less they actually need one. After spending a few years watch-free, you begin to develop a sort of sixth sense that allows you to guess the time with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Either that, or you become highly adept at knowing how to find a clock at a moment's notice. Until a couple of weeks ago, I thought that frequent users of public transport were similarly intuitive when it came to knowing when they had almost arrived at their destination. It's bizarre - you can be sitting there on a train with a magazine, and without even looking out of the window you just somehow know that your stop is approaching.

For months I rode the rails of Melbourne's public transport system deeply engrossed in whatever I was reading at the time, comfortable in the knowledge that I could rely on instinct to let me know when I was close to where I wanted to be. Then I started reading 'MONTEZUMA'S FERRARI'. Result: I got so caught up in the story that I shot straight past my stop without realizing and had to walk almost two kilometers home. At about quarter to midnight. In the middle of winter. In a thunderstorm. Great.

While this does not say much for my intuitive powers, it does say something about this book. 'Montezuma's Ferrari' is the sequel to 'The Last Open Road', which was reviewed in Atlas F1 a few weeks ago, and it picks up right where the first book left off. It's not completely necessary to have read 'The Last Open Road' before embarking upon the newest installment, because the opening pages of the book contain enough background information to bring the new initiate up to speed. Having said that, I think that you'll get more out of 'Montezuma's Ferrari' if you do read the first book, because you will have developed a greater empathy for the characters and events in this release.

'Montezuma's Ferrari' sees Buddy Palumbo, the story's narrator, having largely taken over the day-to-day running of the auto workshop in which he started his mechanical career. Yep, Buddy is growing up and becoming an adult. Along with the responsibility of keeping the workshop going, he has to deal with planning his fast-approaching wedding to Julie Finzio, and all the associated family-related complications. None of this leaves a lot of time for racing, but various circumstances (starting with Big Ed - Palumbo's friend, best customer, and amateur racer with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of money, and almost no talent - inviting Palumbo to accompany him to the Carrara Panamericana, a two thousand mile road race in Mexico) contrive to ensure that a pleasant amount of the book's action takes place at a race track.

One of the strong points of the first book was its historical integrity, and this quality has been carried across to 'Montezuma's Ferrari'. The author's attention to detail regarding both the cars and the circuits is nothing short of fantastic. Such care is one of the ways in which Levy's love of 1950s racing is evident in the novel, and it is this obvious passion for the subject that sets his books apart from so much other racing fiction. I also liked the brief cameos by racing identities that popped up from time to time, because they helped to add to the sense of believability that is the hallmark of this series.

It might be a big call, but I think that 'Montezuma's Ferrari' is probably superior to its predecessor, and the biggest leap between the two is in the quality of the writing. To be honest, there was not all that much wrong with the way Levy wrote to begin with, but his efforts in 'Montezuma's Ferrari' suggest a greater air of confidence and sensitivity, which may perhaps be due in part to the success of the first book. The quality of the dialogue is particularly brilliant. So is the humour - the first book was funny, but certain moments in this one really had me laughing out loud, which is great but for the fact that I was usually reading the book in a public place, thus making me the target for weird looks by everyone around me.

In the review of 'The Last Open Road', I referred briefly to the story behind Levy's efforts to get his book up and running. Curiously, it seems that Levy's dream deal with a major publisher fell a little flat, with the result that the author managed to sell more copies of the first book than the publishing house did. This time, Levy has elected to avoid similar disappointments simply by publishing the book himself. Self-publishing is an expensive and risky exercise, but Levy has come up with a rather cool way of paying for it - sponsorship.

About a third of the way through Montezuma's Ferrari, the reader suddenly encounters a little magazine called 'Autoweak' that has been inserted into the binding. The magazine consists almost entirely of ads (but then again, most magazines do), interspersed with pictures of the cars that feature in the book. This may sound highly intrusive, and some purists may consider the inclusion of advertising in a novel almost sacrilegious, but in fact it is neither. Actually, the care with which it had been put together, coupled with the fact that most sponsors used period-style advertisements, served to contribute to the overall atmosphere of the book.

This is apparently the first novel ever to employ such an approach to pay for itself, and while I'm not sure that it will ever become widely used, I think that it proved to be a great idea in this case. Apparently I'm not the only one to think so either, for the book recently received a Benjamin Franklin Award (a sort of American literary version of an Academy Award). My only regret is that the 'scoop photo' of the Humber Super Snipe GT on the front cover wasn't a little clearer - now that's a car I'd like to see!

For the benefit of those who haven't read 'The Last Open Road', I've included an excerpt from the new book to give you some idea of the flavour of Levy's writing. This passage sees the cars lined up on the grid for the start of the 12-hour race at Sebring:


"...the race cars sat there, glistening in the sun, while the crowd pressed in against the fences and their drivers stood in their stupid little painted circles, fidgeting with their chinstraps or tugging at the wrists of their driving gloves or checking the hands on wristwatches that never seemed to move. There were only a handful of moments to go, and I swear the closer we got to straight up noon, the quieter everything got. In fact, if you listened past the rush of the air up your nostrils, you could hear your own heartbeat...

'Thirty seconds,' Captain Eyston said into his microphone, and you could almost see the sparkplug banners flutter from the mass intake of breath.


At the far end of pit lane, I herd a socket wrench fall and roll across the concrete. From the sound, I'd guess it was a 14mm or a 9/16ths deepwell.


Somewhere between 'four' and 'three' I noticed the first tiny flinch of movement, but before you could really catch who it was, the stampede was on. It looked a little strange, really, these guys in goggles, gloves, and helmets scampering hell-for-leather across an airport runway and jumping into their race cars. But that all changed when the patter of little feet became the grind of starter motors and then this avalanche of sound as one engine fired and then another and then absolute bedlam as the whole field exploded away in a shock wave of rubber smoke and Castrol fumes." (p.243).

'The Last Open Road' saw Levy really raise the bar as far as motorsport fiction goes, and 'Montezuma's Ferrari' sees the standard climb a couple of notches further. If you read any novels at all then this book is really a necessity, simply because motorsport fiction doesn't get any better than this. The writing, setting, and plot are all brilliant. Plus, at just under four hundred pages of text, you're getting plenty of hours of reading for your money. If you can, try to buy both books in the series, because you really will enjoy 'Montezuma's Ferrari' more if you have read 'The Last Open Road' first. If not, then 'Montezuma's Ferrari' is still a very worthy acquisition, and one that I think will appeal to anybody who harbours any interest in racing at all.


Road & Track April, 2000
The actual review

Hey, a book can't be half bad if, in addition to a cover bearing a Ferrari Mexico and Mercedes-Benz 300SL dueling in the 1952 Carrera Panamericana, it is chock-full of Boeing Stratocruisers, 1948 Mercurys with Edelbrock heads, C-119 Flying Boxcars, DeSotos and movies like The Crimson Pirate. This wordy, deliberately expletive-including but engaging adventure story runs nonstop for 400 pages, not counting - are you ready for it? - a chicane in the form of a 32-page advertising section, masquerading as a 1953 issue of AutoWeak [sic].

The constant swearwords are like those in the 1970s' movie The Last Detail; they're so constant they eventually drop from the reader's awareness. A coming-of-age story narrated by Buddy Palumbo, a young sports-car enthusiast during the 1950s, it remains intriguing enough to pass the point of no return, and not just on road and track. The Catcher in the Rye it isn't, but it's well told nevertheless, with a fair share of convincing youthful philosophy for the period depicted. BS Levy, who self-published The Last Open Road in 1994, continues that story and sends his main character toward an impending wedding.

The book weaves large doses of real races, cars and drivers - the Carrera, Sebring, Ferraris, Aston Martins, Lincolns, Phil Hill, Giovanni Bracco, Karl Kling, are just a few - in among its fictional characters, giving nostalgic readers (anyone who subscribed to this magazine 47 years ago) the satisfaction of recognition and a feeling of participation.

The AutoWeak section, well printed on glossy paper, contains actual ads from the period as well as new (i.e., vintage racing) ads from current supporters of Levy's endeavor. It is bolstered by some very fine black-and-white photos of the Allard J2X and Le Mans, Jaguar XK-120 and XK-120C, Mercedes-Benz 300SL (racing and production cars), Pegaso Z-102, Kurtis 500S, Frazer Nash Le Mans, Jowett Jupiter, MG-TC, Siata 300BC, Lancia Aurelia B20, Ferrari 225/250 MM, Cunningham C-4R, Porsche 356 Carrera and OSCA MT4. There's also a very sly rendition of the "Montezuma" Ferrari shield made from seven chili peppers. Hot stuff!


Atlas F1 - Mark Glendenning

As is the case with beer, coffee, chocolate, and all of life's other pleasant diversions, books about motor racing tend to vary greatly in quality. It doesn't matter whether you're looking for technical books, biographies, or team histories - some titles are invariably going to fall well short of the mark, while others are going to exceed all expectations.

As far as motorsport goes though, the greatest literary minefield would have to be fiction. Generally speaking, most motor racing novels just do not seem to work. There could be any number of reasons for this, but I have my own theory. This is it: Motor racing is dramatic. Would-be-novelists watch a race, absorb all the action, the psychological sparring, and the political games that take place both on and off the circuit, and they say to themselves 'Hey, that would make a great story'. And they're right. It does. That's why motor racing is so popular. And this, at least where motorsport fiction is concerned, is the whole problem - rarely can a dramatic fictional story compete with a dramatic real-life story; particularly when the audience has developed a particular empathy with the main players in the event. In other words, a down-to-the-wire Championship battle between Hakkinen and Schumacher will always attract more interest than a showdown between Bill and Tim, stars of 'Jimbob's Very Cool Motor Racing Book'. No matter how good a writer Jimbob may be, there's an excellent chance that those who live and breathe the real thing will find a fictional version to be a very poor substitute.

Very occasionally though, somebody manages to come close to achieving the impossible in creating a novel that has the potential to appeal to almost anybody, irrespective of where in the wide world of motorsport their particular interests may lie. It looks like Burt Levy may be one of those people. Levy's first novel, 'The Last Open Road', represents what is probably the best fictional motorsport writing I have ever encountered. Set in the 1950s, the story traces the adventures of Buddy Palumbo, a young mechanic who manages to progress from being the bottom of the food chain in a small local repair shop to traveling the length and breadth of the USA as a race mechanic.

If anybody were qualified to come up with a story based around such a premise, Levy would have to be the guy. Prior to writing the book, the author experienced life as a mechanic, car salesman, and motoring journalist, all on top of a respectable career as an amateur racer. Levy's knowledge and passion for American sports cars of the era is obvious throughout the book, and the easy familiarity with which he talks about them contributes a great deal to the success of the story as a whole. There is quite a bit of technical information about some of the cars throughout the pages, yet it is woven into the rest of the text in such as way that it will interest those with a passion for that aspect of 1950s cars, without ostracizing or intimidating those who are a little less knowledgeable.

This quality is actually a major feature of the book as a whole. While there are a series of sub-plots running throughout the story (such as the obligatory love interest), there is little doubting the racing element the heart of the whole thing. And yet the tale is presented in such a way that you wouldn't necessarily need any particular knowledge or even an interest in cars or racing to enjoy reading it.

The best part of this book though, is that it's simply a hell of a lot of fun. It moves fast, it's funny, and it's nostalgic without being overtly so. Levy seems to work from the popular premise that this era represented the 'Golden Age' of racing; a time when courage and honour were valued more highly than non-performance-related contracts and getting the right company to buy space for their logo on your cap. Not having been around for the 1950s, I can't say how accurately the mood of the times are captured in 'The Last Open Road'; but if it does edge toward the line between realism and romanticism, there are more than enough solid, accurate details relating to all aspects of the racing world to prevent the whole story from floating off into fairyland.

Certain aspects of the book are a little exaggerated, particularly the ways in which the British characters are portrayed, (all of them have very, very English names, and most of them speak like folk from Dickens novels); yet this somehow contributes to the overall atmosphere of the book in a positive way. Stylistically, 'The Last Open Road' reads in a manner rather reminiscent of some of the better-known American novels from the era in which the story is set. Given that the mid-1900s was a pretty good time for American literature, Levy certainly picked some good footsteps in which to tread.

This book will appeal to almost everyone. It combines real racing information with pure fantasy and escapism in just the right amounts, and the result is a really enjoyable read. It doesn't matter how small or great your interest in sports car racing or historic racing may be - at risk of completely destroying any integrity I have by dragging out the oldest and most tired of clichés, this book really does have something for everybody. Incidentally, there's also a rather neat story behind the book's origins, which anybody who is interested can read about by visiting I'd recommend 'The Last Open Road' without any hesitation.

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'Ferrari' runs on advertising - Michael Jacobs, USA TODAY, Jan. 12, 2000

Advertising keeps auto racing running; now it's revving up racing literature.

Burt Levy - whose 1950s-set debut novel, The Last Open Road, was self-published in 1994, then issued by St. Martin's Press in 1998 - took a fork in the road to the sequel, Montezuma's Ferrari. He emerged with what appears to be the first novel financed with ads.

"This was a book about cars. We're about cars. We've been doing ads since about that time," says Craig Morningstar, a regional communications manager for Mercedes-Benz USA, which has a full-page ad in the novel. "It seemed like a good tie-in. It was a good fit."

Levy, 54, and St. Martin's weren't a great team - "They never did anything," Levy says - so he took a second spin at self-publishing. He needed a second mortgage for the first book. He needed something else this time: AutoWeak, a full-color, 32-page magazine from 1953, bound between chapters 5 and 6.

The AutoWeak cover touts events from Levy's books; inside are classic photographs, sponsored tributes to racers, and ads targeting racers and fans.

"What really made it work was that Burt got some of the original suppliers from the era to buy an ad," says Marty Boysen, who runs advertiser Alan Christian Motorcars of Holland, Mich. Without the likes of Mercedes on board, "it would have been a hard sell."

For Mercedes, rolling in a boom economy, "a novel way to spread the word" was worth a $2,500 gamble, Morningstar says. Besides, "it's fun to do something different."

The sales of Levy's first book showed that vintage racers are readers, proving many publishers wrong. His second book showed that the racing crowd - people with enough money to maintain classic sports cars and take them around the country for weekend meets - is a tempting advertising target.

Levy's goal was to raise $40,000 - about what Mercedes pays for one ad in Road & Track - to print 10,000 copies. He zoomed past the checkered flag with $55,000.

"He didn't have to sell me on it," says Bob Woodson, owner of a racing-tire retailer in Charleston, S.C. He'd offered money to help publish the book, so he was happy to buy a half-page ad (plus a couple of cases of books). "I've gotten tremendous response from it."

That kind of response, not a chance to help Levy, is what drew Bill Lyman.

"I was sold on the original idea. I was fascinated by the concept," says Lyman, president of Bond Corp., Chicago-based maker of Crystal Tack Cloths. He bought a half-page.

His ad and the others won't be thrown away in a few days, as might an $800 ad in hobbyist bible Hemmings Motor News.

The Ferrariad "will be there forever," says Dave Bean, who owns a parts shop for old race cars in San Andreas, Calif. Plus, "it shows some class."

With Ferrarisparking sales of the first book, Levy has regained the rights to The Last Open Road. A fourth printing is likely next month , possibly with an ad included.

He might not have started an ad trend - "I don't think it's something that's going to catch on," Bean says - but Levy thinks his concept turbocharges the whole package.

A race program will serve the purpose in the third book, he says, even if a publisher buys it. It's what his core fans, his racing buddies, expect from vintage Levy.


Toronto Star Bill Taylor, staff reporter

Burt Levy's self-published "novel" Montezuma's Ferrari .... and other adventures would be worth the US$30 cover price for the cover alone — a Robert Gillespie painting of a Ferrari sliding past a Mercedes on a Mexican dirt road in an early '50s Carrera Panamericana road race.

I put "novel" in quotation marks because as writer and racer "BS" Levy says at the beginning: "This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents described herein are either products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. And if you believe that, I've got some swampland in southern Florida I'd love to tell you about!"

That pretty much sets the tone for the sequel to his 1994 cult-classic The Last Open Road, which was turned down by any number of mainstream American publishers. Levy and his wife Carol took out a second mortgage to put the book out under their own Think Fast Ink imprint.

The reviews were ecstatic.

The Levys have wisely opted to stay with self-publishing (Contact Think Fast at 1010 Lake St., Oak Park, Il. 60301; e-mail: Web site: backed by revenue from a centrespread of beautiful, period-piece but perfectly genuine automotive ads. Open Road dealt with '50s American road racing and Montezuma's Ferrari continues the saga of narrator/mechanic Buddy Palumbo as he ricochets from Old Man Finzio's gas station in Passaic, N.J. to Mexico and on to the Sebring 12-hour endurance race.

He finds time to get married along the way to Julie Finzio, after popping the question in "the warm, satiny-smelling darkness of that oversized coffin in the middle of Carson Flegley's family's funeral home's casket showroom."

The book is full of the XK120 Jags,T-series MGs, Allards and, yes, Ferraris that made that decade of racing in North America so electric. And the characters, too: Phil Hill, Masten Gregory, Briggs Cunningham, etc.

Levy is merciless. No one escapes his genial contempt, from the auto manufacturers and dealers ("... a ridiculous price could become a reason to buy just as easily as a reason not to...") to the sports- car-club snobs ("Charlie Priddle and his wolfpack of armband types on the SCMA's membership committee ...") who tried to turn the early races at tracks such as Bridgehampton and Watkins Glen into social-register events.

But he's not just outrageous and funny. Levy knows his racing inside out and how to put his readers in the shotgun seat. I haven't been left as breathless by an auto-racing novel since Stroker Ace's Stand On It!..

Britain's Classic & Sports Car magazine recently made Montezuma's Ferrari the first novel to be selected as its "book of the month." And as C&SC writer Paul Hardiman put it earlier this year when he declared The Last Open Road his favourite book, "I wasn't there then but I suspect this is how it really was."

l suspect it was. 


RACER December 1999
The actual review

Racing fiction is a difficult task for a writer to tackle, but with his landmark book The Last Open Road, Burt Levy showed how it should be done, weaving the stories of his fictional characters deftly through an inspired recounting of a seminal period in American road racing history. He calls Montezuma's Ferrari, his second book, "the best thing I've ever written," and it's hard to argue with him, since it serves as both sequel and continuation to the original, taking his familiar cast of characters down the road to new adventures wrapped around their various obsessions with cars and the racing of them. 

After flirting with an established publisher-a second edition of Road was released by St. Martin's Press-Levy has again decided to be his own publisher, so Montezuma's Ferrari is available for $30 from Think Fast Ink, (708) 383-7203, or on the Web at


Vintage Motorsport1999/6
The actual review

Those who enjoyed Burt Levy's first racing novel, The Last Open Road, are in for a holiday season treat. Buddy Palumbo, Big Ed, the lovely Julie, and all the gang down at Old Man Finzio's Sinclair in Passaic are back to liven up the sequel, a continuation of the-more or less-true story of sports car racing in the early 1950s. As you recall, The Last Open Road ended with Julie accepting Buddy's marriage proposal at the Halloween party in 1952 following the season that introduced our hero to the world of sports car racing. In Montezuma's Ferrari, Levy's opening chapter brings the new reader up to speed on our old friends and launches into their most ambitious undertaking to date. 

Scrap dealer Big Ed Baumstein, whose social credentials are not up to the standards of the snooty governing body, figures that a new Ferrari is his ticket to acceptance in the racing world and the way to get one is to buy last year's winner in the Carrera Panamericana. Since Buddy wrenches on Big Ed's Jaguars, the pair journeys to Mexico and what follows is just the first of several humorous, but very close to historically accurate, racing adventures that, in addition to the Carrera, include fielding a team at Sebring and a weekend at Bridgehampton. In between, we learn more about the personal lives of the principal characters as Buddy faces his impending marriage, and readers who grew up in the 1950s-especially those with an Italian Catholic family background-will feel right at home. Burt Levy captures the social and political tone of the era precisely, and the clash of cultures when the group attends a Greenwich Village New Year's Eve party is a high point that may not register with the younger generation. No matter; in Montezuma's Ferrari, the reader will come away with a better understanding of the early '50s, and road racing's formative years, than a whole stack of "real history" books would provide. As someone famous once said: "It's all true, even if it didn't happen that way". 

Vintage Motorsport readers have an advantage-we know BS Levy and see him at the races where Montezuma's Ferrari can be purchased direct from the author with the inevitable personal story thrown in. If you can't make it to an event, visit Burt's web-site at and order an autographed copy. I also recommend reading The Last Open Road first, if you haven't done so, and sincerely hope that Burt will continue the series. DW


Publishers WeeklyOctober 11, 1999
The actual review


Classic & Sports Car October 1999
The actual review

This is effectively The Last Open Road, part 2 - second volume of Burt Levy's acclaimed novel of American road racing in the '50s. This one takes up the story again as our hero Buddy Palumbo gets more irretrievably stuck into racing, experiencing a terrifying ride on the '52 Carrera, running a team at Sebring, and somehow keeping all the balls in the air enough to find time to get married. There are still another three volumes planned: will Buddy be able to take a step back from this motor madness, or will Julie become a car widow? Levy has recreated a world based on the times, cars and happenings of the coolest period of racing history, and it's full of thundering V8 sportsters, shark-like Ferraris and Brit sportycars such as C-types, 120s and tweaked MG Ts. His writing has got a bit slicker - at times verging on the Wolfe-esque - yet it still puts you right there in the action, behind the scenes, with characters you'll already be familiar with - Hill, Fitch, Cunningham et al. Like the first volume, the historic racer and writer had to hustle to self-publish this, and features of the package are the spreads of period-looking ads in the centre, plus the offer of related merchandise, from Finzio's Repair Shop (in which Buddy is a partner by the end of this volume) T-shirts to Montezuma's Ferrari earrings. If you read The Last Open Road, buy this. If you didn't, buy both. PH


On TrackAug. 26, 1999 

Until Burt Levy’s The Last Open Road was released in 1994, racing buffs and motorheads generally had only nonfiction to satisfy their racing bug. The Last Open Road was a breakthrough, giving racing fans quality literature of their own, creating a fictional racing world-but including historical drivers, cars and events-that enthusiasts could enjoy. 

There is a saying that the sequel is never as good as the original, but Montezuma’s Ferrari may be even better than its predecessor. In the new book, the cast of characters, both fictional and historical, continue their exploits in both the racing world and the real world of the booming 1950s. 

What makes Montezuma’s Ferrari so special as a racing-oriented book isn't just the strength of the writing or the description of all the racing that takes place-although both are good enough to place the reader in the Carrera Panamericana or at Sebring in the early fifties. The real genius is the character development and the relation of the characters’ racing lives to the whimsy and issues of their outside lives. Montezuma’s Ferrari, though a book tailor-made for car buffs and racing fans, transcends the genre and is a good book and an entertaining read, period.