CARS IN BOOKS, April 1970

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FIRST book I propose to deal with this month is not really a book containing references to cars but a motoring book in its own right, although I venture to suggest that few if any who read this column will have heard of it. I am indebted to H. G. Dunn of Bedford Park for sending me a copy; the book is called “A Motor Tour in Europe 1927” and was published privately by the three young men who undertook the journey. They were destined for Schonlinde in Czechoslovakia to study music under the renowned pupil of Franz Listz, Herr August Stradal. They were going to cross Europe by train but their arm offered them the use of a car, so plans were changed. Reading the account of their adventures, which started in Edinburgh on the train but commenced in earnest its London, where the 1925 Morris-Cowley bull-nose tourer was taken over, and ended back in London 2,582 miles later and one month later, is to realise how rare was a European journey of this magnitude in vintage times, although more ambitious Grand Tours were undertaken in Edwardian cars, as this feature has previously demonstrated. But in 1927 a light car was considered only just suitable for such a task and, indeed, the Morris boiled all too frequently, punctured its tyres, twisted a half-shaft (a habitual trouble with these ears) and had magneto trouble and choked jets. The joint authors agreed that a car was by far the best way of travelling abroad but remarked that “Cars of British Manufacture are unfortunately seldom to be met with outside the British Empire, and, except in Ansbach, we did not meet a single one from the day we left Ostend until our return to that town. The Americans seem to have obtained a grip of the Continental Market, and their automobiles appear to be better acclimatized to the unusual warmth which is to be met with in Southern Germany and Czecho-Slovakia than our machines”.

How remote all that now seems! I have always maintained that British cars did not improve appreciably as long-distance touring machines until the British began to take holidays abroad as a matter of course, soon after the end of the last war, whereupon the inadequacy of performance and suspension for long runs over “fast” roads and pavr was all too unhappily apparent. However, the three adventurers, A. H. Banks, J. H. Hodge and A. Brown, Obviously enjoyed their experience and thought they might repeat it—I wonder if they did and in what car?

The Morris they used belonged to William Hodge & Chilver of Hatton Garden and today this choice of an open tourer (PE 2477) seems a strange “fleet car”. Another item which emphasises how long ago all this was, is that petrol cost between 1s. 4d. and 2s. 8d. per gallon. The roads are described as better than had been expected, Germany obviously having the best, the French main arteries being very good, but those of Czecho-Slovakia being “dreadful all over the country” and those of Belgium a good second. The Morris was described at the conclusion of the trip as not coming up to expectations as a “going concern”; there were two more on the boat at the embarkation, but they had not penetrated as far into Europe. Two girls on the boat had been touring “on an ancient motorcycle, a New Imperial, which had seen much better days” and the lone British car encountered was a 3-litre Sunbeam (whether a twin-cam or a push-rod model is not mentioned but its youthful owners were much envied, especially as they also had a Chrysler in their party). The Morris had lighting and steering trouble to add to the worries, and when a new half-shaft had to be made for it the charge was £9, Whereas in England a half-shalt cost 12s. 6d. A new Dunlop tyre had to be bought, the brakes overheated, oil poured out of the back axle and hubs -and with other minor repairs cost more than the living expenses, causing the authors to remark “What a car this is!” The best day’s mileage, incidentally, was 188, from Ansbach to Strasbourg.

Things often seem to come in pairs and just before reading this most interesting flashback to the past, I had greatly enjoyed another little publication, also issued privately, about another adventurous journey. This was a booklet called “A Case of Vat 69”, by Graham Rankin and Martin Boag, being an account of their journey last year from England to Australia in a 1932 Austin 7 saloon. The title is taken from the initials of “Vintage Australian Transport 1969”. The Austin gamely covered a total of 12,200 miles between England and Singapore and if it broke a half-shaft like the aforesaid Morris and needed a complete re-bore in Madras, after 8,500 miles, this was probably accentuated because the air-cleaner wasn’t functioning and, anyway, this is far in excess of the annual mileage such Austin 7s are likely to be subjected to in going to and from old-car rallies and they can still be purchased for quite modest sums (Rankin’s cost £40, before preparation for its marathon).