Cars in books, April 1971

I was interested to find in “Doubtful School-Master” by Hugh Heckstall-Smith (Peter Davies, 1962), a passage reading: “There was the very small boy, Henry Stisted, with a taste for dangerous living. (He did some car-racing in his twenties)” when the author is describing some of the pupils he remembered at Stowe School, because I encountered Stisted some years ago when I was investigating the mysterious disappearance of a Rolls-Royce aero-engined Sunbeam at Warsash, I fear to a breaker’s yard, a car Burnand, the Southport driver, had built during the war, using an ex-R.A.F. Falcon engine and one of the 1922 TT Sunbeam chassis but had not had time to complete. Can anyone throw any light on the eventual fate of this exciting hybrid? Stisted, as Heckstall-Smith rightly says, “did some car racing”, driving an MG Midget in the 1930 “Double Twelve” and at Le Mans in 1931 and a big Mercedes-Benz at Brooklands.

When the author left Stowe and took on the headmastership of Ludlow Grammar School in the summer of 1933 he refers to driving there in his old Fiat, passing on the way “the beautiful Radnorshire Arms Hotel of Presteigne”, well-known to present-day members of the VSCC. He later stayed at the Hundred House at Bleddfa, then run by a Mr. Christopher Bridgewater, and came to enjoy solitary walks along the paths of Radnor Forest. When a forester’s wife had a baby the author drove her from Cwm-y-Gerwyn, up above Hundred House, and Llandrindod Wells’ Hospital; the urgent journey took an hour, which seems to confirm the author’s statement on an earlier page that “I am always a slow car driver”, unless the Welsh roads in those days were nearly as bad as the deeply rutted lanes over which the journey commenced, and the negotiation of which Heckstall-Smith had rehearsed carefully all through the previous autumn, winter and spring, with this very emergency in mind. (He was rewarded by being made the godfather). Incidentally, the Fiat was probably a vintage car, as it was described as “old” in mid-1933.