“The Upper Crust” by John Bolster. 200 pp. 10 in. 6 1/2 in. (Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd., 11, St. johns Hill, London, SW11. £4.50.)
This title is, with that book reviewed immediately afterwards, the first of a pair in a new “Library of Motoring”, of which the General Editor is Raymond Baxter, who contributes a well-balanced Foreword to each volume.
Not having been able to attend the wine-and-cheese party at “The Steering Wheel” that the publisher gave for these two works, I am not in the slightest way biased in My opinions of them! It is difficult to decide for whom John Bolster wrote his entertaining “Upper Crust”, for while it has obviously been written for those with only a passing or casual interest in the evolution of the motor car, it is still satisfying to enthusiasts such as ourselves, yet without breaking very much fresh ground. Why is this so? I think because the former readers will find the author concise, entertaining, and easy to follow, indeed as they say, very “readable”, in leading them to the cars of the nobility and gentry, while you and I find it fascinating to discover what John, so experienced in so many spheres of motoring (not the least having made that very successful, startling and unusual sprint car, “Bloody Mary”), has to say about those fine motor cars which form his subject.
“The Upper Crust” goes deeper than that, however. It opens by explaining how road transport, how the very roads themselves, evolved. I have read of this previously, by writers erudite and superficial. But I followed Bolster with sustained interest, because he is concise and entertaining in covering this long-ago history. After which he is equally entertaining, if now himself a trifle superficial, in his account of the Systeme Panhard, which takes us through the motor vehicles of 1890 to 1902. Sometimes John departs a little from his chosen topic, the “upper crust” motors; but he later gets down to them in earnest, starting with a very enthusiastic appraisal of the Mercedes Sixty. I, too, have driven one, and agree entirely. After which most of the “greats” of the automobile world are analysed, with whole chapters devoted to the Silver Ghost Rolls-Royce (one of which, of about the best. Edwardian year, Bolster owns) the vintage Hispano-Suiza, the Packards of 1932/39, and the Rolls-Royce Camargue.
It would be unfair to disclose Bolster’s outspoken views (he dismisses the V12 Lagonda. for instance, as not of the “upper-crust team”, and the 6 1/2-litre Bentley as not entirely smooth and quiet with a noisy, difficult gearbox and uncomfortable springing) on all the other notable cars his book covers, but I will say that most of them do not surprise me. It may be that the Cadillac and Lincoln and other American cars should have been given greater emphasis and I feel that the Deluge, especially the 1919 40/50, has been too summarily dismissed. There is. of course, much ground in cover, which may explain a slight sense that the author tired some what towards the end.
May I raise an appreciative, if sceptical, eyebrow at mention of an 8-litre Boulogne Hispano-Suiza which still attains 110 m.p.h. “along any short straight” ? No book of this kind can escape errors entirely and Bolster is incorrect in thinking that the King had his 35/120 Daimler converted into a “DoubleSix”, or that this make had a rear-axle gearbox in the between-wars period. There are other minor errors under this heading; but a Rolls-Royce man is hardly likely to care much for Daimlers, anyway! More might have been said about the great coachbuilders who made or marred the cars of wealthy carriage-folk in the pre-WW2 era, although I concede that this has been done by George Oliver and Scott-Moncrieff.
For general as distinct from specialist readers “Tlw Upper Crust” is of sufficient length and sufficiently detailed, and they will probably like the illustrations, most of which have been previously published._ And that is not to imply that I did not derive considerable pleasure from this unusual book myself.