Cars In Books, April 1976

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I am once again indebted to a reader, for sending me, this time, a copy of “The DoubleGarden” by Maurice Maeterlinck—the same Maeterlinck, I assume, who recommended Malcolm Campbell to call his racing cars “Bluebird”, after a Maeterlinck play, to turn his bad luck. The book was translated by de Mattos and published by George Allen in, I think, 1904. The point is that this book contains a splendid—there is no other better word—chapter about the author’s view of the motor car; apart, this is, from his defence of the dog as man’s only true animal-companion, and other delectable chapters.

Without reproducing “On a Motor Car” in full, I cannot capture the enthusiasm Maeterlinck exudes for the new form of transport. He obviously drove himself, having recently mastered the art. I think it likely that the famous writer used his car for long journeys abroad, for he admits to having been driven from Paris to Rouen by “the master” before being left to his own devices. Assuming the piece to have been written around the year 1902 (this chapter, by the way, is translated by Alfred Sutro) the car appears to have been a big and powerful one. Although the author discloses a surprisingly profound knowledge of his subject, there is no mention of the car’s make. The clues, too, are slender. It had a live-axle, when chain-drive was popular, the differential being “beneath the brake”— Maeterlinck calls it a “differentiator”, a “recent miracle”. His “hyppogriff” has trembler coil ignition, an advance and retard lever, is water-cooled; and seems to have had low-tension plugs. Otherwise, there is nothing I could find to disclose the make. It could not have been a Sixty Mercedes, for that was chain-driven. Could it have been a Darracq, for Campbell had these, I think, when he first adopted the name “Bluebird” for one of them? In fact, could the “master” have been Campbell himself, selling Maeterlinck a car? Perhaps those who know this author better than I do, can add something ?

Another reader, Tom Threlfall of the Bentley DC. has drawn my attention to a passage in Steinbeck’s “‘Die Grapes of Wrath” 0939) about replacing hearings on a 13-year-old 1925 Dodge. After much experience of extraction of white-metal from oil pick-up troughs (or in Steinbeek language, babbit from pan-wells), Toni says he finds the author very accurate!—W.B.

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