Cars in Books, April 1977

Some interesting references to cars appear in “Augustus John—Vol. 2” by Michael Holroyd (Heinemann, 1975), although they seem to be written or quoted without motoring expertise. However, some of them provide references to other books wherein the references are presumably expanded, There is an account of a tour to the Mediterranean in 1911 in Thomas Ryan’s 75-h.p, Mercedes driven by an expert German chauffeur, which is nevertheless full of dramatic accidents, near-misses and punctures. The famous artist remarks of it “Motoring is a fearfully wrong way of seeing the country but an awfully nice way of doing without railway trains.” Then comes a reference to “the first ‘butter-coloured Rolls-Royce”, owned in Ireland in 1912 by Oliver St, John Gogarty, aviator and surgeon (it says), who apparently wore a yellow waistcoat to match his car—can the RREC tell us more?

Augustus John declared his infatuation with motor cars, which he is described as being more infatuated with even than dancing in the nineteen-twenties. He thought “there was something gorgeous” about motoring by night at 100, kph.—a memory of his 1911 tour in the powerful Mercedes. In 1920 he had acquired, in exchange for a painting, “a powerful blue two-seater Buick, with yellow wheels and a dickey.” He had never driven before but after half-an-hour’s lesson in London he set off for his house, Alderney Manor in Dorset, it is said in first gear from start to finish. There follow some improbable dramas associated with the Buick and its unskilled driver. It apparently became very decrepit from all these adventures, which included a collision with a steam-roller, after coming too fast out of his gate, and it was eventually abandoned, we are told, “somewhere in London, upside down, and in a state bordering on the chaotic”.

Another reference is to Lucy Norton’s 4-door Morris-Cowley saloon, in 1926/27. She had chosen it, as the cheapest car available, so that it would not matter if she hit things. She was driving it with Augustus John as passenger and, thinking a back door was not properly shut, she turned round to see to it and cannoned into the bank on the opposite side of the road. The painter, of course, blamed “the steering of these modern cars”.–W.B.