"The Motor Car in Fiction"

Author

W.B.

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— Conclusion

Seldom has an article in any motor paper aroused so much interest amongst correspondents as that on “The Motor-Car in Fiction,” which appeared in Motor Sport last April. We published letters in connection with this article in the May and July issues and now propose to conclude with a summary of further letters received on this subject, for summer is the time for reading in beach-deck-chair, caravan and tent and apparently many readers are making determined attempts to locate the books referred to in our article and subsequent correspondence, so that they can acquaint themselves with this motoring of fiction — as R. J. Padfield of Maidstone says, “How very sad and nostalgic it all is, and how clever of you to have invented a new game!”

Mr. Padfield recalls a little tourer in which the young lady in “Good Companions” followed the company from town to town — he thinks no make was given, but Austin Seven was suggested. Mr. G. M. Tulip of Houghton-le-Spring quotes some further mysterious cars from John Buchan’s books, such as the “40-h.p. motor car” (? a Napier) stolen by Hannay in “The Thirty-Nine Steps,” the car used by Hilda von Eineur in “Greenmantle,” and the car which took “Mr. Ivery ” and Mary from Italy to Switzerland in “Mr. Standfast.” (Incidentally, this letter concludes with a testimonial for one of our advertisers, Mr. Bradshaw of Bristol, who did an excellent reconditioning job on the speedometer of Mr. Tulip’s 1938 2-litre Aston Martin for 32s. 6d. when quotations from other sources ranged from £6 to £16.)

R. M. Kitchingham of Fleet weighs in with a Morris and a Ford in Evelyn Waugh’s “Vile Bodies” and the costly “Botellini-NineBacho” in A. P. Herbert’s “Rumpelheimer v. Haddock.” Mrs. E. Zettl of Dadford (shades of the drive to Silverstone!) recalls an Austin Seven and a Vauxhall limousine chased by a “long, powerful Bentley” in Miss Georgette Heyer’s “Why Shoot a Butler?” (Longmans, Green & Co.) and remarks that as an ardent Vauxhall devotee she is delighted that the Vauxhall wasn’t caught! Mrs. Zettl also refers to Kipling’s poems in the “Definite Edition” (Hodder & Stoughton) gathered under the section “The Muse Among the Motors, 1900-1930″ (page 675 onwards). G. L. Adams of Portswood sends a card to remind us of the two de Dion Bouton coupés “Ping” and “Pong” in Dornford Yates’ books, and John Ahern (whose Morgan Plus Four is so much more successful than ever your Editor’s was!) poses a most interesting problem, of what was the 1903 racing car of John Tanner in “Man and Superman.” He quotes Act II in which Tanner says to Straker ” . . . I’ve been told that this car is capable of 84 m.p.h.; and I already know what you are capable of when there is a rival car on the road.” Mr. Ahern’s guess, supported by arguments, is a G.B. Mercedes. This is followed by an air mail letter from Capt. D. K. M. Marendaz, the old Brooklands driver and constructor of Marendaz Special cars, who says he still has in his possession a Marendaz Special catalogue on which Bernard Shaw wrote”Never heard of it. And I bought a new Rolls-Royce only the other day. Why don’t you advertise? G. Bernard Shaw,” after a pale blue 17/80 Marendaz Special tourer appeared on the London stage in “Man and Superman.” [This would be in 1935, and about the same time Stirling Moss’ mother did rallies in one of these cars. — Ed.]

S. T. Anning of Leeds refers to a fine description of the chase at night on a French coast road with twin Marchal headlamps blazing and a Bentley reaching 120 m.p.h. in “Casino Royale,” by Ian Fleming, quoting this extract:

“Bond’s car was his only personal hobby. One of the last of the 4 ½-litre Bentleys with the supercharger by Amherst Villiers, he had bought it almost new in 1933 and had kept it in careful storage through the war. It was still serviced every year and, in London, a former Bentley mechanic, who worked in a garage near Bond’s Chelsea flat, tended it with jealous care. Bond drove it hard and well and with an almost sensual pleasure. It was a battleship grey convertible coupé, which really did convert, and it was capable of touring at ninety with thirty miles an hour in reserve.” [As we remarked last month, the blower 4 ½ Bentley wasn’t made as late as 1933. — Ed.]

Then J. B. Carver of M.V. “Port Talbot” remembers a vintage or p.v.t. Duesenberg used fictionally by Ellery Queen, and F. Harmer-Brown of Farnborough, brings evidence to suggest that Dornford Yates’ “Lowland” was a Roesch Talbot. Bentley Six, Armstrong-Siddeley and a “Clemonda” figure in Gilbert Frankau’s “Christopher Strong,” says C. Hartley of Liverpool, while E. M. Jordan of Shirley, also recalling the blower Bentley in “Casino Royale” remarks that car and owner appear in two subsequent novels, of which “Moonraker” features also a 300S Mercedes-Benz(!) and an Alfa-Romeo, not to mention a Bowaters’ lorry. The same correspondent names an Hispano-Suiza in Elleston Trevor’s novel of Dunkirk “The Big Pick Up.”

Mr. A. A. Ayling of East Dulwich draws attention to the Rolls-Royce which is the central figure in “Mr. Denning Drives North,” and A. Carson Simpson of Philadelphia, after amusingly taking us to task for suggesting that Sherlock Holmes was the greatest detective of fiction (for this correspondent attended Holmes’ 100th birthday party a year ago last January!) writes of the 100-h.p. Benz limousine which appears with the model-T Ford in “His Last Bow” and poses some Holmsian problems as to exactly what type of body Dr. Watson had on that Ford, inasmuch as the bound form of Von Bork was put into the “spare seat,” i.e., a dickey seat, or the back seat of a tourer or sedan ?

A. L. D. Temple of Formby has done some research on the “Lowland” and finds it appears first in “Adele and Co.” which was published in 1931, which spoils his assumption that it might be a Speed Twenty Alvis [But still permits of Roesch Talbot! — Ee.]. He refers to other Yates’ makes, the “Roquefort,” that in “Maiden Stakes” costing some £2,200 in the nineteen-twenties and being very prone to boil, and the Lapland. Mr. Temple also says Peter Cheyney liked to give his private detectives Jaguars.

R. Price Wyken quotes a 1911 car in “The Fast Lady,” and Aston Martin, Pegaso and Lancia in “The Flaw in the Crystal” by Godfrey Smith (Victor Gollancz) also quoted by A. Harding of Queen’s Gate. Aston Martins, J. Classey of Denmark Hill tells us, also figure in “The Wooden Horse” by Eric Williams [non-fiction. — Es.) in which a day-dream of batting down the Great North Road in the early dawn before the war is described, and in “Most Secret” in which a coupé version takes the leading character and his girlfriend down to their beloved boats. The monocled detective of boyhood fiction, Falcon Swift, used an Hispano-Suiza and Mr. Classey recollects a 4 ½-litre Lagonda driven swiftly out of London in “A Way Through the Wood,” by Nigel Balchin. M. R. Neville of Richmond recommends the motor-cycling in Henry Williamson’s “The Sun and the Sand,” and Ian Hay’s “Knight on Wheels.” Eric Fleming of New Jersey, U.S.A., who owns a supercharged TC M.G. Midget, details the following motor-racing novels: “The Chequered Flag,” by John Mercereau (1924); “Cockpit,” by Warwick Scott (1953); “The Streak,” by Paul Darcy Boleo (1953); “The Racer,” by Hans Ruesch (1953); and “Hero Driver,” by Alfred Coppel (1954).

On a less happy note, Bernard Norman asks us to note, in answer to the letter from R. F. Robson (May, page 258), that he didn’t write “The Man in Black,” nor did he ever disable Goering’s Mercedes-Benz with wire cutters.

Finally, to really conclude, B. M. P. Samuelson of Lingfield writes thus of Royal cars, which is yet another nostalgic aspect of motoring and motor cars :

“That pair of Rolls illustrated in your April issue had a destiny more exotic than anything Dornford Yates thought of. They were delivered, in 1921, to the Emperor of Japan. I don’t suppose the Emperor’s discarded carriages are sold for high-class hire work, so they are probably still somewhere about the Palace grounds in Tokyo.

“Royalty and the motor car is a subject no less fascinating and perhaps even stranger than the motor car in fiction. The Czar of Russia’s 70-h.p. Delaunay-Belleville of 1910 was specially fitted with a compressed-air starting system, lest a back-fire at starting should, reasonably enough, strike terror into its Imperial occupants. Our own Royal Family used to buy its Daimlers by the handful, but expect them to serve for twelve or fourteen years. When a fresh batch was ordered in 1924, it was commanded that they should be fitted with exactly similar engines to the 1910 cars — none of your miserable 35s or 45s, but the great 9 ½-litre 57-h.p., which had been obsolete since the last coronation. In point of fact, these engines, twelve years later, were probably putting out a lot less smoke than their “high-speed” steel-sleeved successors would have done. When these cars were replaced in 1936, it was by another model that officially did not exist — the overhead-valve double-six. And now the tradition is carried on with the straight-eight Rolls-Royce. “Then there was King Alphonso — and all those Maharajahs — what a choice they all had, too! Nowadays you might just as well not own an oil-well — buy a pink Cadillac, the next Sheikh up the road gets a purple one, and the American quartermaster-sergeant has three — one on, one at the wash, and one in the ditch.

“Meanwhile, I am at present negotiating for the ex-King of Megalomania’s 135-h.p. chain-drive Mercedes, an eighteen-foot wheelbase Berline-de-Voyage, with rococo candelabra, sweet and dry champagne laid on, and a couple of running footmen.”