Cars in books, August 1963

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Reverting briefly to “The Man in Europe Street” by Rupert Croft-Cooke, referred to last month, the Morris-Commercial ‘bus he used for his adventurous journey was, I find, a 1930 model. It climbed the 4,331 ft. Col di Tenda on the homeward run without faltering or so much as boiling; indeed, the only exciting incident was getting up the frozen Col de Brius with only sidelamps to light the way, the dynamo (called the “accumulator” by the author) having ceased to charge. In all the old Morris ran 5,000 miles without mishap, at around 15 m.p.g. using very little oil (in those days, petrol cost about 3s. 9d. a gallon even in Yugoslavia). It was not even greased, the only maintenance being to clean carburetter and plugs. Like so many tourists, Croft-Cooke ran out of money towards the end and there is a fine description of an almost non-stop run from Frejus to Troyes (where more money was available) and on to Boulogne.

Mr. J. H. Appleyard of Yarm weighs in with the following extracts from “Assembly,” a collection of short stories by John O’Hara, published by the Cresset Press:—

“The car was a grey Pierce-Arrow, a Series 30, or about a 1921 or ’22 model. It was a chummy roadster. That is, it seated four, with divided front seats. Also called a clover-leaf, if you recall [3-seaters yes; 4-seaters, no.—Ed.]. But it was a hell of an automobile. It had no trouble going eighty or eighty-five, and this particular job had Westinghouse shock-absorbers. That model was a favourite with people who wanted a sports car but wanted the weight and size of the Pierce.”— From “In the Silence,” p. 203.

“…I had a car, a little 4-cylinder Buick roadster, and because of it I got some assignments that you could only cover if you had a car… So one day the editor called me to his private office, which of course he called a sanctum sanctorum, without knowing a God-damn word of Latin, and he said: ‘James, I have a strange hunch. Read this.’ … How long would it take you to drive up there in your car? ‘Well, four or five hours, I told him. So he gave me some money, swore me to secrecy, and off I went…. I knew the roads for the first hundred and fifty miles, and I was convinced that all I had to do was keep the throttle down on the floorboard and I’d have a Pulitzer prize. But after I got off the state highways I began to run into trouble, and the closer I got to Eagle Summit, the more trouble I had. The Buick was developing a tappet knock, or what I hoped was a tappet knock. I much preferred a tappet knock to what I really knew it was—a loose connecting-rod…

But the little Buick made it to Eagle Summit and… I pushed it to the garage and asked the proprietor what he thought. He had a look and confirmed my suspicions. Connecting rod.”—Ibid pp. 203, 4, 5.

“‘Nicky boy, where can I take you? You wants to use my car and shofer for the afternoon?’

‘What are you riding in these days?’ The same. I got the Rolls. You know me, Nicky. I gotta hear that clock ticking. Very soothing… “

***

“‘Take me over to 414 East Fifty-second. I’m sure you know the way,’ said Nick Orlando.

‘I been there a couple times,’ said Harry Browning’s chauffeur.

‘How long did Harry have this rig?’

‘This is our fourth year for it.’

‘You buy it new?’

‘Imported it brand new. Mr. Browning has a corporation.’

‘Oh, yeah. That gag.’

‘The garage We use, there’s eight other Rolls and there’s only one owned private. The government’ll slap down one of these days, but we’ll still have a good car. We only got less than seventy thousand miles on this.’ “—From “First Day in Town,” pp. 230, 1.

There are further mentions of the Rolls-Royce and references to a “small Renault” and a “little Oakland.” Another story, entitled “A Case History,” contains the following:

“…’I’m thinking of learning to drive a car. A lot of women do now. Mister didn’t like a woman to drive a car, but he never said I shouldn’t. They’re trying to sell me a Pierce-Arrow, but I want to start out with something smaller. The Fierce-Sparrow. Imagine me driving a Fierce-Sparrow? What make is that little car you brought me home in?’

‘That’s a Dodge.’

‘Are they hard to drive? Mary Bowen has that Paige, but that’s more of a big car. Minnie Stokes gave me a ride in her car and I watched her manipulating all the things. She says it’s much easier than it looks. You get so it becomes second nature, she says.’

‘Minnie has a Templar.’

‘Oh, I wouldn’t want anything as sporty as that, but I like that size car. The Dodge sedan is a nice car. I noticed a lot of them around with women driving. Everybody says you don’t buy a Ford, because it has no gear-shift.’

‘It has a gear-shift, but you operate it with your feet.’

‘Well, you see how much I know about it. I’m pretty sure I won’t buy a Fierce-Sparrow, because then I’d have to hire a man to drive it, and a woman my age driving around with a man all the time…’ “

Later stories include references to Buick and Pierce-Arrow again, the model-A Ford, International trucks, Locomobile and Jaguar.

Finally, for this month, Mr. Coles of Harrow writes:— I think the following might be of interest, taken from “England, Their England,” by A. G. MacDonell. Describing delegates arriving at a meeting of the League of Nations at Geneva some time in the 1920s, the author says:—

“The Frenchmen drove up in four magnificent Delage cars with the Tricolor on the radiators: the Spaniards were in Hispano-Suizas, for to the ignorant world the Hispano is even more Spanish than its name; the Italians in Isotta-Fraschinis, with their secretaries in Fiats; the Belgians in Minervas; while the Germans outdid everyone in vast silver Mercedes cars, driven by world-famous racing drivers. The United States Official Observers were mostly in Packards, Buicks, Oldsmobiles, and Stutzes…. Fortunately the prestige of British motor manufacturers was well maintained by the eleven Rolls-Royces….”

The book makes many other references to interesting sounding cars, including: “A Rolls-Royce limousine car” and ” an ancient Ford car.” This very amusing book is available in the St. Martin’s Library Series, at 3s. 6d.

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