A Remarkable Document

Author

W.B.

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There has come in to my possession a most interesting book, which, when it was published, was delightfully (if that is the right word) libellous, being an anonymous attack on the British Motor Trade at a time when some of its constituents were intent on stopping the import of American cars into this country, yet were themselves selling makes of Continental and American origin. What makes this book, entitled ”The American Invasion,” so fascinating is that its author remains anonymous — some instant-research by Dennis Field of the V.C.C. failed to throw any light on the matter.

This intriguing document was given to me by Hampton-historian Max Williamson, who obtained it from John Leno, who used to be Sales Manager of that company. It is lavishly-produced, and written in verse, with many fictitious advertisements, which make fun of the claims of well-known firms and organisations. The thing appears to have been sparked off by a luncheon at the Ritz, at which certain members of the Trade in this country supported the Press, in particular the Daily Express, in a campaign to smear cheap American cars that they thought would flood our markets. The perpetrator of this book was obviously extremely annoyed that those who spoke in favour of tariffs, etc., were themselves selling foreign, even American, cars. He was himself, possibly interested in selling cars from across the Atlantic.

 A little research suggests that the book came out before the First World War, probably in 1913. The attack was very definitely against the S.M.M.T. and its Olympia Show and the Daily Express, which were apparently campaigning at the time against cars from “across the pond.” Early on there is the following:

The small ones and the great ones
Each does his little worst.
Helping to swell the chorus
Against the thing accurst;
From Coventry’s fair City.
Where Yankee tools maintain
An erstwhile dying Industry
Coaxed back to life again.

Where Silent Knights are smoking,
Consuming untold oil.
And Politic’s ambitions
Add Labour on to Toil.
Where Rovers cease from Roving.
And Singers are at rest,
Where trophies are donated
For Golf, when played with zest:

The thing goes on page after page in this style. From these verses it can be deduced that one of the persons who were leading the attack on American imports was a clergyman who had raced Gladiator cars, and that in Birmingham, Derby, Manchester and London, French and German were dirty languages, protection being the all-important consideration.

The anonymous author proceeds to point out, still in pithy verse, that those concerned were distinctly two-faced, that the Crossley derived its first inception “from somewhere near the Rhine,” that Belsize sent to the U.S.A. for know-how on running its business, and that the Argyll used a British engine “though culled from foreign brains.” The revival of the Sunbeam (disguised, as are all the other makes quoted, as the “Moonshine”) was due, it was argued in rhyme, to anything but British means.

The thing came to a head at the luncheon at the Ritz: —  

So all the Biggest Talkers
And all the Greatest Wits,
With some mare mediocre.
Foregather at the Ritz.
So happy, and light-hearted
They seem that none would guess
That Ruin stares them in the Face,
Despite their Artlessness.

Certain speakers are mercilessly singled out for satire. “Jarotonus” and “Selfus Edge” and “Biletsi,” for instance, whom I take to be Charles Jarrott, S. F. Edge and William Letts. Edge apparently spoke against the cheap-car market and quoted a letter he had received from the Duke of Westminster. Letts, if he it be, comes in for a very heavy attack, as the man who once imported Locomobiles and Oldsmobiles and at the time of the meeting was agent for the German-inspired Crossley and the de Dietrich and was interested in other foreign cars, disguised as the “Death,” “Sneezer,” “Charmer” and “Volume.” And should these fail, as the “Death” agency was alleged to have done, was he not turning to a British car to save his skin? Thus were his writings in favour of Buy-British debunked: —

The welfare of Biletsi
Is his One and Only Prayer.
I thought his letters funny,
But to see him here today
Pleading for British Interests.
Is better than a play.

The Dietrich and the Death too,
The Sneezer — making three —
Are each removed from British
So far as far can be.
The Charmer and the Volume
From U.S.A. arrive.
Which makes the Alien Family
Of Friend Biletsi — five.

 

Rumour has said that Death has shown
Our bold friend to the door.
Which, if correct, reduces
The Alien Crew to four:
But Justice now demandeth
That I should not forget
A delicate young infant —
A pretty British Pet.

Which, think you, of this litter
The Parent cares for most —
The sick and puny suckling
Or the thriving, healthy four
In either case Biletsi
Intends to save his skin;
Whichever way the Cat jumps,
Its “tails you lose, heads I win.”

There is some rich motoring history contained in these verses. I confess I cannot identify the “Death” or “Volume,” nor the “pretty British Pet,” unless the “Death” was the Crossley-Bugatti. But the “Sneezer” was presumably the Sizaire-Naudin, the “Charmer” the Chalmers. If so, this perhaps sets the date when this extraordinary volume was published, because Jarrott & Letts had given up this agency by 1914 — or does this imply that the “Death” was the Sizaire-Nadin? I confess I am very much in the role of Dr. Watson in this reasoning but if any Sherlock Holmes of automobilism can enlighten me, the Vintage Postbag columns are open to them….

The final Verse sums up: —

And so these French-fed Britons
Each took his separate way,
By French-made taxi, paying,
As he was taught to pay,
The legal fare demanded
On German meter’s dial —
Which fare, the Foreigners have fixed,
At eightpence net per mile.

(The 8d. a mile sets the scene as pre-1914, I think)

The fictitious advertisements are very good fun, too. They cover the Society of Motor Makers and Agents, Kitchener Autocars (this is another the identity of which escapes me, but is a skit on a British manufacturer who had toured America to pick up ideas), Damliur (“product of an organisation managed by an American, that is fitted with a Silent and Knightly engine — don’t mind the smoke — invented by an American, and the originality, care and perfection of which are only obtainable under such American conditions”), Bumper (“We have no connection with the American Invasion excepting that we are badly scared, in consequence of which we have pleasure in announcing the production of our new Bumperette — the Imitation Car for the Imitation Motorist — All the appearance of a Bassinette with none of the Comforts.”), Moonshine (“With the Legal Speed Limit at 29 m.p.h., sportsmen will readily appreciate the necessity and commercial value of the high-speed Moonshine.”), B & S (another whose identity is a mystery, but disguising a car assembled in Britain from American parts, and managed by Americans), The Famous 4d. Car I..”You See Them Before They Are Gone” — obviously the Model-T Ford), The Carcycle, Rapier (in those times, a disguise for Napier, play being made that Edge was no longer exclusively selling sixes, and had been to America for his 2- and 4-cylinder designs), Motor Colonel Insurance Company (“Try our Paralytic Policy — You’ll Never Recover”), The Mobilcar (“Threepenny edition for one penny”), Retford (“If you don’t like a Yankee Ruit, buy a British Redford” — is a skit on the Bedford-Buick), The Motorobile (“Last Out Every Night! Our specialities are to get all we can; to give as little as we can; Show advertising.”), Turbot (.” The Impregnatable Turbot, made from the recipe of a well-known Peer”), the Royal Antediluvian Confraternity, and so on! The correct scripts are used for most of the names, which aids identification.

Naturally, Jarrott & Letts come in for one of these scurrilous advertisements — naming the “British Cross” (Crossley). the “Double Cross” (de Dietrich), the “Sneezer” (?), the “Charmer” (?) and the “Volume.”(?) A clue to the “Sneezer” is that it is “Patented but not manufactured in Great Britain.” And there is another that defies me — the “Flemish,” renamed the “Nailly Grocer 23” to conceal its American origin (“We’ve got ’em all scared! Take a trial run in a Nailly Grocer and see how scared you get yourself.”).

No wonder the British Industry and the S.M.M.T. thought in terms of libel action! But as no-one, it seems, ever discovered who was responsible for this book, nothing could be done about it. So many years have since elapsed that there can be no harm in exposing anything that is known about “The American Invasion.” I hand the matter over to the historians amongst Motor Sport’s readers, with the thought that the late F. S. Bennett, who sold Cadillacs in this country, could have been the culprit. — W. B.

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