Cars in books, August 1985

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Taking a book out of the library with the intention of escaping for a short time from the world of cars, it was nevertheless exciting to discover a vintage car figuring in “On Trial” by Elwyn Jones (Macdonald & Jane’s, 1978). It is in the chapter about the mysterious deaths of Dr Gilbert S. Bogle, a New Zealander and a Rhodes Scholar, who worked for the CSIRO, and Mrs Chandler, his lady friend. The means whereby they had met their end in Sydney, NSW around New Year’s Day in 1963 remains one of the great crime mysteries of all time, but from our point of view the interesting thing is that Geoffrey Chandler, the dead woman’s husband and the first suspect the police picked upon, although he was never accused of murder, was exonerated for an alibi that included his “vintage Vauxhall with an aluminium body” being seen in the right place at the right time.

There is a photograph of this in Jones’ fascinating book about seven intriguing capital crimes, from which the car could be a 30/98, or at least a 23160 tourer. No doubt the Vauxhall Register can help me here? Vintage cars have figured in murder cases (one instantly remembers a Hudson Six, a burned out Morris Minor, and a flat-nose Morris) and now we have one forming an alibi for a murder suspect. One wonders if it figures again in Chandler’s own book “So You Think I Did It”…?

This column seems to find favour with readers and from New Zealand Harold Hill has kindly sent me a copy of some pages from “Pure Gold and Rough Diamonds” by J. B. Hislop (Whitcombc & Tombs), which is sub-titled “Gems from the Scrapbook of a Travelling Watchmaker and Jeweller in Otago and Southland”. The reason why this is relevant is because there is a chapter tided The Biography of My 1902 BAT Motor Cycle”. In this the author praises this British machine and particularly its JAP vee-twin engine. It is explained that the machine was imPoned to New Zealand at a cost of £72 in 1902 by J. L. Passmore, a friend of Hislop’s. The latter found he could replace the automatic inlet valves of the 7 hp JAP engine in five minutes, found the shaft-driven magneto within the petrol tank useful when fording streams and in wet weather, and the glass-topped oil sight-feed, one of the first on the market he said, very easy to regulate, although its glass was often broken “in upsets”. Although this BAT had a large fuel tank the rider used to carry a spare half-gallon of petrol strapped to the frame because supplies were not available in every New Zealand farm or township in tactse pioneer days.

The BAT’s spring frame was found excellent but, of course, there were snags. Heavier spokes were needed in the wheels, especially as the belt-rim attached to them up great strain over rough going — the author reminds his readers that “there” took much more getting to at that time than it does today! Then the long, swept-back handlebars were found weak for lifting the machine out of heavy going and were mended in four places by the time Hislop traded the BAT in for an Arrol-Johnston car. There are descriptions of various adventures with the old BAT on the tracks and roads of New Zealand of pre-war days, including a hasty exit from it when the petrol-pipe broke and flooded the silencer, causing an impressive fire. Hislop had commenced his motorcycling career with a 3 1/2-hp Triumph, “a beautiful job, British to her bark”, which was only changed for the BAT because the roads of that time called for more power. The BAT, which is pictured in the book, was disposed of in 1907, to a friend who had had a too-heavy four-cyl. shaft-drive FN, which the author seems to think was of French manufacture, but was in fact of Belgian origin. The BAT (“Best After Tests”) he thought of as a featherweight in comparison and, as I have said, he was a great JAP enthusiast — “I am sure there is not a more reliable engine, which is testified in the number of motorcycle manufacturers who build them into their own pet idea of what a perfect machine should be”.

Another reader thoughtfully lent me a rare book called “East Africa by Motor Lorry” by W. W. Campbell (John Murray, 1928). The author explains that although these lorries, of the First World War, were light trucks they were on pneumatic tyres, comfortably sprung, with windscreens, partitions at the back and sides, and strong waterproof canopies overhead, and “as easy as the driving of an ordinary touring car and as comfortable, consequently we never called them lorries but always referred to them as cars”. They were, in fact, Model-T Fords. There was even a light railway (illustrated in the book) running ten miles inland from Mingoya, on which Model-Ts ran flanged wheels.

Some interesting points can be gleaned from this book about the part Model-T Fords played in WW1. They were used in Africa for carrying supplies to the line, including food, and could double-up as ambulances. The author was attached to Ford No 3 Triangle Company, whose CO mass Lt Parker, the cars being identified by symbols in the form of miniature triangles in front of their radiators.

This column has managed to be remarkably long-lived without much recourse to fiction, but a friend showed me recently an amusing piece from a book called “The Fishes Answered” by Mountford Williams (Heinemann, 1943), in which some exciting car chases occur, and in which a stolen Austin is chasing a Daimler in the Bala area of Wales when it goes into a ditch, but with its back wheels still on the road. All was well, we are told, because the ditch was dry and not very deep and the front wheels revolved uselessly at first, and then gained a grip . . . A frost-wheel-drive Austin, in the 1940s? From “Life’s Rich Pageant” by Arthur Marshall ( Hamish Hamilton, 1984) I didn’t get much, apart from learning of his father’s odd way with cars. This in his case is quoted as having been a yellow Metallurgique used during the first World War or just afterwards, and Arthur Marshall’s own first car was an A7 of battered appearance but admirable performance, bought in 1933 for driving to Cambridge from Ounclle, where in the 1920s the headmaster is described as having had a chauffeur-driven Sunbeam. There is also passing reference to a sketch written for Edith Evans, called “Fish for Luncheon”, which is coupled with mention of a Lagonda, used as patronising the less-well-to-do neighbours, but it isn’t clear whether this was part of the sketch or has been added by the author; it does recall for me the Lagonda and other cars that fetched children from a country house party, in one of John Betjeman’s verses. And there is confirmation of what has been said here before, that the driving of novelist Rose Macaulay was not exactly expert!

W. B.

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