Cars in books, August 1994

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Readers are determined not to let this fairly frequent feature die, for which I thank them. For instance, David Filsell has drawn my attention to an interesting reference to a Lagonda in Valleys Of Springs by Dorothea Eastwood (Allan Wingate, 1956). Writing about rural Mid-Wales she refers to an “old Lagonda” owned by a Major who had lived in Monmouthshire for nearly 80 years, so it could have been a 12/24 hp model or a later 3-litre or even an 4 1/2-litre sports Lagonda – no clue is given. The car was driven in bottom gear up the steep lane at Coed-y-Bwnedd where the Romans defeated the British in the first century AD, yet was also put at the muddy entrance of a gateway that led to the top of the hill and a fine view of the country towards Raglan and Monmouth and the wooded hills beyond, but stopped in case it got stuck suggesting a heavier car than an 11.9 or 12/24 perhaps?

Next, a family friend who has been reading the short stories of Max Beerbohm found him driving through France before 1914 at “a speed which disregarded safety or comfort and missing the British policetraps”. In what motor, I wonder?

Then another reader told me of some passages in Rudyard Kipling’s book The Vortex”, which he unearthed in Numerous Tales (Pan Books, 1949). I have read Kipling’s stories about his little locomobile steam car and other motoring adventures, but these were new to me. In “The Vortex”, Kipling shows that he was well acquainted with the early English motoring scene: mustard-coloured AA scouts warning of police ahead, steam showmens’ engines driving merry-go-rounds, motorcycles of every shape charging down upon you amid clowds of dust, traction engines taking on water in defiance of notice boards, and the occasional necessity for goggles. This period was clearly before the First World War, the travellers also encountering detachments of Territorials and a car with “no windscreen, tetanic gears and a perpetual palsy capable of only 18 mph on the flat”.

Finally, for this month, David Filsell lent me a little book, Petrol Fumes by W Howard Horder (Herbert Jenkins, undated, but it must be a rare item now), which is full of puerile poems and I will quote one:

“Mad cyclists seek impalement in a cars expansive bonnet,
Mad motorists encourage them to suicide upon it,
By mascot girls and other birds with beaks severely sharp,
Whereby the victim qualifies for both the wings and harp.
And every driver from a Daimler down to Austin Seven
Will raise the oft-debated point can cyclists go to heaven?”

There are many more, but one suffices! But those who claim to have exclusive libraries containing all the motoring books should presumably search for this one. W B