CARS IN BOOKS, December 1962




In “The Sleepless Moon,” by H. E. Bates (Michael Joseph, 1956), a novel of the nineteen-twenties, we read of the Talbot owned by Agnes Twelvetrees. As this is in 1924 or so, and someone says in conversation, ” . . . here’s to the health of your new baby,’ and as we discover it to be a 4-seater, presumably a 10123 is implied. I like, too, the description of the country doctor’s open Renault, probably a pre-1914 model : “The doctor fixed the starting handle into its socket under the bonnet and gave it a preliminary turn . . . leaned over the driving seat and switched on the ignition. Then he turned the starting handle. It was again a preliminary turn and the engine did not fire. Then he wrenched the handle quicidy and sharply on the half-turn and the engine started with a roar. . . . He suddenly put off the handbrake, let in the clutch and drove the car away.” Which is about the best fictional description of starting an old car you could wish for.

There is another big car in the same book that requires starting on the handle and proves more difficult than the doctor’s Renault. 1-I. E. Bates obviously understands ancient motor cars. One of his characters in “The Sleepless Moon” is called Twelvetrees and Richard Twelvetrees was Editor Of MOTOR SPORT in 5925— could it be that Mr. Bates was a reader and the name came to him involuntarily as he was thinking of appropriate cars of that era to put into his novel ?

There is much intensely interesting motoring material to be gleaned from “The Inky Way,” by Alice M. Williamson (Chapman & Hall, 1935). A. M. Williamson, with her husband C. N. Williamson, wrote” The Lightning Conductor” (which delightful motoring novel I want to see filmed), and “The Inky Way” is largely about how she came to write this and her subsequent motoring novels and other books and artieles. I was recommended to read it by Dennis C. Field, the knowledgeable V.C.C. historian.

The Williamsons moved in high society at the turn of the century and the stories of Monte Carlo and surrounding areas of the French Riviera I find of enthralling interest. Their first car, a Benz Ideal, is referred to and illustrated, but the mechanical villain of ” The Lightning Conductor” is disguised as the Harvey car, and the ” Loathly Worm.” But there is an illustration of it, in which it is seen “stranded as usual,” from which, Mr. Field assures me, it can be identified as an Orient Express of It is also made clear in this book that the Williamsons never actually owned a Napier, although this make is the mechanical hero of The Lightning Conductor,” but that they were accused of deliberately advertising Napier cars’ and Hudson’s soap. Indeed, Alice Williamson comments : “All we ever got out of the Napier firm was a photograph ” (they paid to have it taken!) but “in America the firm was ‘lifting’ quotations from ‘The Lightning Conductor’ for their advertisements.”

After their unhappy experiences in Europe with the Orient Express, the co-authors of the motoring best-seller written about their trip decided not to have another car—they had bought it for £’100 and the aforesaid Benz and got back only £50 after shipping it home. As a matter of fact they would probably have had a Cadillac, had not a horse eaten Alice’s cherry-decorated Leghorn hat when, during a trial run, the car stopped in a traffic hold-up in Piccadilly!

Incidentally, the Benz cost £125, discount off, and is described as “much lower-geared than the Cadillac, a Dachshund among cars it resembled a tin-bath or an open Gladstone bag “— which may or may not please those V.C.C. members who own such Benz cars today. Later, when serial stories for magazines were earning Alice Williamson some £5,000 a year in 1900 currency, they bought a 12-h.p. Daimler, in which to travel in Germany. I am not able to identify the car they used subsequently in Algeria, but two pictures of it are included, so perhaps Mr. Field will tell us ? By now “The Lightning Conductor” was doing exceedingly well—King Edward VII motored over to visit the Williamsons at Hampton Court because he had so much enjoyed reading it and said that if he had not read it he wasn’t sure that he would now possess a car; in any case, reading the story had certainly led him to buy automobiles sooner than he would have done otherwise. I shall be interested to see whether this is commented upon in the promised book on royal cars. The King of Spain, and others of high rank, also praised the book. There is in “The Inky Way ” a picture of Princess Alexis Dolgorouki, with a Lanchester in the background, but whether it was hers, or the Williamsons’,

is stated. I should be interested to know if Hill Farm at St. Georges

Hill, near Cobham, the Chalet du Pin and La Dragotmiere at Cap Martin, and La Pause near Roquebrtme, not to mention Peaslake Place in Surrey and Nell Gwynne’s temple at Hampton Court, where C. N. and A. M. Williamson lived, at different times, still exist, and whether this talented lady novelist, whose last book, “The Lightning Conductor Comes Back,” was published in 1933, is still alive.—W. B.


John R. Bond, publisher of the excellent American monthly Road & Track, has named the seven best-made cars in the World as Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz, Lancia, Lincoln-Continental, Peugeot 403, Porsche and Rover. To these, we would add the all-Swedish Volvos.


Paul Frere, writing in The Motor about the prospects of British car sales in the Belgian “test-market,” packed some heavy puriches, such as his admission that Rootes’ service facilities ” have not been developed enough throughout Europe to ensure satisfaction, so that would-be buyers of Hillman Super Minxes usually turn to Peugeot and Renault, and that the Morris 1100 is underpowered in competition with such cars as the Ford Classic 1500 and Taunus 17M which in Europe are in the same priceclass.

Frere slates most of the British cars—the Vauxhall Victor for some lack of performance and too-soft suspension, Roote.s cars (except for the Alpine) for being too expensive and outperformed, with a sly dig at the styling of the Singer Vogue, the Triumph Vitesse for lack of urge, refinement, comfort and outstanding handling, the Vauxhall VX 4/90 for having noticeably less performance for about is % more cost than the Fiat 150o, in a class in which the Peugeot 404 is essentially more refined and better ventilated, and both the Fiat and Peugeot better equipped. He thinks the styling of the Ford Zephyr 4 and 6 wrong for the Continent, but has kind things to say of the Vauxhall Velox, if it is put together more carefully than its predecessors. All, however, including several Continental cars, are beaten in this class, Frere thinks, by the latest Citron 11319.

In this hard-hitting discourse we note that although the Belgian journalist is critical of most British cars, he joins the current theme that you mustn’t be beastly to the Cortina. He has only good to say of this Ford, apart from engine vibration in top gear below about 25 m.p.h. and a rather sharp increase in fuel consumption at speed.

It is amusing to find that The Motor countered Frere’s criticism of Rootes’ alleged poor European service facilities by remarking Editorially that they “did not believe that criticism should rest only on that one firm.” They went on to remark that whereas a Rover executive claimed that his Company could supply 96% of spares ” off the shelf,” when The Motor discussed this comment with an export executive of another Company (presumably B.M.C.), he said In’s Company could hardly make such a claim, that present sales in Germany, for example, do not justify better spare parts stocking, and that Rover’s 96% implied spares at the factory, not in the possession of European concessionaires. 7’he Motor then reminded its readers that” a number of knowledgeable journalists [which journalists ?—they are not named.—End have predicted that its new model [Implying the Morris 1 too.—En.] will fail (in Europe) for lack of service.

All of which is very depressing to those of us who hoped to see the new legions of British cars defending this little island if a European Common Market comes about. The Motor ended by remarking that “the only comment which seems necessary is that the most successful exporter in Europe [Volkswagen.—En.] has laid down a policy of service before sales are begun in any new field.” Which is a line of sound common sense that MOTOR SPORT has been preaching at our manufacturers for the past eight or nine years.

CAN ANYONE KELP? We have had requests for the addresses of the Clubs:

had requests for the addresses of the following Clubs: Peugeot 0.C., Railton O.C. and Swallow Doretti Club. Should anyone know the whereabouts of these organisations we would be pleased to hear from them.