Cars in Books, December 1968

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In “Octave 6” (1923-1930) of “My Life and Times”, by Compton Mackenzie (Chatto & Windus, 1967), there is a reference to the “several hair-raising drives” the author experienced with Oliver Gogarty (Dr. Oliver Sr. J. Gogarty, a leading Irish throat specialist and a Senator of the Irish Free State) in 1924 and how he refused “a  spin in his aeroplane”, but the makes of car and aeroplane are not quoted.

That was in 1924, the year in which, as he tells in his book, Compton Mackenzie bought a Morris car and that November went to Ireland in it, driven by a chauffeur. [I was interested in this, because a Morris seemed a rather unusual car to occupy as a chauffeur-driven tourer. I wondered whether it was one of the rare closed Morris cars of that year, and Mr. Compton Mackenzie has confirmed that it was indeed a closed model. At the 1923 Olympia Show a Morris-Oxford saloon was shown, with increased leg room over the previous year’s version, so maybe that is what the famous author used. Incidentally, he tells me that a 1915 Sunbeam is referred to in his “Octave 5” and that I shall find another Sunbeam in “Octave 7”. His courteous reply confirms what I had discovered previously, that the more renowned the author the more likely he is to reply to your queries.Ed.] This Morris was sold later in Ireland. Mr. Mackenzie refers to his driving licence, taken out on October 21st, 1924, for a fee of 5s., which he calls “this light-hearted permit for anybody to become a public danger”. It remained free from endorsements but was apparently not renewed. So one did not expect to find any more allusions to personal driving. But there is a gem in a letter Compton Mackenzie wrote to Charles Morgan advising him of the best place for a holiday in Greece in 1930, in which he says, of the Island of Poros, that it was “where Hippolytus was trying to do a Kaye Don trick along the beach. . . .” Presumably the exploits of the Silver Bullet had not gone unnoticed. . . .

In the same chapter, covering the year 1930, we read: “Faith (Mrs. Compton Mackenzie) had the additional diversion in London of learning to drive a motor car; on the recommendation of Nicholas Mavrogordato, now a 15-year-old Etonian, she urged me to acquire a Hornet Sports car as the best value for money on the market. Most people who do not learn to drive a car until they are fifty remain cautious drivers. Faith drove a car as well as she used to drive a horse, but seldom at less than 50 m.p.h. I decided against the Hornet for the moment and bought a secondhand Austin in Inverness which should be chauffeur-driven, for I was still quite unjustifiably nervous of Faith’s prowess at the wheel.” This, I find particularly interesting, because Nicholas Mavrogordato could well be the M. N. Mavrogordato who later owned the 1914 G.P. Opel and a Bristol Fighter, etc., while “Hornet Sports” must refer to the Wolseley Hornet although it was, I would have thought, not available in sports guise until 1932.

There is one other motoring reference in “Octave 6”, to the “huge Daimler” which took the author and his staff, when he vacated his island home at Jethou, the 16 miles from Inverness to his house “Eilean Aigas” on an island of the Beauly river. The Daimler, carrying a prodigious load of luggage, went “down a stony drive to a white bridge, with the rapids roaring beneath it. Then a steep drive curved upwards in a semi-circle to the house”. I suppose that Daimler no longer plies for hire in Inverness. Interesting, how we outlive out cars. . . .

There is yet one more book in which I have come upon a reference to Brooklands Track. Not unexpectedly, perhaps, as this is “The Yellow Earl”, by Douglas Sutherland (Cassell, 1965), which tells the life story of Hugh Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale, who lived from 1857 to 1944 and from being shunned by Society its his early years, eventually entertained Royalty, from H.M. the King and Queen downwards, at his home in Carlton House Terrace. Sutherland’s book is easy, light reading, but the reference to Brooklands isn’t entirely accurate and casts a trace of suspicion about the facts presented in other chapters. There is no mention, for instance, of Lord Lonsdale being President of the B.A.R.C. from 1907 to 1939. He is described as driving down to the opening meeting of the new Motor Course in July 1907, the same year as that in which the International Horse Show was founded, in his latest Mercedes. But to put Brooklands in perspective the author states that “the nation gasped in wonder” when the Hon. C. S. Rolls won the Tourist Trophy at nearly 40 m.p.h. the previous year and went on to call Brooklands the Epsom of the Motor World, with speeds of up to 100 m.p.h. in eventual prospect.

The fact is that the T.T. was a touring-car race and that speeds approaching 100 m.p.h. in other events were far more likely to have had the nation gasping, As to 100 m.p.h. being for the future, it was very soon being achieved on Brooklands, which had been planned for a safe 120 m.p.h., and had been done officially three years before Brooklands was opened. Sutherland says that at the Brooklands opening parade, which he dates as July when it took place in June 1907, “every existing make of motor car was in the parade”, which is clearly a considerable exaggeration. I have seen the number of cars in that parade quoted as “about 60” but it could not have contained one of every make known.

Lord Lonsdale’s interest in motoring is said to stem from the reliability of a Mercedes put at his disposal by the Kaiser when he visited Berlin in 1901. The author says His Lordship had this car shipped to Lowther, having persuaded its chauffeur, Kieser, to come with it and remain as his driver-mechanic. (A footnote says Kieser now has a considerable motor business in Penrith.) Here, however, another error seems to have intruded, because it is said that when Lord Lonsdale discovered that the “silver-work on the car was not real silver but only chromium plate” he had it put on the next boat back to Germany “with instructions that all the chromium was to be replaced immediately with silver”. I can accept chromium before the end of the vintage period, but not in 1901. There is not much more about Lord Lonsdale’s cars, except that he had the bodies painted with a minimum of 18 coats, that they were yellow like his carriages, and that he didn’t really trust motors, as he did a horse, for years insisting that an identical car to that in which he was being driven should follow behind, lest the first one break down. The A.A. was allowed to use his personal yellow when he became its first President. There is a picture of a line of cars outside Lowther Castle in 1910, of which the leading one is said to be the Mercedes, and eight others all have closed coachwork and appear to include Daimler and Napier, a van and a brake bringing up the rear. Apart from this, the only other reference is to the “yellow Daimler” in two places, Lord Lonsdale parking one of these beside the Royal Daimler at race meetings from 1926 onwards, after he had been elected Senior Steward to the Jockey Club, and he was using a yellow Daimler in 1936 when he drove to Lowther Castle for the last time. There is no mention of the yellow Rolls-Royce which Michael Arlen, author of “The Green Hat” of Hispano-Suiza fame, is said to have bought from him.W. B.

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