Cars In Books, December 1980

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Cars In Books

THERE ARE several interesting references to cars in the late Dennis Wheatley’s third volume of autobiography. “The Time Has Conte — 1919-1977, Drink and Ink” ,Hutchinson 1979,, For instance, the thriller-writer says that after his maternal grandfather died in 1916 his parents acquired a considerable income and had a chauffeur-driven Wolseley, which took his father and himself to their office every morning presumably he means every teeek-day morning). from the South London suburb of Streatham, to South Audley Street. As this was a car bought presumably after the Armistice it could have been a 23.5 h.p. six-cylinder or, as this was not made until 1920. perhaps a pre-1914 model. It was not always dependable, the author telling of the time when it had been ordered round to take guests home from a dinner party, when the chauffeur reported an engine faull, which enabled Wheatley to walk his girl home to Clapham Park. At about the time when his parents acquired their Wolseley Wheatley used his Army gratuity on a car, ordering a Charron-Laycock, described by him as “a powerful three-seater car, costing C515.” It should have heen fun, he says, but delivery was not promised for severali months and to the summer 1919 the agents wrote to say the price had been increased by 30″, As Wheatley had spent his gratuity by then and could not have lound even £500. the torder was cancelled. Later in the book there is a description of living to Egypt by Sunderland seaplane the presumably means a Short Sunderland tlying-boat There is little ola minoring flavour in “A Year tor Remember — a reminiscence of 19.” by Alec Waugh tW. II Allen, 1975 that inaom it we learn that Waugh could not :Ilford to own a CM’ in the early 1920s and that his brother Evelyn (who wrote “Vile !Woes-, which has a motor-racing theme) did not learn to drive until after his second marriage He tells of his pleasure in obtaining his MCC crickelingi scarf — which makes me think he would have been very sad to Ilbil while he was at Lords two boys used somettmes to go to the Oval at Test Match time and just fool about in the players’ dressing room. 1 refer to myself and the youngest son of the great John Berry ,Jack tt,ohhn. then at the height of his centuries-scoring tame. Jack Hobbs had an Austin 12 or saloon and at the time tit which I write had replaced this with a Sunbeam Sixteen fabric saloon, later replaced by a Sonheam Twenty saloon, il memory hasn’t failed me. Later in this hook Waugh reters to dining at the RAC

and going down to Cornwall the next day with Gwen Frangcon Davies who had starred in The Barrens of Wimpole Street. It was in 1930, remember, so they started at 8 a.m., in a chauffeur-driven car, stopping the night at Chagford bound for Moushole. How the chauffeur’s infatuation for a maid at the Easton Court at Chagford resulted in this hotel becoming a famous literary centre is explained in Waugh’s reference to that vintage journey. but the make of car they were in, which took until the late afternoon of the second day Ingot to Moushole, is not quoted.

“An Open Door” by Monica Dickens, the great grand-daughter of Charles Dickens (Heinemann, 1978), surprised me by being a veritable feast of motoring snippets, the reader who told me of it deserves this column’s thanks. As early as page 7 you come upon it, with a reference to the Lancia tourer and upright Renault driven by a chauffeur named Hawley at the grand-parents’ family house at Chilworthy near Chard. in Somerset. As with many autobiographies, it is sometimes difficult to date the incidents referred to. but if this was during or just after the First World Was the Lancia was probably a Theta or a Kappa. It used to have to reverse up mountain passes. Later, about 19291 think, we are told that Ronald Maier taught Monica’s father and mother to drive., when he was not chauffeuring their Wolseley. During these lessons Fanny Dickens hit some cows and decided not to drive again but Henry Dickens used to drive the Wolseley on Sundays. It is illustrated on a page of photographs devoted to the family’s cars — have publishers been influenced by my long-running series of “Cars In Books” to include more about motoring than was once the norm? The picture shows the Volsci, to have been one of those overhead-camshaft fabric saloons with side-mounted spare wheel, dummy hood-irons, and vertical bonnet louvres, probably an E6 16,45 h.p. model. Much later Monica

Dickens writes of the MG one of her boy-friends allowed her to drive. There is a picture of it, with mother sports-car standing beside it, said to be a Singer 9 although it looks more like a Wolseley Hornet to me. The MG is described as having knock-off wire wheels, a bonnet strap and a fold-flat windscreen, in was perhaps a J2. The picture shows both e.rs with the windscreens folded down, although it. look as if the author, then a bobbed-haired young girl. is incorrect in saying this was because there was no screen-wiper. The Reg. No. of the MG was RV-2665 and of the Singer or Wolseley Hornet AKE 862.

It was the blue Wolseley saloon that took Monica to her presentation at Court, where they queued for hours (?-sic) on Constitution Hill with hawk-nosed chauffeurs driving Rolls-Royces and Daimlers with coronets on the doors. Later her father’s car is described as a “grey box”, when Monica was in her house-maid’s period, this referring presumably to his Vauxhall. At this time they kept their cars in a garage in the Portobello Road, Monica’s being. she says, a Sunbeam SS. This, too. is illustrated (BCY-359) and looks like an SS-Jaguar coupe. Could it he that “SS” puzzled a caption writer, who though it was meant for “Sunbeams Special-, which is how the car-is captioned in a picture of Monica leaning on it while waiting for the Ferry on the Isle of Wight, although her long dress and cottage in the background hardly smacks of a ismes? She calls her on a Sunbeam, however, in the text but she may have been thinking perhaps of her days as a munitions-worker at Sunbeam-Talbot’s in Ladbrooke Grove during the war, working on aero-enginc parts, as her book describes? Incidentally, the other cars on the page devoted to their photographs are a 1926 Standard tourer. probably an SI-04 Fourteen, bought for new £365. and a line-up of three early family cars, a Panhard, a big Edwardian Standard tourer, and what looks like a little Renault with gilled-tube radiators alongside its coal-scuttle lxinnet. We have still not ththausted the cars in “An Open Door”, Henry Dickens had a grey Vauxhall in later years. with two little arms that flapped out on either side for turning signals — those semaphore-indicators which Hugh Keller refers to as “the twigs”, on his Rolls-Royce Twenty. After the war the authoress bought a very dubious red open car which expired when the riveted cracks in its crankcase opened up, but the make of this one is not given. By this time it seems that Henry Dickens had a new blue Vauxhall, its bumpers soon curling from contact with doorposts in his mews garage, which Sc kept into the 1960s. Going back to the blue Wolseley. this is said to have had celluloid windows that let up and down on straps, like railway-carriage windows. (Surely not cellukid in 1929? Although earlier Humbere had used a sophisticated system of such side curtains. — Ed. f A friend’s snub-nosed Morris with dickey also gets a mention and we are reminded that Dickens based one of her novels on a murder and the R101 crash. In view of the confusion over what I think was an SS-Jaguar in Monica Dickens’ book, it was a co-incidence that the next non-motoring book I picked up, “The Initials In The Heart” by Laurence Whistler iRupert Hart-Davis. 196th told quite definitely of tbeeper Swallow Special. “precursor of the Jaguar”, that Rex Whistler lent the author for driving the actress Jill Furst back to London from a week-end visit to Daye House in Wilton Park near Salisbury. The only other motoring rererences tO this book are of finding at a Somerset cottage in 1939 a 1917 Crossley, open to the skies, in the field adjoining it — more accurate dating than would aspire to, They thought the old touring ‘,ar romantic, a memento of the other war. There is, a later hint that Jill was driving a Humber Snipe th Devon and mention of Rex Vhisher’s will which included his car — a TV documentary about the famous painter refered to his love of last cars, one of which may, 1’ think, have been a pre-war

late-model 4 Lagonda. — W.B.