Cars in Books, December 1985

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My attention has been drawn to the chapter on “Motors And Motoring” in Earl Russell’s book “My Life and Adventures” (Cassell, 1923), in which the author tells how he took to motoring in the pioneer days after much travel at sea with his little steam yacht Royal, on the Thames, bicycling, walking, and touring with two horses in a light Scotch dog-cart in which he could do up to 100 Miles a week. That was in addition to rail, and steamer journeys to Naples, Sicily, Malta, Switzerland and America.

His first car was a 2½ hp belt-drive Benz with back-to-back seats and the Crypto gear, a model I cannot immediately visualise. It was fortunately used in the flat Maidenhead area, as it could not climb a hill of more than 110 20 before the driver had to walk beside it. A strong wind or mud brought it off top speed and Earl Russell was pleased if it did 12 mph during his frequent runs from Amberley College to Hanwell Asylum where he was Chairman. In 1900 the Earl brought back from America an 8 hp HaynesApperson, made at Kokomo, Illinois, a high, wheel-steered car, a two-cylinder model on pneumatic tyres, it was capable of about 20 mph and the owner, who did a great many miles on it, was proud of it, although the tiny friction bands of the transmission, selected by sliding fingers, were perpetually going wrong, and the rotten American casting let water into a cylinder.

Next came a 1902 car “with which S. F. Edge had been second in some Continental ‘ace”, a perfectly hideous machine, the shoe brakes of which would generally destroy the tyres. But many thousands of miles were covered on it. That was followed by one of the first Napiers. a 12 hp model, ordered from Edge at enormous expense and eventually delivered, when it proved a dud, boiling away all its radiator water. It went back to Napier’s but was never cured and when the Earl bet Edge a Over that he could not drive it from London to Oxford without putting water in the radiator, it ran completely dry two miles from its destination! (One would like to have seen Edge’s face and have heard his excuses…!). That put Earl Russell off Napiers, a dislike he never overcame, although knowing them to be good cars in later years.

There are interesting references to the early days of the ACGBI (which became the RAC) and to pioneer military motoring with the Motor Volunteers, which include some amusing episodes. Earl Russell concludes by saying that he had done over 150,000 miles driving all over the country by the time his book was written (1922/23?), his later cars including a 30 hp chain-driven Daimler and, for many years, White steam cars, but that now he only drove Humbers, “and no one could wish for anything better”. He could guarantee to keep better time with them than a SWR train…

There have been many books about the kidnapping and murder of the baby of the Lindberghs but none setting out the tragic happenings better and more convincingly than in “The Air-Man & The Carpenter” by Ludovic Kennedy (Collins, 1985). Whereas other books have tended to put the convicted and executed Richard Hauptmann in a bad light, this one makes it abundantly clear that an innocent man was terribly betrayed and wrongly put to death. This unfortunate German carpenter’s enjoyment of his 1928 dark blue Dodge saloon, bought secondhand in 1931 for 737 dollars, which he was still using in 1934 when he was traced through the number of that car written by a gas-station attendant on the back of a bill, comes over well. Everyone at all interested in crime documentaries should read this book, but from our point of view the only other car of interest it mentions is the Saxon Six which, when he was only 14, Lindbergh overhauled and had then driven his recently. widowed mother and uncle 1,500 miles in dreadful weather over dreadful roads to California, in 1916, a journey that took 40 days, Lindbergh (who in 1927 was tube the first to fly the Atlantic solo in his Bellanca monoplane Spirit of St Louis) having learned to drive at the age of 11 on his father’s Model-T Ford. Another snippet of motoring information from a non-motoring crime book, “All Those In Favour?” by C. H. Rolph (Andre Deutsch, 1902), which I have referred to elsewhere, is that around 1960 the ETU had a fleet of about 60 cars, and that the Communist-party member Mr Haxell used a Humber or sometimes a Triumph.

In “Boy” by Roald Dahl (Cape, 1984) a chapter of this book, which is written very much as if the author had forgotten that he had not intended it for children, snare some of his books, there is a chapter about a run with an elder sister in the family’s first car, which resulted in a nasty accident due to the driver’s lack of experience, in which the boy Dahl’s nose was severed. The car was a circa-1925 black De Dion Bouton tourer, with a rear screen, which the “ancient sister” claimed would do 60 mph, which the younger children pleaded with her to do. But at 35 mph, beyond Llandaff, they came to grief at a bend. That is all of motoring content in the book, except for a picture of the De Dion which looks to have come from another publication, but may be from an album, but if so, the registration number (6925-DK75) seems an odd one for a car presumably taxed in Wales… It is not that of the 1923 Model-IW De Dion Buxton owned by H. O. Duncan, author of the now much sought-after book “World On Wheels”, as this tourer had the registration number 880-BK30. — W.B.