Motor Shows

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It was Motor Show time in October and colleagues were busy with notebooks and cameras. But not, I hope, losing their cars, as I did mine in the vast car parks at the first Birmingham Motor Exhibition, having moved it to help our photographer with his heavy equipment and omitted to note the new spot in which I had left it. I am old enough to have gone as a keen visitor and later reporter to the pre-war London shows, first at Olympia and later at more spacious Earls Court.

How the SMM & T crammed so many cars into the confines of Olympia I do not know. In fact, they didn’t in 1921, when so many brave new makers wanted to receive public appraisal that the White City, to the west of London, had to be utilised as an overflow show, to which those still sufficiently unexhausted to care, were delivered from Olympia in solid-tyred motor-buses. It used to be a standing joke, and quite likely a reality, that a spell in the Olympian confines would bring on a monumental cold. The Brooklands authorities would cash in on London being fuller than usual with car buffs and have an October race meeting down in Weybridge, to which the snufflers might go, to be killed or cured, probably the latter as the air was fresh off the bankings in the autumn and inhaling burnt castor-oil fumes may have helped. . . I recall once being asked, after the war, by a desperate chap working for Jack Brabham, how he could get a ticket for the famous driver for the Earls Court Show. “No need”, I told him, “just give him a bucket and a mop and he will be able to walk through the back doors unchallenged.” The PR man wasn’t amused! But I am sure it would have worked — and I believe Jack would have done it, too.

One of the schoolboy attractions at Olympia was the Trojan Bag. It was a big cardboard container in which to carry any catalogues and leaflets you could prise out of bored sales-staff. It was a clever ploy, because you then became a walking advertisement for the unusual two-stroke Trojan car, with your bag well-endowed with publicity material, and although it encouraged you to collect literature from other firms, Trojan knew that they alone sold a vehicle which was the cheapest practical transport obtainable (£125 in 1925), with unpuncturable solid tyres and, they told you, so cheap to run you couldn’t afford to walk. .. Perhaps this easy way of accumulating motoring publicity material explains why I still have a drawerful of now rare catalogues for some now very rare makes of cars.

But one much-wanted and very fine catalogue, that for the then-new Rolls-Royce Phantom III, I can now confess to obtaining in a different way. I simply walked into the hallowed R-R showrooms in Conduit Street, W1, and asked for one. My mistake was that I was young. A burly uniformed commissionaire approached, to tell me that boys were not given free catalogues, but that I could buy one. Undaunted, I left, entered a ‘phone box and rang the illustrious number. “I am about to purchase a new car,” I lied, “and so I sent my office lad to obtain for me a few catalogues of makes in which I might be interested. He has returned with Daimler and Hispano Suiza brochures but was told he had to pay for a Rolls-Royce catalogue. This has rather turned me against your cars but if you will inform me of the amount you seek I will send the boy back.” Mumbled appologies, a request for my name and address, and the next morning a heavy package arrived containing the catalogue I craved. I still have it. And may God forgive me.