Book reviews, June 2008, June 2008
‘Whizzo’ The motor sporting life of Barrie Williams Paul Lawrence Anyone who’s either spectated or competed…
Enthusiastus Extinctus •
What follows mustn’t for a moment be regarded as the official view of ” Motor Sport,” far less of its Editor ! But we do feel that the case made out by the writer should be set down for feminine enthusiasts to answer. And, judging by a certain famous technical editor’s Christmas card, the writer does not appear to be alone in the prophecy he makes in his closing paragraph.—Ed.
I, Sthe enthusiast doomed to extinction ? To make such a suggestion at a “Rembrandt ” Meeting would probably require more moral courage than I possess. It might have required even more to have mooted a parallel and contemporary proposition at the Cavalry Club in 1910, yet history cannot be denied.
Robertson-Rodger laments that sheer lack Of enthusiasm apparently brought to an end the “splendid era” of 1924-32. He dates the final decay from the general introduction of i.f.s. ; this, however, is probably a mere coincidence. The real cause is almost certainly the subversive influence of the female of the specie. In fact, like many another tragedy, it all started with Eve.
The last war gave impetus to the socalled ” emancipation of women ” movement, and this war has finished the whole thing off. Broadly speaking, this “emancipation ” means that woman, whilst retaining copyright of those weapons that have been solely feminine since Adam lost a rib, has also given herself the option of using those which formerly had always been man’s alone by right of nature. In these ungodly days, a woman can, with equal facility according to the dictates of’ strategy, either fall into your arms in a tearful, helpless (?) smother, or tell you not to be a silly fool, and you, an English gentleman to the bitter end, are defeated either way.
The years immediately following the last war gave some slight respite and a false hope, but after the tumult and the shouting had died down to that gentle murmur that we foolishly imagined to he peace, the reaction set in again, and, after a little probing into cause and effeet, I am forced to the conclusion that the outlook is bleak indeed.
It is unfortunate but true that the more desirable a car as a car, the less it finds favour in the eyes of woman. While she does, on occasions, like to “go fast,” she has little knowledge of, and less interest in, the finer nuances of the word ” performance.” If she ran, whilst enclosed by a roof and all the frills of a boudoir, read ninety-plus on a highlyoptimistic golden -col4)iired hexagonal raterecording device, she will be happier than seeing the same figure on an accurate speedometer surrounded only by fresh air and the barest necessities for fast motoring. Unfortunately, too, one has to make concessions. On festive occasions, for example, you can cover up the “soup and fish ” wit h a heavy coat, and after a twosecond manipulation of a comb, no one can tell whether you have journeyed in a decent car or a taxi. Your popsie, on the other hand, has spent a guinea on a hair ” do ” and objects to turning up looking merely as though she ought to have spent it. After the party the drive home in an open car sobers you up, but she proltaltly doesn’t drink as much as you and, therefore, can hardly be expected to appreciate this point. (Although, by way of stressing it, I once, after a more than usually hectic flying club party, ran very badly out of road in a Ford V8, whereas the open Speed Twenty which was my normal mount at that time, would have done no such thing— not even under those (ircumstances.)
There were many potent reasons behind woman’s campaign to degrade the motor cal, but most of them were sun-lined up in the words of a female friend of mine who, of my open 2-litre Lagonda, said : ” You’d rather have your wretched motor car than any woman in the world.”
As I was at that time endeavouring to lay the foundations of a beautiful friendship, I weakly denied my gods ; but I kept the car and she remained unconvinced, and neglected me for a maa with a Chrysler. Woman early discovered that the amount of attention available to herself varied in inverse ratio with that accorded the car, and decided to eliminate the competition. She herself, of course, was quite unable to share a man’s enthusiasm for a decent machine, due to her inherent inability to handle it. Let us be fair at this stage and admit that there have been women who could and did drive a man’s car— soilietinies better than its owner—but it is irrefutable that for every one there were ten t sa I (rough check) hou m
of the other sort.
I once read a book in which men of different nationalities advanced varying theories as to a woman’s rightful place in a well-organised scheme of things. The Frenchman’s suggestion was just what one has been traditionally led to believe of the Latin. (And who would say it was completely wrong, even if it is more traditional than real ?) The German was insistent that the home was the only rightful environment of the female, while the Englishman thought that a woman’s rightful place was on a pedestal. No one suggested the driving seat of a car as being at all a suitable place—which, of course, it isn’t ; but what with emancipation and one thing and another, she got there just the same and started altering things around. The end of real motoring was in sight. The decay was first apparent, of course, in America, where, as I know from
personal observation, women have far more influence than is good for their husbands over things in general. In short, American women always get what they want. In the motoring world they st a rted off by wanting low-geared steering and sobt-soft suspension, and from then on never looked back, until, as we all know, the American antomohile developed into something as nearly resembling a Fifth Avenue beauty parlour as Imman ingenuity mould construct. on four wheels. Evert these latter, being 80 purely functional, had to be as little in evidence as possible. I doubt whether it is going beyond the truth to say that designers became stib se rv telt t to advertising managers. verUsing men know that the one thinf, that a woman cannot resistbuying is “fashion, so (al’s ceased tO machines and wcre marketed as fashionable merchandise
along ” Keeping-up-with-the-Jones’s lines. If you doubt this, just skim the pages of a pre(Anierican-entry) war Saturday Evening Poq. American men arc now so completely
corrupted that the average young man of that country just doesn’t know what a good car is. If you try to talk to him about motoring, he will respond with’. details of air-conditioning plants, radio sets or body Styles. Enthusiasm died in America simply because there was no longer 11 had to be enthusiastic about—w(
finally eliminated the competition—and it seems it must ultimately die here for the same reason. Cast your mind back and recall the greater cars of the glorious years. Some are completely extinct and many others, merged in with great combines, exist only Zlti a mockery of the once great names they bear. Those wonderful cars de
clivaul died because there was not sufficient enthusiasm to keep them going –and the trend continues. The modern may have a performance as good as the vintage car (all too often, of course, it has nothing of the sort). It may provide all tile amenities of a luxury flat and make an ideal courting harouche, but it is quite impossihle to enthuse over it. It has no personality and makes little or no appeal to .one’s sporting or n
cal instincts—for, of course, it wasn’t designed to. ” The years that take the best away give something in the end,” wrote the poet, but in this case he was wrong, for as one of the greater Bentley exponents remarked to me sadly, “The vintage era has gone and nothing has come to take its place.” And nothing has 1 Good vintage machinery is becoming ever scarcer and more expensive, and must continue to do so. (Helped along in this latter respect, incidentally, by so many gentlemen of whom we had never heard before the war ; whose motoring antecedents are as doubtful as their right to the regimental ties and naval beards they wear, suddenly emerging as ardent champions of the better makes—and quite by chance, of course, dealers therein!) The day must inevitably come when even the toughest and finest vintage cars have all reached their last resting place. and future generations of young men in this country will grow up, even as they have in America, knowim2; nothing of’ the ten men drove men’s glory that was, xv1
ears for the sheer joy of it and not merely as transport. Is there no hope ? No faint ly blighter gleam in this stygian outlook ? Can nothing be done to bring ahoot a revival of the splendid era ? Nothing, I fear, short of re-creating our social order from
basic principles with the aid of blunt instruments and horse whips ; but the white races have grown out of the habit of beating sense into their women and the psychological principles involved are too fundamental to allow of alteration by civilised methods. “Love me, love my car,” said the enthusiast, but woman— often so humorously referred to as the weaker sex—said “No. Love me or your car.” And as even the most ardent enthusiast could not deny his greater obligation to the future of the race, it became even so. Mind you, I do know one admirable
young man who, when confronted with the ultimatum, “Blonde or Bentley,” didn’t even argue, but just drove away and left her weeping jealous tears. However, he is very young and she wasn’t a very attractive blonde, anyway. Poor lad. The days of his active enthusiasm are numbered, for he is the only scion of a noble and ancient house ; a state of affairs that lie will ultimately have to rectify. When his son goes motoring it will probably be in a sort of hyper-super-dooper streamlined magic earpet. The uncanny silence of its going will be disturbed by no evidence of
machinery at work. No glorious” gobblegobble” will bring music to his ears or cause any as yet unborn policeman to reach for a notebook. The only sounds within will be the dance music on the radio and the purring prattle of the popsie preening herself in the security of the knowledge that the whole thing is a setting for her charms and not a counter-attraction.
Time, they say, is a great healer, and therefore probably only occasionally will his father reflect sadly, though, let us hope, without bitterness, that he found a virtuous woman, but her price was far above sports cars.
‘Whizzo’ The motor sporting life of Barrie Williams Paul Lawrence Anyone who’s either spectated or competed…
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