Cars in books, February 1959

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Cars feature, as might be expected, in “Royal Riviera” by Charles Graves. But, alas, he gets muddled about the Monte Carlo Rally, which he describes as a race, and over the famous Monaco “Round-the-houses” Grand Prix.  Although this book about the French Riviera was published less than two years ago, readers might imagine that the Monte Carlo Rally faded out a few years after its inception in 1911, and the Monaco G.P. soon after Robert Léon is credited with organising the first of the series (in 1929), which Graves reminds us was won by Williams, with Bovriano second, both driving Bugattis, with the “then unknown Caracciola in a Mercedes” third. Graves remarks that in 1911 Monte Carlo was “full of Daimlers, Rolls-Royces, Austins, Napiers, Wolseleys and Argylls owned by Englishmen and driven by white-capped chauffeurs. American motorists were represented by Packards, Loziers, Pierces and Wintons” (without number plates). The Germans, he says, “drove around in large white Prince Henrys, usually with an Alsatian alongside,” but he fails to differentiate between Benz or Austro-Daimler “Prince Henry.”  The author also fails to recognise the state of development of the motor car in 1912, telling us that the drive up La Turbie, to the then new golf course at Mont Agel “was more exciting than the drive off the first tee,” and the ascent of La Turbie was “barely negotiable by the motor cars of that day,”  whereas, in fact, La Turbie had been used for timed hill-climbs since the turn of the century  —  or was the final ascent to Mont Agel the difficulty ?

The chief contestants in the early Monte Carlo Concours d’Elegance which preceded the Monte Carlo Rally by some years are named as Renaults, Lorraine-Dietrichs, Mercedes and Delaunay-Bellevilles. The author has it that Camille Blanc, originator of these early Concours d’Elegance in which sumptuously-dressed ladies were judged with the cars and everyone got some sort of award, sponsored an Italian expert, Dr. Gugliemeneti, in his efforts to find a tarred road surface, so that spectators wouldn’t get covered in dust, and that Monte Carlo had the first roads of this kind.

In the chapter on villa life in Monte Carlo we read that M. Forest, one of the owners of the Hispano-Suiza Company, lived at Les Bouyeres, built for the Duke of Connaught at Cap Ferrat, and that Signor Agnelli, head of Fiats, lives in a cottage of a villa built originally for the Comtesse de Beauchamp and almost completely rebuilt by Ogden Codman. The garage, we are told, “contains a fabulous selection of Signor Agnelli’s personal motor cars, such as Bugattis, Bentley Continentals, and the like.”  And, let us hope, a few Fiats!

This is an interesting book to read after returning front the Monte Carlo Rally. It is interesting to discover what cars celebrities drove, and from “Hillaire Belloc  —  A Memoir ” by J.B. Morton we learn that the great author had a Ford from 1922 to 1925, obviously at Model-T.  He enjoyed the leisured company of the rich, yet regarded himself as poor and his ownership of a Model-T throws new light on his verse which reads:

The rich arrived in pairs,

And also in Rolls-Royces.

They talked of their affairs

In loud and strident voices.

The poor arrived in Fords,

Whose features they resembled,

They laughed to see so many Lords,

And Ladies there assembled.

The people in between

Looked out of place and harassed.

And underdone and mean,

And horribly embarrassed.