Cars in Books, February 1962

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I have to acknowledge the great generosity of readers who continue to send me rare and valuable books for my collection, these including an original copy of “The Lightning Conductor,” “Taxi “by Anthony Armstrong, ” The High-Roads of the Alps” by Charles Freeston, a fine copy of “At the Wheel Ashore and Afloat” from the executors of the late Comdr. Montague Grahame-White, and “Mr. Punch Goes Motoring,” etc. The last-named volume was published in around 1930 and depicts motoring humour from 1900 onwards. There are the early cartoons of unreliable horseless carriages, later jokes directed at baby cars, and the inevitable cracks at situations involving drivers and policemen. Some of the drawings depict actual cars and it is possible to recognise Swallow Austin Seven, Daimler, Vauxhall, Brooklands Riley Nine, Bentley Big Six, Morris-Cowley bull-nose, Austin Seven Chummy and saloon, 12/50 Alvis duck’s-back, Sunbeam, Willys-Knight, Overland, and other makes but thinly disguised.

In the amusing and well-written account of life in a submarine, “Down the Hatch,” by John Winton (Michael Joseph, 1961), there is a fictitious Targa Florio (the Targa Mango) in burlesque, featuring a miscellaneous collection of vehicles from Ferraris downwards, and won by the hero in the British Consul’s pearlgrey Armstrong Siddeley, due to the fast stuff being sent up the wrong road by spectators who shifted the barriers! The author apparently knows about motor cars, for on page 176 is a description of cadence braking which he must have written before this was described recently in a weekly motor journal. Finally, for this month, in “Highlands of Scotland,” by Seton Gordon (Robert Hale, 1951), there is reference to an exciting journey undertaken by the author from Achnasheen to Inverness during the 1954-18 war. It was made at the order of the Senior Naval Officer, Aultbea, so that dangerous explosives from a captured German submarine could be handed over to the proper authorities. We read that Mr. Gordon was given a Z-permit to enable him to burn full headlamps in localities where only sidelamps were permitted but that on the way home, along the shore of Loch Maree, the acetylene lamps failed and the journey was completed on one paraffin sidelamp. The constable in Gairloch stopped the car, the make of which is, alas, not revealed, but the Z-permit appeased him. This journey was all the more adventurous because the explosive sticks had been carried loose in the car and it was subsequently revealed that the “jolting on the rough road ” might have touched them off.—W. B.

AND WHAT WAS THIS ONE?

Sir,

With reference to your feature “Cars in Books,” I have just came across a most interesting reference in Gavin Maxwell’s truly delightful book “Ring of Bright Water.” On pages 143-144 he is describing his anxiety to reach London, and one of his otters which was pining away in the London Zoo. I quote:

My car was a ferocious vehicle, converted from a single-seater Grand Prix racing car, and in her distant prime speeds in excess of 160 m.p.h. had been claimed for her, but at the moment I was running-in a set of new pistons that she seemed to require almost as often as more modest conveyances require refilling with petrol …. I came out onto the long straight north of Grantham, and unfortunately there was not another car in sight to slow me down. I had been driving at about 90 m.p.h.; now, I thought, I would go very much faster, and, for a short time, I did. The supercharger screamed, dial needles moved with incredible rapidity towards red zones. I had a glimpse of the speedometer hovering at 145 m.p.h., and I was still accelerating briskly. Then there was a rending sound, the cockpit filled with a great puff of blue smoke, and in the mirror I saw a thin black trail of oil stretching away behind me . . . .” Fascinating!

London, N.W.10. JOHN D. HARRISON.