Book reviews, February 1963, February 1963

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“The Automobile Book” by Ralph Stein. 322 pp. 11¾ in. x 8¼ in. (Paul Hamlyn, Ltd., Westbrook House, 583, Fulham Road, London, S.W.6. 50s.)

The American author Ralph Stein specialises in these comprehensive and lavishly-produced and illustrated annuals. This one will keep most people occupied for hours and for 50s. enables you to acquire a highly impressive addition to the motoring bookshelf.

But I do not go as far as some reviewers who describe this as one of the greatest motor books ever. For one thing, fresh pictures of the older cars are becoming rarer every day, so many of the illustrations are “old chestnuts,” however much they have been blown-up, however beautifully they are reproduced. For another thing, Stein has packed almost every facet of motors and motoring into these 322 big pages—the primitive pioneer vehicles, early racing cars, electric cars, steamers, grande marques, G.P. racers, sports cars, veterans, vintage cars, mass-produced automobiles, dream designs of futuristic type, all jostle for a place—but the information about them isn’t, shall we say, 100% accurate.

But if you crave lots and lots of miscellaneous pictures, doublepage colour spreads and that sort of thing, this is your bible and few will quarrel with the opinion which Stirling Moss expresses in the Foreword that “The Automobile Book ” is one of the most beautifully produced books ever seen. — W. B.

*     *     *

Practically everything you need to know about motoring on the water can be found in the 120-page soft-cover “B.P. Guide to Motor Boats and Motor Boating.” Written by 43-year-old boat-designer Ron Waring, this is published by Kenneth Mason Publications Ltd., 167, Victoria Street, London, S.W.1, at 7s. 6d. It should save money for any inexperienced person about to buy, sail, trail, store, fit-out, build or insure any sort of motor boat.

 

CARS IN BOOKS

There is a surprising number of car references in that section of Rupert Croft-Cooke’s autobiography called “The Glittering Pastures” (Putnam, 1962). As a young man the author set off on a walking tour that terminated at the “Royal Oak” at Beckley in Sussex, stayed there for a while, and took rides in a Ford owned by the landlord, Charlie Goddard—”The old high-stilted black kind with the throttle on the steering wheel…”, so it must have been a model-T, and an early one, for the year then was 1921. I wonder, however, what make of small hired ‘bus they used to get to the village cricket match?

We learn from this delightful book that at this time Cosmo Croft, aged 18, “rushed about on a fast motorcycle, usually with a girl clinging white-faced to the pillion.” Motoring, however, instead of being the current commonplace means of transport was something of a rare treat, as I myself recall, so that Rupert Croft-Cooke mentions “no less than sixty miles” of it, in one day, from London to Hastings. Today, when parking meters line the streets and parking persecutions prevail, there is nostalgia in the simple description of the start of this journey: “… a large chauffeur-driven car drew up at Haxted’s Hotel, as a car could then…”.

Alas, the make of that car and of “a middle-aged but beautifully-kept motor-car” driven by a middle-aged chauffeur in Paris in 1922, which belonged to Count Wachtmeister, isn’t revealed. But of the latter we are told: “The motor-car, like many at that time, was considered a horseless-carriage, and its owners expected, as carriage-owners had always done, a smart turn-out. There were flowers in fixed vases behind the glass screen which divided us from the chauffeur, there was a speaking-tube to his car and the car was furnished rather than upholstered”— as good a picture of the elegance of the Edwardian motor-carriage as any I have read.

About Paris at this period we read of an advertisement in the Folies Bergère programme for “La Voiture Panhard et Levassor,” showing the gentlemen of the revue C’est de la Folie seated in an open model, wearing bowler hats.

The author buys a car himself in 1928 or ’29—”an old Morris car.” Before that he had had ” an old motorcycle,” on which he tore about Kent at its maximum speed of 30 m.p.h., frequently forgetting to use the hand oil-pump, so that “after sailing down River Hill to Tonbridge I would reach the summit on my return with the engine red-hot.” On his primitive pre-1914 machine he went to visit Rudyard Kipling, and it earned hint fines totalling 80s. at Sevenoaks Road, Farnborough, for not having two independent brakes in working order, no effective silencer, no licence, no front index mark and for using it without having notified the proper authority that it had been acquired. The way of the motorist has always been hard!

Rupert Croft-cboke, when he visited Kipling at “Bateman’s,” now a Kipling museum, remarked on the great writer’s Rolls-Royce. “It’s the only car I can afford” replied Kipling. As the author goes on to explain, “Cars were still bought, as carriages had been, to last as many years as possible. and undeniably a Rolls-Royce lasted longer. That car of his may still be on the road.” Can anyone tell us, is it?

When Rupert Croft-Cooke travelled to Buenos Aires, still in the ‘twenties, he refers to a Statue in Santos to “the great pioneer of ballooning,” obviously Santos Dumont, about whom a learned book has recently been published. The taxis in Buenos Aires were then “large American cars and in an open Packard I would drive luxuriously…”. Someone had arrived there “with what he said was the first Morris car to enter the country,” and there Croft-Cooke bought his first “car,” delightfully described as “the mere framework of a Ford of that old type which was known in Argentina as Bigotes (whiskers), from the fact that the controls were on the steering wheel, and resembled a pair of tapering moustaches.” The body, we are told, had been removed, leaving only the bonnet and two seats; “there were no wings, no running board, no hood… in that state it was quite fast, and that was what we wanted.” It had bonnet and seat-backs painted white, two bonnet straps “to resemble a racing car and was used for nearly two months without number plates, horn, mirror or silencer, or more than a third of the normal brakes.” When someone asked about the licence, a pair of number plates was purchased for 6s. Even remote stores sold Ford spares and the high ground clearance gave this make “almost a monopoly.” A most entertaining book, of which I shall look for sequels.

A Morris 1000, a Bentley and an Aston Martin of which the opinion is expressed that it should give 20 after carburetter adjustment, feature in that sexy novel “Just Like a Lady” by Nina Bawden (Longmans, Green, 1960). The Bentley has a right-hand gear lever; that doesn’t identify it as a Rolls-Royce built car, but a blown gasket does!

Finally, for this month, a reader, Mr. Bick of Cheltenham, sends the following extract from “The Great Winding Road” by Oliver G. Pike F.Z.S., F.R.P.S. (Herbert Jenkins, 1928) which, he tells me, had an introduction by the late Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, father of the present Lord Montagu:

“Twenty-five miles an hour along the winding road! It seemed incredible. Twenty-five miles an hour, with a cloud of yellow dust behind us, and a great clatter of machinery under out feet. Our hats were pushed well down on our heads, our coat-collars turned up, and as the keen air tore past our faces, we pretended that we were thoroughly enjoying it all. How thrilling it seemed, and as the milestones slipped by, we marvelled at the ingenuity of man in producing such a machine.

“That was nearly thirty years ago, and as I look back on the days spent on that old Panhard I wonder how we enjoyed it all so much. Those were thrilling days for motorists. I remember how we had to stop whenever we met a horse. The latter animal, it seemed, would never get used to the strange machines that were beginning to make the highway impossible. Some of them shied badly; I have seen more than one trap and its occupants pitched into the ditch. There was one ruse, however, that we discovered, and that was to stop the car, get out and stand by the bonnet, and talk to, and pat the latter as the horse was led past! This had the effect of quieting the most scared animal.

“But I believe we really did enjoy this new means of travelling. There were no wind-screens or hoods in those days, and at the end of the ride we were smothered in dust if the weather was dry, and soaked through if raining. But the car took us into the byways of birdland, far quicker than a horse, and to spots where the trains did not penetrate, and so we were able to extend our studies, obtain more and better photographs, and we felt that a new era was dawning for the naturalist who was anxious to explore all the highways and by-ways of these islands of ours.

“Since those early days, I have driven thousands of miles along our winding roads. A two-seater Siddeley-Deasey carried us through some of the wildest parts of birdland; later I travelled twenty-thousand miles in a Rover. Another thirty-thousand miles was done in a Calthorpe, and now I am averaging about three hundred miles a week in a Morris-Oxford, and I find it the most reliable car I have ever driven.”—W.B.

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