Cars in books, February 1970

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THIS SERIES is apparently appreciated, because whenever it looks like fading away due to lack of material, readers of MOTOR SPORT weigh in with books from which I am able to extract the motoring references. Such a book is “The Autobiography of ‘The Card’,” by H. K. Hales (Sampson Low, Marston, undated but approx. 1936), kindly sent to us by Mr. N. Carr of Marple. There is a great deal about motoring in this book by someone who was at school with Arnold Bennett, had a very successful business career and donated the Atlantic Blue Riband Trophy for the fastest ship on the crossing. As a young man the author enjoyed the bicycling boom, at first on a machine we would call a “penny-farthing”. He then entered the cycle business, storing three safety cycles in his bedroom, selling these, and then increasing his stock to six. He introduced the Enfield with Juhel free-wheel to the Five Towns and was instrumental in introducing the all-black bicycle, although when ordered from the Swift Co. the Managing Director could see no future for it.

In 1898 the author purchased a Beeston motor tricycle, the first petrol-driven tricycle in the county. He tells of riding it 30 miles when it was well on fire, to exhaust the petrol and thus douse the flames. “Soon after the little red ‘flag was abolished” he bought a 2-h.p. Benz “the last word in cars”. After a year this was exchanged for a 4 1/2 h.p. De Dion. Hales enlarged his cycle sheds and had built the first motor garage in the Potteries. His chance resort to cleaning the paints of a rich Russian’s huge Daimler that had broken down, thus getting it going again, and similar feats, built up and Hales began to report local hill-climbs for The Sentinel, at a time when Clement Talbots swept the board. He suggested Mow Cop, on the borders of Cheshire and Staffordshire, for a hill-climb, haying been the first rider to get to the summit, on his 10-h.p. De Dion. It was some years before this hill was used, however. Incidentally, the author says it was 30 years before a woman was allowed to take part in a hill-climb competition at Brooklands in open competition with men, but I think he may be wrong. He took part in the 1,000 Miles Trial of 1900 in a 3 1/2-h.p. Decauville, which is illustrated, but he makes no comment on what befell.

The author went into the Motor Trade in 1898 with a 6-h.p. De Dion, “the only reliable small car on the market”. He added some Clement Talbots and a few Fiats. He had a thin time financially but pioneered a motor-show in the Drill Hall, Burslem, in 1903. There follows the usual memories of the trials and tribulations of motoring in those days and the author then refers to going on a record run with J. W. Stocks in a De Dion in February 1904. The object was to drive from London to Edinburgh without stopping the engine and, after much suffering in snowy conditions and various adventures, this was accomplished. The log is published of the 402 3/4 miles, occupying from 4 p.m. on a Friday to 2.15 p.m. on the Saturday. The following chapters are occupied, amongst other things, with graphic accounts of balloon ascents and of how the author went to the Reims Aviation Show of 1909, buying the following year an Antoinette monoplane with 50-h.p. V8 engine, which he found in a Bradford garage for £150. He tried to fly it without instruction and crashed ignominiously. There is also an amusing account of buying inadvertently at an auction in Calcutta Major Blake’s DH9, and of a bad scare when a kite-hawk flew into a Scylla monoplane in which Hales was flying as a passenger in India. The last chapter deals with the purchase and restoration of the sailing yacht Westward which the author found derelict at Southampton Water. She was a four-masted schooner of 2.000 tons, with 51 single and 16 double berths, able to take 940 tons of cargo, and fitted with two auxiliary Holesby diesel engines each of 160-h.p. Quite a possession!

Octave Seven of Compton Mackenzie’s “My Life and Times” (Chatto & Windus, 1968) contains some fascinating motoring items. The famous author mentions HRH the Prince of Wales arriving in his Puss Moth on a visit to Beaufort in 1931, landing before tea-time on a stretch of meadowland beside the Beaufort woods. He and his wile were offered 3 lift to see the scarlet Puss Moth put down by the late Col. A. D. Mackintosh of Mackintosh, CBE, in his pre-war Daimler, “as spacious as an Edwardian boudoir”. Compton Mackenzie used it as a model for just such a car, in his best-selling comedy novel “The Monarch of the Glen”.

With memories of the excellent war-time service afforded him by a 1916 Sunbeam, and encouraged when the Sunbeam people asked if they could print his testimonial in a publicity leaflet, Compton Mackenzie requested a new Sunbeam which he would pay for in three years without preliminary payment. Sunbeam’s agreed—perhaps by 1931 they were in such a low state that it didn’t much matter—and it was brought up from London to Scotland. But the author remarks that although his wife had learned to drive and he was perfectly willing for her to drive their secondhand Austin, he felt the Sunbeam was “too big an undertaking” (could it have been a 25 saloon?), so the Austin was sold and “I secured a green Volseley Hornet for Faith”. At that time their friend Bob Boothby was using a Humber Snipe.
There is reference to the Sunbeam doing a fast drive from Edinburgh to Glasgow when Compton Mackenzie had been elected Rector of Glasgow University, its driver, Ashie Macrae going the wrong way round a traffic island, but being forgiven by the Edinburgh constable, in the excitement.

The Sunbeam was still in use in 1932 when its steering failed on the way to Eilean Aigas as it was taking a sharp turn under a railway bridge some miles before Pitlochry. It went into and over a low wall, and, apart from paying for the wall, Mackenzie was faced with a £50 repair bill. Unfortunately, the make of the ancient car in which Cunningham Graham and Compton Mackenzie took part in the Bannockburn commemoration procession at Stirling in 1932 isn’t revealed, but it is mentioned that at this time Ursula Maxwell had a Chrysler—”How Ursula drove that large car over the road on which we travelled (they were looking at a manse in Stoer) is a marvel in remembrance”.

Aviation enthusiasts are catered for by mention of Malcolm Douglas Hamilton landing his flying boat in Castlebay harbour in 1933, so that Lady Londonderry could talk about Gaelic songs—people no longer drop in by flying boat, these days….! That year it seems the Austin hadn’t been sold, or they had another one, because the author tells of it having coil trouble, and as he had loaned the Sunbeam to someone he had to hire a car, which broke a shaft in the wilds of Loch Lomond, causing him to be stranded for two hours until a passing baby Austin provided a lift into Glasgow. Faith’s Hornet was still going strong, apparently, in 1933, the author says how fit he felt “driving with the hood down all the way” on a run in Lewis (what car isn’t quoted), there are references to flying from Barra, Mackenzie’s remote island home, in 1936, and a stirring passage about how the Islanders refused to pay their car licences until they got a decent road on the island (they were heavily fined), which may strike a chord among those who think the time has come for present-day car owners to revolt.