Cars in books, February 1978

I did not dig deep enough into “When The Riviera Was Ours” by Patrick Howarth (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977) when I referred to it last month. It also includes, apart from the items I mentioned, that the first car ever seen by Frank Harris was at Monte Carlo in 1895-6, a 7-h.p. Georges Richard, which he is said to have bought for £600 and driven round the Riviera for a month, after which he motored it home, taking seven days to get to Paris and three more to reach Calais. The book also mentions Woolf Barnato’s race against the Blue Train when, at a party in Cannes, he bet he could drive his Bentley to London faster and was, in fact, in his flat in London four hours before the famous train reached Victoria Station. The subsequent “races” by Rover and Alvis cars, etc. are only given a passing mention but it is said that “Woolf Barnato having taken fourteen hours from Cannes to Paris, others could admit to taking fifteen, but “not an hour more” and apparently the Paris-Cannes record is the subject of this comment in Peter de Polnay’s novel “A Door Ajar”. Howarth’s book also refers to the escape of Squadron-Leader Whitney Straight from the Germans in 1941, when one of the ploys was to give him a sedative to put into the wine of hospital guards.

Reverting for a moment to fictional references to cars, which have almost forsaken this column, Michael Arlen’s “Green Hat” and that French novel are often mentioned as revolving about an Hispano-Suiza, but did you know that the final lines of one of Noel Coward’s popular plays of the nineteen-twenties refer to a “red Hispano-Suiza”, or that a red Bugatti figures in Cyril Connolly’s “The Rock Pool”? Incidentally, Packard buffs will be gratified that the rich American families portrayed by Scott Fitzgerald in the stories invariably had limousines of this make, even before the First World War, when, however, he disguises the car of those pre-Kaiser-War days which he says “represented the ambition of several million American boys” as the “Blatz Wildcat”, obviously this author’s disguise for the Stutz Bearcat. In what is surely an autobiographical story, “This side of Paradise”, the famous American author writes of Amory Blaine, who is presumably himself, that “from his fourth to tenth year he did the country (America) with his mother in her father’s private car. …” As the boy was born in 1896 this means these tours started in 1901/2, which seems a trifle early for such expeditions, especially in America. Can anyone tell me whether there has been a straight Scott Fitzgerald autobiography in which these motor cars are described as the real ones they undoubtedly were?

Having encountered the Packers’ Clyno in “Pack and Follow” by Joy Packer, wife of the late Admiral Packer, RN, I find from her “Deep As the Sea” (Eyre Methuen, 1975) that this vintage motor-car which the newly-married couple used in 1925 to drive to Shropshire through the Cotswolds they called it “Tommy Clyno” was carried by Packer on HMS Warspit in 1926 “I gave Tommy Clyno’s engine a run this evening started first time and ran like a silk engine”, and, for what it is worth, that the Royal Navy was using a big Humber at Simon’s Town, S. Africa, in 1952, when it flew the flag of the Commander-in-Chief South Atlantic, which Packer had become.

The American novels of John Gardner refer to many ancient motor-cars and although when he includes a Horex motor cycle this sounds fictional, it was of course a German machine current from 923 to 1958. Reverting to the American writer Scott Fitzgerald, one wonders what was the “medium-priced 1921-model automobile” he owned before the financial crash came in his affairs (in 1923 he ran a car for 25dollars a month). I suspect that the one he purchased in Hyeres, “the only new one in that town”, which “had the power of six horses” the age of the horses was not stated and it was so small that you could run it under the veranda for the night and “no lock, no speedometer, no gauge” in which they drove to Cannes, was what we would call a 7/12 Peugeot or was it a Peugeot Quadrilette? it cost Fitzgerald 750 dollars, in 1923/4. Later, as a successful writer Fitzgerald admitted buying broken-down cars. –W.B.