Cars in books, January 1964

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Mr. J. Wills of Catworth contributes the following:

Here is an extract taken from the book “War Underground,” by Alexander Barrie published by (Frederick Muller Ltd.):

“The two men covered many miles together in Norton Griffiths’ car, a Rolls-Royce, technically the property of his wife. It was a huge 2 1/2-ton chocolate-and-black landaulette which Excell was always required to drive at frightening speed. Habitually, as they set off the command would come: ‘Drive like hell, chauffeur.’ Excell did. Sometimes they had distinguished passengers riding with them but the orders remained the same. Once it was the elderly Field-Marshal Earl Roberts, going with Norton Griffiths to Salisbury. Despite rainswept, skid-prone roads, they drove down at an almost unbroken 60 m.p.h. when clear of the London traffic. As usual, the great car rocked and swayed on a suspension designed for more sedate speeds. At Basingstoke they had a violent blowout. Later they ploughed over soft ground and damaged the crankcase. When the time came to go home, Lord Roberts had contrived to leave his host behind and travel alone. ‘Now, chauffeur,’ he said very earnestly, ‘I want you to drive me back slowly.’ For Excel, it was a rare experience.

“The rear of the car carried luxurious upholstery, a large table, silk blinds, and a duplicate speedometer intended to warn the owner of too much speed and used now only to warn of too little. Despite so much comfort, Norton Griffiths would sit alert and unrelaxed, calling commands down a speaking-tube and swearing at vehicle drivers and pedestrians who forced the Rolls to slacken speed. ‘Cow’s son’ was his commonest curse, shouted with such furious volume that few dared to answer back.”

Our correspondent adds: Norton Griffiths was a Major in 2nd King Edward’s Horse during the First World War. It also mentions in the book that he asked the War Office to buy the Rolls-Royce for his own use. A War Office official promptly telephoned his wife, Gwladys – the legal owner – and arranged the sale for £750. The car, a 1911 model, was disbodied by a shell but survived the war and was known to be running in the ‘thirties. Does anyone remember it, or the Major himself?