Cars in Books, January 1968

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Having last month reviewed the biography of T. H. White, in which his closest friend David Garnett is referred to, it seems appropriate to look at the cars in the third volume of Garnett’s autobiography, “The Golden Echo,” namely, “The Familiar Faces” (Chatto & Windus, 1962). In this there is passing reference to chasing fire balloons sent up in the gloaming from Hilton Hall with Garrow Tomlin (killed flying) “in his fast Lagonda car.” That would have been in 1929. In 1932 Garnett went to America to do some research for a book about Red Indians and one of the cart used for the tour was Mina Curtiss’ “big Franklin.” Other cars mentioned are the Ford used by the author to go to the South of France in the winter of 1931, so that one wonders whether it was a Model-T or Model-A (it had a luggage grid on the back), White’s S.S., as quoted last month, a film company’s Rolls-Royce, and the Austin 7 his wife used in Ireland in 1939. These are just brief encounters but more interesting is the information that in the summer of 1924 Garnett used “a Morris Cowley two-seater which I had just bought second-hand from Alec Penrose” (it was in this car that he and his wife found their house, Hilton Hall, near Huntingdon), that they went in the summer of 1927 to Yorkshire to watch the total eclipse of the Sun in a Sunbeam, in which they drove through the night from Huntingdon and slept in at Kettlewell, while there is a description of being driven by a lady friend “in a big Sunbeam over the Lambourn Downs, taking me along the byroads and through the hamlets she loved, into Hampshire.” The destination was a party on a yacht moored in Southampton Water, and the Sunbeam had some difficulty, on the run home, in negotiating snow-bound lanes near Lambourn Downs“The very tracks of the tyres deeply bitten into the snow were astonishingly beautiful.”

Mainly, however, the interest centres, for me, around the flying that is described, from going in a Short Sunderland flying boat to cross-country flying in the mid-‘thirties in a 45 h.p. Klemm-Salmson with one magneto, bought for £180 from Prof. Udny Yule of Trinity, not forgetting a charter flight from Stag Lane in a D.H. Puss Moth and formation flying in Puss Moths. Garnett’s book about how he was taught to fly, on side-by-side-seater Blackburn Bluebirds and later on tandem-seater D.H. Moths, under the title of “A Rabbit in the Air” (Chatto & Windus, 1931; New Phoenix Library, 1951) is it classic in its own right, which all enthusiasts for light aeroplanes should endeavour to read, while Garnett’s fictional story of an unsuccessful long-distance record flight behind a Napier Lion engine “The Grasshoppers Come,” was called by T. E. Lawrence “The first account of real flying by a real writer who can really fly”W. B.