Cars in Books , January 1969

There is a good deal about T. E. Lawrence’s love of speed and his Brough Superior motor cycles in “T. E. Lawrence—Letters to his Biographers” by Robert Graves and Liddell Hart (Cassell, 1963). Most of this has appeared elsewhere, so I will not quote it here. But there is one rather interesting item. It refers to Lawrence, as T. E. Shaw, going to the 1929 London Motor Show with George Bernard Shaw. G.B.S. is said to have chosen a half-crown entrance day and to have arrived in a 1923 Vauxhall “that he has put in a ditch several times, so that it only steered one way”. G.B.S. is described as a “dashing driver” and was said to be “hesitating between Lanchester and Bentley”. (I think he settled eventually for a Straight-eight Lanchester.)

Some fascinating motoring references occur in a rather odd book, “A Pot of Smoke”, by R. M. Lockley (Harrap, 1940), kindly sent to us by a reader. In this autobiography the author tells of how he acquired Alexander’s Motor School in London for £40 in the very early days, and of how, while running this business, he bought a second-hand Boyer from Friswell’s with a noisy gearbox and exhaust, “which had been condemned by Scotland Yard” (presumably it was a taxi), which he “overhauled . . . put on a longer exhaust and crammed the silencer with wire-netting . . . put lead-filings in the gearbox . . . it passed the police-trial like a purring cat” (the word “overhauled” is amusing in this context, but what was this police noise test?). A Dr. Smith was to have bought the car for £100, a profit of £40, but on a trial run to Ripley and beyond the n/s front wheel came off, demolishing a tricycle which an old man was riding ahead of the Boyer. The car was repaired, and sold for 100 guineas.

There is also an account of a Gladiator being demonstrated to a retired Maida Vale chemist, which shed its gearbox at Chertsey, and a number of other motoring incidents, although the only other make named is a Daimler, which was being prepared for a titled lady purchaser. The garage fetched £150 when the author emigrated to Canada.

From that very readable book, “A Nose For Money”, by Douglas Collins (Michael Joseph, 1963), which is the story of how the author founded the perfumery firm of Goya in 1936 with a bank loan of £50 and capital amounting to £4 3s. 5d., and sold out in 1960 for £1½ million, incidentally paying £6,800,000 in taxation during this period, we learn that his first car was a 1921 Humber bought for £5 in 1929/30. Mr. Collins taught himself to drive in it and used it when he was travelling in paint for Rylands, of Balsall Heath. He sold it on leaving Birmingham, but not before trying a home-brewed polish on it, with disastrous results. Later, while he was engaged to a daughter of the Loebl family, there was a drive from London to their house at Chenies, near Rickmansworth, in Mr. Loebl’s large Daimler . . . “The car was smooth and silent, the chauffeur drove well . . .” Thus does one learn the make of car favoured in the 1930s by the founder of the Stockbrokers, Shaw Loebl & Co., who was also a director of Brown’s Hotel.

In 1932, after starting his first business precariously making Aurex haircream, the author bought “a large and very old Sunbeam tourer”. It cost £11. “Whenever it was not raining I always drove it with the hood down and the back windscreen proudly erect. We drove round North London replacing damaged haircream.” This Sunbeam had to be repaired from time to time, but was kept at least until 1934.

After various vicissitudes the author had got Goya off the ground and in 1945/46 joined the Chelsea Labour Party, which caused his Conservative friends to ask: “How can you be a Socialist when you own a business and have a new Rover car?” Collins retorted that it did not seem to matter much who owned a business—except to the proprietor, and that he stood for “Rovers for everyone”. (One notes that in subsequent years his eldest son went to Eton, and that by the time he was 39 his firm had bought him a Bentley!) It was presumably a new 1951 model. This book contains items of interest to boating enthusiasts, an interesting reference to “a very famous motor racing driver” who was working smoothly for a company promoter in 1947, and the statement that “most toilet preparations had reached, like that of the bicycle, a level of adequacy which makes any startling advantage for a new product almost impossible to achieve”, which should amuse Alex Moulton . . .—W. B.