Cars in books, January 1970

THIS long-running feature has been primarily concerned with chance references to cars in the older books, but the thing must be catching, because I have received a copy of the newly published “More Than a Match”, by Chester Barnes, the young table tennis champion (Stanley Paul, 1969), together with a note from its Editor suggesting that I might like to lock at certain pages containing references to cars. The first one deals with a Lotus Elite which the Young player describes as “the lowest-built and noisiest car I’d ever seen”, which On the occasion in question had apparently been driven fast enough for the police to be looking for it, and in an arrogant manner through a holiday camp by another well-known player. There is mention of Ian Harrison’s new Triumph Spitfire, in which a tin of maggots, left in the boot on a hot day following a fishing expedition, hatched out as a swarm of buzzing bluebottles. A primitive aeroplane in Nigeria, refuelled front churns through a big funnel, is referred to, a six-seater biplane Which could have been a DI-I Dragon, although the make is not named, but at about this time the author’s ground transport was provided by a 150 Vespa scooter, which I am disgusted to learn was equipped with brads of “mod:” gear including 45 lamps, 20 At the front and 25 at the hack. This craze apparently vanished literally overnight, in every “mod.” camp in London . . .

At the opposite extreme, Barnes admits to being frightened the first time he went as a passenger in ‘a new Jaguar E-type at 140 m.p.h. along the M2, when he had not previously been over 80 m.p.h. The fact that he had been eating crab sandwiches and cream cakes did not help and ruined a match played immediately after the drive, but so safe does an E-type feel that Barnes admits he went to sleep at 120 m.p.h. in the rain on the journey home. This was before the 70 m.p.h. speed limit, incidentally.

There was a visit to the Rover works where a tournament was played, when Barnes was surprised to see vast numbers of the then new 2000s parked in fields surrounding the Solihull factory, He counted 26 cars parked outside the main office building, of which only four were Rovers, and contrasts this with a visit to the Saab works at Slough to collect a new gearbox with a friend who ran One; there they found nine cars, eight of which were Saabs and the ninth a Ford Zephyr with a flat tyre . . .

Finally, Chester Barnes comes to his birthday, and at the age of 19 buys a car. He would have been a Customer for an MG Midget or Triumph Spitfire if the insurance premiums had not been so “crazy”, hut was forced to shop for a saloon. He thought first of a Mini but decided they “looked like tea-caddies on wheels”. He then decided to get a Morris 1100 but a persuasive salesman made hint have a Vauxhall Viva, which “never missed a beat and nothing ever went wrong” in 20,000 miles. As there was Only £8 in the bank after the purchase tuning had to be confined to an adhesive numberplate and an 18-inch-wide red stripe down the middle of the car. The player with the Spitfire had changed it for a new Triumph TR4, which will please several of our readers, with wood-rim steering wheel and an extra instrument panel. Barnes changed a Brabham-Viva in 1968 for an MG-B—”No luggage Space, but no tin roof either.” He reckons it will be about 1998 before he goes back to closed-car motoring, adding “I try not to think about the insurance”.

In “Memories of a Gamekeeper” by T. W. Turner (Geoffrey 131es, 1954) which tells of the shooting over Elveden from 1868 to 1953 there is an interesting reference to the Citroen Kegress, affectionately known as “The Caterpillar”, which the late Lord Iveagh bought after the first World War for use on the estate. It is described as a wonderful machine, used by the Earl to move himself about when out shooting and later for taking Guns to their plates and for moving beaters.

It would go anywhere, says the author, “I believe it would almost have climbed a tree had we asked it.” The reason why gates on the extensive system of gates on the Elveden estate were painted white is said to date from the evening when the French chauffeur employed by Lord Iveagh was driving Sir William Dunn, Bt. home to Lakenheath from a shoot and ran clean through a stout oak gate which blocked the road near Pigsty Corner. The heavy vehicle withstood the shock and completed the journey but the chauffeur’s comment “black gate no good” led to it being replaced by a white gate. I find myself wondering if this car could have been the 1902 16 h.p. de Dietrich racer which I discovered, endowed with a closed body, at Lord Iveagh’s Woking estate in 1941 and which Francis Hutton-Stott later restored? The book contains two plates showing three cars at shoots in 1901 and 1903, the Prince of Wales being present in both cases but it would take a Dennis Field to identify them. The Introduction is by the late Capt. H. W. Bunbury, who frequently shot over the estate and who went to several pre-1914 motor races, about which he has written articles for me.—W.B.