Cars in books, January 1994

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Those readers who saw the BBC TV programme: “K: Kenneth Clark 1903-1963” should need no encouragement to read his book Diaries (Weidenfeld & Nicolson — The Orton Publishing Group Ltd. 1993, £20.00), described as a book that will send a wave of terror through the House of Commons and which is so up to date that it covers Lady Thatcher’s contacts with him, to the end of her term as PM, etc. From the motoring angle this column is well provided for. The Hon Alan Clark, multi-millionaire, owner of four houses, notably Saltwood Castle in Kent and Eriboll, his much-loved residence in Scotland, also loves good motor-cars.

They are listed as the SS100 he had owned since his undergraduate days, the 1919 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost about which he wrote a long piece for Motor Sport long years ago and drove recently in the re-enactment of the 1913 Alpine Rally, the Porsche he uses when “going solo”, a 2CV Citröen, a vintage 4-1/2-litre Bentley and a 1908 chain-drive Locomobile. In addition to these, Clark has raced his C-type and XK120 Jaguars at Goodwood and for holidays with his family he uses a Citröen convertible owned by his wife Jane. In this remarkable book, quite rightly described by the Mail on Sunday as “unputdownable”, Clark pays us the compliment of saying that House of Commons private papers were often a fearful bore, keeping him from reading the latest copy of Motor Sport, though he is seen looking at another motor journal in the film. . .

This exciting book tells, among so many intriguing things, of a visit in his old Chevrolet to the 1984 Beaulieu Autojumble and his stay afterwards with Lord Montagu — Alan describes every single person involved with the Classic car trade as a “businessman — i. e. all-purpose liar, cheat and con artist” — and was surprised to discover that very few of Edward Montagu’s employees got His Lordship’s name right or used his title. . . Continuing through the book, we learn that at Christmas 1972 Alan Clark bought a Dodge Command-car as a present, with which they played at Saltwood, and you will find one of the finest descriptions ever of the pleasures of driving a light, open R-R Ghost on country roads. There are some revealing asides, too, about Jack Fairman, Stirling Moss, Fangio, and Sir Jack Brabham, as Clark remembers them and as he sees them now in advancing age. He is honest about his only accident, back in 1966, in a 3-1/2-litre Bentley, for which old Lord Margadale fined him £450. And although a one time Minister of the Crown, he has sensible views about speed limits and there is a nice little cameo on out-accelerating a blonde in a BMW (ANY I) from the Princes Gate traffic-lights in the SS100 and “still, forty years on, getting that wonderful evocative thrill as I settle into the driving seat and look down the long louvred bonnet. As the lights turn amber the faithful SS, always unbeatable for the first 50 feet from a standing-start, yelped the racing diamond tread of its 18-inch wheels, and was off — the BMW was nowhere.” Clark also claims to have cruised the Porsche at 140 mph on the M20. And he tells me he remembers my pre-war dash from London to John O’Groats in a 4-1/4-litre Bentley and hopes to emulate it one midsummer night in his 4-1/2-litre Bentley. How can you possibly resist a book by an author with views like these? In fact, I was encouraged to read two more of the Hon Alan Clark’s works (his Aces High, about war over the Western Front in 1914/18 I reviewed on publication), namely, The Donkeys, which exposes the terrible mistakes committed by the Generals, resulting in the “murder” of soldiers of the BEF in 1915, and “A Good Innings”, the private papers of Viscount Lee PG, GCSI, GBE, of Fareham, who gave “Chequers” to the Nation, which Clark edited. Rolls-Royce historians will find therein mentions of the limousine of this make which Lord Haig was lent by a wealthy banker and in which he rode up and down the front at Ypres in October 1914 with two clerks sitting on the roof with their type-writers, and of the Rolls-Royce which William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate, had at Simeon Castle in America in 1932. W B

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