Cars in Books, July 1974

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“The Profound Attachment” by Eileen Hunter (Andre Deutsch, 1969) is mainly concerned with the author’s father, who founded the famous Sun Engraving Company, with those well-known premises at Watford in later years. He is described as owning a 1910 Renault which was “pale grey with handsome brass fittings and lamps and an endearing police-helmeted cupid on the bonnet as a mascot, one hand advanced, the other holding a watch”. This mascot was presented to Eileen by her father Edward Hunter in 1937 as a Christmas present. The Renault is further described as “lined with dark blue buttoned leather and her front seat was slightly enlarged after I was born so that I might sit between my parents. She had a front windscreen only„ the box dickey at the back was totally exposed, but I and soy sisters would travel there quite happily, our hair whipping in our faces, our ears and noses pink with cold, entertaining ourselves with songs and—for most part—amiable games, and when it rained merely holding a heavy mackintosh rug above our heads”. (This Renault is described as still existing, in almost roadworthy trim, in 1969.) One of the sisters was Lisba, who married Prince Chula, and the book contains interesting pen-pictures of Chula and Bira, “the racing motorist”.

Just before the Second World War and during it Edward Hunter is described as running, from his Frensham home, a “1926 barrel-bonneted Bentley”, from which I infer that it was probably a Big Six. The author’s grandmother had at this time a chauffeurdriven Rolls-Royce, and another Rolls-Royce mentioned is that of Lord Camrose, who was a family friend, a “sleek black one drawn up in Monte Carlo beside the Dockers’ Daimler, from which one almost expected carnival music as the wheels began to turn beneath the brassy mudguards”.

Incidentally, when I wrote to Eileen Hunter chiding her for not mentioning Brooklands in her book “Christobel Russell” which other wise so splendidly captures the atmosphere of the nineteen-twenties, she sent a charming reply, in which she said that during her gay life as a girl she had been to the famous Track.

From “Queen of the Turf” by Quintin Gilbey (Arthur Barker, 1973), the story of that remarkable millionairess Lady Dorothy Paget, we learn of her love of fast driving, 100 m.p.h. not being uncommon and her secretaries trained in such driving. Her cars are said to have included a supercharged Bugatti, a V12 I.agonda, an XK120 Jaguar (“The Tiddler”) which was her favourite in the 1950s, this being changed for an XK140 Jaguar, a Mk. V Jaguar and a Mk. VII Jaguar (“The Balloon”). There was also a Rolls-Royce “Hilda” which was a 21st birthday present from her father, Lord Queen borough, which, if it were a new car then, would be a 1926 model and therefore presumably a New Phantom, although it may have been much older. It was kept taxed and insured, although unused for many years. Lady Paget had a car, or cars, to follow hers in case of breakdown, one thus used being a Rover.

The book includes a good picture of her in a Bentley with Sir Henry Birkin, Bt. In view of the fact that she disliked any man coming anywhere near her, it is remarkable that Birkin got her to finance his racing team for a time, it is said to the extent of over £40,000, a mere flea-bite compared with her horse-racing and betting expenditure. She apparently met Birkin at Brooklands when she went there on the occasion of the 1929 BRDC 500-Mile Race. She is even said to have raced herself, as “Miss Wyndham”, which perhaps someone will research.

In “The Sun in my Eyes” by Beverley Nichols (Heinemann, 1969), which is just how a travel book should be written if it is to entertain, there is a remarkable account of Donald Campbell having a visitation from his late father, Sir Malcolm, just as he was about to set off to break the Land Speed Record at Lake Eyre in 1964, remarkable not only from the spiritualistic aspect but because Nichols says Donald said his father reminded him of how he felt when his “Bluebird” burst a tyre at Utah on 2-9-35 and ended up “a burnt-out wreck”. The remarkable thing is that I can find no record of this; indeed, if “Bluebird” was burnt out on September 2nd, how was it that the following day Campbell broke the record with the car, exceeding 300 m.p.h. for the first time? Admittedly a tyre caught fire on the first run . . . In fact, what a shocking piece of journalism, Mr. Nichols! It is hard to believe that Donald Campbell “personally checked and corrected the story a few days before his death”, for he knew intimately the history of all his father’s cars. Elsewhere Nichols gives an accolade to Jaguar when, remarking that the Australian painter Paul Jones had such a car, he adds: “and all the things that go with that sort of motor-car”.—W.B.

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