Cars in Books, July 1977

A reader drew my attention to “You Are Not Sparrows” by Wing/Comdr. J. C. Carr, DFC. It was published by Ian Allen in 1975 but for some reason they did not send me a review copy, which is surprising, because this light-hearted book, describing the author’s very extensive flying experiences from the time he joined the RAF in 1929, learning on Avro 5045, to the war, would interest many of our readers. There is some motoring in this book, namely, mention of the DISS Delage tourer the author enjoyed while posted to Iraq, the cars kept at Lee-on-the-Solent by RAF Officers, and Glen Kidston’s record time from Portsmouth Hard to Hyde Park Corner of 50 minutes, in his 36/220 Mercedes, plus, of course, references to the still-used 1974-vintage Crossley trucks and the Rolls-Royce armoured cars of No.1 Armoured Car Company, RAF. The book abounds in Royal Air Force lore, and if some of its anecdotes sound improbable and some are distinctly pornographic, they no doubt helped along its sales.

What kind of cars a millionaire uses is of general interest but “My Life and Fortunes” by J. Paul Getty (Allen & Unwin, 1964) discloses very little. The oil magnate does recall buying a much used and abused Model-T Ford in 1914 to visit the oil fields out of Tulsa, a car incapable of travelling at more than 35 m.p.h., needing most vigorous cranking to make it commence, and a heavy tramp on both pedals to stop it. By 1916 this had been changed to a new Cadillac roadster. After that, few references to cars appear, although Getty does recall hiring a comfortable Horch limousine in 1927 for a holiday tour from Baden-Baden to Venice and on to Munich and Cortina d’Ampezzo, interesting because this was a rare make, often confused with a Mercedes. In 1956 Mr. Getty drove from Paris to the then Neutral Zone in a large Cadillac, and there is a picture of the American two-seater in which Getty set off from Amsterdam and the Olympic Games in 1927, which someone may be able to identify. There is also a description of Sutton Place, where Getty lives, which is interesting, as I understand that it was while dining there with the Press Baron then in residence that Mr. Locke-King was persuaded to build Brooklands Track.

Then there is much of motoring interest and period drama in “The Burning of Evelyn Forster” by Jonathan Goodman. (As this is a current book, published by David & Charles of Newton Abbot for £5.50, it deserves a full review.) I noted in this column some years ago the motoring connotations of the mysterious death of Evelyn Forster, girl hire-car driver, who was found dying of burns by her burnt-out black 1928 Hudson Super-Six saloon on the lonely moors of Northumberland early in 1931, after reading an account of it in a general crime-book. When I heard that the well-known crime-writer Jonathan Goodman was preparing a book on the case, I was anxious to read it. I have not been disappointed!

His book, apart from giving full details of the possible (unsolved) murder so closely associated with a vintage car, of suggesting a plausible solution, and also exposing the sheer inefficiency of the local Police of that period, covers more than this. In describing the Foster garage and ‘bus business at Otterburn from the early years of the century (Joseph Foster, who started it, had been trained at the Daimler works and had founded his first ‘bus service with a converted Daimler car in 1904, plying between the village and Newcastle market), the author brings in all manner of interesting items, such as the cars and ‘buses of this company, the second-hand American cars, Model T Ford, Buick, Dodge, Overland and Essex used by the daughter, Evelyn, for hire-work, and so on. In the ordinary way would have been delighted to use these as further examples of “cars in books”. But as this is a newly-published book it would be unfair to the author to do so; you must get a copy and enjoy this vintage material for yourselves.

The mystery resolves round such details as the Hudson having a hand-throttle and its gear positions and the book even contains a specification of a Hudson Super Six, presumably from General Motors’ publicity archives I find the suggestion of the engine “running with perfect, smoothness to speeds as high as 5,000 r.p.m.” rather alarming, in view of its splash lubrication and babbit-lined bearings. Incidentally, the Hudson had cost just over £200 in 1930 and was valued at £45 at the time of its demise. Altogether, this is an excellent book, about a very sad happening, although it could do with pictures other than maps and one Police cartoon. But it is full of fascinating little motoring asides. Moreover, it is ripe for the attention of those with Sherlock Holmes’ minds. I would be glad to have any solutions different from the author’s, to send to him. He fails to suggest a possible reason for the near-side door of the Hudson being open when it was examined sometime after being found, whereas only the off-side doors were open when two of Joseph Foster’s ‘bus-crew, seeing the car burning as they were bringing an Albion ‘bus back to the village, rescued the luckless got driver, their boss’ daughter. I suggest that what happened was that her passenger assaulted her knocked her unconscious (or that she fainted) and that he then pushed her into the back cornpartment (he would surely have inflicted more damage to her if he had knocked her over the back of the front seat, as suggested?), and, thinking perhaps that he had killed her and hoping to stage what would appear to be a case of her car accidentally running off the road, set the hand-throttle, directed the car to drive off the road, and jumped out. When he saw that it did not overturn he followed it (the foot mark in the ditch?) and set fire to it, using petrol from the spare tin. The flames made Miss Foster regain consciousness and she staggered out, to collapse in front of the car. He then withdrew but was later attracted back to the scene of the crime. He might have observed the ‘bus crew moving around the car and been worried as to what they would report. Or he might have run too far away. Returning, when he looked in by the open o/s doors and saw no sign of the girl he would panic and perhaps would have opened the front rils door to get a better view in the dark? But why was the petrol tin produced at the inquest first called a Shell call, then a Prates can, if it was scorched at the neck, why hadn’t it exploded, and did Evelyn fire the car herself and, if so, why? Perhaps only Holmes could have provided the answers? That is the kind of mystery this is, and you may well like to try to solve it, should you not agree with Mr. Goodman’s theory. – W.B.