Cars in books, July 1985

Apart from its intrinsic interest the “War Diaries of Harold Macmillan” (Macmillan, 1984), covering the politics and war in the Mediterranean from 1943 to 1945, have a number of references to cars and aeroplanes which are unexpected and therefore a pleasing surprise. Although the famous author reminds his wife, Lady Dorothy Macmillan, that he is ignorant of motoring and mechanics, and some of his descriptions of parts of the aeroplanes he flew in may raise a smile among aviation experts, he names almost all the machines he flew in while serving the Prime Minister as Minister Resident at Allied Headquarters in NW Africa and the exciting flights he had in some of them. They ranged from Taylorcraft, Fairchild and Cherokee to Bostons, Liberators, Douglas DC3, Expeditor, Flying Fortress, Blenheim, Lockheed Loadstar, etc, and Macmillan was granted his own Mitchell B25 by Churchill. In 1943 Macmillan was flown out from England in a Hudson and in taking off from Algiers bound for Cairo in it the pilot overshot the runway in trying to abort because of a problem and the Hudson crashed and caught fire, putting Macmillan in hospital. He describes that in some detail, which makes interesting reading. As for cars, he at first had a fine Buick driven by a corporal and flying the Union Jack, with a corporal on a motorcycle to precede it, and later a RollsRoyce was obtained for a visit to the pyramids. One imagines the Buick was of the kind favoured before the war by HRH the Prince of Wales. Unfortunately the cars used in Italy are not named but there is a photograph showing what looks to be a very fine Lancia(?) used by Churchill and Archbishop Damaskinos in Athens and Macmillan refers to going out in the Ford V8 of General Alexander, a closed model cut down to make an open car. There is also a picture of the Austin Six saloon used by HM King George VI in Malta in the summer of 1945. Apart from the inevitable jeeps, some used sans windscreens, by 1945 Macmillan was using a Humber and at the end of the campaign he took a Daintier, which did Naples to Rome in three hours.

In an earlier book, “Winds Of Change-1914-1939” (Macmillan & Co, 1966), Harold Macmillan has an interesting reference to going, at the time of the 1926 General Strike in this country, to his constituency, Stockton-on-Tees, as recommended by the Prime Minister, and being driven by his friend and neighbour, Leonard RoPner, Member for Sedgfield, up to Teesside “in an open car at great speed”. This must surely have been Ropner’s 30/98 Vauxhall “Silver Arrow”, which he raced at Brooklands and which was a familiar sight in the House of Commons car-park? Years later I Ult.-viewed Col Sir Lionel Ropner, Bt, for Motor Sport (May 19,8, pp 393-396) at his estate at Thorp Perrow in Yorkshire.

From this book we learn that when Macmillan went to Russia in 193200 study conditions there, cars were provided for him, although not then in very general use, one of which was a large Lincoln, and that the truck factory near Nizhni-Novgorod, reached then over very bad roads, intended for a production 140,000 trucks a year, was at that time said tube producing only about 20,000 a year. — W.B.

From “So Much Love” (Hutchinson, 1984) we learn that the afictress and TV star Beryl Reid is not only a keen driver but learnt to in a Piper Cherokee. Her passion for cars, she explains, goes oack to childhood but the cars named as having been owned by her carare a Lancia Fulvia Zagato, the difficulty of tuning its two carburetters, making it useless for driving into London every day, so it was changed for a BMW, after which she has had nothing but VW Sciroccos, three up the time the book was written, as each one was kept for two years. She also has no use for automatic transmissions.

From Rivonia, S Africa, a reader writes to say he has always been interested in the book references in this feature and sends a note about armoured Rolls-Royce cars being used in action in German Zyittrica now Tanzania), under Capt Goldbert, a Jewish (office, Derie, was new to hint, confirmed in the book “Trekking On” by Deneys Reitz, author of “Commando” and Secretary to General Smuts — W.B.