Second Childhood

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The other day I was transported back to childhood, when a reader sent for our perusal a copy of “The Wonder Book of Motors,” published by Ward Lock & Co., around the year 1927—because this book, read in conjunction with another more technical treatise, taught me an early appreciation of things motoring around the age of 13. I remember as if it were yesterday this fat tome, with golden cover depicting four schoolchildren enjoying the delights of open-air seaside motoring in a cross between a Morris and a Gwynne, and a cartoon story of gnomes having motor disasters on the inside covers. And did not the colour-frontispiece show a sort of Talbot-Darracq or Sunbeam racer in full cry at a speed hill-climb ?—although an older eye might have wondered whether a passenger would have been carried on such an occasion.

Edited by Harry Golding, P.R.G.S., this wonderful wonder book had pictures galore and not very informative articles, most of them by Cecil H. Waterlow, on subjects like “Aristocrats of the Road,” “Family and Touring Cars,” “Light Cars and Babies,” “The Friendly Omnibus in Town and Countryside,” “What Car Was That ?” and so on.

More children were encountered, picnicking beside a 7/17 Jowett tourer, on the fly-leaves, and an Overland tourer was seen steeplechasing over some ramps, probably to the detriment of its transverse springs! I was very envious, and still am, of a child in a scale-model which looks like an Austin (it bore Reg. No. HC 161) and of two more kids, who surprisingly didn’t look particularly happy, in one of those working Miniature Cadillac’s, said to do 16 m.p.h.

Some of the numerous illustrations were hand-out pictures, notably from John I. Thornyeroft and General Motors, the latter’s depicting smart Buicks, a make I knew to have very efficient, if contracting, front-wheel-brakes, even in those days. These pictures showed cars in natural surroundings, a practice which is dying out, presumably because there is now so much traffic it is never possible to pause for photography, or because it is deemed much more fun to hire model girls and drape them round the cars.

Some of these pictures arc splendidly period, such as an 11/22 Wolseley at Dulwich Old Toll Gate, a big 6-cylinder Wolseley tourer at Morecambe Bay, and a 16/35 Wolseley at Alton Towers. In the recognition section such unlikely cars as a 40-h.p. sports Fiat on Hampstead Heath, a 15.7-h.p. Itala a 12/40 Metallurgique and an O.M. Six saloon are included; commercial vehicles are much in evidence, from Gwynne 8 fire-engine to Leyland Lion Crosville No. 250 ‘bus at Chester. And there is a Garford truck taking the Oxford crew’s boats to the water. A General Strike picture shows two 30/98 Vauxhalls, a Delage, a 3-litre Sunbeam. a 3-litre Bentley, a 25-h.p. Talbot and a Lancia Lambda outside Scotland Yard; and a 20/70 Daimler in the middle of a completely deserted main road recalls the traffic-free conditions of forty years ago.

I suppose most of the wayside landmarks included in the chapter on “Village and Other Signs” have long since vanished, but I did learn that Chertsey Bridge, which I cross frequently on visits to the office, was built in 1780.

There is one intriguing point. In explaining the niceties of car recognition, Harold Johnson remarked that the radiator shape was not infallible, because “I know a man who greatly admired the ‘works’ of the Vauxhall car but disliked its radiator and bonnet design, so he bought a Vauxhall and had a Napier radiator fitted.” Now I would have thought that pure romancing, had I not encountered some old cars in a basement below Euston Reid some years ago and found that their radiators had been changed in this very manner. . . .

Waterlow stated that the whole World owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Charles Y. Knight, the inventor of the silent sleeve-valve engine, which is now used on all Daimlers, Panhards and Minervas, and on a few other makes, because, before the coming of his invention, almost all cars, with the exceptions of Rolls-Royces and Napiers. were appallingly noisy”; he further championed the sleeve-valve by quoting a Willys-Knight which went from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, 888 miles, entirely in top gear. I was far more intrigued by the picture of a small boy blowing up the cylinder of his sporting compressed-air-driven single-seater! . Waterlow was very warm in his praise of the Baby Austin, of which he had had considerable experience. Steam enthusiasts would like the picture of the Super-Sentinel all-enclosed passenger bus (NT 4950), and altogether this excellent childrens’ book is stuffed with nostalgia. It reminds me that some years before I encountered it I was given another lavish volume explaining how a car worked; by reading new-car descriptions in The Autocar in conjunction with it I was able to understand automobile engineering long before I served my articled engineering apprenticeship to the game. The title of this book escapes me but I remember being enthralled with the separately-mounted colour plates, not realising that they had been “borrowed” from the Rolls-Royce, Napier and Daimler catalogues of the time.—W.B.