Book reviews, June 1973, June 1973

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Private Car Collections of Great Britain

by Peter Hugo. 207 pp. 9-3/4 in. x 7 in. (Dalton Watson Ltd., 76, Wardour Street, London. W4V 4AN. £4.50.)

This book is of the highest quality, as have been all Dalton Watson’s motor books, which is very nice at a time when the standards of some publishers have deteriorated. As for the contents, the first impression was that the cost is too high for what new author Hugo offers. The idea of describing great car collections—a symbol of the wealth which still abounds in a Britain we are so often told is impoverished— is a good one but it should, in a book of this price, be comprehensive. The collections covered are those of Bamford, Blight, the Hon. A. Clark, Corner, Corser, Lord Doune, Goddard, Goodman, Griffin, Hampton, Johnson, Bill Cook, Melville-Smith, Millar, Lord O’Neill, Parker, Pilkington„ Sears and Wilkins, with one preferring to be anonymous. A good cross-section, the museum and trade element stirred in, but far from comprehensive.

Some collectors prefer not to indulge in publicity, in case Rates Officers or Inland Revenue Inspectors take an unfriendly interest, and we have therefore not put much in Motor Sport in recent times about concentrated hordes of cars. Hugo has been braver, luckier or more persistent!

The result is a book of which we do not wholly approve, which has its printing errors and loosely-assembled facts, yet we confess we read it at one gulp. Mainly pictorial, photographs of historic and classic cars are captioned to add flavour, and sometimes there are interesting insights into where the wealthy owner lives, keeps his valuable vehicles and why he developed a love of motor cars.

The author, in his preface, expresses regret that collections assembled over a lifetime can be so quickly dispersed by auction after the owner has died, quoting the Smith and Sword collections in this context. This reminds me that I was persuaded to sell my 1914 Alfonso Hispano-Suiza to Mr. Smith, which I did, for £100, which was what I had spent on repairing and garaging the car some 20 years ago. At the Smith auction the car, scarcely any different from when I last saw it. fetched £5,200. I do not regret this, especially as it had been very generously given to me, so it would have been unethical to have done a grab-grab with it. But it seems a pity enthusiasts in perpetuity cannot be found to retain collections of cars after these have been built up.

Peter Hugo’s book is interesting, especially in respect of the Team Bentleys and SS Mercedes-Benz which remain, at a time when fabulous prices are paid for replicas of the former and we are told that the latter can only be acquired by assembling spare parts— for example, there is Anthony Bamford’s blower-4-1/2 Bentley, S. E. Sears’ sister car, Clark’s 38/250 SS, Hampton’s 36/220 S-type, Meredith-Owen’s 38/250 SS and Lord O’Neill’s 38/250 SSK Mercedes-Benz.

Rolls-Royce and Ferrari seem to predominate. It is nice to meet again the Lycett 8-litre Bentley and, having admired the Morris brothers’ Morris Sports replica I was interested to be reminded that Griffin has an original 1922 Morris-Cowley Sports. Interesting, too, to find a “mislaid” 1915 Mercedes 22/50 in Johnson’s collection. The book concludes with some exquisite model cars, but these are out of place, being those of a commercial model-maker and, anyway, model-car collections deserve a book to themselves. The foreword is by A. F. Rivers-Fletcher and there is a colour frontispiece of a 1964 Ferrari GTO.—W.B.