Cars in books, June 1973

Author

admin

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Some most interesting motoring material is to be found in Quintin Gilbey’s “contented biography”, “Fun Was My Living” (Hutchinson, 1970) although it is mainly about horse-racing, and I am delighted to add it to the list of non-motoring books which refer to Brooklands.

Mr. Gilbey, son of the great wine merchant, says that the family’s carriage horses were replaced by their first car, a 1910 Alldays and Onions, when they moved to Twyford in Buckinghamshire. The salesman said it would go at 40 m.p.h., whereupon Gilbey’s father said with some alarm that he didn’t want a fast car, he wanted a slow one. “He got it”, remarks the author dryly.

He recalls how exciting the first London taxis seemed, in an age of over-worked four-wheelers and spanking hansom cabs, three blasts of a commissionaire’s whistle summonsing a motor-cab, two a hansom, one a four-wheeler. During the First World War, while he was home from Eton, the author was taught to drive, so that he could replace the family chauffeur/butler, who was going into the Army. A motorcycle licence was obtained for the young Etonian, in case he was apprehended, as he was too young to drive a car! He was soon driving “the Overland, an open car, and an Austin limousine which bore a resemblance to a sentry-box”. That was in 1915, so these were Edwardian models, not the better known post-war Willys-Overland and Austin Twenty. There is an amusing account of the horror Edwardian parents had of children putting a hand on any part of a car, even a mudguard, in case it caused a serious accident! But this boy of 16 was soon taking his mother from the clothing depot at Winchester to Southampton docks, in connection with her war work for the hospital ships, being careful to obscure the speedometer with parcels, so that his passenger would not know the true speed. The Overland was even driven by young Gilbey to M’tutor’s at Eton, in this heavily petrol-rationed period.

Later in 1921/22, he encountered the gallant war-time Renault taxis in Paris—”Old scarlet boxes on decrepit wheels, they were incredibly uncomfortable and slower than the hansom cabs they had supplemented. . . .”

Back in London in 1923, Gilbey bought his first car, while working at Barclays Bank in the Strand. It was a “hideous little yellow affair, with a painted backside” and “was the most unsatisfactory car that can ever have reached our shores from France”—a 7.5 h.p. Citroen. It had been bought on hire-purchase but Gilbey had to give someone a fiver to take it away—very different, as he points out, from the elegance, speed, stamina, etc., of modern Citroëns. His parents had been against this first motoring transaction but sportingly provided a down-payment on a “snub-nosed” Morris-Cowley to replace it. This “proved as reliable as the Citroën had proved unreliable, and though as the result of my driving it full-out it developed a rattle, which suggested it was about to fall to pieces, I cannot recall that it ever let me down”.

As the author became a horse racing journalist he flew on charter flights with the great jockeys, who were treated even better than top racing drivers, it seems. There is also reference to “a big plane, painted dark blue”, which cruised at 80 m.p.h. and took approx. 2-1/2 hours for the regular Paris-Croydon flight in 1923 or earlier—probably an Instone Airways’ DH?

Motoring was a bit more sophisticated by 1930, when the author drove across the desert from Suez to Cairo, while returning to England in the Ranpura, but in what make of car isn’t disclosed. The year previously Quintin Gilbey had motored “the 500 miles from Biarritz in a single day, leaving my car in Paris and flying on to London”, to ride in a 1-1/2-mile race at Lewes. This was probably in the “flashy green and red Delage” which he afterwards used in London—it is a sobering thought that cars which, today, would be the cosseted property of keen VSCC members, were expected, when new, to play the same practical part and offer satisfactory everyday transport to non-enthusiasts as our 1973 cars.

The reference to Brooklands (another one for the Brook!ands Society to chalk up!) concerns Quintin Gilbey’s only experience of motor racing—”I was completely out of my depth.” When, staying with Tim (Sir Henry) Birkin for the weekend, he went with him to the Track “when he was driving Dorothy Paget’s vast green Bentley in the long-distance event”, I imagine that Dorothy Paget’s horse-racing interests had drawn Gilbey and Birkin together. The occasion was obviously the 1932 BRDC British Empire Trophy Race, because the author says “John Cobb driving a Delage, won from George Eyston”, and that “Tim’s car conked out early in a race which seemed to go on for ever”. It is true that the Bentley retired, with a cracked cylinder block, but it was not green, and the race which seemed interminable to Gilbey was of 100 miles and over in less than an hour!

Incidentally, at the time Birkin is described as being involved with Sylvia Ashley, one of the house party. Many attractive women feature in “Fun Was My Living”, including June, of Cochran revue fame, who married Lord Inverclyde. But “in the early ‘twenties Babe Barnato, the wealthy racing motorist, was her constant companion”, at about the time Doris Delavigne attracted much attention, assisted by her Rolls-Royce. She was then the girl-friend of the Canadian financier and race-horse owner Sir Mike Edgar, in case anyone owns that particular R-R today. A reference to Laddie Sandford winning the Grand National on Sergeant Murphy gives a hint as to why Felix Scriven called his racing Austin Twenty by that name.

Brooklands may have had some influence on Quintin Gilbey, because “a few weeks later I turned in my Delage for a Speed 6 Bentley”, to impress the current girl-friend. He bought it through Birkin but it was not a success. The tyres were down to the canvas, the steering was very heavy, it developed a terrifying wheel wobble at 70 m.p.h., gave only ten m.p.g. (although cheap petrol being 1/ – a gallon, the tank could be filled for a pound) and “it consumed oil at approximately the same rate as petrol”.

The Bentley, not surprisingly, was exchanged for a Humber Snipe through the author’s old friend, Sir Arthur Pilkington, and later swopped for a Chrysler, “which proved the most satisfactory car I ever owned”. This was presumably not long before the Second World War and so it would probably be one of the ribbon-radiator sixes. Gilbey blames his wife for these “cumbersome vehicles”, as they had to have room for all her luggage and nanny and child, but they were “over-bodied and swung so violently rounding corners that my passengers were often sick”! He was using the Chrysler on the outbreak of World War Two.

Soon after he had joined up Gilbey was involved, as front-seat passenger, in a very nasty blackout car accident. After the war, again a sporting journalist, he obtained a new Morris Ten, selling it for a profit of £75 three years later. There are references to the poor driving of the Aly Khan and Lord Beaverbrook (one wonders what was the make of “his elderly car” which he used in Nassau and the gear-change of which defeated him when bottom was called for on the road up to his house?). Altogether, a most interesting autobiography.

There are several references to early motor vehicles and aeroplanes in “A Countryman Looks Back” by L. D. Manners, which concerns life in the Wiltshire village of Minety. Copies are available for £2.20 post free from his son, who, incidentally, is rebuilding a Crossley-Bugatti. The address is Coobe’s Farmhouse, Minety, Near Malmesbury, Wilts. Most of these references refer to motoring in pre-World War One days, including mention of oil engines of those times, but there is a memory of a very tall Major who had one of the first Austin 7s and, later, a Hillman straight-eight, “one of the best cars on the road at that time”. [No comment!— Ed]. Descriptions of early motorcycles, the author’s first one having been a 1908/10 5-h.p. four-cylinder, presumably an FN, bought in Cirencester for £5 and soon replaced by a 1-1/2 h.p. Singer (H. O. King of Oxford being a prolific supplier of cheap motorcycles in the 1920s) and “the Model-T Ford are included, although not all this material is original. The book is full of excellent black-and-white line drawings by the author.

You may also like

Related products