Cars in books, March 1959

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I was induced to wade through ” The Scarlet Tree,” second volume of Osbert Sitwell’s autobiography (Macmillan, 1946), because in the opening volume “Left Hand, Right Hand!” the author promises to refer therein to refer to some of the hot cars of his youth. The reward hardly justified the effort, for although Sitwell recalls a ride with his mother on what he describes as “almost the first service of motor charabancs in England,” which ran between Scarborough and Filey in 1901 or 1902 and confesses to “being a motor addict,” he tells us little of the fine Edwardian motor cars hinted at in his first volume and omits the makes of the few early vehicles he does include. He tells us that in 1903 his grandmother wrote “I think motors such dangerous horrid, odious things and always feel ill for days after I have been in one. Your dear grandfather would have hated them.”  There is an account of early journeys to Lincoln in a petrol wagonette and an unsuccessful attempt by some motor-sharks to sell the author’s father a motor car in 1907, but that is all.

“Felix Walking” by Hilary Ford (Eyre & Spottiswood, 1958, 13s. 6d.), sent to me at the request of the Trojan Owners’ Club, is a light-hearted novel which revolves round the literary world of today, its hero an author called Felix Moors, as seen by his girl friend Zara, and his car a 1921 Trojan Achilles. Having owned a similar car in the form of a 1928 Trojan “Apollo” saloon I was captivated by the description of how Felix finds his Trojan at a motor auction off the Easton Road and buys it for £18 18s. The technicalities are dealt with in the main in such masterly fashion that I was convinced that Hilary Ford had owned a Trojan herself, until, wanting her hero to drive away in his new possession, she makes him swing the engine with a normal front starting handle, supplementary to the interior starting lever but not fitted to any vintage Trojan that I have encountered. The direction indicators, which, failing to work, involve Felix in a court case which makes his reputation in the world of writers, could have been added later in the car’s life, but that front starting handle just doesn’t ring true, which is probably the reason why it wouldn’t start the engine, which Zara gets going eventually with the proper starting lever. It would be interesting to know how Hilary Ford came to make this mistake, and to endow Felix’s Trojan with a driving chain on each side, in view of the fact that she copes correctly with other technicalities of this (for a novelist) obscure make of car.

After reading “Felix Walking” with fair enjoyment I was rather startled to come upon a Trojan in the next book I took up  —  as a matter of fact the Trojan and its own very particular idiosyncrasies were once used as part of the plot in a thriller*, so this becomes the third book to my knowledge that contains reference to Leslie Houndsfield’s ingenious people’s car. It is in S. P. B. Mais “The Happiest Days of My Life” (Max Parrish, 1953) that he explains that his parson father’s first car was a solid-tyred Trojan and continues, “After that they never looked back. They became car-maniacs.” Which leads Mais to remark that he does not enjoy motoring, so that he never drove a car again after selling his Studebaker for £165 in one pound notes, to the first bidder on Brighton Front after leaving the R.A.F. in 1921  —  yet he later lived in a Sussex house called  “Toad Hall! ”  All the more unexpected, therefore, in a non-motorist’s autobiography, are references to his eldest daughter’s Hotchkiss (which could apparently reach 100 m.p.h., at all events on its speedometer), a doctor friend’s Lanchester (not necessarily a vintage model, it could have been a Ten or Fourteen), an Alfa Romeo and reference to an early climb of Corrieyairack, between Fort Augustus and Loch Laggan, by Inglis Ker in a Ford, which someone may care to try today. Indeed, this book may well suggest interesting objectives for adventurous motorists.

Finally, for this month at all events, I find that Ian Fleming brings (fictionally) into “Diamonds Are Forever” not only secret-agent Bond’s vintage Bentley, but an Armstrong Siddeley, a Studebaker hot-rod with Cadillac engine, a Ford, and a Jaguar with an apparently indestructable spot-lamp.

Cars in books seem to be the rule rather than the exception!  —  W. B.

* “The Man in the Dark” by John Ferguson 1926  —  Penguin reprint. 1951.