Cars in Books, March 1969
From “Old Maids Remember”, by Angela Du Maurier (Peter Davies, 1966), we are reminded of the time when it was possible to drive to Oxford Street in a pony cart, “through all the most hair-raising traffic of the day (i.e., horse-buses, private broughams and later the occasional car)”, and wind the reins round a convenient lamp post while you shopped. “We had no car until 1911”, the author reminds us, “when we blossomed forth with two old snapshots show a curious-looking Rolls-Royce and an even stranger Ford”. So here was a family enjoying the extremes of motoring at one and the same time! The pony cart was kept as well but in 1915, after taking his wife twice round Regent’s Park in his Studebaker, Du Maurier told her to drive home, to Chorleywood. In remembering the horse-drawn days Angela Du Maurier says that “landaus compared favourably with the Rolls and Jaguars of today. The closed brougham was nor quite so exciting, more in the Wolseley and Rover class!”
Later in the book, enthusing over foreign travel, preferably driving her own car, she says she is not envious “because I run a Morris 1000 instead of the Mercedes which I would prefer. . . .” Perhaps she changed this later, for there is reference to a journey to the Dolomites via boat and train. . . . “the dirt which covered the poor little Mini on arrival at Innsbruck decided us against doing the same thing again. . . .” Incidentally, the most irritating drive the author ever made was from Cornwall to Southampton in 1964 on a summer Saturday, which occupied from 8 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. with never “a bite or a hedge” all the way.
There is no motoring worth recording in “America at Last” by T. H. White (Putnam’s, New York, 1965), but it was most enjoyable after I had waited six months for the local library to get hold of a copy. Those interested in the internal air-lines of America may be intrigued by the journeys White made, in the course of three months’ lecture tour, which can be summarised thus:
Albany-Boston : Turbojet.
Boston-New York : Rather tatty four-engined, triple-rudder Constellation of Eastern Airways; 193 miles in about an hour, at 10,000 feet.
New Jersey-Raleigh : An oily old DC-8; 500 miles or so in about two hours, at 14,000 feet.
Raleigh-Charlotte : Super Electra; 130 miles at 11,000 feet.
Charlotte-Washington : Super Electra, at 13,000 feet.
Washington International-Elkins : Ancient unpressurised DC-3 (Dakota) of Lake Central Air Line, via landing at Martinsburg, at about ceiling of D.H. Moth that White used to fly; some 200 miles.
Elkin-Pittsburgh : Another Dakota, with three stops en route, one at Benedum. (Car cemeteries bigger than human ones.)
Pittsburgh-Philadelphia : (Two ham sandwiches and two cokes for White and his 18-year-old girl secretary cost 14s.) Radar-equipped T.W.A. Super-G Constellation, at 11,000 feet. Say 420 miles. (“I don’t like these Constellations—their three small tail-fins and somehow fishlike fuselage: But they are sumptuous inside.”)
Philadelphia-Buffalo : United Airlines’ Viscount, via stop at Rochester; 300 m.p.h. at 12,000 feet for about 400 miles.
Buffalo-Chicago : Electra 2, at 18,000 feet, in 1½ hours; about 475 miles at approx. 320 m.p.h.
Chicago-San Francisco : American Airways’ Boeing 990 Astrojet; 2,300 miles at 31,000 feet and 600 m.p.h. Entry by covered ramp, oxygen masks for emergency, four lavatories,
San Francisco-Los Angeles : (Taxis in San. F. old—”and all the better for that”.) United Boeing 720 jet, at 29,000 feet, after late start due to pressurisation trouble. About 370 miles.
Los Angeles-Las Vegas : T.W.A. Convair at 29,000 feet, for 242 miles. Return the same way.
Los Angeles-Portland : Western Airlines Boeing 720 jet at 35,000 feet for 879 miles. (First class interior—White notes vase of artificial flowers and thinks about this. He also says, “Yawn as you descend in a jet and the massive thunder of its engines recreates itself in your ears. At the real moment of descent it rumbles”.)
Portland-Spokane : Northwest Orient DC-7, 339 miles. (Lavatory door labelled in Oriental characters.)
Seattle-San Francisco : Boeing 720, six miles up, at 600 m.p.h. for 1,329 miles.
San Francisco-Salt Lake City : DC-8; 627 miles., mostly in 10/10ths cloud.
Salt Lake City-Illinois : Boeing 720 jet; 1,290 miles in 14 hr. 40 min.
(Train back to Chicago) Chicago-Pittsburgh : Boeing 720 jet, delayed by bad weather over West Coast, six miles up.
Pittsburgh-Columbus : Constellation, at 4,000 feet, approx. 150 miles in about 45 minutes. Over cloud, pilots’ warning out.
Columbus-Cincinnati : 1946 Convair 240, at 8,000 feet, for, say, 100 miles. Ovens switched off at take-off. Pilot and co-pilot eat different meals, in case of food poisoning!
Cincinnati-Atlanta : Delta Airlines’ Convair, about 400 miles, with two stops.
Atlanta-New Orleans : Delta Airlines’ DC-8, about 400 miles, at 27,000 feet. Delays and luggage lost.
(Two weeks in hospital), New Orleans-Dulles : DC-8, “rather an old one”; 966 miles.
(Train back to New York) New York-Boston : Mohawk Airlines’ elderly Convair Bumpy.
The rest was done by train. White says “All these distances are a guess. It was agony. It was worth it. Conversation in a train, as Carol stares drearily at a ticket which has N.Y., N.H. & H.R.R. printed on it: “What can that last H stand for?” “Hell.” If you are going to America, try to read this book.
Fiction is less rewarding than biography and autobiography in these researches, but Volkswagen enthusiasts may care to tell me whether or not there are errors in respect of the VWs referred to in that well-told American spy story “The Kilroy Gambit”, by Irwin R. Blacker (Cassell, 1960). I read it that the VW mentioned on page 101 of the British edition is given four doors, which would make it a very special and conspicuous VW indeed, but re-reading the paragraph it seems another car is intended. And later, Dr. Williamson is quoted as having a shelf under the dashboard of his VW, which means he had fitted one bought from a speed-shop, perhaps?
It is amusing to find in “The Day It Rained Forever”, by Ray Bradbury (Rupert Hart-Davis, 1966), that the old lady musician in the first story arrives at an outback shack in “a Kissel car, vintage 1924. . .”—W. B.