Cars in books, March 1971

There was a most interesting “find” in the recently-published “Being Geniuses Together, 1920-1930” by Robert McAlmon, revised by Kay Boyle (Michael Joseph, 1970). The opening chapter refers to Robert McAlmon’s English father-in-law, Sir John Ellerman, who lived in Audley Street when in London and, in 1920-21, owned a Rolls-Royce and a Lanchester. Sir John, a shipping magnate, is described as “a man who had a monomania for planning his family’s life to the minutest detail—what plays to attend, whom to see and when, what motor runs to take on what day and hour…”

The interesting reference comes when both his cars are in use for a journey to Eastbourne. Lady Ellerman rode in the Lanchester, Sir John in the Rolls-Royce, along with guests and: “The Lanchester had a roll which upset her Ladyship, and her Ladyship upset was something formidable, as I realised full blast over the weekend”. Unfortunately, we are not told whether both were post-war models, or one or both pre-war cars, nor, if this was so, which was which. One imagines that the Lanchester may have been elderly, even in 1923, or is this an indictment of Forty against Silver Ghost and another reason why it was never as popular as the car from Derby? I am sure Anthony Bird will wish to weigh in on this subject…

Apart from this gem, this book, which abounds in names-dropping and is anti the English aristocracy, was not very rewarding from my point of view, although it does contain a reference to a boy friend of Kay Boyle’s who, in America in 1923, “drove an open Stutz car with wire-spoked wheels whom I would have married had my family permitted”—a clear case of auto-infatuation, one supposes, but we are not told whether the parents objected to the car or the man! All was well for the authoress, however, because she was soon kissing someeone else… “in the Model T Ford one evening, above the Ohio River”.

Apart from this, motorwise there are some tantalising pictures of cars I cannot identify, although that with Joan and Kay Boyle at Cincinnati in 1919 is probably a Columbia Electric, the sporting tourer in which Laurence Vail and Kay Boyle are riding at Le Moulin in 1929 is something French, I fancy, but the make eludes me (any solutions?), and I assume that the coupe de ville beside which Caress and Harry Crosby are standing, in 1927, is one of Caresse Crosby’s Hispano Suizas, referred to previously in these columns.

There is a great deal of motoring interest in “Prince Rainier of Monaco” by Peter Hawkins (William Kimber, 1966). For instance, the Press Officer at the Palace was Mon. Emile Cornet, described as “a retired motor-racing driver who has since, unfortunately, died”. I think he would have been the Cornet who finished second in a Maserati, behind Portago’s Ferrari, in the 1957 Coupe de Vitesse at Montlhéry, although I believe there was an earlier (or the same?) driver of this name who raced Amilcars. (There was also an L. Cornet who had some success with DB-Panhards at Le Mans).

There are naturally references to motoring sport in Monaco, although mainly about the Monte Carlo Rally, rather than the GP. The author remarks that “no other South of France town would risk its streets for cars that usually run on special circuits—they have sufficient traffic problems of their own, anyway”. This is true today but one wonders if he knows that such street races happened at Nice, Cannes, etc.? One page is devoted to pictures of the start of a Monaco GP and the winner receiving the trophy from Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. The Prince’s great love of cars and boats comes over well, but he criticises the professionalism of the post-war Monte Carlo Rallies—”…they should try to make (it) much more what it used to be—I mean a contest for gentleman drivers—for the fellow who drives his own car”. He refers to the sixty different kinds of tyres made available for one make of car in the 1966 rally. His Serene Highness is also very honest about his collection of veteran cars at the Palace, bewailing the absurd prices now asked for them. “When I started this collection about five years ago the prices were alright; you could find old cars all over the place, people were glad to get rid of them. But now everybody is collecting them and they even make toy models, the interest has increased so much. And so has the money.—Today, for an old car that is in some terrible condition they ask £3,000—which is ridiculous. You have to go and fetch it for yourself and put it in a truck and bring it back. Whereas I once bought a Model-T Ford from an old man near Toulon…”

That was the opinion of a very wealthy man, six years ago! At that time HSH Prince Rainier had decided not to collect old cars younger than 1923, his birth year, but since then came the dicey business of the 1924 GP Sunbeam, later reprieved. In 1966 Rainier’s cars were a 4-litre four-door Maserati, an Austin Cooper S which was the most used, and “a little Volkswagen because it will go anywhere, it will start in the cold, and it is no trouble. It is a small station-wagon”. He “never touched” the official Royal Rolls-Royce, Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz. He admitted he disliked being driven. On long journeys he would stop for petrol, fending off any sign of recognition on the part of garage attendants. This book is interesting also about how Prince Rainier threw Lady Docker out of the Principality, his difficulties with Mr. Onassis and the sad fate of his large yacht, the Albercaro II.