I REMARKED last month that I could find very little of motoring interest in that splendidly written, socialist autobiography of Francis Williams, “Nothing So Strange” (Cassell, 1970). I have since found reference to his use of an Oldsmobile in America and emphasis on the speed-limit ridden roads of that vast country in the answer by Bill Hall of the Sunday Examiner when asked by Williams when did he have a chance to drive his Ford Thunderbird as fast as it would go? “Always in my dreams”! We are also reminded that the Aga Khan used a Rolls-Royce when in London for a BBC performance and that Lord Thomson of Fleet, the newspaper tycoon, eventually aspired to one.
From “We Wanted It Hot” by Ernest and Adair Heimann (Allen & Unwin, 1965) we find the joint authors ordering what was apparently a new Citroen 2CV to go with the house they went to live in, in Provence. There is, not surprisingly, reference to other 2CVs in their book and an amusing reference to French gipsies who, when they first called, came in “their ancient and dilapidated Peugeot 203”. A year later they called again, still hawking sheets and pillow cases, in “a considerably smarter black 403”. After that the same gipsies arrived in a “new, pale grey 404—they are obviously ardent Peugeotistes”. This accords with gipsy life in England, where so, often they own expensive caravans and seem to be able to tax and insure their vans and trucks, when the motoring enthusiast is probably wondering how he can find the next quarter’s licence fee!
Quite a lot about cars is to be found in David Niven’s rather lewd autobiography “The Moon’s a Balloon” (Hamish Hamilton, 1971). At Sandhurst, a friend of Niven’s, Jimmy Gresham, is mentioned as having a Hillman Huskie and the open Lagonda of Major Harry Ross-Skinner of the Highland Light Infantry, which he used in Malta is recalled, and later Niven describes his first car, bought for about £100 in the 1930s. In America shortly afterwards Niven was in a spectacular crash when riding in his friend Phil Armidown’s Pierce Arrow convertible, a new car being bought the same day for the continuation of their journey to Palm Beach. Niven, having sold his Morris, bought a 1927 3-litre Bentley which had done over 120,000 miles and had a bonnet strap, compass, altimeter, an exhaust cut-out, a three-tone horn, a pressurised fuel tank and the customary outside hand-brake. That was in 1932 and it is rather curious the licence fee is quoted as £25, so that it had to make do with a Guinness label, because in those days the annual fee was £16.00. This Bentley survived being rolled over on Salisbury Plain after a skid. Then, in America, Niven bought a very old Auburn at Culver City for 90 dollars. By the time this had collapsed Niven was a famous screen star and was able to go into the Ford showrooms on Hollywood Boulevard and drive out as the windows were rolled aside in a brand-new Ford priced at just under 500 dollars. Another new Ford was bought by a female film star so that she and Niven could drive from New York to California. The cars of the stars get some mention: Connie Bennett with a wicker-finished Rolls-Royce Phantom, spotlit inside its coupe de ville body, Marlene Dietrich’s black Cadillac driven by a chauffeur with two revolvers and a mink collar, and Tom Mix driving himself in a white Packard.
During the war Niven, having joined-up, acquired a Hillman Minx for £190, to conserve his petrol ration. I thought this a curious book, with its peppering of four-letter, or more correctly seven-letter, words, and that Stowe must have been an odd school before the war, with its Headmaster encountering a young pupil there, escorting a decidedly cockney prostitute, and doing absolutely nothing about it. I was also disappointed because I thought I remembered David Niven coming to Brooklands to act in a film in which a stand-in had to taxi about in a disguised Moth and the students from the College of Aeronautical Engineering were enrolled for the crowd scenes and somewhat over-played their parts, but I found no reference to this in “The Moon’s a Balloon”.—W.B.