Cars in Books, March 1974

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Having taken down H. V. Morton’s “In Search Of Wales” (Methuen, 1932) in the belief, that the closer you live to things the less you know of them, I fell to wondering what this well-known travel-writer had used for his literary pilgrimage from London to the Welsh-lands. His book was published first on June 16th, 1932 and he made the journey about a year earlier, in 1931. So unless he treated himself to a new car for this purpose, we may assume the one used was a vintage model. There is not a single clue to its make anywhere in the book but I note that it broke a back spring on the road from Aberystwyth to the Elan Valley and that the local garage could not repair it —which suggests that perhaps it was of a somewhat rare make? A car was then hired, somewhere near Plynlimon. Does anyone know what car H. V. Morton was driving in 1931 or care to speculate on what hire-car he would have found in this remote district at that date?

A book which may have escaped the notice of some of our readers who are interested in traction engines is “The Phantom Flotilla” by Peter Shackland (Collins, 1968). There has been all too little written about the motor vehicle in war but this book goes some small way to filling in one of the gaps. In this rather flamboyant description of the Naval expedition to oust the Germans from Lake Tanganyika in 1915 there are interesting references to the two traction-engines employed to drag two motor launches over the 200 miles of jungle track from Fungurume to Sankisia. They were a Burrell and a Fowler, both road locomotives rather than agricultural tractors, with extra-large straked road wheels to give ground clearance, which made them low-geared. They were said to be able to average about 90 miles in an elevenhour day on good English roads, In the bush it seems to me that on many occasions the Fowler did better than the Burrell. They towed 10-ton trailers when not hauling the boats. There was also a three-ton Thornycroft lorry towing a trailer, which apparently gave no trouble. There are photographs of the traction-engines at work. The hook refers, incidentally, to Harry Tate’s stage show with an old car, so apparently he performed before the war, as well as in the 1920s.—W.B.

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