Cars In Books, March 1979

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There are some interesting references to cars in “The Unforgiving Minute” (W. H. Allen, 1978), the fascinating if at times almost unbelievable autobiography of Beverley Nicholls. When I first began to read T. H. White, as I still do, I remember that in “England Have My Bones”, a book kindly given to me a long time ago by a Frazer Nash enthusiast, White remarked in the Preface that his England was not that of the Saturday Review, nor was it authoritative like that of the Field; it was not stately enough for Country Life, nor experienced enough to bear comparison with the works of A. G. Street or Adrian Bell. (I must explain that White’s book was published in 1936.) Then he added: “I hope it is not the kind of country that is inhabited by Beverley Nicholls.”

Be that as it may, let us look at the cars described by Mr. Nicholls. There is the Isotta-Fraschini which Geoffrey Hart crashed, causing his wife Dorothy to lose her unborn child. Nicholls recalls Hart as head boy at Harrow, senior classical scholar at King’s College, Cambridge, and a millionaire at 25. Apparently he did everything at top speed and Nicholls remembers how, when he was being taken out in the Isotta-Fraschini, he enquired rather tremulously what speed they were doing, to be told by Hart, “This car is becalmed at ninety”. I like that! It seems that after her husband died Dorothy Hart continued to look after his many business interests, and that in later years she had a chauffeur-driven Jaguar. Nicholls, who says he knows nothing about motor cars and feels apprehensive at 40 m.p.h. trundling along country lanes in an old Ford, once drove this Jaguar the 400 miles to Newcastle with Dorothy, starting in the dark in driving snow and sleet, when the chauffeur’s wife was expecting a baby, so she wouldn’t take him. To make matters worse, the Jaguar’s screen-wipers packed up….

Other car mentions are of the Baron d’Erlanger’s Rolls-Royce; she had “a vast house in Piccadilly and a palazzio in Venice.” … Then there is a reference to an accident in which Beverley Nicholls was involved, on the Great North Road (as it then was) late in 1932. What interested me about this is that in a story he wrote about the crash for his then-column in The Sunday Chronicle he refers to pulling out the ignition-switch, after the impact with the lorry. I wondered which car of this date had a pull-out ignition-switch, assuming this to have been correctly described, and thought it might have been a Renault. Reading on, I find that the car was indeed of that make; Nicholls describes it as “a smart little Renault, which I had bought for the sole reason that it was such a pretty shade of blue”. But I have not checked whether a 1930s Renault would have had a pull-out ignition-switch – does anyone know? What else? Well, Hugh Walpole is described as using a large Daimler chauffeured by an immense middle-aged ex-policeman, around the year 1938/39 and I find that this is yet another book in which Brooklands is mentioned, because Beverley Nicholls had a go at finding out about flying there, presumably in a DH Moth. – W. B.