The Motor-Car in Fiction

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(The article under this heading in last month’s issue caused considerable interest and below we publish some correspondence relating to it—Ed.)

Sir,
I have just finished reading your interesting article in Motor Sport about “Motor Cars in Fiction,” and thought readers might like to know of another instance when this has occurred. “Heirs Apparent,” by Philip Gibbs, published by Hutchinson in the late ‘twenties or early ‘thirties gives quite a lengthy mention of a Metallergique car owned by a dashing young rake “who certainly knew how to drive a car.” Although this car is seldom heard of nowadays (I believe it hailed from Belgium), it was considered a very sporty model at this time. For readers who would like immediate reference, mention is first made at the beginning of chapter 3, after which there are several further references.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Michael J. Williams (age 16).

Sir,
In your article “The Motor Car in Fiction” you overlooked what was to me a classic piece on “Twenties” motoring. I refer to John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row,” with his description of model T Fords : their vagaries, the ” borrowing ” of spare parts for them, and also some highly entertaining sidelights on the nocturnal uses to which these admirable cars were put.

Wishing your journal, still the only worthwhile one for motorists, continued success.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Grange-over-Sands. Colin B. Wright.

Sir,
I read your article “The Motor Car in Fiction” with great interest. Another appearance of a Bentley and a Stutz is in “The Island of Sheep,” by John Buchan. Richard Hannay, driving his “Big Bentley,” is chased from Northamptonshire up the Great North Road into Scotland by a yellow and black Stutz. Hannay says of the latter, “they certainly had the pace of us, for I had heard wonderful stories of what a Stutz could do in that line—and this was probably supercharged—so it wasn’t likely we could shake them off.”

I am, Yours, etc.,
Middlesbrough. R.C. Spaldin.

Sir,
T.H. White’s early thriller “Darkness at Pemberley” (Gollancz, 1932) contains a really first-class description of a long-distance chase of a Bentley by three other cars—Daimler, Chrysler and Studebaker, the episode being spread over about twenty-five pages.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Haslemere. J.H. Davies.

Sir,
It was with the greatest interest and delight that I read your article on “The Motor Car in Fiction” in the current issue of Moor Sport, and, in particular, your reference to Henry Williamson’s Alvis Silver Eagle. In a much earlier book by the same author, “The Dream of Fair Women,” part of the tetralogy called “The Flax of Dream” -and written between 1924-28, there appears a reference to a pre-1914 “Ninety” Mercedes. I quote : ” . . . From the track he came to the lane, and so to the fork which led to the headland path by one way and to the bay by the other. At the fork he saw a long low grey motor car standing with two wheels in the ditch . . . Out of the side of its bonnet four exhaust pipes emerged like brass-bound snakes, which became a single fatter snake stretching the length of the car to the rear. It was obviously the racing car he had seen the night before, standing outside the Nightcrow Inn. He recalled how many young R.F.C. officers had bought second-hand high-powered racing cars for a few pounds in 1915, and had them fitted with great tanks holding thirty and sometimes even fifty gallons of petrol. The work had cost nothing, since it was done by the aerodrome mechanics, and the petrol cost nothing, since it belonged to the Government . . . Now, with petrol at four shillings a gallon. these ninety horse-power cars must be expensive things to run. He noticed that two suitcases and a bearskin flying coat were thrown into the rear seat of the Mercedes.” Nostalgic and exciting thought. In the story concerned, this “Ninety” belonged to a rather bogus character named Pat Colyer, posing as an Old Etonian, Captain R.F.C. with numerous decorations, and a reputation for having been something of an air ace. Later in the book his bluff is called. Other incidents in connection with the Merc, are that it had acetylene lighting, for at a pub in Devon Colyer tries to get some carbide, only to be told that the nearest source of supply is at “Branton” (Braunton, near Ilfracombe, in fact). Colyer decides to risk driving in the dark to Ilfracombe, and as he has been warned of the narrow roads and “Mullacott Hill,” and has drunk a great many whiskies, one wonders if the journey, in attractive feminine company, was without incident !

In passing, Henry Williamson at a much later date owned a 2-litre Aston Martin, and was, I believe, a member of the A.M.O.C.„ or may be still, for all I know.

I hope that this most research-provoking article will result in some goodly finds.

I am, Yours, etc..
Tenbury. A.B. Demaus, R.N.V.R.

Sir,
Thank you for your article “The Motor Car in Fiction,” and thank you particularly for your references to that master of “Spacious Motoring,” Mr. Dornford Yates (I write “Mr,” but I believe, in fact, that he holds, or held. Army rank higher than the ” Pleydells “). I fear that this letter may tend to run on and on, since I have absorbed Mr. Yates, his writings, so avidly and repetitively throughout the years that I can almost recite them !

By the way, the Rolls which was stolen from outside the church, in “Berry & Co.”, was not one of those “Perpendicular” vehicles depicted, but “a 1914 Rolls purchased at a long price” (in 1919/20 as in 1946-!). “Fresh from the coachbuilders, her touring body was painted silver-grey.” Can we say that in the excitement of the quick get-away necessitated by the theft, the 1914 engine was rather more noticeable than would otherwise have been the case ? Incidentally, surely Carson was Mansel’s personal man and came more into the later adventure stories. The “White Ladies’ ” chauffeur was Fitch, who came to demonstrate their first car and remained with the family thereafter.

May I now, Sir, discuss the “Lowland “? This make. has exercised my mind for years. I am afraid that the Overland or anything as cheap and ordinary as that is out of the question.

Unfortunately, my set of Dornford Yates is by no means complete, but, drawing on what I have and memory, I believe that the “Lowland” first took the road fairly close to the mid-‘thirties. It handled. perfectly, had a very excellent turn of speed, was carefully hand-built and tested before receiving its coachwork, and frequently sported a drophead coupe body. I think it was only a small and inexpensive relative to a 40/50 Rolls.

I have examined and discarded car after car of that period (for instance the Alvis Firebird was too low both in maximum speed and second-hand value). At one time I favoured the 3 1/2-litre Rolls version Bentley, but “She Painted Her Face” corrected me. In that book, published in 1937, assuming the action to take place some 12 months previously, a two-year-old Lowland’s “fair market value” was £350. which was too low for the Bentley but almost exactly right for my second choice—. the Speed Twenty Alvis. From memory, I believe the Lowland “snarled” at speed, which again excludes the Bentley. I will, however, add that the Speed Twenty had a very pleasant exhaust note !

Since I am only expressing an opinion, and not attempting to prove anything, I think I would be wise to let this suffice. On the subject of Mr. Yates on motoring I am liable to write continuously and boringly if not watched. I am glad to note that someone else remembers “Portrait in a Windscreen,” by–was it Brown ? In conclusion may I mention Peter Chamberlain’s “Sing Holiday.” in which not only the cars but the personalities, too, were so thinly disguised. Finally (for the moment), let me remind you of Lord Peter Wiimsey’s Daimler. Did not the ‘thirties see a very low-built Daimler model at least in production ?

I am, Yours, etc.,
Formby-. A.L.D. Temple

Sir,
Apropos “The Motor Car in Fiction,” have you not noticed the largest brick ever dropped in fiction which occurs in one of Bernard Newman’s books (I believe “The Lady in Black “)?

The hero disables Hermann Goering’s Mercedes by cutting the steering cables with wire-cutters.

Incidentally, surely your photograph of the Dornford Yates’ Rolls shows models of circa 1912. One would suppose that Major Pleydell and Jonah Mansell would sport something vintage rather than Edwardian.

Finally, Sir, more power to your con.-rods. Motor Sport is better value than ever lately. I think your Continental Correspondent’s article on some fast driving with Stirling Moss is really superlatively graphic.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Battle. R.F. Robson.

Sir,
Referring to “The Motor Car in Fiction” in the April edition, I have little time for reading but, if I remember aright, Ian Hay, in “A Knight on Wheels,” has the hero arrange with the heroine to meet her with his small red two-seater at Hyde Park Corner. The heroine is a trifle late, maybe an hour or so, but apparently in those days the hero had no difficulty in waiting at such a deserted spot.

Then I remember a nouveau riche character of Hilaire Belloc who ordered round a luxurious car to the front door a dozen times a day: were you reading attentively you soon discovered that no two were of the same make, each succeeding car being of .a more opulent make than, its predecessor.

Personally, my earliest motoring-recollection is of a two-cylinder char-a-banc which plied from Oban to Gannovan Sands; this was quite reliable transport on calm days but any light air blowing in from the Atlantic promptly blew out the burners for the hot-tube ignition. The vehicle could easily do the two-mile run in 12 minutes, to which must be added 10 minutes for every gusty corner the tubes failed to negotiate.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Airdrie. Geo. A. Turner.

Sir.
The identity of the “Lowland” of Dornford Yates presents an interesting problem. Your contributor errs in thinking that it was a cheap car; it was hand built, with individual coachwork to the customer’s choice, every chassis being carefully tested at the Works, which were situated somewhere near the Bayswater Road. Activities here were under the autocratic eye of the head of the firm himself, for when George Salting, in “Beggar on Horseback,” wanted a job as a fitter he drove “the old man” in London for nearly four hours, as well as cleaning carburetters and adjusting brakes to the chief’s satisfaction before he could start at two pounds ten a week.

As might be expected, the performance of these cars on the road was very good. In “Gale Warning” we read, “A Lowland is alive. Whatever action you take, a Lowland’s response is so swift that sometimes it actually seeing as though the car must have known what you wanted to do.” Perhaps some of your readers well versed in the quality cars of the ‘twenties can supply us with the identity of this very desirable motor car, for which, even in those days, there was a waiting list as long as your arm.

We must not let Carson be blamed for the defect in Berry’s Rolls. The Pleydell’s chauffeur was one Fitch, who had been the coachman at “White Ladies,” and who was perhaps not entirely in sympathy with these new-fangled devices.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Dunstable. Dr. G.E. Pinkerton

Sir,
Referring to your article “The Motor Car in Fiction” in Motor Sport for April, I can add one or two examples.

Gilbert Frankau refers to various marques, notably the pre-1914 Crossley landaulette in “Peter Jackson, Cigar Merchant,” and the “Tin Lizzie” in later stories of the same character. One of G.F.’s short stories was built around an American car addicted to spasmodic wheel wobble. In an autobiography Frankau mentions this was inspired by a Franklin air-cooled car he once owned.

Various detective stories by Philip Macdonald feature Col. Anthony Gethryn, who at one time owns a red Mercedes but later acquires a great black Maxwell Voisin. On one occasion he mentions having gone over this “from radiator to breakfast time.” Is this a vintage technical phrase ? James Cain’s “Serenade” (Penguin) features among other things a Ford roadster in Mexico—”the newest, reddest Ford in the world. It shone like a boil on a sailor’s neck.” Later in this book some hints on selling points for the South American market are : “The loudest five-tone multiple-action horn you can find. Plug the horn, the gas-tank lock, the paint job and low gas consumption. Forget the brakes, the knee action and all that. They’ve never heard of that,”This book also contains many musical and other technical references. The hero is an American homosexual opera singer and the heroine a Mexican prostitute, And that’s only the beginning, brother.

“My Life and Hard Times,” by Thurber (Penguin), has one episode : “The car we had to push” which concerns a Reo of unknown date. It finishes—”it flew all to pieces,” my mother told him. “I knew it would,” growled grandpa. “I allus told ye to git a Pope-Toledo.”

I am, Yours, etc.,
East Barnet. C. Robinson

Sir,
Apropos your most amusing and instructive article on “The Motor Car in Fiction,” I was a tiny bit disappointed that no one had drawn your attention to the passages in my novel “Hurry On Down” (Seeker and Warburg, 1953), in which a character builds himself a “special” and races it against the clock. Admittedly the whole thing is described in comic, indeed farcical terms, but it does contain a more thorough description of such activities than I ever remember seeing, except in motor-racing novels. As a matter of fact, I believe I am the only novelist to allot the motor car a symbolic role in a (would-be) serious novel : the hero is delivered from a spiritual impasse by a crash in a stolen car, and later he loses his job because of the activities of the man with the “special.” I seem to be banging the drum for the book but don’t mean to, as it is not really much good, but I thought I would mention it to you in case your eye ever fell on a copy in a public library, because, as I say, it is probably the only highbrow novel ever written by anyone with a few scraps of knowledge of sporting motoring—mainly, I may say, gleaned from your excellent magazine. Actually. I ought to hope you don’t read it, because I know how quick you are to spot errors, and no doubt I have made absurd ones.

There is a racing driver in Anthony Powell’s “A Question of Upbringing,” but it doesn’t give any portrayal of him in action. And as regards cars, what on earth is the car that the “Saint,” in Charteris’s books, is supposed to drive about in ? I have only the haziest recollection of the stories, and shall certainly not look them up again, but. I seem to remember that the “Saint” had the popular novelist’s dream of a wonderful car, which was described with about the same degree of technical accuracy as Ouida’s famous “All the gentlemen in the boat rowed fast, but none of them rowed so fast as our hero,” of a boat race.

Thanks, by the way, for Motor Sport.

I am, Yours, etc.,
Reading, John Wain

Sir,
The article “The Motor Car in Fiction” was very interesting but I feel that the Rolls-Royce models suggested pictorially for Mansel, Chandos and the Pleydells were much too staid. There are a great many references to the cars which give one the impression that they were fairly sporting types with drophead coupe bodies rather after the style of the London-Edinburgh model.

Speeds of over eighty miles an hour were quite commonplace to Jonah Mansel, Richard William Chandos and “Boy” (Berry did not enjoy fast driving). Chandos and Berry both had cars modelled on Mansel’s car. In “Gale Warning” a Bugatti, which covered, at night, twenty-one miles in twenty-two minutes and which when it drove off could be heard “ripping the mantle of silence for nearly a league,” is mentioned. Another exciting car was a great silver racing Merc.”As well as the Lowlands, there were Whistlers, Swindons and Vanes, all appearing to be close-coupled sports saloons, but which makes they represented I do not know. Has any clear-sighted author written a book in which Aston Martins figure ? If so I would be pleased to hear of it.

I am, Yours. etc.,
Chelmsford. H. Ian M. Allman

Sir,
You invited readers to add to your article “The Motor Car in Fiction” their own finds in fiction or biography.

In “Cheshire—V.C.,” the biography by Russell Braddon, it is recounted that “at 17, Cheshire’s only ambition in life was to drive a very fast car around a very curved track and joggle the steering wheel like the race stars did.”

Cheshire’s desire for a fast car seems to have been born in Germany where he saw Continental aces racing during a holiday there. The family Austin, driven at 40 m.p.h., did not excite Cheshire (it was obviously no “Sergeant Murphy !”). Hence, at Oxford, he owned a supercharged Alfa-Romeo. and it was a point of honour to complete the journey from London to Oxford in under an hour. Eventually, we are told, the running costs proved too much for Cheshire.

He used to change his cars often and on one occasion it is recalled that he persuaded “a gorgeous Scandinavian girl” to crawl under an old Austin Seven to help him with the greasing. Would that I had such powers of persuasion ! Then, with entrance to the R.A.F., no more is mentioned about Cheshire’s motoring, he was occupied carrying bombs instead of bomb-shells.

I am, Yours, etc.,
London, N.W.3. F.R. Gulliver

Sir,
” In a roaring crescendo of noise the ‘Blue Bird’ leapt forward, a feather of gobelin-blue smoke flying under its mud-plastered azure stern.” With these words Eric Linklater closed his 1929 “Poets Pub.” Blue Bird” was one of a breed now extinct-a char-a-bane. In it, Saturday Keith raced up to Scotland trailing Nelly Bly in Lady Mary’s Isotta-Franchini and followed by Holly the Barman in his own old Morris, all pursuing Mr. Wesson in Quentin Cotton’s Bentley.

Your readers may remember a fairly recent film version of the tale; in the film, alas, an unromantic modern motor coach filled (vide page 163 in Florin Books edition 1932-Jonathan Cape, closing section of chapter 15) the role of the “vast blue charabanc” . .”a superb monster on flat white tyres”, “a charabanc as powerful as a tank.”

I am, Yours, etc.,
London, W.12. H.N. Cox.

Sir,
In your article “The Motor Car in Fiction” the facts relating to Bernard Shaw as a motorist are not quite accurate. His first car was a 1908 26-hp. Lorraine-Dietrich (vide Autocar, December, 1908). In December, 1921, a 12.h.p. A.C. (NK 2217) was acquired, and in 1923 the. Lorraine-Dietrich was replaced by a 23/60 Vauxhall (NK 5563). The Clark-bodied Straight-Eight Lanchester (UR 6124) followed in 1930, to be replaced in June, 1935, by the first of the Rolls-Royce cars. It was the Arthur Mulliner-bodied 20/25 (BYE 779). Meantime a 1933 Lanchester Ten replaced the A.C. and this car, along with the second Rolls-Royce, a 1939 Freestone & Webb “Wraith” (FAR 260), was owned by Shaw at the lime of his death. At auction in 1951, the Lanchester fetched £340 and the Wraith £3,400: the latter may frequently be seen in Pall Mall; it is painted chestnut brown throughout.

With the exception of the Wraith, Shaw drove all his cars personally from time to time. He also owned a 1913 Lea-Francis motor-cycle.. and aI 1915 Alldays “Allon” two-stroke (BS 329) which he kept until 1932.

I am, Yours,. etc.,
Ashtead. J.M.B. Dove.

We recall, however, an interview with G.B.S. by the Motor, in which he was photographed with a Lorraine Dietrich of circa 1926…Ed.