Nostalgic

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Nothing much has come in this time on which to build this feature. A reader kindly contributed an amusing relic from the dim and distant past in the form of a book entitled “Mr. Punch Awheel.” It is undated but probably dates back to about 1900. Almost every cartoon depicts motor cars or bicycles which if they have not had an accident are about to have one, or else, in the case of the motor cars, have broken down or are being apprehended by fearsome constables for exceeding the speed limit. There is one obvious bit of publicity for the Lanchester but otherwise the vehicles are largely unidentifiable. The queer garb of the motorist in the age before closed bodywork is a popular gambit for Mr. Punch’s humour, but the bicyclists do not escape, as witness: “Then the Lady in Bloomers. She is a great reforming agent. She looks so unsightly, that if all her sisters were dressed like her flirtation would die out and there would be no cakes and ale.”

John Ahern, who is known to many for his impartiality in matters motoring, for he seems equally happy in his vintage Invicta or Morgan Plus Four, remembered the Editor’s weakness for the historic and sent a bundle of cuttings from pre-1914 issues of The Sphere, but these concern mainly aviation. So to round off, I propose to write about two rare motoring books which came into my possession recently. One is a bulky volume, entitled “Through the Alps to the Apennines,” by P. G. Konody. It was published by Kegan Paul, Trench and Trubner & Co. Ltd. in 1911, and is illustrated from photographs and pencil sketches by E. A. Rickards and has a coloured frontispiece from a drawing by Robert Little, R.W.S. Quite a tome! What interests me is that this is the account of a journey in a 30-h.p. White steam car. It is described as “noiseless, running as smoothly as a sledge, provided with a comfortable touring body and luggage-carrier; and, above all, a splendid hill-climber.” The familiar lines of the White appear in the background of many of the illustrations. It seems to have given remarkably little trouble, except for innumerable punctures, some bother with its acetylene lamps, and occasionally running out of petrol (for its burners), in a distance which I make from the author’s daily itineraries to have been 3,711 kilometres, in the capable hands of a chauffeur named Ryder, except on the occasion when a piston rod broke and required the services of a blacksmith at San Giovanni d’Asso. The White climbed numerous notorious Passes, including the redoubtable Zirlberg, which had proved a serious stumbling block to the vast majority of the cars on the Herkomer tour in 1906. On one occasion in Alsace a basket rolled from a passing cart and carried away the “exhaust tap of the condenser” and the White got stuck in sticky clay when a wrong road was taken at Gironcourt and horses were needed to tow it out. Otherwise it seems to have performed surprisingly well and its best day’s run was a matter of 125 miles. Incidentally, I wonder did Nuvolari, as a baby, see the tourists pass through Mantua?

At the conclusion of the tour one of the party, with the delightful name of Pomponius, said the things he enjoyed best were — the meals!

The other rare book is one I had seen reviewed in an obscure paragraph of an old issue of The Autocar but of which I never thought to see a copy — ” H. G. Hawker, Airman: His Life and Work,” a book written by his wife after Harry Hawker’s death, and published in 1922. It interests me on account of the descriptions of Hawker’s races at Brooklands with the big V12 Sunbeam and A.C. light car, etc., and of how he built his Sunbeam aero-engined Mercedes touring car in his home garage. I refer to the book here because there is an episode included in it which should make today’s sports girls think. The girls of today take kindly to being driven in 100-m.p.h. sports cars, they navigate in rallies and drive with skill themselves. Yet could they emulate what Mrs. Muriel Hawker did in 1920? Suddenly feeling she should be at Brooklands with her husband, where he was driving the big Sunbeam, Mrs. Hawker, then a mother with two children, got the racing A.C. out of the garage, “which I managed to start,” and drove in it to the track, arriving before Hawker’s first race. Now I know they lived at Hook, quite close to Weybridge, but I can also imagine the effort needed to start that A.C., with its racing valve and ignition settings, and the skill required to drive over the untarred country roads of those days, particularly in the clothes women wore in the early ‘twenties! Next time your favourite popsie crunches your cogs, think of Mrs. Hawker, who, apart from this run in the racing A.C., put the rivets in one side of the aero-engined car’s 7-ft. bonnet, was used to the startling experience of being towed in the racing A.C. by her husband, and who drove large and small cars (not only of the early ‘twenties but in 1915 when Hawker let her, as his girl friend who drove her own Gregoire light car, handle his 27/80 Austro-Daimler) with equal facility. — W.B.

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