It is quite uncanny how I begin to read a book for relaxation, to get away from cars for a few hours, and almost as soon as I have opened it, there is a reference to motoring. It was so with that very good book ” Demi-Paradise,” by Jasper Rootham (Chatto and Windus. 1960). First, there is mention of ” a 4-seater, blunt-nosed Morris Cowley ” (not the bull-noses used by Oxford undergrads in “Half-Term Report “), in which as Oxford undergraduates, they and their girl friends ” rattled out to Hemingford Grey ” after a punting expedition on a moonlight June evening. Later comes a reference to a fleck-and-neck race at 50 m.p.h. down the Cromwell Road between ” two ancient Austin Seven tourers.” But the piece that truly opened my eyes was the author’s reference to ” a majestic vehicle . . . She (I refuse to call Her it) was a 1924 Humber coupé. Her capacious and immensely comfortable front seat, which would hold three, was upholstered in a chaste dove-grey material. Her fittings, which included a small horn-shaped flower-vase in the middle of the dashboard, were all of brass. The hood was a massive affair of wood and black leather, strongly reminiscent of the sort of fast car ride in which a Regency Corinthian would have thrashed his way down the Brighton Road to watch two of the Fancy fighting it out on the South Downs. The dickey was also very roomy, and when the hood was down it was easy for passengers in the front seat, by turning round and kneeling, facing backwards, to carry on polite conversation with the dickey seat passengers, or pass them their lunch. If it rained, those behind cried, with Macaulay, ‘ Forward,’ but I never heard those in front cry ‘ Back.’ We never stopped, except to take on petrol, because Her top speed was only 37 m.p.h.; and at that giddy rate the bucking steering wheel required all of the driver’s attention.
” She cost £12 10s.—and caused me anxiety only twice. Once the whole electrical system failed, between Edmonton and Cheshunt at 6 o’clock on a Sunday evening in November; and once with a grinding scream of pain, and apology for the £7 it was going to cost, She sheared one of the cogs on the differential. That apart, She gave me devoted and selfless service for almost two years, and with the refinement which characterised all Her dealings; refrained from exploding in my face when I finally sold Her for thirty bob.”
We go on to read of an all-night run this Humber undertook from Cumberland to London to get a girl to her office on time on a Monday morning. I can think of no finer tribute to vintage Humber outside the motoring Press than this unexpected reference to the breed in ” Demi-Paradise,” although these cars have been mentioned more than once in previous non-motoring hooks. I suggest the Number Register makes haste to contact Mr. Rootham with a view to electing him an honorary life member. Less about cars is found in ” That Reminds Me,”. by Lord Russell of Liverpool (Cassell, 1959) but there is an amusing reference to Lilian Baylis, Director of the Old Vic theatre, who used to motor all over London, Lord Russell tells us, in a tiny Baby Austin, although, as she was a very big woman, no-one knew quite how she got in and out of it. We read of how she skidded and overturned in it somewhere in S.E. London. I was somewhat surprised to learn from his book that Lord Russell used a small Vauxhall for pre-war tours on the Continent, a car he only just managed to ship home on the last Boulogne-Folkestone ferry when war broke out in 1939. The new Humber Snipe which it had taken Lord Russell ” six months to wheedle out of the D.Q.M.G.” suffered a less happy fate, being set on fire before the last British troops left Dunkirk.—W.B.
The news for collectors of car miniatures is that Dinky Toys have introduced a Morris Mini-Traveller (No. 197) and an Austin 850 Countryman (No. 199), both priced at 3s. 6d., and, at the other extreme a fine model of a McLean tractor/trailer with a total of 14 wheels, in the Super Toys series (No. 948), The trailer of this model is of high-impact polystyrene on a metal base, with rivets and door-hinges, etc., depicted, the rear doors opening. The model is 11 5/8 in. long and costs 16s. 6d. Caravan enthusiasts will like the 4-berth trailer caravan (No. 188), with interior fittings, windows, opening door and sprung wheels, etc.
Following the Dinky Bentley 52, Corgi have brought out a really splendid Bentley Continental, 4 1/2 in. long, which in the race to introduce new items in the miniatures field, not only has i.f.s., but jewelled headlamps and ruby tail and brake lights which shine realistically-and a boot-lid which opens to disclose the spare wheel. Radiator grille and bumpers are plated, facia and steering wheel included, the back wheels sprung and the model highly finished. There is a choice of black and silver, green, or white duo-torte. This Corgi, No. 224, is priced at 7s. 6d.
Lesney have a ” matchbox ” (No. 40) Royal Tiger Coach, scale 145/1 and an oo-scale Austin Cambridge, No. 20 in the same series, both at 1s. 8d. Turning from commercial to professional models, I was able to admire again some very large scale Mercedes lorry models, about 30 in. long and very detailed, that are in the Daimler-Benz Museum at Stuttgart. The Turin Museum also possesses twenty models, including a 7/10th full size reproduction of the 1769 Cugnot steam-6 carriage and some simple but very large-scale models of other steam carriages and early vehicles, including one of the 1899 Jenatzy Land Speed Record electric car ” La Jamais Contente,” made by the founder, Count Carlo Biscaretti di Ruffia. There is also a small but beautifully-made model of a vintage lorry, an S.P.A. I think, with two radiators, one behind the other, and, at the time of my visit, some delightful models of early Army vehicles, about 8 in. in length, including a vintage Fiat truck, were on loan from the Military authorities in Rome. And a special exhibition of miniatures, for which models were being received from all over the World, was about to open at the Museum.—W.B.
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