Cars in books, May 1973

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Usually these references to cars which figure in non-motoring books are based on what I come upon in old volumes found on library shelves, or lent or donated by sympathetic readers. What follows, however, is based on a recently-published book, “Rose Macaulay—A Biography” by Constance Babington Smith (Collins, £3.25). This excellent book about the famous writer Dame Rose Macaulay not only contains interesting references to her motoring but the thoughtful publishers have included the motoring references in the index. The author is known to me as the writer of a very worthwhile book about Amy Johnson. In her present book she shows Rose Macaulay as a dangerous driver who enjoyed speed. Dame Macaulay seems to have become well acquainted with motor cars by 1905, although still using only a bicycle herself. In that year she wrote an amusing ballade about a motoring expert who took some friends for a drive in an inferior make of car. Incidentally her mother, as a young woman married to a Rugby assistant master, used to ride with her husband on a double-tricycle bought second-hand for £12 in Coventry in 1880, which could average some four m.p.h. and on which they made trips of up to 25 miles.

Rose’s first taste of real motoring came in 1929/30 when she went for a long and arduous American tour in Will Macaulay’s Essex. This is described as a “four-seater” but a picture shows it to have been a typical Essex “coach” or saloon of the period, with the rounded-top radiator.

Rose Macaulay based her book “Staying With Relations” on this tour, with reflected praise for the Essex, which had survived well in spite of losing a rear wheel, springing a leak in its radiator so that a pint of water per mile was lost, and boiling at other times. Compared to other cars encountered in Texas, presumably Model-T Fords, the Essex seemed very superior. By 1934, when she wrote “Personal Pleasures”, she devoted three essays in the book to cars, although at the time her personal ones had been merely an ancient, worn-out Morris, which was noisy, thirsty and eventually couldn’t climb Primrose Hill in second gear, and the year-old Morris Ten with which it was replaced.

She seems to have taught herself to drive and, following the American trip, was apt to do so largely on the wrong side of the road! There are many references to her bad driving in this book but the makes of her later “succession of cars” are not given, which is a pity, as they are described as being “usually an obsolete model” which “became part of her personality”. Incidentally, there is confirmation that Michael Arlen had a Rolls-Royce and not an Hispano-Suiza, in spite of having made his fortune with a novel about the latter make.

I find it especially interesting that Rose Macaulay wrote so scathingly, in the feature “Marginal Comments” which she wrote for The Spectator, about racing driver Lord de Clifford’s trial before the House of Lords for manslaughter following a road accident, that he sued for libel, which cost the paper £600. Some time ago the Frazer Nash Section of the VSCC published in its Gazette an interesting account of the case, as Lord de Clifford was driving a Frazer Nash when the accident happened. But I do not suppose they were aware of Rose Macaulay’s attack on the acquittal. Ironically, she had a serious accident herself when on a tour of the Lake District in her aged Morris, in 1929, and she appeared frequently in Court for parking and other offences. At other times she used her column to condemn traffic congestion in London, but Lord de Clifford’s acquittal lingered in her mind and she based her book “I would be Private” on it. So here is some more motoring fiction for us to read. . . .

It would be unfair, from a book which is in current circulation, to quote further, except to say that it reveals that Dame Rose Macaulay apparently flew only once in a private aeroplane, Hamish Hamilton’s Klemm, from Heston . . . “it had only one magneto and no Certificate of Airworthiness ” Those who enjoy the crafts of motoring and writing should read this new book.

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A number of new facets about motoring can be gleaned from “They Didn’t Declare It” by H. J. Browning, OBE (Harrap, 1967), a copy of which a reader kindly left on the bonnet of the BMW 2500 when I was at the VSCC Pomeroy Trophy Meeting. As the title suggests, this is a book about smuggling, by a former Deputy Chief Investigations Officer of HM Customs and Excise.

Apart from being exciting reading in itself, the book refers to a number of cars, the most interesting being the sports/racing Delahaye DUV 870, in which a racing driver smuggled more than 3,000 watches into Newhaven in 1950, the car having been raced by Gordon, who had a Lancia in London for which similar special petrol tanks had been made. Both racing drivers, and Mrs. Noreen Harbord whose Chrysler laden with 7,742 illicit watches valued at about £30,000 had caused the Customs men to become suspicious, were arrested. Gordon was imprisoned for two years, but the other driver was acquitted and the Delahaye returned to him, minus its fake fuel-tank—there are pictures of the car before and after the Customs men had dealt with it.

The author’s car was a humble Austin Ten, but he nevertheless contrived to do some quite fast journeys in it, notably one from his home at West Byfleet (called West Weybridge in Brooklands days) to Hurn Airport in intermittent fog, to apprehend a BOAC Captain who was smuggling gold, which should please members of the Austin Ten DC! There is mention of a Daimler 15 used for smuggling tobacco by using boxes to fit on the top of its engine. This is one for the Daimler and Lanchester OC, because the owner concerned, who ran a store in Devonport and lived in a bungalow in Plymstock, also, in 1940, had “an almost new Lanchester 10”. The boxes did not fit the Lanchester and although the Daimler was traced to Tavistock it was not seized, as the Lanchester was, as it had changed hands. Among other cars which this interesting book mentions, as having been used for smuggling, are “a big Morris” owned by a German who kept it in Belfast in 1933 and had an Austin 16 in London, using both cars for concealing cigarette lighters, the Buick and Packard cars of an American named Hidden who set up in the mid-thirties as an importer of used cars into this country, declaring them at abnormally low values—he had brought in at least 22 cars when he was arrested in the West End of London—and “two large old Buick cars, each sporting a GB plate”, which a man named Morris used for watch smuggling in 1949, driving them on the carnets then required, on journeys between London and the continent. These were, indeed, pre-war Buicks, whose “heavy chassis and capacious wings and body were admirably suited to smugglers . . .”. The same gang also used a couple of Citroëns for the same purpose. The Buicks had false floors to their luggage-boots, in which more than 10,000 watches could be concealed. Incidentally, the “big and old” Chrysler which the previously mentioned ex-debutante Mrs. Harbord, friend of the racing drivers used, had “a dummy battery case and a sealed-off part of the petrol tank”, besides having watches concealed in the upholstery and in hollow members of the chassis. It was broken up for spares, a process witnessed by two Customs Officers. One perceptive observation by the author is that when the Delahaye was impounded, its driver, an experienced racing man, who had driven the hundred miles from Paris to Dieppe, had apparently not noticed the effect of an extra 2 cwt. over the back-axle! – W. B.

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