Cars in books, May 1976

Astonishing, the places where cars crop up! “Arthur Rackham—His Life And Work” by Derek Hudson (Heinemann, 1960, republished 1974) is about the talented artist. But I espied a reference of interest to motoring historians, when he had invited Bernard Shaw to visit him at his house in Hampstead and received a typical Shavian postcard explaining that G.B.S. had had an accident which had disabled his motor car and would have to leave the artist’s by train on the Saturday night unless repairs could be effected in time, when it would be possible to return on the Sunday morning to Ayot St. Lawrence. The date was March 1911; this is a nice instance of the good use to which motors were by then being put (even by the Socialist Shaw!) and those who have an intimate knowledge of the great man will know what car he was then running.

Radcham himself had a strong dislike of anything mechanical and refuse d to own a car until his wife, a semi-invalid, had discovered a passion “for being driven round the countryside for 30 miles a day at 30 m.p.h. in the back seat of an open car”. This was probably bought in 1920, for use around his house, Houghton House, near Arundel, but its make isn’t quoted.

Almost at the commencement of this long-lived feature I was pleased to quote Thomas Firbank about his spirited use of a 3-litre Bentley, as recounted in his book “I Bought A Mountain”. There is further reference to this open car, as I am sure the Bentley DC must know, in his sequel “I Bought a Star” (Harrap, 1951), about his service in the Brigade of Guards. The car had been kept at Saint-Justin, in the South of France, as an expensive luxury. In it the author and a girl, whose parents lived in England, made a dramatic run home when war was declared in 1939. There is a graphic description of the hasty journey to Newhaven, and thence to London, which I hope Bentley fanatics haven’t missed, … “I spared her not at all. We travelled as if in a race, using the gears, skidding the corners, wafting the dusty miles behind us as a sirocco sweeps across a desert. Once we travelled 70 miles in 60 minutes, but the fat rumble of the old lady’s exhaust never faltered…. After the war is over the old car crops up again, It was rebuilt at Ringway and used on Army duties for a time; from hints in the book it sounds to have been a green Vanden Plas. In another book by the same author, “A Country Of Memorable Honour” (Harrap, 1953) there are no significant references to cars but I was interested to come upon a mention of an ancient gas-engine with a 16 in. horizontal-bore single cylinder, installed at Moel Fferna slate quarry, which has been kept as a standby to a Ruston 120-h.p. three-cylinder diesel engine, for driving a Lancashire

Dynamo and Crypto Co. generator. As the Ruston had been serving for 20 years it was presumably installed somewhere about 1930, so the other engine could date from the 1920’s, or even from before the 1914/18 war. I wonder if it is still there ? I feel compelled to refer to this in view of the present interest in stationary engines….

In the April issue of Blackwood’s Magazine Leslie Gardner when writing of the city of Liege has a memory, a bit garbled perhaps, but pleasing for all that, of visiting Spa with a motor club before the war to see the Belgian Grand Prix; another article is published in celebration of a centenary of writing by the late Ian Hay, being one that Blackwood’s published in 1910. It is a light-hearted account of owning two motor cars. The makes are disguised but I think the first may have been a 1907 two-Cylinder De Dion Bouton, purchased secondhand, and the other possibly a fine Mors, used for a Scottish tour, although I have not really convinced myself that this quiet-turning well-behaved 4-cylinder car with its ornate nickel-plated radiator having curved sides and a domed top was of this make. It is interesting that Hay mentions Brooklands in a jest about the speed capabilities of his first car, and probably lived at Surbiton, unless this is fiction. This leads me to think that he probably knew the Motor Course, which, as I have observed previously, he mentioned in one of his plays. Can any reader confirm these motoring associations of the great author, Major-General John HayBeith, CBE, MC, 1876-1952 ?–W.B.

The Things They Say . . .

“Climbing-ropes hang on a hook in his cottage where other people keep their coats. But he loves cities, their sophistication, their speed, too. ‘Fantastic, fantastic’, he says, as we drive up the Langdale Valley. He’s not talking about the green hills, clear streams and pure air, but about the new BMW in front of us. ‘Great car, that, great car’.”—An article about Anthony Greenbank, writer, climber, and survival expert, in Radio Times.