Nothing outstanding for the present, although in “Dear Me” by Peter Ustinov (Heinemann, 1977) we find, as expected, a reference to the great actor and author being an Amilcar (on two legs) when he was a boy and we learn of his interest in motor-racing when he was at school, the other boys thinking from his name that he was German, sympathising with Ustinov when Caraccioia’s great white Mercedes was vanquished by the green Bentleys. He tells, also, of how his Mother’s brother followed in the great tradition of emigre officers he had been a regular officer in the Preobrazhensky Regiment, and later in Russia’s “first and only” armoured-car unit by driving a taxi. It was a maroon Delage, and is remembered by the author on account of the contrast of its cloth upholstery after the wood-slatted seats of a third-class railwav carnage, before the Deluge’s owner met his sister at the Gare du Nord and drove her and her son to the Gare de Lyon amid the trumpeting of bulb-horns and the torrents of abuse from driver to driver. There is a picture of father Ustinov with a primitive biplane he flew in the First World War and mention of the “huge white Mercedes with external exhaust pipes” which daily brought the young von Ribbentrop to Westminster School. “panting its way to Little Dean’s Yard every morning, picking its gargantuan path among the parked mini-cars of visiting Bishops …” Ribbertrop was dressed like the rest at the boys Sammy Davis went to Westminster, incidentally – except for a Nazi Party youth badge in his lapel and, says Ustinov, both he and the Embassy chauffeur would leap to attention and exchange the Hitler salute before the boy went into prayers, and the chauffeur “picked his way meticulously into the open traffic once more.”
The only car in “Smoke Without Fire” by Alfred Draper (Arlington Books, 1974) is a Fiat taxi in Malta in 1956 but the fact that it was really a private car, without a division between driving compartment and the back seat, played a significant part in the evidence in the celebrated Swabey Case, with which the book deals. And I suppose we can consider ourselves not too badly done by, when in “The Prime of Miss lean Brodie” by Muriel Spark (Macmillan 1961) the proud spinster school teacher says: “There is nothing wrong with motor-cars, of course, but there are higher things”, especially as she was vexed that a pupil had drawn her attention to a car when she should have been listening to Miss Brodie’s conversation and the car in question was nothing more excittng than a Citroen, perhaps a vintage 12/20, seen against the no more inspiring background than the old parts of Edinburgh… The tall, blonde Rose Stanley, the schoolgirl who had noticed the Citroen and knew that it was a French car, was in any case able to converse “all about trains, cranes, motor cars, Meccanos and other boys’ affairs” – at school she had a reputation for sex and she married rather well Incidentally, there is only this lone car in the book, but many vintage vehicles appeared in the street scenes in the film and TV story of it, unless my memory is at fault. Which reminds me that recognising all the screen and TV cars is becoming quite a task; how many of you could name all the makes in the TV presentation of “Bonnie and Clyde” for instance, or the additional American can that featured in a TV piece about the writer Scott Fitzgerald some time ago? – W.B.