Kent Karslake: An Appreciation

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Last month we were able only to publish a brief stop-press obituary of a man known with affection throughout the veteran and vintage scene, and who contributed so much historical material to Motor Sport.

Karslake’s parents ran cars such as a 112 EMF, which the youthful EKHK regarded as terribly dull but which introduced him to foreign travel. This remained an abiding interest all his life, and was bolstered further when he and a friend tackled the Alps in a Fiat 501.

Kent’s liking for older cars blossomed when he was at Oxford, where he ran a 1912 Alfonso Hispano Suiza. Other cars he owned included a 1902 Regal, a fearsome single-cylinder Sizaire-Naudin, a fast 15hp Darracq, a 3-litre Itala and a 1924 Coppa Florio Itala, before he took to modern Fords during the war. In 1950 he wrote for Motor Sport the first standard history of Hispano Suiza, the make he loved above all others, and the yellow 37.2hp tourer he ran at the time is in his family to this day.

His writings for this magazine had commenced in the 1920s with Great Racing Marques. There followed the inimitable and erudite Sideslips –entertaining discourses on all manner of old-car subjects, submitted under the pen-name “Baladeur” (or gearbox-selector) so that any controversy raised could be replied to by . . . Mr Karslake! His classic 1930 article Where Are The Old Racing Cars? and his subsequent Veteran Types series (which commenced with Chitty-Bang-Bang II) led, I am sure, to a renewed interest which sparked off Sam Clutton’s appeal for the use of those big, exciting Edwardians which continue to enliven VSCC events.

Apart from those referred to last month, Karslake’s books included Motoring Entente, the Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq story, with Ian Nickols, and in 1950 his scholarly 376-page Racing Voiturettes; these were written, like his articles, in immaculate copperplate on high-grade paper.

EKHK drove his veterans in competition, accompanying his friends Lycett, Pomeroy, Clutton, Barker, Hampton and others, tackled Brighton Runs, and took his 1913 Bébé Peugeot to France with Nevil Lloyd in 1950. As Vice-President, and later President, of the VSCC, Kent Karslake was liked and very highly respected in veteran and vintage circles. An old Etonian who was apt to carry a swordstick as part of his sartorial equipment, he made no bones about living in the past–especially the motoring past.

I remember in 1951, when we returned from Barcelona in an ancient Avro Anson through the most violent of electrical storms, how he read the Financial Times unperturbed throughout, although remarking as we landed in lingering lightning-flashes at Lyon to refuel that “I didn’t think we would get through”.

On another occasion we had been up to Yorkshire to show him an 1897 Panhard, and to watch the RAC Rally (during which Kent sat in the car reading a book, modern trials being of no interest to him whatsoever). While we were dining EKHK had been gazing into space, deep in thought, and a man came over and accused him roughly of staring at his wife.

“No I wasn’t” said Karslake, “and now you have drawn my attention to the lady I most certainly wouldn’t want to . . . “

Karslake was something of a gourmet, and his knowledge of wine was such that he once received the plaudits of a roomful of GP drivers at Spa for refusing, as an Englishman abroad, to be fobbed-off with an inferior bottle by a wine-waiter who had certainly met his match. It is said that the VSCC tends to attract likeable and unusual people, and EKH Karslake was very definitely outstanding among them. WB

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