Cars in Books, May 1989

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This infrequent column has now been running for more than thirty years, although I remember being told by another publisher that there was insufficient material for it to last very long! And here we still are, having found real cars referred to in books of more interest than fictional ones, and thus capturing another fragment of motoring history.

The biography of the authoress and playwright Enid Bagnold, by Anne Sebba (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1986), yields some interesting cars. She drove a VAD during World War One, for instance, which she thought would improve her tennis (the cranking-up of so many army vehicles having strengthened her muscles), and she later dispatched a gentleman-farmer who was courting her when the tyres of his car, after lying unused throughout the war, burst and he had no jack. At this time Viscount Wimbourne sent his Rolls-Royce to the station to take her to his estate near Rugby; she liked to drive the car, which must have been an early Silver Ghost.

Eventually Miss Bagnold married Sir Roderick Jones, head of Reuters, who also had a Rolls-Royce. The complete autocrat, he expected it to stop exactly opposite his office entrance, at which point a senior messenger had to dash out to open the door; and when Sir Roderick left in the evening a policeman actually held up traffic at the Carmelite crossing on the Embankment to let the Rolls have priority — a bygone age indeed!. When traffic lights replaced the point-duty policeman, a messenger had to jump on the pad to change the lights as the car approached…

That was in 1921-22, so the car in question must have been another Ghost. But by 1924, when they drove to Rottingdean to buy North End House, it was in a Delage. This was possibly a second car, for they had two by 1930, and Sir Roderick loved to be chauffeur-driven in his Rolls-Royce Sedanca de Ville, which had a speedometer in the back compartment and was kept until the outbreak of war in 1939. By the mid1930s the fleet also included a Dodge and a Buick.

In the autobiography A Shoulder to Laugh On by Basil Boothroyd (Robson Books, 1987), the author who worked for Punch for 18 years and wrote a life of HRH Prince Philip, remembers the father of a school-friend, a Yorkshire steel magnate in the 1920s, owning a car he believes to have been a Humber but taking the whole family about on a motorcycle combination. He also tells of a bank clerk who owned two old black Crossleys in the mid-1920s, kept serviceable by cannibalising parts from one another. They were apparently equipped with all manner of extraordinary home-devised extras, and a paraffin-stove was once carried in the back of one of them for a heater. There are interesting references to the Royal Family, and Russell Brockbank.

I have referred previously to the murder case in which PC Gutteridge was brutally shot down from a stolen Morris Cowley at Stapleford Abbotts in Essex, late in 1927. A weapon found in an Angus-Sanderson at a south London garage incriminated two men, who were duly hanged. Two other stolen cars, a Singer and a Buick, had been found in the garage yard, and the Angus-Sanderson (registration CW 3291) had been taken in part-exchange for a stolen Vauxhall and £100.

What I did not know, until I read The Detectives by Jean McConnell (David & Charles, 1976), which is based on a BBC Radio series, was that in the witness box the murderer, Frederick Guy Browne, claimed that far from being your average garage man, he was an engineer who used special tools (produced in evidence) when tuning cars at Brooklands for a Mr Aldridge. This presents something of a puzzle, because although a Mr H Aldridge Jnr and a Mr JW Aldridge did well at the Track in 1925 with a notably fast 12/50 Alvis, Browne apparently went to Dartmoor in April 1923, after one of a series of crimes that put him in prison on many occasions, and was not discharged until April 1927. I can find no record of the Aldridges racing after 1925, although both remained members of the BARC until the war. WB

Endangered Species

The latest historic building with motoring connections to be threatened with demolition was Lickey Grange, where Sir Herbert Austin lived from 1910 until his death in 1941, and where plans for the A7 were formulated.

The Grange was given by Austin’s to the Birmingham Royal Institute for the Blind in 1943, but instead of refurbishing it the Institute has plans to replace it with blocks of flats. The Pre-War A7 Club staged a protest meeting outside the gates on February 9, and it now seems this very historic site may have been reprieved.

Meanwhile, the Sentinel Drivers Club is concerned about the fate of the works office-block in Shrewsbury, and asks for support in the form of letters to local MPs and the Department of the Environment.

Other threatened buildings include the Argyll factory near Glasgow, the fine 1907 Vauxhall Motors office-block in Luton and the Dennis works in Guildford.

Midget Answer

Ask Motor Sport readers and you usually get an answer! John Garden (“Airedale Tale”, Motor Sport, January 1989) enquired whether anyone knew what became of the MG Montlhery Midget (registration GP 8269) he once owned. The MGCC Triple M Register informs us that it was sold to Sir Ian Forbes-Leith in 1931, and that it had had three owners, who had used it very little, by the time it was acquired by J Baird-Smith in 1942. It seems it may still be lying dormant somewhere.