CARS IN BOOKS, November 1967

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CARS IN BOOKS

FROM a book which I !Oinkd quite fascinating, ” Spy Ring,” by John Bulloch and Henry Miller (Seeker & Warburg, 1960, which tells the story of die Naval Secrets Case of 1960-61, one learns of the kind of cars used by Russia’s spies when on duty in this country. The operator of the ” high-power wireless station ” set up in a £4,000 bungalow in Cranky Drive, Ruislip, had a black Ford Consul, always driven by his wife and bought in 19$6. A minor Civil Servant who supplied secret information to the Russians from the base at Portland had a blue Dauphine, always referred to in the book, incidentally, by the type name and not as a Renault. It is stated that he was a ” careless motorist who had previously been fined for driving dangerously,” and frequently the Dorset police who saw his car late at night ” realised that, if they wished, they could have arrested him for drunken driving.” Here is proof that, when it suits them, drunken driving, which might kill or maim others, is overlooked by the police, an interesting thought in this age of breathalyser persecution!

The top spy from Russia bought a Ford van, changed it ” for another small vehicle temporarily,” then ran a Standard Companion, all this around 1955. He then, in 1960, traded in the Standard at a garage in the Harrow Road for a used Studebaker Farina. This cost ksloo, but he was allowed £270 on the Standard and a suite of furniture was accepted to cover the balance. Thus the spy acquired a car which attracted the girls but which would not seem a very suitable vehicle for one who had to remain anonymous. Its Reg. Ni,. was ULA 61.

Apart from these references to cars, some extremely interesting things COMe out of this book, not the least of which is that the top Russian agent was .granted 3 k2,50D overdraft by a British bank, that he became quite a successful company director while at large, and that Russian money he paid over for secret information was invested in British savings certificates! Only two cars, a Russian Zis and a Rover saloon, both black and in use in 1956, the latter a Naval or police car, obviously an ” auntie ” Rover, are mentioned in another spy book, ” Frogman Extraordinary,” by J. Bernard Hutton (Neville Spearman, 196o). This book claims to clear up the mystery of the missing diver, Lt.-Comdr. Lionel Crabb,

G.M., who disappeared while diving in Portsmoutn Harbour while the Russian warships bringing Marshal Bulganin and Mr. Khrushchey to England on a goodwill mission lay at anchor in Stokes Bay. Documents said to be translations of the Russian secret dossiers on Comdr. Crabb form the basis of the book and are said to show that he was captured and taken r.0 Moscow in the Ordzhonikidze: and after resolutely refusing to admit that he had been spying for the American Government with the knowledge of our own Naval Intelligence, voluntarily joined the Red Navy, as 1st Lt. Lev Lvovieh Korabloy.

As a motoring writer, not a crime reporter, this is out of my province. But I confess I am puzzled to know how documents alleged to have been brought from behind the Iron Curtain by agents working for the West and which were contrary to everything the 13ritish Government wished to be known about the fate of the missing frogman could have got into the hands of the author and why he was permittsd to publish them. Further, there are one or two passages in the alleged translations of reports by those who claim to have handled the prisoner which do not ring true, i» my opinion, even though the author does make the point that the reports concerned were ” written in the matter-of-fact style of ‘,dicer’s reporting.” I doubt, for insLmee, whether, in reoorting how the prisoner was taken off an aircraft at Vnulawo Airport, the Chief Security Officer of Moscow Special Command would have quoted the make and colour or the duty car which took the prisoner off. The number perhaps, but not, I would have thought, the make. ESpecially as the make and number of the aeroplane are not given. “‘Ida is not the place to quote the other passages which make me doubt the authenticity of these reports. The inference is that either they were invented by someone (not the author) for the purpose of a book or were sent out by Russia for propaganda purposes, in which case they would be easier of access than if they had been obtained by an agent working for the West and delivered to our espionage service. For Russia this would have had as its object the embarrassing of the British and American Governments, proving their efficiency at capturing a spy, boosting their espionage service arid advertising to anyOne contemplating de.ecting to them how considerate and profitable is the Russian treatment of such traitors. Even so, why publication was permitted is as big a puzzle as the Crabb mystery itself. And if Crabb is a prisoner in Russia this book, one would have thought, might well be unfavourable

to him. . .

At the risk of being accused of a morbid interest in crime books, k must refer briefly to ” Deadman’s Hill : Was Ilanratty Guilty ? ” by Lord Russell of Liverpool (Seeker & Warbeck, 1965). There IS passing interest in ears used by famous spies or those quoted in connection with criminal cases of the vintage era. But the make of a comparatively modern ordinary car which figures in a fairly recent brutal crime is not, on its own, of any significance. So, before reading this convincing pleading for Hanratty, who was executed in connection with the. A6 murder, and which follows a number of ocher references to this ease, the most recent by Paul Foot in the September issue of Queek. I did not expect that it would include anything of motoring interest. But I svas wrong. ‘The car of the murdered man was a grey 1956 Morris Minor 4-door saloon, 847 BIM. It has been described as having red strips on the back bumper, a reversing lamp (which Lord Russell refers to later, rather carelessly, as a rear lamp) and as ” Making, a Oise like a racing car ” when its driver changed (Iowa. This makes sense whets one

learns that Michael Gregsten, the murdered man, and his girl-friend were ” members of their office motor rally club ” and that they ” both liked motor rallies “—indeed, they were said to have been planning a rally when the gunman got into their car. Chequer-tape, extra lamps, and an open exhaust or perhaps 2 tuned engine, might be expected, in these circumstances.

An interesting part of the cross-examination at the murder trial concerns a witness who was called on by Defence Council to date the Morris. It went like this : ” Q. Do you deiinitely say this was a 1956 Morris ? A. Yes. Q. Really ? A. I wo,ild say it was a t956 Morris, yes. Q. Could, it not have been a 1955 model ? A. Possible—it would be late 1955. Q. 1954? A. No. Q. My instructions are that there was no change until October 1.956, from 1954. That is right, is it not ? A. Yes.” Now this witness was described as an engineer who owned a 1950 Humber Snipe. But he was surely a very exceptional engineer, if he was so easily able to distinguish between different-year Morris Minors? I am supposed to have some small specialised knowledge of cars, albeit confused at times, but I would have been quite unable to answer those questions, if called upon to do so without consulting references. (It transpired subsequently that the witness was basing his assumption of 1956 on the condition of the car.) Incidentally, Defence Counsel seems to have been casually instructed, too, because the Morris Minor underwent a number of changes between 1954 and October 1956, for instance a smaller grille, with only horizontal bars, a central speedometer and open cubbyholes with shelf below, in October 1954. I 9m intere’sted, too, that the author thinks that the gunman’s nervous reaction to being driven by Gregsten was not in keeping with someone who ” was an experienced driier, had driven many makes of cars and himself owned a very powerful one “—many of the leading figures. in this sordid Case apparently liked fast cars. Without in any way wishing to prejudice Lord Russell’s defence of Hanratty, I would have thought a more logical explanation would be that the more experienced a driver is, the more likely he is to be nervous of being driven by someone else, especially an amateur rally driser at whom he is pointing a gun! Particularly as, if the car had hit anything, it would have attracted unwelcome attention, from his angle, to this macabre all-night motor ride. . . As Lord Russell himself agrees, in suggesting one way (I think an unwise one) in which the victims might have drawn attention to their plight.

Returning to more appropriate matters, •a letter from Leonard Woolf, while not recalling the makes of the ears referred to in ” Beginning Again,” is interesting because it mentions a used Singer that the famous author bought in 1927. He 1011owed this with a new Singer in 1930, and in 1933 bought a new Lanchester 18, which he used for zz years. When war broke out a friend who had been touring in France in a small Ford managed to get a boat from Bordeaux but had to leave the car on the jetty. She asked the A.A. man to send it on to Mr. Woolf and one day it duly turned up at his house in Sussex. He used it as companion to the Lanchester to conserve petrol during the war. In 1955 he bought a Daimler, which was used until 1964, when it was replaced by a Wolseley 16/60 which is still in service. Finally, for this month, a reader quotes the following, from ” The Unbaited Trap,” by Catherine Cookson (Macdonald, 1966) : “

had a Rover car for years, changing every so often, but this last change had brought with it a thrill, and he had long since felt that thrills were things that happened to other men, and youths. Yes, thrills were the prerogative of youth. But the Rover 2000 had stirred something in him. It was a small stir, but, nevertheless, because such emotional happenings were rare, it loomed as something large. The effect of the car on him was, he imagined, like that caused by a few pep pills.” So there is yet another reason for choosing a Rover car!—W. B.