Cars in books, November 1971

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A slice of Talbot lore, I fancy, can be culled from an article by Jack Gilbey on “The Vanished Cab Horses” in that excellent institution “The Field Bedside Book” (Collins, 1967): “The hansom I remember best—it was probably as fine a type of carriage as it was possible to build—was made by a firm called The Shrewsbury and Talbot Company, which started business in 1888. These vehicles continued to hold the respect and admiration of all until the advent of the motor car for hire drove them off the London streets.”

A great deal of motoring interest will be found in “With A Gun To The Hill”, by Stephen M. Pilkington (Herbert Jenkins, 1948), which I was recommended to read by Hamish Morten who races a vintage Bentley. Quite early in this delightful book—delightful in the reading sense, because I cannot condone the cold-blooded killing for sport of living creatures—there is mention of “an ancient ‘flivver'” used to convey the author, when a small boy, from the Palace Hotel, Grantoun-on-Spey, to Tomintoul, accompanied by his mother, Nannie, the nursery-maid, his two brothers and his baby sister, for the stalking holiday. This load of eight was a tight fit in the Ford, so it isn’t surprising to learn that it boiled over at the Brig O’ Brown: “The driver got out and unscrewed the radiator cap, whereupon a huge fount of boiling water shot feet into the air…. he refilled the radiator with water carried from the burn in his cap, a lengthy performance.” Which suggests that the Model-T didn’t normally overheat at this point, or was perhaps new to the route; incidentally, as this was in the days when “the road from Tomintoul to Inchrory was so bad that it was not considered safe for a car, even a flivver”, that steaming radiator was almost certainly a square brass-bound one.

I find it interesting that as late as 1923, whereas the author’s family travelled to Scotland, from King’s Cross, for the shooting and fishing season, the three cars were sent up three days earlier, for the journey from Hutton to Inverness—”They were there all right, but had had a rough passage, for the road north of Pitlochry was very bad in those days”. The makes used are unfortunately not recorded but in 1924 they were using a Ford called “Jerry”, which was “one of the old, high-backed, open, pedal-geared, vintage Fords. We had her five years and knew all her moods, which were many and varied, in spite of which no better car ever existed for hill work”— a nice tribute to the Model-T! It was kept at Hutton, where the under-groom looked after it, acting as under-chauffeur to it when it was taken up to Balnacoil. It it was presumably one of the aforesaid trio to make the long journey.

Similar visits continued when on vacation from Eton, the author recalling how an “open Morris Twelve” (this was around the year 1926, so was presumably a Morris-Cowley) was nearly lost, attempting to ford between Balnacoil and Lairg on the Rogart road, when being towed by a pony. It had been well water-proofed beforehand, “the magneto in layers of rag soaked in oil”, and when “unbunged and unwound it started like a bird and bumped off up the awful road with water squirting out of everything”, including the driver’s boots. There is reference to the author, who was now on the Stock Exchange, owning a Sunbeam in 1931. He owned a fierce terrier which, left in someone’s Rover, punctured all the hide-upholstered pneumatic cushions, reminder of the Rover renascence of this period.

By 1934 Pilkington was using a 40/50 Rolls-Royce for these holiday expeditions, which sank into the hill road to one of of the lochs and had to be towed out the next day by a breakdown vehicle. As late as 1938 the six-mile approach road from Alladale up Glen Mor to Deanlich was described as extremely difficult and the Balnagowan Estate Office apparently wouldn’t let their men use it— what, one wonders, is it like now? A visitor’s Rolls bogged down there and had to be rescued by a 30-h.p. Chevrolet. Now comes the interesting bit—the author refers to the Wroughtons’ “old four-and-a-half-litre Bentley, of the same vintage as my own” and, after emphasising the delights and the practicability of vintage cars—”neither of us would swap them for more modern versions”—describes his own Bentley as “a specially-built racing model with a short chassis and a high-compression engine and, although she was built in 1928, she could still do her hundred up to the war, and that without a ‘blower’, which was originally part of her equipment”. Perhaps the BDC can enlarge on this? The car was stored during the war but Pilkington obviously intended to use this detuned blower-4 1/2 again. He was invalided out of the Army and one wonders if he continued to drive this Bentley thereafter?—W. B.