BOOK REVIEWS, November 1980, November 1980
“An Addiction to Automobiles” by Maurice Platt. 198 pp. 9,” x 6″. (Frederick Warne Ltd., 40, Bedford Square, London, MB 311E. f12.50).
This is a most welcome book. being, as the sub-tale says. the occupational autobiography of an engineer and journalist. Maurice Plan was well known to those who read the pre-war motor journals as Technical Editor of The Motor, before he relinquished that position to the late I.aurence Pomeroy, Jnr., to take up an engineering post with Vauxhall Motors at Luton — “My only misgiving was that the alinost Edwardian character-part which he ,Ponieroy, elected tO play, complete with monocle and a talent for quoting aphorisms, might be thought unduly eccentric by the conventional management of Temple Press.”
Before that Platt had worked on arm-engines. flown with the RFC and RAE and, after demobilisation, he joined the Albion Company. on the lorry design side. Much of the greatest interest is revealed about those tasks, the problems involved, and the personalities Platt met. His period with The Motor is likewise extremely interesting, and I would have liked much more! After all, yery hole has been revealed about what working for a weekly motor journal is like, although John Dugdale touched on his time in the offices of The Autocar in his book and Rodney Walkedev sometimes regales us with his recollections of being The Motor’s Continental Correspondent before the war. Maurice Platt was with Vauxhall’s from 1936 until his retirement ni 1947 and he writes In the most interesting manner about it all, including development of Alex Taub’s flat -12 21-litre tank engine (built in 89 days from the go-ahead. or one less than it took to make the prototype Model-A Ford, and both hard to believe., and other wartime productions. Vauxhall enthusiasts are going to baton splendid time perusing this book. Many of the famous Lutonian personalities are encountered in its pages — including, incidentally. C. E. King whom we also meet in my interview with F.rnest Hancock (see page 1742) and who, I learn from Maurice Platt’s book, came to Vauxhall’s from Adams and Lorraine de Dietrich, studying painting in Pans in the interim. Mr. Platt’s story is like that — full of unexpected information about the people he encountered dunng his long writing arid engineering career, in the course of which he rose to be a Director and Chief Engineer at Vauxhall Motors. He went to America to study US methods and knew well the General Motors philosophy, “An Addiction to Automobiles” manages to be more than lust a very fascinating autobiography of a great engineer. Mr. Platt has contrived to explain a great deal about motor-car development as he unfolds his story. fleas well-fitted to do this for, apart from his enginerning qualifications, he once wrote a very lucid book for Pitman’s on “Automobile Engineering”. which used to bows frequent mentor before the war. If is still in print I strongly re‘ommend it to students in the subject. Under the great Matinee 011ey. Platt became conversant with handling problems and an understanding of m ersteer and understeer etc., whs. I recall he explained in Thy Mow and in his aforesaid book. The method he uses in his present hook is to devote some of the chapters ti, different technical subjects. Thus there is “The
Great Front-Wheel Brake Controversy”, “Clutch and gearbox — the terrible twins”, “Engines and petrols: a matter of compatibility”. and “Evolution and the survival of the piston engine”. These particular chapters are far from dull technical discourses but they do give an insight into how cars developed in the period with which Platt is dealing, aided by simple illustrations, even if it will be element, stuff to the betteranformed students. But the point is that all manner of worthwhile asides occur along the way, firmly holding one’s interest.
As befits a former Technical Editot of The Motor, the text is written fluently, so that this very important contribution to motoring history and literature is a pleasure to read. The technical detail is interesting, too, because this was a time when unitary construction was taking over from the separate chassis, so that 011ey and Platt were engaged in looking at the car as a complete package able to accommodate a specified number of persons, which could no longer be attained simply by ‘,lunging the length of the wheelbase, and ol getting the required handling qualities from cars using front brakes and bow • pressure tyres. The result, whether you regard this as a partial text-book or a very readable autobiography, is excellent. The photographs are a mixed bag. however, and are all placed in the middle of the text; but this does not spoil the treat Platt has in store for you. I only wish we could have ut even bigger treat, with additional information, for instance, about the author’s experiences when testing cars and writing for the pre-war Motor, although, make no mistake, he deals most interestingly with the Nople he met and the mechanisms he encountered. at that time and subsequently. Incidentally, he re, eals that whoas he left Temple Pre. ltd. he was earning I:1,000-11.year and had the use of an Alvis Speed Twenty, whereas Vauxhall’s at first offered him £800 and no car. — W.B. “Royalty on the Road” by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu with Michael Frostick. 191 pp. 91,.. x 71/2″. (Collins Publications, 14, St. larnels Place, London, SW 1 A IPS. 0.95 cars used by Royalty are of interest to the
maiority of the people, so Lord Montagu must be set for success with his book on the subject. Primarily a picture-book, it covers Royal motoring all over the World, divided into the periods 1898-1918, 1918-1945. and 1945-1980. Naturally, the opening pages deal with the controversial “firsts. in motoring by the British Sovereign, in Daimler horseless-carriages, with which Lord Montagu’s father was so closely involved. Thereafter the book opens out into an alluring panorama of Royalty at the wheel, behind the wheel (like the posed photograph of Queen Mary, when Princess of Wales, with a 1903 Panhard, although, says Frosts,. there is no record that she ever drove herself , and with their automobiles.
Most of the great makes are naturally depicted, notably Daimler, Merced., Dclaunay-Belleville, Napier, Hispano Suiza, Sunbeam, Cadillac, Chrysler, Rolls-Royce, Lanchester, Bentley, Crossley, eta. There is not much text, but long picture captions, in some of which Frostick motors skilfully out of the problems of identity of some of the photographs present. While this book does not include all the Royal cars referred to in “Royal Motoring” by J. Dewar McLintock (Foulis. 19621 and lacks the dignity and copious detail which Brian Smith combined in his great “Royal Daimlers. volume, Lord Montagu has captured most of it in picture, and this latest Royal book would make an excellent Christmas present. The contents are surprising in their variety — racing cars figure, as when Royal persons were being taken for demonstration rides; but what is Queen Elizabeth of the Belgians, delightfully head-scarfed and be-goggled, doing in a mud-stained 1922 GP Fiat, carrying a racing number? It is uid to be at the Fiat factory two years after the Grands Prix in which it figured. I would have said it was more likely photographed just after Bordino had finished second in the 1922 French GP, were it not that he did not have No. 2 in that race. Perhaps it was taken after he had won at Monza later that year? Or was the photograph taken in practice, which might explain the bulb-horn? Why King Albert should not have been relieved of his wife’s flowers is unexplained;
or are they the winners discarded wreath? By courtesy of the publishers, I am able to publish the picture on this page, so that you can join in the mystery. In view of the Royal passenger, the ois rear hub-cap should surely have received attention! Queen Elizabeth is seen at Brooklands with Elsie Wisdom and the 41/2-litre Invicta, Charles Follett is shown presenting Prince “Bira” with a trophy (hardly Royalty on the road!), Prince Nicholas of Rumania is depicted taking part in actual racing, with his Duescnburg and Alfa Romeo, and Prince Bertilig Sweden is shown on a rally in his Bugatti, quoted as a Type 38 44. There are even Royal accident-pictures, such as that of the King of Sweden’s C,aciillac off the road in a ditch and the damaged Daimler of Queen Mary being removed after its London calamity, as described in MOTOR SPORT some time ago. Model cars have a place in this versatile Royal picture-book, King Leopold of the Belgians is seen with Prince Alexander and one of those splendid scale-model GP Bugattis, the Duke of Kent’s son is in the replica of a 1924 GP Sunbeam presented to him by Lord Montagu, and the miniature 1912 electrically-driven Cadillac (by one of the newly introduced. Cadillac starter-motors!) of the Crown Prince Olaf of Norway is illustrated. Iris disappointing that the Abdication-era Buicks are not included, presumably because this is regarded by the authors as a non-Royal occasion. Indeed, the only Buick in the book is that of the Crown Prince of Norway, circa 1934-5. It was clever of Frostick to have identified the early Hudson and Willys-Knight tourers once used by the Prince of Wales and the 1927 Model-265 Nash of Prince
Wilhelm of Sweden. The Kaiser is seen in all his pomp and circumstance in several pictures and she Princess of Liege looks charming, in crash-hat and Alfa Romeo, ready for a demonstration nm while she was in Milan. The most charming picture of them all is that of Queen Mary in an Army Citroen Kegressc half-track, riding regally but happily in the back over rough terrain. The Foreword is by HRH Prince Michael of Kent, who picks on Lord Montagu’s pessimism about motoring coming titan end. Which should give you some idea of this admirable browsing-book. Some browse! Some present! — W.B.
CARS IN BOOKS
A READER recominendcd me to read “The Purple Streak” by Rupert Croft-Cooke W. H. Allen, 1966) because it contains an account of the Bolsters, at the time when John Bolster was developing his sprint car “Bloody Mary”, the author having been befriended by the Bolster family. This I was glad to do, because although I had read other titles by this author “The Purple Streak” had eluded me — the title derives from the Spanish flag, much of the book being about Croft-Cookc’s stay in that country, before rho war. He pays a fine tribute to the hospitality given to him by Mrs. Mary Bolster, at the comfortable house near Meopham in Kent, with its well-stocked table. Mrs. Bolster is described as a lady who “had been handling fast cars since girlhood and (who) now drove her Frazer-Nash (I am afraid the author, hyphenates it, David Thirlby!) at speeds only slightly lower than her sons”. But the comment that “in all their fast motoring none of them had ever had a road
accident” makes me raise an eyebrow, especially after reading that excellent book “Motoring Is My Business” by John Bolster (Au:asp°, 1958), in which he is quite honest about some of his youthful driving calamities. . . .
At the time, 1932(33, Rupert Croft-Cooke was running the old Clyno we have met before in his books, -which stood bolt upright and looked like a hansom cab-, so was presumably a saloon. In it the owner had a nasty accident through driving it towards Wrotham on failing lights, after buying it from a publican in Strood. It was John Bolster who came to the rescue and Mrs. Bolster who insisted that Rupert stayed the night at her house. As John Bolster is now a prominent motoring writer I will spare his blushes by not quoting all the friendly things that appear in this book about the Bolsters; but it is interesting to be reminded that, apart from motor-racing, the boys, like their mother, rode to hounds, and loved their horses. Another motoring aspect niche book is an account of a drive at about this same time with a curate to Portugal in -a wealthy friend’s red Cadillac two-seater, a huge and magnificent vehicle”. As the author observes, taking acne abroad was still an adventure in 1935, which was felt as they disembarked at Boulogne, bound for Lisbon. The Cadillac is described as of 32 h.p., “built like an armoured car, so large and mightly was it . ..” It sounds to have been a vintage V8 model. Later in she book there is reference again to a Clyno and to a little Singer that the author had acquired at a time when there was a 2, toll to pay on the road between Oxford and Witney (I donor recall this) and when that sum would buy “a gallon and a half of petrol—or for that matter, two and a half pints of beer.” — W.B.