Cars in books, November 1981

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This time, thanks to the generosity of a reader, Bob Hammond of Palm Springs, California, I have been reading what I think must be avers rare title, namely, “The Car That Went Abroad” by Albert Bigelow Paine, which was published by Harper & Bros. in 1921. In kindly sending me this book, Mr. Hammond remarks that there is very little by which to identify the make of car around which the book was written. So from this description of the tour the author took with his family in what he calls the “Golden Age”, just before Europe was engulfed in the first World War, I thought it would be amusing to see what clues to his car’s identity I could find. The illustrations are no help, as they are sketches by Walter Hale, and although I seem to have heard of the author before, in what context completely escapes me.

Mr. Bigelow Paine was an American who shipped his car to Marseilles and undertook two leisurely tours in it, with which his book deals, the first through France to Switzerland for the winter-sports, the second one, very close to the outbreak of war, through France, Germany and Switzerland. He was accompanied by his wife and two young daughters, and the pace was Unhurried, a picnic lunch being eaten every day: if it was raining, as it often was, they would stand under their umbrellas, or sit in the car. The book Provides a charming and lighthearted description of Europe before the Kaiser war, as seen by someone from the USA. 1 found myself wondering, as I read it, whether the road across the mountains from Nimes to Villefort is as deserted now as it was in 1913— possibly not, vet with everyone on the Autoroutes, . . Or what of Billy, on the beautiful Allier river. which M 1914 had “but a bare three-line mention in Baedeker”? How much has that place changed. along the years?

However, let me devote the space available to the motorcar. I hadn’t any idea of its make until I came to chapter 10, and then I began to wonder. Because the author tells therein of how. having come all the way from Marseilles to Avignon, he felt it was tune to “make with the oil and grease”, while his 15-year-old daughter Narcissa washed and polished. It then becomes apparent that this car possessed a great many lubrication points, consisting of big and little grease caps, tiny oilers, some more holes, others capped, the lubrication chart extremely complicated, so that the task occupied more than two hours. I remembered the many oiling points on a 40 50 h.p. !tells-Royce chassis, some 99 to lubricate by hand once a week, according to Anthony Bird. Could it be? . . . Not an American 40 50 model from Springfield, though, because that didn’t appear until 1921. But it could have been a Derby-built Rolls-Royce shipped out to America.

Driving away after this servicing chore, the car, whatever it was, smoked so badly that Bigelow Paine observed that in New York they would have been taken in charge. A garage was consulted and he was told he had filled the sump too full: “Two little tell-tale cocks that were designed to drip when there was sufficient oil had failed to drip because they were stopped up with dust.” There is a clue there, for some knowledgeable person. coupled vvith a mention that on the ship, crossing the Atlantic, the car’s owner had consulted the “Automobile Instruction Book”, by which he probably means the car’s instruction manual, and it contained “thirty-seven reasons why the motor may not start”. But in the Rolls-Royce manual I have consulted, not surprisingly, there is nothing like that. . . .

I had, nevertheless, been getting rather confident that the Paine’s car was a Royce. It “. . .slipped noiselessly out of the docks” and after a thorough overhaul between she two tours, it “glided away”, as it “glided along” on other occasions. Moreover, when the owner had thought to steal some grapes from a roadside vine below Bagnols but was disturbed (by a goat, as it turned out), he made off “putting temptation behind us on third speed”. At first I thought this implied a 3-speed gearbox, but then it occurred to me that the 1908 40 ( 50 h., Rolls-Royce had a 4-speed gearbox with an overdrive fourth speed. So that, when rapid acceleration was called for, the driver would use the “third speed”.

However, as I read further, I lost confidence in my R-R theory. For one thing, the car boiled quite frequently on hills, and for another it is described as of 30 h.p. Then it apparently had band brakes and there is never any reference to a self-starter, but several to hand-cranking the engine. (Had it been a Cadillac, it might have been expected to have had an electric-starter, unless it was a pre-1912 model.) The owner seems to have been a rather inexperienced driver, for apart from not having poked a wire up those blocked oil-level cocks, he his a wall and badly damaged a lrent mudguard after inadvertently getting on the road to Chateau d’Oex and in descending the alarming grade “on low speed with the spark cut and using the foot and emergency brake”, ran into a wall. It took a week to repair that n/s front mudguard — “I suppose they had to straighten it out with a steam roller”. The bill was 16 old-francs.

Incidentally, the author of this book explains about descending steep hills using the engine as a brake, something he had not heard of until his tour. For example: “We descended the Jura grades on the engine brake — that is, I, let in the clutch, cut off the gasoline supply, and descend on first or second speed, according to the grade. That saves the wheel brake and does no damage to the motor. I suppose everybody knows the trick, but I did not learn it tight away, and there may be others who know as little” — rather a contradiction in terms!

I have said that this car, which I am now pretty sure was of American origin — 3-speeds (unless “using 1st and 2nd as a brake” suggests otherwise), band-brakes, no starter — and of 30 h.p. This arose when the owner was explaining that French automobiles were more expensive than his, M proportion to horse-power. about 12 h.p. to 15 h.p. of the ordinary French 5-seater. At home Paine had thought his engine “rather light”, but it was a giant in comparison. This made him think; “gasoline was 100, more expensive in Europe and Customs’ deposits were based on weight.” However, American and French h., differed from our RAC h.p.-rating, so 30 h.p. may not have been the true power of this car we are enquiring into. It is called an “old car” in 1914, by the way. It had two horns, one a Klaxonette, which sounds un-American but, after 5,000 miles, when its tyres began to give out at Tours, a move was made to repair them, as American sizes required “a special order to the factory”, further proof that this was an American auto. The effort put into changing tyres suggests that the car had non-detachable wheels and rims. Reading further, it had Prestolite headlamps ‘(with a small “p” in the book, as if a type of lamp), that eventually “gave out”. and oil side-lamps. It cracked a spring, but was otherwise dependable. It does not seem to have been a very fast car, doing mostly 15-20 m.p.h. (but ts was a leisurely tour), when it gave 18-20 m.p.g. of petrol. There is one reference to it being “on all its cylinders”, which might lost suggest that it had more than four. A Packard Six-48, perhaps? Incidentally, the party visited the Michelin factory as Clermont-Ferrand. This was described as “the great benevolent one that supplies the red road-book, and any desired information, free” sodas the Company of which “about four-fifths of the cars of Europe go rolling along on its products, while their owners, without exception, use its wonderfully authentic guides”. The travellers were given a brand-new red-book and a green-book for Germany and Switzerland. No wonder they came to “love the merry Michelin man”. Another place visited by the tourists was the Chita. of Chenonceaux, the home of M. Meunier, the wealthy chocolate manufacturer — it was 1914 and one wonders whether his son’s 1913 Coupe de L’Auto Peugeot was sheltered there…

One final clue to the make of Bigelow Paine’s car. When he carelessly rammed a can near Pots and damaged the radiator (“our car looked as if it had burst into tears”), a lamp, and that mudguard again, a new radiator had to be sent for from London. By 1914 Rolls-Royce Ltd., had things well organised and surely if the car was a Rolls a replacement would have been available in Paris? However, this proves that the car’s maker, whoever it was, had a depot in London. So can anyone tell me, from the foregoing slender clues, the make of car? —W.B.