Cars in books, November 1983

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For those who like to know what kind of cars individual people used, and I suppose most of us do, there is interest from this and other aspects in “Ross” by Norris McWhirter (Churchill Press, 1976). The book is a rare combination about how the author’s twin-brother Ross was fatally shot in cold blood by two gunmen outside his house in Enfield in 1975, their shared childhood, athletics, with their own great achievements and those of Sir Roger Bannister (the four-minute mile), Chris Chataway, etc, and accounts of the legal battles Ross McWhirter fought against what he saw as guilt in failing to uphold the law or perform statutory duties. The book also tells of service in the RNVR and the remarkable story of the origins and development of that now famous work “The Guinness Book of Records”, which was the brothers’ idea and from which has stemmed other publications by Guinness Superlatives, including the invaluable motoring reference book “Motoring Facts & Feats” edited by Anthony Harding.

I had not got further than page 11 when I came upon a picture of the Darracq owned by Mr McWhirter Snr, then Editor of the Sunday Pictorial. It is seen outside their house “Giffnock” in Branscombe Gardens, Winchmore Hill, in London, with its gaitered ex-army sergeant chauffeur, West, who used to call his employer “General” and whose brown uniform matched that of the disc-wheeled Darracq, a four-door, six-light saloon of, I would think, about 1927/8 vintage, either a 17/55 or 20/98 hp model. It was this car that used to whisk Mrs McWhirter to the West End for first-nights and dinner-parties at her husband’s side. She also had her own Singer car. After the family had moved to a larger house, “Aberfoyle”, in the then-unmade Broad Walk road nearby, they had another chauffeur, Stevens, and seven other servants, and summer holidays involved two cars and a furniture van for the journey. It is a startling reflection on monetary inflation that, as the author points out, all this was possible as late as 1938 on a salary of £5,000, whereas by the mid-1970s it would have called for earnings of £113,500 a year to maintain such standards — so goodness knows what the equivalent is today… But in the 1920s Viscount Rothermere was, McWhirter says, able to convince himself that he was in straitened circumstances, when he was worth more than £26 million!

We learn, too, that at the time of Ross’s marriage the brothers shared a Mercedes-Benz 220 (Reg. No. RXN 630) and that at the time of the cold-blooded murder of Ross his brother had two cars, one of them a Triumph Dolomite. And that after the war the brothers’ father ran a large black Humber Pullman which Ross once drove from Winchmore Hill to Oxford in 1 hr 45 min. Under the athletics heading, we learn that at the 1954 Olympic Games in Vancouver the Canadian two-mile record-holder, Don McEwan, and his father were using their miniscule Austin 7 named “Piggy” (I assume this was an Issigonis Seven) and by tucking it onto HRH The Duke of Edinburgh’s police-escorted cavalcade, got to the stadium with Norris and Ross McWhirter and Anne Butler-Watson, wife of the Chairman of the Achilles Club, in record time.

Another book, “Mr Prone” by C. H. Ralph (Oxford University Press, 1977 also tells us much about the Law and how an ordinary person may inadvertently break it, through the unhappy experiences of its fictional character from which this amusing book takes its title. Motoring offences are involved, which makes it worth reading from that aspect, but what especially can my eye was where this small-time shop keeper is made to misquote the title of book “No Exit to Brooklyn” as “No Exit to Brooklands”. It is quite conceivable such a shop-keeper would know Brooklands Track, if only from has evening and daily papers in his newsagents business, and here then is another one of the Brooklands Society! But did the author an ex-Police Chief Inspector and well-known journalist and broadcaster, actually have the Motor Course in mind when he wrote the book and, if so, did he spectate there? I asked him, and he said he did, having seen it frequently from the train.

W.B.