Praise for Vintage

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Sir,

Mr. Rawnit is right — one should not refer to the modern car as “tinware,” and, however often I may have offended in the past, I will try never to do it again; because it has just. occurred to me that tin is a valuable metal today, mainly because it does not rust …

The British, Mr. Rawnit, are a nation of supporters of lost causes. Hence the number of people who drive around in cars twenty and thirty years old, which still continue to give good service because they were made (not produced) slowly and carefully by men who had never heard of Detroit, or pressed steel, or zinc-base alloy diecastings, or odd bits of badly chromium-plated metal insecurely fixed on to unlikely places to improve the “lines”of the thing. They were pessimists, these men, for they put starting handles on their cars, although their electrical equipment was far better than it is now, and their batteries were not overloaded by myriads of flashing fairy-lights. They put the works where you could see them and touch them, and they told you what to do if it went wrong and it did not involve taking the car to the nearest Service Station, where the offending component would be exchanged for a “factory reconditioned unit”! And some of us feel flattered to be treated as the driver of a motor car, with responsibilities for its well-being, rather than as the moronic operator of an automobile. The motor cars they built in those days had character; they required a little skill to drive them, and when you held the steering wheel you held the pulse of the car, feeling what the front wheels were doing and what the car thought about what you were doing. Hands up those to whom the steering wheel of a modern car looks like slimy frozen blanc-mange, and feels like soggy suet pudding when moved I

And those motor cars were strong, and sensibly shaped, so that if you were clumsy enough to touch the garage doors, or if someone clouted you in a crowded car park, the running board or wing bent a little, and there was no enormous dent along the whole length of the thing — the underlying reason, I believe, for the enormous cost of insurance nowadays.

Perhaps, of course. Mr. Rawnit needs a car for business-a nice new shiny car to show how prosperous his firm is, so that he has a new one every year. In that case I am sorry for him, for it takes me about a year to get to know a car, and then I find I am getting attached to it, and, as W. H. Charnock so nicely put it . . . ” it is seasoned, and unobtrusive, and friendly.” And after a year I find I am getting to know the car and its little ways-sorry. Mr. Rawnit, your sort of car doesn’t have “little ways” — it is smooth and sleek, and you have to remember its registration number to know it from all the thousands of others like it, for they are more alike than peas in a pod. I drove one of this sort recently — it went very nicely, faster, more quietly and with better acceleration than my old 12/40 Lea-Francis. Even if its steering did feel like chewed string it rode smoothly over roads that shake your back teeth loose in my car.

And it got round the corners all right, even if it did roll a bit. But I wonder if it will find an enthusiastic and loving owner in twenty-two years’ time, and if people will come up and admire it, and say how they knew it was a ’55 model because its chromium-plated front was die-cast and not pressed steel!

Of course, there are good motor cars built today; my firm makes very good ones indeed. Unfortunately they don’t pay me enough to be able to afford one! But even so, will as many people get as much pleasure from the A30 as from the Austin Seven? And will history declare the current Rolls-Royce (with bolt-on wheels and pressed-steel body) as great a car as the Silver Ghost?

Don’t think I am against modern cars. It’s only that I can’t for the life of me see how anyone can enjoy driving the vast majority of the things, or be proud to own them!

I am, Yours, etc.,
J. M. Storm.
Bristol. 

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