Cars in Books, October 1969

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From “Long Before Forty”, the autobiography of the late C. S. Forester of the celebrated “Hornblower” books (Michael Joseph, 1967), comes an interesting example of how cars were rated at his public school during the years of the First World War—” . . . . the absence of social eminence could be compensated for, oddly enough, by the possession of the right kind of motor-car. To own a Rolls-Royce put a boy’s father on the footing of, say, a Rear Admiral even if he were only a linen draper; one Daimler was worth two doctors, so to speak, especially if you could prove that you were allowed to drive it yourself, it was better to disclaim all ownership of a motor-car than to admit the existence of a family Ford—a very ‘brickey’ one that, if ever there was one. I do not know whether nowadays, with ten times as many motorcars in use, the same subtle grading persists. I expect it does.”

Probably, but whereas a Silver Shadow would still presumably rate equal to one’s father being a Rear Admiral, the Daimler would have competition these days in equalling a couple of doctors, but the Ford, for those who know the excellence of a Cortina GT, the sheer performance afforded by a GT40, has overcome the stigma of the Model-T, in sporting circles, if not in the mind of the ordinary car owner.

Then a reader quotes an amusing passage from “An Album of the Chalk Streams”, by Dr. A. E. Barton (Adam & Charles Black, 1946): ” . . . . . I have heard of an angler who, during the evening rise, fell into a runnel not 8 ft. across. He sank in above his waist and was there for three house, calling for help. He was finally dragged out half dead by his chauffeur. Hence it is that a dog whistle is no bad thing to carry in one’s picket when fishing among unfamiliar ditches.”

Turning to fiction, “The Ipcress File” by Len Deighton (Hodder & Stoughton, 1962) is excellent entertainment if you like spy stories and is described as so authentic that it made M.I.5 wonder where the author got his information. I believe the text was vetted by the War Office to ensure that no official secrets were revealed. This means that the author is master of his subject and very accurate. But there is trace of doubt when he comes to cars, several of which, from Ford Anglia to Rolls-Royce are necessary to his story. For instance, his hero hires in London ” . . . . a blue Austin 7, the only car they had with radio”. Nothing impossible about that, except that this was in London, just after the war. Would a Knightsbridge hire firm have radio-equipped Austin 7s? The author may have intended an Austin Eight, but a few lines later he refers to “An antique Austin 7 in front of me signalled a right turn. The driver had shaved under the arms”. Which suggests he knew that an old Austin 7 was about, and, crudely expressed, that it might not have turn indicators.

Yet this author seems at home with cars elsewhere—a big new shiny Ford, the big V8 of which “warmed to the rich mixture” and a “big oversprung Lincoln Continental”. On the other hand, there is his girl in the Ford convertible which had power steering and an automatic gearbox, yet in which he lets “Jean let in the clutch”. Do you let in the clutch with an automatic gearbox?—W. B.