Cars in books, October 1971

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Having last month posed the mystery of a Sunbeam lorry which figures in a book by Ronald Duncan, I came upon it again in his “All Men Are Islands” (Hart-Davis, 1964). This time the author refers to “my old Sunbeam”, and from his description of farming materials carried in it, suggests that it may well have had a lorry body. The period is again WW 2, the place his community farm in Devon. So it can be reasonably surmised that the Sunbeam lorry Duncan saw run backwards down his local hill and overturn was either already his, driven by his wife or a farm-hand, although he didn’t admit to this, or that he acquired it after the accident.

What is presumably the same vehicle is described in this second book as able to “carry half a ton up the hill”, which makes me think it was actually a private car converted into a truck. That its tank held at least eight gallons of fuel does not contradict this, because vintage Sunbeam cars have big petrol tanks—this arises from a chapter about Duncan finding a drum of petrol in the sea and being arrested and gaoled for using it, later to be exonerated because he had Manorial Rights to the beach on which it foundered, a fact which might please the Human Rights campaigners, or would it? Anyway, the STD Register had better set a well-known Devonian member on to searching for this Sunbeam, whether genuine Wolverhampton commercial or converted private car!

From that most entertaining book “An Evergreen Garland” by the late Vyvyan Holland (Cassell, 1968) I see that one of his diary entries read “Today, walking along Piccadilly, I counted more motor cars than horses in the road”. The year was 1911 and the author cites this as one advantage of a diary, saying there is no official record of when cars out-numbered horse-drawn vehicles in Piccadilly.

Finally, for this month, and I hope it will not be misconstrued as a means of padding out this feature, my wife tells me that “In France It Was Spring”, by Ida Treat (Faber & Faber, 1959) quotes the only woman other than the authoress to be seen driving a car in Sentein to be Mme. de Saix, wife of a Paris antiquaire with a house in the locality, driving “a gray Voisin at top speed over the mountains”. There is also a reference to a pre-war Ford with dubious tyres in St. Fiacre and being nearly run over in Paris by “an underslung Voisin”, either actually so or the impression given by this low-slung car, which dates the period as between the wars.—W. B.