Cars In Books, October 1978

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An indication of the universality of the Model-T Ford is contained in travel books written when this was about the only mechanical road transport encountered in the backwoods of the World. Thus much of the excellent travel stories in “The Little World” by Stella Benson (Macmillan, 1925) are centred about this irrepressibly fascinating car. But even such an adventurous person as Mrs. Benson admitted that “Nobody but a true fool tries to cross the United States in a Ford car in the middle of winter” which is, of course, exactly what she did attempt. In it, this “newest model” … whose profile was “Grecian in its exquisite simplicity. She hails from Connecticut State and bears her state nameplate under her chin and at the nape of her neck”, she and her companion covered 4,600 interesting miles. Foreseeing the day of endless motorways, Mrs. Benson describes the going as it was then, in traversing the states of, as she put it, NY, NJ, Pa., Del., Md., DC, Va., NC, SC, Ga., Ala., Miss., La., Tex., NM, Ariz., and Calif. After this journey she observed that humility is the first thing expected of a Ford owner, but the last thing a Ford owner feels “Pierce Arrows and Rolls-Royces are nothing to us. Believe it or not on a good road we could pass every known make of car except a Ford, and nothing but a Ford even dared pass us”.

Thereafter follow all the adventures of such a venture’ after learning to drive a T. Which resulted in a crash into a tree in the virgin forests of Maryland after passing a “Stout, road-filling Cadillac” at 30 or 40 m.p.h. and skidding off the road. Only the windscreen and a headlamp suffered. The book will appeal to Model-T connoisseurs, who will find it all there, even trying to raise the gasoline in the tank when supplies were exhausted by floating it in water, which worked for a Short time! (I didn’t know Fords had top off-takes from the petrol tank!) On another occasion, stranded 16 miles from Acoma and failing to find the promised hotel and the “regular Motor service” to that place. what did the travellers demand but “A Ford car, please, and look sharp about it!”. Their hostess had a “smart little Dodge”. In China there is more adventure, travelling the newly-opened road from Annam to Laos, in a car driven by “a little goblin of an Annamite chauffeur” in a hired car, The make of this and various small ‘buses encountered en route isn’t quoted but I bet they were Fords, as was the car they were obliged to hire in Tourane. although Stella Benson went in the native stage-bus to Quinhon – another Ford?

I think I have quoted previously in this long running series from books about Virginia Woolf but not included the following, front “Virginia Wolf – A Biography” by Quentin Bell: “That summer (July 1927) Virginia acquired motor car. … “The motor car was an important addition to her life …and was considered a great luxury. Leonard at once became a skilful and knowledgeable driver. Virginia also took driving lessons and, as she considered, made good progress. But after taking their Singer through a hedge she decided (although no substantial damage was done) to let herself be driven. This indeed she found most enjoyable.”

There is practically no motoring referred to in “Literary Gent” by David Higham (Cape, 1978) a book about as earthy as David Niven’s “The Moon’s A Balloon”, for the perfectly good reason that this famous literary agent cannot drive a car and all but came to grief when trying to master a military motorcycle during WW2. He does, however, mention that as early as 1906 his greataunts, living in Bayswater, kept a limousine and chauffeur, Mors and Delaunay-Belleville being quoted, the latter wrongly spelt. There is a little more motoring in that readable book -The Way to Minack” by Derek Tangye (Michael Joseph. 1968), one_ of whose brothers was Nigel Tangye. a flying instructor on DH Moths at Stag lane Aerodrome and “one of the finest acrobatic pilots in the country”, who was called in by Korda to advise on the flying sequences in H. G. Wells’ film. “The Shape of Things to Come”). He ran “a Morris two-seater with a canvas hood”. Derek’s parents used to meet hint from school, at Truro Station, with the dogs, in “an old Wolseley tourer”. This must have been in the early I920s, so one wonders what age the car was. Then, a case of Austins in books, when Derek Tangye had no car of his own he borrowed “a Baby Austin which was even smaller than a Mimi” to take the actress Sylvia Sydney out to dine at Quo Vadis, with Leoni hovering over them, and afterwards to see “the most beautiful view in London … the floodlit Battersea Power Station”. He never dared to ask to see the girl again, although years later he heard that she thought this her most memorable sight in London. All that was not long before WW2.

Tangye was soon to take over Godfrey Winn’s column on the Daily Mirror, to celebrate which he bought himself “an elegant Buick”, sold to pay his debts when the column folded. – W.B.

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