Cars in Books, September 1964

“Ruins in the Sky,” by Brian Fawcett (Hutchinson, 1958) is another book which should give railway enthusiasts great joy, describing as it does the author’s pre-war experiences with the Central Railway of Peru, and enthrall those interested in “lost civilisations,” with a search for which the latter part of this book deals. That there are unexpected references to motoring in it is something that has long since ceased to occasion me any surprise!

The author recalls the battered model-T Ford he drove about in while working for the highest railway in the World, a car which could be started only by jacking up one rear wheel, to prevent it creeping up on the person cranking it, and which had only two speeds—”full out or stopped dead”. On one occasion this Ford had 11 punctures in 20 miles; it was regarded with disdain by a rich young colleague from England who was “eloquent about ‘Three Litre-Bentleys’ and other European hot-rods. . . .”

There are references to cars converted to run on rails and to a Sentinel steam coach, when new apparently very efficient, but a handful thereafter. But the best motoring in the book concerns a vivid description of a night run from Oroya to Tarma in a 6-cylinder De Soto tourer in July 1931. The road was a nightmare, but the car, hired from an Oroya concern, was an experiment by Mike Harrison, head of the Central Railway’s Motor Transport Section, to see if it was feasible to inaugurate a road service between the Peruvian Corporation’s Perene Colony coffee estate and Oroya. Apart from Autovac trouble the De Soto seems to have performed admirably but the author’s account of this difficult run ranks as a vintage (or should I say p.v.t.?) epic—although I imagine the car was a pre-1931 model.

Incidentally, in his preface Fawcett (son of the famous explorer) excuses railway technicalities in his writings with the words “few readers jibe at technicalities in a sea story,” with which I entirely agree; indeed, I have many times made a plea for as much detail as possible in motoring histories, reminding writers that locomotive and aviation literature does not shirk the minutest items if these are known or can be discovered. The later part of the book will appeal to aviation enthusiasts, the descriptions of flying a total of 12,000 miles over desolate bush-country in Beechcraft Bonanzas ( 80-h.p. Continental) being extremely well done. One of these Beechcraft averaged over 150 m.p.h. for a flight of nearly 500 miles, from Aragarças to Rio, non-stop, which Fawcett observed “must be a record of some kind for a Beechcraft Bonanza, and argues a tail wind.”   Incidentally, does the model-A Ford taxi still operate at Passos airfield “the decrepit automobile of about 1930” still ply for hire at Teresina, or the “ancient biplane painted in blazing patterns of vermilion and yellow” still occupy the hangar there?– W. B.