Car in books

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Yes, this feature still finds material for its continuance! A copy of “Hesketh Pearson by Himself” (Heinemann, 1965), lent to me by a prominent P.R.O. in the Motor Industry, proved to be a pretty conventional but irresistably readable autobiography, with a few references to cars. It begins when Pearson describes how his brother Jack had bought a motor business in Hove and was about to open a showroom in the King’s Road, Brighton, which Hesketh was asked to manage. That was in September 1908 and although the author admits he knew nothing whatever of motor-cars or their accessories, he took the job. He says these were among the happiest years of his life, in spite of certain misadventures—”Soon after my managerial appointment I decided to take the Burt family for a motor trip. Never having handled a car before, I asked the driver to show me what to do and was initiated into the mysteries of clutch, footbrake, handbrake, starting-handle, throttle, and so forth, the lesson lasting about ten minutes.” After which the journey commenced, and apart from a terrific jolt when starting off, all went well, downhill, through North Street and along Marine Parade, to Beachy Head. They returned from Eastbourne safely but, approaching Preston, the car, a 14 h.p. Star, skidded across the road into a ditch. The car was pushed, pulled and lifted back onto the road, to Pearson’s surprise “the engine responded to the starting handle as if nothing had happened and the family were deposited safely at their home, after which the driver broke the news that he had never before been at the wheel! He was 21. Smug smiles from members of the Star Register?

Soon afterwards, “with even less preliminary instruction,” he mounted a motor-bicycle, “dashed off, mistook the throttle for the brake, collided with a wall, and stayed in bed well bandaged for a couple of weeks.”

There is reference to “a very pleasant fellow named Rawlinson” being put in charge of the showroom when Pearson was made manager of the business in Hove, this surely being the Rawlinson of Darracq fame, whose adventures during and after the 1914/18 war have filled much of this feature? He and Pearson set off in a car for Margate but had trouble at Canterbury, Rawlinson remarking “The big-end has gone,” whereupon Pearson, in his ignorance, asked “Who’s taken it ?” Incidentally, we learn that Pearson’s father “was frankly bored with Shakespeare, much preferring the works of C. N. and A. M. Williamson. . .” of course, wrote “The Lightning Conductor,” etc., with motoring themes.

The motor business failed but, following a spell of acting, Pearson joined up on the outbreak of war, volunteering for Motor Transport. He was first at Pennington Camp near Grove Park, then posted to Shepherd’s Bush. There is a graphic description of motor convoys from Basra to Baghdad, with 784 Company, in 1917, using forty Ford vans (obviously Model-Ts, and the term “van,” used again here, emphasising Grp. Capt. Wynne’s point, arising out of a recent comment in this feature, that even open vehicles were technically “vans” in these operations), the heat so intense (133° in the tents) that “inner tubes seemed to have no more resistance than paper” and all the radiator water became steam every twenty minutes, and drivers died at the wheel. A Model-T Ford van even served as a hearse for the embalmed body of the grandfather of the Shah of Persia, the journey from Mesopotamia to Baghdad being again full of adventure.

Finally, so far as this book is concerned, it is revealed that the author’s father-in-law bought a Mass car around 1922—a rare make of which I cannot recall one still existing in this country, yet not the first time it has been referred to in “Cars In Books.”