Vintage Postbag, September 1973

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Sir, “His Last Bow”

As another avid Sherlockian I read Philip Liput’s comments on the Sherlock Holmes’ Ford with considerable interest. I even rushed to my much-thumbed copy of the collected Short Stories in quest of further clues.

I rather agree with Mr. Liput’s assessment of the automobile as being Manchester and not Cork-assembled, though one wonders if even the austere “Altamont” would have found it necessary to hang on to a 1911 model for three years. After all, a Ford runabout complete with Stepney, number plates, driving licence, and a year’s tax and insurance would have set him back the princely sum of £156.02, so let’s say another tenner for the extra two seats.

I am, however, inclined to suspect that the Holmes/Watson equipe would have invested in one of those unobtrusive little landaulettes which many a provincial coachbuilder turned out for the use of jobmasters, and of which at least two examples survive in the United Kingdom from the brass radiator era alone. Among the firms who offered such a thing were Sanders of Hitchin, and Hills of Folkestone, whose business was acquired in 1917 by Martin Walter.

In view of our Mr. Altamont’s interests in matters naval, we must therefore hunt for a Ford agent with coachbuilding interests, somewhat between Devonport and the North Foreland. Tilleys of Weymouth seem a possibility, as do Lennox of Southsea, and—at a pinch, Hendy’s of Southampton, who were certainly selling Fords before 1914. But I am tempted to plump for Hills, as (i) the Dover-Folkestone area would be a happy hunting-ground in 1914, and (ii) we know that they made a speciality of such bodies on the Ford chassis, even buying in tourers to re-body when the supply of new chassis ran out.

In case any genuine T-expert wants to know whence came my rather exact costing, I got it from the log-book kept by a friend’s father, a Regular Army officer whose Ford, purchased in 1913, must have followed many a road driven by the redoubtable Watson.

The 100h.p. Benz? This I leave to W.B. Maybe he will be able to tell us who drove it at Brooklands, and whether it was in fact prepared by Holmes on such occasions.

Midhurst.

Michael Sedgewick

[I am delighted to learn that fellow historian Michael Sedgwick is also a follower of Sherlock Holmes. But I think he is wrong to attribute the Ford in “His Last Bow” to Holmes, alias “Altamont”. I, too, have reread Watson’s account of the case and, although Holmes posed as a “motor expert” to the German spy Von Bork, there is no evidence which suggests that the World’s greatest detective ever owned a car. He had retired to a small farm five miles from Eastbourne and, Watson tells us, he “divided his time between philosophy and agriculture”. When the Premier prevailed upon Holmes to break Von Bork’s spy-ring he went to America and Ireland to establish his alibi, before returning to England to work for Von Bork. He had decided to appear as an Irish-American motor-expert. In this capacity Holmes may have taught himself to drive, easy enough on a Model-T, and may have bought a Ford while in America. But if so, why did he not drive himself to Von Bork’s house? I suggest he couldn’t drive but, seeing the convenience of a car for conveying his valuable capture to London, and anxious that Watson should be present at the conclusion of his final case, he wired his old friend to meet him at Harwich “with the car”. Not “with my car”, note! Indeed, it is clear that Watson had virtually lost touch with Holmes, apparently not so much as corresponding with him. Under the circumstances, how could he be expected to locate Holmes’ car and get it to Harwich? If Holmes was using a car, would he not have gone to Harwich in it to meet Watson? Holmes had not seen Watson for some years either, but he knew his address, so may have kept in closer touch with the Doctor than Watson realised, in which case he could have known that in his retirement Watson had invested in a car, which he used regularly. Had Watson not responded to the wire, a cab could have conveyed Holmes to Von Bork’s.

It was Watson who drove, and Holmes asked Watson to “start her up” when they were ready to leave. No! I think the Ford belonged to Dr. Watson. It couldn’t have been art acquisition of the joint Holmes/Watson equipe as Sedgwick suggests, be cause they had been parted for many years. During this time Holmes was something of a hermit and hermits don’t usually require cars. Watson obviously wasn’t living in London, and where he had bought his Ford is beyond trace. As for the 100h.p. Benz, I don’t think it has ever raced at Brooklands because it was a “luxurious limousine”. But Von Bork posed as a sportsman and was credited with beating the English at sporting pursuits— “You match them at every game”, Baron Von Herling told him. His garage was full of cars. So it is very probable that one of these was used in competition events. But the Legation Secretary’s Benz was no doubt a standard model provided by the German Espionage Service; the 100h.p. was current in 1913 and 1914. – ED.]

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