Cars in books, September 1977

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Although there is but slender material for this long-established column in the recently-published autobiography of Dennis Wheatley (“The Time Has Come The Young Man Said—The Memoirs of Dennis Wheatley, 1897-1914”, Hutchinson, 1977), four more of these entertaining volumes are promised, so I am expectant of better to follow. As it is, the first volume, about Wheatley’s antecedants, his up-bringing at Dulwich College and in HMS Worcester, and his introduction to the Wine Trade in Imperial Germany of 1913, and his memories of an Edwardian childhood in the South London suburbs, is well worth reading. The motoring references are confined to mention of an early car of unnamed make and a later Mercedes owned by William Wiles of Hungerford Manor, the Mercedes good for 60 m.p.h. although this was around the year 1911, and the author’s own first motor vehicle. This was a 3 1/2 h.p. Triumph motorcycle and sidecar, the former property of Lord Wimbourne’s Steward, acquired in London in 1914 and ridden by Wheatley with the verve most young riders display. There are also a few references to pre-1914 aviation.

When I asked the library recently for anything by Hilaire Belloc, having recently “discovered” this author—all Rolls-Royce followers know, I trust, his verse which starts: “The Rich arrived in pairs, and also in Rolls-Royces”—I did not anticipate finding anything motoring, especially as H.B. disliked auxiliary engines in his sailing boats. But in “Testimony to Hilaire Belloc” by Eleanor and Reginald Bebb (Methuen, 1958) I found a pleasant surprise. Because Eleanor Bebb describes journeys in Sussex before the First World War in a hired Panhard, a rear-entrance, chain-drive open model with “lasting leather upholstery, as well as any lay-person who has tackled the subject. This Panhard was old even then, for it was the first taxi at Hotsham Station, owned by a Mr. Robert. It is described as grunting and rattling along the dusty flint roads, “very much alone in its snorting glory, highly mounted on its springs and an object of distaste to those we passed on horse or bicycle.” It was used for journeys from Sussex into the New Forest and to Worthing, in 1910, about the time that Belloc, inspired by the Vicar’s machine, sampled an early Triumph motorcycle brought from Horsham, but ended up in a ditch and decided against buying it. (The Vicar, Mr. Alexander Baker, was more enthusiastic, owning the first motorcycle seen in Shipley.)

Hilaire Belloc acquired his first car in 1916, a Ford open tourer, which Eleanor Bebb describes as “tough and ugly”. (He also had a “Sunbeam oil-bath bicycle”.) It is apparently dealt with more fully in another memoir about Belloc, but was obviously a Model-T Belloc enjoyed driving to the end, but in about 1923 and 1924 regretted bitterly the invasion of the roads around Shipley, Sussex, by the increasing numbers of cars and lorries.

Another interesting reference is to Maurice Baring coming from London all the way to Sussex in a London taxi, on the first day these appeared in the streets of the Metropolis —I assume this was in 1906/7 and could that hard-tried cab have been a Unic ?—and Hilaire Belloc returned to town in it. Unfortunately, the make of the “large, clumsy, substantial” car hired from the only garage in Eaux Bonnes in 1913, when the Belloc family were on holiday in France isn’t named—but I bet it was a Renault.—W.B.