This delightful book effectively chronicles the first 30 odd years of motoring in Britain, with the usual Punch cartoonists eye for fads and fashions. Many of the artists have an acute eye for mechanical detail. Pre-Great war, for example, lorries rarely have cabs; by the 1920s, they have skimpy cabs with roofs, but no windscreen. Instead, a canvas “dodger” which can be tied up above the dashboard, for the driver to peer over, but at least it would keep the worst of the rain off him.
It is noticeable that for the majority of the book, cars are either open, soft top, or cabriolet. Saloons are comparatively rare, confined to the more expensive models, often chauffeur driven, and until the introduction of roadside petrol pumps in the 1920s, many carry a large wooden box on the running board. Petrol was sold in two gallon cans, and it was usual for the box to contain two or four of these. The short lived craze for small single seat “baby” cars was mercilessly satirised. Readers may recall that one of Evelyn Waugh’s “Bright Young Things” had difficulty finding parking space in Piccadilly Circus, so she took hers down the stairs to the Underground station, and left it in the Booking Hall. It is suggested that portly owners do not so much get into one, as ”slip it on”, while a seller’s response to query about carrying extra petrol is met by the suggestion of a hip-flask Fun is also poked at a craze for ever more elaborate and fancy radiator mascots, with a scantily clad female flirting with a Greek athlete on an adjacent car in a traffic jam.
The changes being wrought on the landscape, city streets by the motorcar, are chronicled, with country roads and hospitable old inns being replaced by trunk roads and “Road Houses”. While finding your destination while driving in towns is made difficult by the plethora of signs and adverts. The police, while the butt of a certain amount of humour, are treated with understanding, because confined to bikes, they were no match for a cavalier motorist, whom they were supposed to arrest if caught in a speed trap. One has sympathy with the plump, bruised and disheveled P.C, climbing out of a ditch, addressing the motorist who has just pushed him there “You and me is goin’ to ‘ave five minute private conversation. Then I´ll get me notebook out and it will be official!”
Other characters, still familiar to day are featured. The snooty salesman, who blinds the customer with technicalities, the dodgy second hand car dealer, the opinionated taxi driver and the car snob, are all featured. I am afraid that political correctness, so far as female drivers are concerned is totally absent, so sensitive readers had better skip these particular cartoons!
One character not very common these days is the chauffeur. These chaps had a rather unsavory reputation, particularly so far as house-maids were concerned (another vanished character) and usually had to sleep in a room over the garage to keep them away. Their attitude to life is perhaps best summed up by a scene following a collision between two expensive saloons, which have been wrecked. One chauffeur lies unconscious in the road, possibly even dead, the other has just been sacked by his employer. He addresses the owner of the other vehicle “Excuse me , sir, do you perhaps have a vacancy for a chauffeur”.
An excellent bed-time read that will leave you chuckling as you go to sleep!