The character of Simon Templar has smoothly transitioned his way from the printed page, to radio and finally the silver screen, both large and small. Created by British/ Chinese author and scriptwriter, Leslie Charteris, the devilishly handsome detective known as The Saint has always needed wheels – real or otherwise – something characterful, with a dash of the debonair.
Twenty years ago a book revolutionised the auto-industry paradigm – for those who were paying attention at least.
First published in 1990, three enthusiastic researchers set about collating data related to how the motor industry operates, positing how to improve matters, espousing the principle of lean, over mass production.
James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos created the International Motor Vehicle Programme (IMVP) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Not merely a database of who was building what and how many but a full in-depth analysis into the car making business.
Funding for global research would be task number one. Limiting individual contributions to 5% of the $5M raised from global carmakers, component suppliers and governments, placing monies in just one account and openly inviting two-way correspondence guaranteed their independence whilst also nullifying any form of sponsored influence.
Today we tell the story of the Batmobile, the automotive hero of the 1966 children’s television series that was based on the comic book adventures of Batman and Robin.
DTW readers of more mature years will immediately recognise the apparently random selection of words in the title above. They are lifted from the opening credits of Batman, a 20th Century Fox children’s television programme that ran from 1966 to 1968 and made an indelible impression on one childish mind at least.
The hero of the programme was Bruce Wayne, a wealthy bachelor played by Adam West, who led a double life as Batman, protecting the good citizens of Gotham City from the dastardly deeds of a variety of colourful, if inept criminals including The Riddler, The Joker and The Penguin. At Batman’s side was Robin, a.k.a. Bruce Wayne’s young ward, Dick Grayson, played by Burt Ward, and their indefatigable and unflappable butler, Alfred Pennyworth, played by English actor Alan Napier. Continue reading “WHAP!…POW!…BIFF!…OOOF!”
Two contrasting views of motoring journalism from very different worlds.
The BBC has a long-standing history on matters motoring. Some will argue distinguished, others, more disjointed. Long before those hailing from the county of the red rose (Lancashire) took hold of Top Gear, before former Prince (now, Evil Lord) Clarkson and his entourage, before even William Woolard, Chris Goffey*, Noel Edmonds, Angela Rippon amongst others, the information supplied came over the airwaves on what folk knew then as the wireless.
A look back at a different kind of motoring from a different kind of motorist.
David William Anthony Blyth MacPherson was the urbane, charismatic and typically eccentric baron. Known for a commitment to road safety, yet somewhat ironically died in a road accident involving a refuse truck. Not only a peer of the realm, he was also a respected motoring journalist and successful businessman.
During his life, Lord Strathcarron waxed lyrical on motoring matters – mostly those from a bygone age. Equally at home astride a motorcycle as behind the wheel of a ’30s Alfa Romeo or a 1903 De Dion Bouton. A keen traveller, he could often be found in deepest mainland Europe, astride a bike with his wife riding pillion and the butler hastening at the rear with luggage in a three-wheeler, including a parrot in its cage.
Born in 1924, he inherited the lordship aged twelve, and being far more interested in drawing Delahayes and aeroplanes than Latin or mathematics, a lifelong passion firmly pinned to travelling by means of a motor was the result.
Motoring for Pleasure in 1963, sees the Lord of Banchor looking wistfully in the rear view mirror at a point in time when even he thinks the roads are chaotic. The opening chapter of his book is called Our Crowded Roads, where he recommends early starts, breakfast and lunch at one’s destination whilst getting home early. “With sufficient determination and enthusiasm one can Continue reading “The Strathcarron Movement (Part One)”
As Simon has pointed out in his excellent introduction, there was a time when information did not exist at your fingertips. Back then, you had to go out and find it or, if you wanted it to come to you, you needed to invest in as much printed reference material as you could afford. As an 11 year old, I had not yet discovered the world of motoring books, and it’s unlikely that my pocket money could have supported such an addiction, so what I knew of cars was what I picked up from a knowledgeable friend of my parents who was restoring a Bentley 3 Litre (the sort of thing that people did in their garages back then) who loaned me about ten years back issues of Motor Sport and what I read in the pages of Autocar, which came through the letterbox once a week.
Auto & Design is not quite a book, but it is printed matter and it’s not an advertisement**.
For anyone interested in getting some (but not much) insight into the car design process, you can take out a subscription to Auto & Design, one of two long-running automotive design journals. This one hails from Italy and is written in both English and Italian. The other is Car Design, which is Japanese and slightly more technical and academic in its style. Continue reading “Theme: Books – Auto And Design”
Having run out of James Bond books (see earlier post), I read this book as a teenager. It’s a well written adventure thriller, but with a narrative that’s very much of its time, presumably with an eye on the then burgeoning Ian Fleming / Len Deighton / John Le Carré market. Gavin Lyall was a crime and spy thriller writer and the husband of the excellent Katharine Whitehorn. He was known for his meticulous research.
What I have always remembered is that, central to a large section of the narrative, is a Citroën DS that takes on an almost heroic status as it takes the first-person protagonist across France. Its starring role was possibly inspired by the true life escape of French President Charles De Gaulle from an OAS assassination attempt in 1962 (see The Day Of The Jackal) where his driver exploited the DS’s unique suspension to Continue reading “Theme : Books – Midnight Plus One by Gavin Lyall”
A book about one of Citroën’s two great designers.
A while ago, having come across this by chance on the Internet, I bought a new copy direct from Sagitta Press in The Netherlands. First published in 2002, it’s not cheap, but it is a heavy, handsome and copiously illustrated book about a relatively unsung giant of car design.
My credentials to write about the cars of Ian Fleming are mixed.
In my favour, I had read the entire canon of 14 James Bond books by the time I was 14 and I am, more or less, the same age as the very first Bond book. Against that I’ve never read them since, and that was a long time ago, though it’s a sad reflection on the state of my mind how much I still remember.
Ian Fleming was an accomplished writer of children’s stories. Some people forget that he wrote Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, but his best kid’s stories were the ones featuring Commander James Bond of the Secret Intelligence Service. At 14, I was so seduced that I anticipated a life of breakfasting on scrambled eggs, ham and plenty of strong, black coffee following on with a day’s light indulgence in cold-blooded violence, rounding off with lobster thermidor, a ‘49 Montrachet chilled to 37 degrees, fresh alpine strawberries and, later on …
Can you use a car brand convincingly in a novel without merely leaching off its existing image? Iain Banks shows the answer is yes and no.
Placing cars in books is a specialised version of the use of brands generally. Iain Banks often referred to or even used specific cars as elements of his plots (Bristol is name-checked in his novel The Bridge). In this Banks shares something with Ian Fleming, another story-teller in the traditional mould. There are two specific instances where Banks did this which I would like to discuss. One case succeeded very well, since the reference resonated with the character and story involved. The other instance seemed to me to definitively indicate the entire novel in question had not itself worked. Continue reading “Theme: Books – Iain Banks”
The Art of American Car Design: The Profession and Personalities by C. Edson Armi.
Armi’s book (now out of print) rewards repeated reading. Few books seem to be able to find a language to discuss the process of car design. This one does. In giving a vocabulary to the process it becomes instantly more comprehensible and concrete. The interviews with GM designers such as Bill Mitchell and Bill Porter are encrusted with Continue reading “Theme: Books – The Art of American Car Design”
Not very many books on cars demand as much as LJK Setright’s social history of the motor car. It offers a lot in return though.
To be very honest, there are very few motoring writers who can write well. And there seems only to have been one who could write outstandingly well. LJK Setright was that one. This fine book is quite probably unique because it’s a towering monument to a rich understanding of motor vehicles showing most clearly why an intelligent, cultured person might find them a worthy object of contemplation. Continue reading “Theme: Books – Drive On!”
In a previous time, before an age where any jaded old hack and a few opinionated dilettantes could open a website at the flick of a keyboard, a knowledge of motoring history relied on the prodigious memory of chaps like Bill Boddy, piles of magazines in the attic and, of course, lots of books.