Automobile Quarterly: The Memories (AQ Vol. 10, No. 1, 1972)

Automobile Quarterly: The Memories (AQ Vol. 10, No. 1, 1972)

A friend and fel­low fan of Leslie Char­teris and “The Saint” sent me the image above. “Is this yours?” he asked. Yes, it hangs in my home. My friend had just acquired AQAuto­mo­bile Quar­terly— First Quar­ter, 1972. It con­tains a port­fo­lio of The Saint’s 1930 sports car, the Hiron­del, con­jured up by five great artists.  This paint­ing was pre­sent­ed to me by its cre­ator, Ted Lodi­gen­sky. “It has no val­ue,” he declared. “It’s a car that nev­er was.”

Maybe so, but not to devo­tees of “The Saint,” aka Simon Tem­plar. “He was an Eng­lish­man, and a gen­tle­man,” explained AQ edi­tor Don Vor­der­man—”though one must admit a pret­ty rak­ish one. Of impec­ca­ble man­ners and dress, he was nonethe­less superbly skilled in the dark arts of detec­tion and self-defense. He was the James Bond of the 1930s.”

An AQ classic

In what must have star­tled a gen­er­a­tion of “Saint” fans, we con­trived the Hirondel’s badge, and put it on the cover.

I’m glad my friend appre­ci­ates this stuff—few are left who do—and am hap­py that he found a copy. It was one of our clas­sic issues, if only for its Englishness.

After the Hiron­del, we pub­lished a pan­el dis­cus­sion on what was wrong with the British motor indus­try. It caused a furore in Eng­land. Bill Bod­dy, ved­dy tra­di­tion­al edi­tor of Motor­Sport (an AQ con­trib­u­tor and accom­plished his­to­ri­an of Brook­lands) denounced us as Yank bar­bar­ians and mocked “a mag­a­zine fea­tur­ing a car that nev­er exist­ed, a slap­stick motor race, and an auto engine pow­ered by soap bubbles.”

(The issue includ­ed a spread on a car engine with wind-dri­ven vanes, stir­ring a buck­et of soapy water, gen­er­at­ing bub­bles which, pricked by pis­ton heads, drove the crank­shaft. I dun­no! It seemed like a fun idea at the time. And it was a British idea—from The Auto­car.)

UK motor industry

The pan­el dis­cus­sion was enti­tled, “What’s the Mat­ter with Eng­land? Fine engi­neers muz­zled by incom­pe­tent exec­u­tives and a dis­mal labor force, among some oth­er things.” It caused such an uproar that British Ley­land Motors orga­nized a press tour of all its fac­to­ries to prove to us igno­rant Amer­i­cans that they real­ly knew what they were doing.

Illus­tra­tion by Paul Cok­er, Jr.





… It was my  first trip out of the coun­try, and Bar­bara and I fell in love with Eng­land (as it then was), par­tic­u­lar­ly dri­ving there—long before speed cam­eras. The qual­i­ty of motor­ing was almost uni­ver­sal­ly high. You could dri­ve almost as fast as com­mon sense sug­gest­ed. You could pass on curves, for heaven’s sake! (“Rea­son is, we don’t have any­thing else,” said a British friend.) The car being over­tak­en would polite­ly inch over, while oncom­ing dri­vers calm­ly moved like­wise, giv­ing you a lane. Pro­vid­ed  you seemed to look like you knew what you were doing (and not drunk), you were rarely arrest­ed. (I do know Brits who are excep­tion­al dri­vers even under the influ­ence, such as…oh, nev­er mind.)

Inci­den­tal­ly, and sad­ly, it turned out that our pan­el dis­cus­sion was exact­ly right. As far as home­grown prod­ucts went, the UK motor indus­try was almost kaput by the 1990s.

From AC to Mercer

There was a his­to­ry of AC (Auto­car­ri­ers) in Thames Dit­ton, Sur­rey, from the Socia­ble to the Cobra. The author, Penn­syl­van­ian Bill Jack­son, is the spit­ting image of Ben­jamin Franklin, with a lit­er­ary wit to match. We wound up with the Cobra 427, although some­how Vor­der­man didn’t get pic­tured behind the wheel, as he usu­al­ly arranged to do.

Remem­ber Kodachrome? I panned three dozen pho­tos of Don dri­ving the Mer­cer. Most of them were all over the place, but one was just per­fect. Enlarged 1000%, you could still read the name on the hubs. (Pho­to by the author)

I con­tributed (edit­ed) the mem­oirs of Dutch Dar­rin, includ­ing sev­er­al tall tales by Dutch. But they were so gaudy and won­der­ful, every­one  for­gave him. Don pho­tographed Darrin’s DiFras­so Rolls-Royce town car—which he thought one of the most beau­ti­ful cars he’d ever seen.

There was a road test of a “Liv­ing Leg­end: T-head Mer­cer Race­about.” Don did the seri­ous pho­tog­ra­phy; I snapped him dri­ving this amaz­ing car at speed. Despite sev­er­al dozen bad shots more of trees than car, I  man­aged one so sharp you can read the name on the hubs. (With 35mm Kodachrome, even.) For a larg­er image of this incred­i­bly lucky pho­to, and more on Don, see my trib­ute to him here.

The Bol d’Or: All Come All Ye Faithful

The motor race that so incensed Bill Bod­dy was the Bol d’Or, craft­ed by a col­or­ful char­la­tan rather incon­gru­ous­ly named Eugene Mauve. The hilar­i­ous his­to­ry of this ersatz road race near Paris was recount­ed by the inim­itable Eng­lish writer Den­nis May. To Den­nis’ pen we added irrev­er­ent car­toons by Russ Brock­bank. Bill Bod­dy hat­ed it pas­sion­ate­ly, because Mauve wasn’t real­ly a gen­tle­man, dontcha know. As Den­nis wrote:

Mauve’s total dis­re­gard for com­peti­tors’ qual­i­fy­ing expe­ri­ence and the race-wor­thi­ness of their cars con­sti­tut­ed a local haz­ard. By his phi­los­o­phy, a man had to start some­where, so why not in the Bol? As long as the com­plet­ed entry blank was accom­pa­nied by the appro­pri­ate fee, Mauve’s atti­tude was O Come All Ye Faith­ful. He once exer­cised this engag­ing com­plai­sance in favor of a team of hor­ren­dous three-wheel­ers, built in a Paris backyard:

“As lofty as lim­ou­sines and scarce­ly wider than baby car­riages, even at the blunt end, they cap­sized with one accord at the first turn. Right­ed, they made it to the sec­ond turn, then went over again.” —Den­nis May (Illus­tra­tion by Russ Brock­bank in AQ Vol 10, No. 1)

Dennis May

I’m sad to observe that Den­nis May can­not even be tracked by search engines. His writ­ing blend­ed a superla­tive grasp of Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture with pre­cise auto­mo­tive knowl­edge. He was capa­ble of  an exquis­ite turn of words. Describ­ing a car’s inde­pen­dent rear sus­pen­sion he quipped: “All inde­pen­dent of the leafy spring, in Keats’s phrase.” He was a charm­ing, gen­tle man, died too young, and Don Vor­der­man lament­ed his loss: “Every­one who knew Den­nis loved him. And that’s one crowd I’m proud to be a mem­ber of.”

Back to AQ and the Hirondel

Still, what made this issue was Simon Tem­plar and his fabled Hiron­del. Each artist was fed a pas­sage from Char­teris’ descrip­tions of the car. AQ asked them to illus­trate the words. John Han­na and Dale Weaver Tot­ten start­ed  in Lon­don. Dale’s paint­ing eeri­ly cap­tured The Saint rush­ing past Hyde Park:

“If this had been a super­sti­tious age, those who saw it would have crossed them­selves and sworn that it was no car at all they saw that night, but a snarling sil­ver fiend that roared through Lon­don on the wings of an unearth­ly wind.” (Illus­tra­tion cour­tesy Tabitha Totten)

Ted Lodi­gen­sky drew the sub­urbs, as you see at the top. Bob Andrews, a tal­ent­ed design­er who had helped style the Avan­ti for Ray­mond Loewy, drew The Saint out­side Lon­don, blast­ing up the open road. The cli­mac­tic pas­sage, of course, was reserved for Wal­ter Gotschke:

Again and again in the dark, the Hiron­del swooped up behind ridicu­lous, creep­ing glow­worms, sniffed at their red tails, snort­ed deri­sive­ly, swept past with a deep-throat­ed blare. No car in Eng­land could have held the lead of the Hiron­del that night.

Wal­ter Gotschke’s mag­nif­i­cent con­cep­tion of Simon Templar’s “Hiron­del,” from Leslie Char­teris’ “The Last Hero” (1930). Char­teris loved this so much that he bought the ori­ig­nal to hang over his fire­place. It was accu­rate down to The Saint’s Ulster num­ber plate, ZX1257.

It seems like yesterday…

If I have writ­ten any­thing worth­while over 50 years it’s thanks to my five years as a minor play­er at AQ. Between Don Vor­der­man and Bev­er­ly Rae Kimes, I learned things that couldn’t be acquired in a school of jour­nal­ism. The fore­go­ing began with an email to a friend who acquired this old issue. I just want­ed him to know the treat he was in for.

For­give the ram­ble. RML

One thought on “Automobile Quarterly: The Memories (AQ Vol. 10, No. 1, 1972)

  1. I have the HRG issue… love it.

    Thank-you. “HRGs were for hur­ry­ing.” RML

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