Cars & Churchill: Blood, Sweat & Gears (2) Daimlers…

Cars & Churchill: Blood, Sweat & Gears (2) Daimlers…

Hav­ing writ­ten about cars and Win­ston Churchill for fifty years, I final­ly pro­duced a piece on them both. From exot­i­ca like Daim­ler, Napi­er and Rolls-Royce to more pro­sa­ic makes like Austin, Hum­ber and Wolse­ley, the sto­ry was three decades in com­ing. I am sat­is­fied that it is now complete.

Part 2, con­tin­ued from Part 1Excerpt only. For foot­notes,  all illus­tra­tions and a ros­ter of Churchill’s cars, see The Auto­mo­bile, August 2016. To order a copy, click here.

Cars
Churchill stop­ping for a road­side pic­nic with the faith­ful Austin 10 dur­ing the 1945 gen­er­al elec­tion cam­paign. (Author’s collection)

Wolseley to Austin

In the ear­ly 1930s Churchill switched from Wolse­ley to Austin cars: small fours and big six­es. One of the for­mer, a 1938 Austin 10 Cam­bridge, was the Chartwell work­horse. It was dri­ven pri­mar­i­ly by long­time sec­re­tary Grace Ham­blin. It was acquired in the 1960s by the 6th Mar­quess of Bath, who restored and dis­played it at Lon­gleat. In 2014 it made £66,000 at auc­tion. Sir Win­ston referred to it as a “true blue” British motorcar.

The Present of a Daimler

In 1929 Churchill lost almost all he had in the Wall Street crash, and two years lat­er went on a North Amer­i­can lec­ture tour to recoup his loss­es. Back home, his friend Bren­dan Brack­en was solic­it­ing dona­tions to buy Churchill a new car, a Daim­ler 35. It was wait­ing in Lon­don: a £2000 lan­daulette lim­ou­sine by Bark­er. Over 140 affec­tion­ate friends con­tributed, among them the Prince of Wales, Char­lie Chap­lin, John May­nard Keynes, Harold Macmil­lan and, of course, his long­time and close friend, the Duke of West­min­ster.

Daimler
Churchill’s Daim­ler in “The Wilder­ness Years.” In it “he made sur­rep­ti­tious ren­dezvous with infor­mants who, at risk of their careers, deliv­ered secret reports on Ger­man rear­ma­ment.” (YouTube)

The Daim­ler was a 5.8-liter sleeve-valve six, then in its last year. Churchill had ear­li­er test-dri­ven a more exot­ic Dou­ble-Six, but the Depres­sion was at its depth and prac­ti­cal­i­ty pre­vailed. “There was some con­tro­ver­sy as to whether you would pre­fer a Rolls-Royce, a Daim­ler or a Bent­ley,” Brack­en told him. His friends set­tled on “the car which is least expen­sive to maintain.”

Daimler Adventures

He liked the Daim­ler so much that he kept it until World War II, repaint­ing it sev­er­al times. In it he made sur­rep­ti­tious ren­dezvous with infor­mants who, at risk of their careers, deliv­ered secret reports on Ger­man rear­ma­ment. In it he paid his last, sad call on Edward VIII at Wind­sor, who informed him he was abdi­cat­ing (an act for which Churchill lat­er was grateful).

For a mov­ing episode fea­tur­ing a looka­like Daim­ler, as Churchill is warned of Ger­man rear­ma­ment in the clas­sic doc­u­men­tary “The Wilder­ness Years” click on this Hills­dale Churchill site and then on the YouTube video.

The advent of war in 1939 found Churchill back at the Admi­ral­ty. He sold the Daim­ler to a Lon­don deal­er, say­ing he’d have new one “when the War has ceased.” In 1985, a Daim­ler 35 said to be his was bought for £60,500 at Sotheby’s. Found dilap­i­dat­ed in Glouces­ter­shire, it had been restored, and equipped with a bull­dog mas­cot and Churchill coat of arms to empha­size, unnec­es­sar­i­ly, its association.

There’s Safety in Humbers

In Lon­don dur­ing the war, Churchill became attached to his bul­let-proof Hum­ber Pull­mans, gov­ern­ment cars skill­ful­ly dri­ven by the Roy­al Army Ser­vice Corps. Again Churchill’s fond­ness for the horse­drawn age was reassert­ed. When ready to leave on a trip, he would ask not whether the chauf­feur was behind the wheel but, “Is the coach­man on his box?”

Daimler
Chauf­feur John Bul­lock at WSC’s Lon­don res­i­dence, 28 Hyde Park Gate, with the 1954 Hum­ber Pull­man on per­ma­nent loan to Churchill. (Rootes Motors press photo)

William Rootes found­ed the Rootes Group, which embraced the mar­ques of Hill­man, Hum­ber, Singer and Sun­beam-Tal­bot. He was a close admir­er. The July 1945 elec­tion left Churchill out of office and need­ing a car. Pry­ing him away from his alle­giance to Daim­ler, Rootes sold him a new Pull­man. The com­pa­ny let him garage it at Devon­shire House, its Lon­don headquarters.

When Churchill required a chauf­feur, Rootes loaned him John Bul­lock, a com­pa­ny dri­ver who became a favored part of his entourage. When­ev­er the boss want­ed the Hum­ber he would say, “I think I’ll have the Bul­lock Cart.”

“The Constables Saluted Humbly”

A biog­ra­ph­er record­ed Bullock’s fre­quent expe­ri­ence: Habit­u­al­ly late, Churchill would typ­i­cal­ly “pile into the Hum­ber around 5:30 for a 7:00 speech a hun­dred miles dis­tant. As his chauf­feur swings into the high road, Churchill crouch­es, with a flask, on the edge of the back seat and urges him to greater speeds. ‘But the machine is trav­el­ing at 85 now,’ the chauf­feur will protest. ‘Faster! Whip it up a bit!’ comes the answer.”

Once, doing 80 on a curve, a rear tyre blew and “a van full of irate con­sta­bles screeched to a halt along­side. They had been try­ing to catch the run­away for miles.” Real­iz­ing who it was, they helped fix the tyre. “Churchill stood off to one side, serene­ly puff­ing at a cig­ar. He made no sign of apol­o­gy but only got in and cried, ‘Dri­ve off!’ The con­sta­bles salut­ed humbly.”

On a cam­paign trip to Wales, Churchill con­versed gar­ru­lous­ly with O’Brien, his PR offi­cer. They passed the brandy back and forth. Churchill urged such reck­less speed that Clemen­tine Churchill cried: “Please let me out. I refuse to con­tin­ue this ride.” With the utmost cour­tesy, Churchill stopped at a coun­try rail­way sta­tion and escort­ed her to the plat­form. Then, ply­ing the brandy bot­tle, he ordered the dri­ver “down the road like a bat out of hell for Cardiff.”

By the time they arrived, what with the brandy and his nerves, O’Brien was “done up—out prac­ti­cal­ly cold. Churchill super­vised the lay­ing out of his PRO on a table in the rear of the hall. Then he went ahead and made a rouser of a speech. After­ward, he appeared con­fused about the ori­gin of O’Brien’s trou­ble, and expressed the opin­ion that it was ‘prob­a­bly some­thing he ate.’”

Con­clud­ed in Part 3

 

 

 

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