“Correrai ancor piu veloce per le vie del cielo”
Originally written for The Packard Club and the Society of Automotive Historians, May 2008; additional material has been added.
Nothing anyone can say will ease the pain of a friend’s loss, but here is one inadequate try: When The Packard Club’s Stuart Blond circulated the sad news to Beverly’s Packard friends, it struck me that everyone who received the same message would in turn circulate it to a group of people, more or less organized by make or era of car.
To each of us, each in our own way, she was an inspiration. She helped remake what some called a “hobby” into an institution. She had that rare ability to ferret out (from what she called the “sublime disorderliness” of automotive history) the most obscure facts about people and cars famous and forgotten, and knit them together with style and humor. She raised our little pastime from mechanical entertainment to a true place in history.
Bev Kimes wrote the letter that changed my life, accepting my first published car article, for Automobile Quarterly, which led my being her colleague there from 1970 to 1975. “I’m simply overwhelmed,” she wrote. “I learned to drive on my dad’s 1953 Kaiser. I thought at the time it was the most wonderful car in the world….”
I too was overwhelmed. AQ was in its heyday, with editor Don Vorderman’s astonishing imagination and feel for stories, managing editor Beverly Kimes’s superb English, art director Ken Drasser’s brilliant feel for layout and type (long before the days of desktop publishing). We were planning a new series of books, for scores of “marque histories” had yet to be written. And AQ had the most accomplished team of writers, artists and photographers ever assembled in the field.
You never knew who might walk in the door, from Hollywood legends like coachbuilder Dutch Darrin, to America’s first Grand Prix champion Phil Hill, to the immortal Ken Purdy, father of us all. Across Madison Avenue from our warren on East 49th Street was Le Chanteclair, our watering hole, presided over by suave and affable René Dreyfus, Champion of France, and of Bugatti. To an aspiring young writer, nuts about cars, this was an education no tuition could buy.
We worked hard together for many years, and never lost our mutual affection, which frankly took some doing. The AQ mélange was eclectic; everybody had strong opinions about what constituted cars, and “non-cars”—and bylines. Occasionally we were misled and put at odds temporarily by someone for their own purposes, yet we inevitably communicated, and eventually determined the cause of the problem, which was not us.
Bev-Up was one of the finest stylists in journalism. Bev-Down was heartbreaking. Her physical state was a constant worry: I never knew her to have a healthy year. There came a major upheaval in her personal life, when we spent a long night talking. “I never fail at anything,” she kept saying, inconsolably. Fortunately a few years later she met Jim Cox and found happiness. We always kept in touch; and when I came to Manhattan a few years ago to expound about Winston Churchill, there among the audience was my old friend to remind me of times past.
None who read it will ever forget “Man on Fire!”: Beverly Kimes’s biography of Tazio Nuvolari (Automobile Quarterly, Vol. XI, No. 1, 1973). It was one of those signal experiences when you remember where you were. I read it in galleys on the “Broadway Limited” en route to Chicago: started in Newark and put it down somewhere west of Harrisburg. She wound up with the legend on the great racing driver’s tombstone in Mantua, where drivers in the Mille Miglia would raise a hand in mute salute as they raced through “Nivola’s” home town: Correrai ancor piu veloce per le vie del cielo. (You will travel faster still upon the highways of heaven.) “Ah Tazio,” she ended: “Godspeed.”
And that’s all that really matters in the end: thoughts of old and good times, which eventually blot out the last sad ones.