Cars & Culture

Papa at 80 kilometers an hour

Lartigue_500RBThis is surely one of the most evocative photographs I have ever seen. In fact, to me this photograph symbolizes the essence of a pre-war car. Made by French photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue in 1913, at a time when the word photoshop had not been invented. Early photographs were really “stills” without any sense of movement. Jacques-Henri Lartigue (1894-1986) was one of the first photographers who knew to create a distortion in his photos, thus suggesting movement, if not real speed. The original title of this photo is “Car Trip, Papa at 80 kilometers an hour”. It has long been thought that the car was a Delage and that the photo had been taken on June 26, 1912 during the Grand Prix de l’ACF, held at the Circuit de Dieppe. However, research has proved that no Delage with that starting number participated in that particular Grand Prix and that it is in fact a Theophilé Schneider, photographed in 1913 during the Grand Prix at Picardie (see sources). This amazing silver print, signed by Lartigue in ink, was auctioned at Sotheby’s in Amsterdam. Its estimate was 4000-6000 euros but the hammer fell at a staggering 7800 euros. Maybe it’s a good thing I wasn’t able to attend. Who knows what could have happened to my wallet.

(Photo courtesy Sotheby’s).

Kevin Moore: Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Invention of an artist, published 2004, page 91 and note 70 on page 235
David E. Junker: Jacques-Henri Lartigue, a Correction, published 1995, page 179-180
T.A.S.O. Mathieson: Grand Prix Racing 1906-1904, published 1965
Racing Database lists René Croquet with starting number 6. He finished tenth

March 15, 2007

The Invincible Mystery

victoire_300RBRecently I saw a documentary on television in which it was stated that one of the glass mascots by René Lalique was chosen as the symbol for International Women’s Day. The mascot was named “Invincible”, but strangely not one of Lalique’s mascots is known by that name and I haven’t been able to find any reference. René Lalique’s most famous mascot is Victoire or “Spirit of the Wind”. Could it be that someone in connection with the International Women's Day simply referred to this mascot as “Invincible”? Another possibility might be that it’s not one of Lalique’s mascots at all. He was also famous for his fine Art Nouveau jewellery shaped as butterflies, snakes or woman’s figures. Many artistic, progressive women like actress Sarah Bernhardt fell in love with Lalique’s creations. Could there be a connection? Does anyone know?

(With thanks to Tony Wraight of Finesse Fine Art for use of the Victoire image).

March 8, 2007

The Lincoln Imp

Lincoln_imp_500RBSeveral years ago while visiting a steam event I became intrigued by this little devil. One of the impressive traction engines used it as its mascot. Unfortunately I forgot to make a picture of the vehicle itself, but I suspect it was a Ruston & Hornsby steam roller. The manufacturing company was based in Lincolnshire, so it was logical for them to adopt this imp as their emblem. The Lincoln Imp is in reality a grotesque gargoyle that can be found on one of the pillars in Lincoln cathedral. It is a nice legend and nowadays the imp is almost synonymous with the city of Lincoln and is sold as a souvenir to visitors of the city. Ruston & Hornsby not only made traction engines, between 1919 and 1924 they also produced automobiles and during the 1920’s some of the cars had the Lincoln Imp mounted on the radiator cap. On the back of the car mascot was the inscription RH ( It was a reminder to the driver what kind of automobile he was driving. But imagine what the oncoming traffic must have thought when seeing the imp standing on one leg leering at them.

photo Rutger Booy

February 24, 2007


The Mills of Peugeot

Peugeot_washing_500RBSometimes we forget that the history of our cars can be much larger than we realize. That thought crossed my mind when Father Christmas presented me with a very nice set of a pepper- and salt mills. Upon further inspection the set sported the famous lion emblem of Peugeot ( and indeed the set was manufactured by a French company called Peugeot-Moulins (Peugeot-mills). This firm has a history that goes way back to the start of the nineteenth century. In 1810 the brothers Jean Pierre and Jean Frédéric Peugeot converted their mill at Sous-Cratet into a steel foundry and for years they produced divers products like handsaws, coffee grinders, corset boning and hoop skirts for ladies, sewing machines and salt- and pepper mills. In 1890, after a test with a vehicle run by a steam engine, Armand Peugeot produced four examples of his first car with a petrol engine. In 1896 Armand Peugeot founded the “Société des Automobiles Peugeot” in fact separating the cars from the other products. The rest, as they say, is history, but “Peugeot-Moulins” went on and in the 1920s among the many articles manufactured by the Peugeot Brothers were several models of washing-machines. And as an essential accessory, the wringer also appeared. Oh yes, today they still make pepper and salt mills. (Photo courtesy Musée de L'Aventure PEUGEOT).

January 12, 2007


A smooth engagement

borg_500RBIn 1903 a tool company was started by Charles Borg and Marshall Beck. Together with Charles’ son George and their chief machinist Gust Nelson, they developed and patented the original sliding clutch and by 1910 they were supplying clutches to over a dozen car makers. In 1918 they moved their factory from Moline, Illinois where they had started to Chicago and in 1928 the company merged with Warner Gear and other companies to form Borg-Warner, with George as its first President. In 1931 Borg & Beck clutches came to England when Automotive Products were granted a licence to use the name. A Humber 16hp saloon was the first car to be fitted with the new technology, others followed and soon Borg & Beck was market leader in the UK. First Line, the present owner of Borg & Beck, is trying to find out more about the early history of Borg & Beck, but it has proved very difficult to research beyond the 1930’s. The above information is about all that is known, but I'm confident that someone, somewhere can help to fill in some more details. Any prewar information is welcome! (with thanks to John Padbury of First Line).

December 15, 2006


“Remember, remember, the 5th of November”

Steerwood_Guy_Fawkes“Remember, remember, the 5th of November”. Thus starts the first line of a popular rhyme that is often quoted on the eve of Guy Fawkes Night. Many English speaking countries celebrate the failure of an attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London on the evening of November 5, 1605. Usually the celebrations include fireworks and bonfires in which a dummy of one of the most famous conspirators, Guy Fawkes, is burnt. If I'm not mistaken the car in the watercolour is a Morris 12, series III of 1937 vintage, but don’t throw me on the bonfire if I have it wrong :-)


Watercolour by F.T. Steerwood

November 5, 2006


La Belle Chauffeuse

Nicholson_400RBNo cars on this painting, but it does show a lady stylishly dressed for a drive in her motor car: the dustcoat, the large gloves, and the plaid all make a statement about her being a modern woman, adopting the latest modes of transport as well as being wealthy enough to own a car. The enormous hat was fashionable in those days and most female drivers or passengers preferred to hold it in place with a scarf in stead of wearing a smaller hat. The painting dates from 1904 and was made by Sir William Nicholson who was the father of the famous English painter Ben Nicholson. In his youth William Nicholson was, with James Pryde, one of the so-called Beggarstaff Brothers. Later Nicholson became a successful, although traditional painter of portraits. Nicholson loved style and often included costume in his paintings. The painting is a portrait of the playwright Sylvia Bristowe and belongs to the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, who kindly gave their permission to publish this image.

October 27, 2006

Everlasting Quality

Wingen_ValkenburgBy now you surely know that I have a fondness for old wall paintings. But this one is something special. In the period between 1914 and 1918 Jan Wingen, a Dutch decoration-painter, discovered a procedure to make paint without using certain necessary materials that were unavailable during World War I. Among other things he used this paint for advertisements on walls. The paint proved very durable and many advertisements were still readable in the 1950s. After that most paintings (and buildings) were destroyed. However, I found a photograph dating from -probably- 1928 on which a decoration-painter is doing his job on a blind wall of a house in Valkenburg, not far from Maastricht. And to my surprise this house still exists. All advertisements are from companies based in Maastricht, the city where the decoration-company of Jan Wingen came from and where he built his reputation. Unfortunately there’s no signature. So, could it be Jan Wingen himself on the top of the scaffolding? The advertisements are, although vague, still visible after eighty years, which surely says something about the quality of the paint. The paintings exist of two layers. The outer layer has almost disappeared; the first layer looks weather-worn, but can still be recognized.


photos collection Jac Mauer and Rutger Booy

See also my separate page dedicated to Jan Wingen

August 20, 2006

Time for a Holiday

Steerwood_Eccles_400RBIf you’re going on holiday, what better way to travel than with a pre-war motorhome (in different parts of the world otherwise known as RV, Motor-caravan, camper or Reisemobil). Although there were earlier attempts at building a motorhome, in the UK it really started when the Riley family, Bill sr. and Bill jr., took over the Eccles Motor Transport Co. just after the Great War. Gradually they phased out the transport business and in the early 1920s they began to built towing caravans and motorhomes. The latter were mostly one-offs, built according to the customers wishes. They could be supplied on a wide variety of chassis, for example Ford, Bedford, Albion, AEC, or as in this picture, on a Morris. These motorhomes were very complete, with beds, seats, tables, washbasins and even toilets. Quite a number were built by Eccles before World War II, although no production numbers are known. After the war no more motorhomes were built by Eccles.

August 13, 2006

Lost Petrol Stations

Araun_400RBWhen they were young, where our cars did go to get their petrol? Surely not the rectangular business-like filling stations we now see along our roads. No, in those days they went to a petrol station just around the corner. A petrol station where the friendly attendant asked: “Fill ‘r up, sir?” and then went on to clean your window, check your oil and your tire pressure. Those days have gone forever, because almost all those nice petrol station have been demolished. But not all is lost. Last Sunday I went to see an exhibition of an exceptional painter, whose subject is “lost petrol stations”. The painter, Araun Gordijn, is influenced by his intensive travels throughout the U.S. and its numerous scenes along the Interstate Highways. Those experiences formed the inspiration for a series of paintings, first of American petrol stations; later of Dutch petrol stations dating from the 1930’s to the 1960s. At first sight the paintings of Araun Gordijn seem to have been made with photographic detail, but they include always something to make you wonder about them. The exhibition could be seen in The Netherlands at the Louwman Collection until July 25, 2006. By the way, this particular Texaco filling station still exists on the Graafseweg in Nijmegen, but since a reconstruction of the Graafseweg in the seventies, it is no longer situated at a main road. These days it houses an architectural office.

July 1, 2006

The first Grand Prix

Itala_1906_600RBThis day (June 25, 2006) it is exactly 100 years since the first Grand Prix was held. Of course there had been races before, notably the Gordon Bennet Races. After the French team had won the last Gordon Bennet cup in 1905, they had to organize the next one, but they refused because they thought the rules didn’t work in their favour. Therefore the French designed a new set of rules that favoured the commercial and individual interests before the national interest. This first Grand Prix was held on the Circuit de la Sarthe, a more than 100 kilometre long track west of the city of Le Mans. Held over two days, 6 laps each day, it was won by the Hungarian driver Ferenc Szisz after driving a gruelling 1236 kilometres. A full report of this race has been written by Leif Snellman on the Forix website. The French artist Jean-Marie Guivarc’h has made several beautiful watercolours of this race of which you see above one of the Itala’s that didn’t finish. He also made one of Ferenc Szisz’ winning Renault AK (below).

June 25, 2006


Glenn Miller

Glenn_Miller_500RB2Of course as PreWarCar enthusiast I also have a taste for old-time music. Particular favourites are records of big bands like Tommy Dorsey’s and Billy Cotton’s. But imagine my surprise when I found a record of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, featuring this lovely automobile on the cover. The only description was “Automobile no. 212”, but on the back of the sleeve it was described as a 1907 Daimler Coupé transformable. The image was made by the artist Piet Olyslager who, apart from his workshop manuals, is also famous for his accurate drawings. Unfortunately this isn’t one of those. Although the drawing is very precise, it doesn’t supply us with much detail. The body looks English by the CAV sidelights, the right-hand drive and the sharply pitched, rather tasteless scuttle, but it's not a Daimler. All Edwardian Daimlers had the top of the radiator projecting above the top bonnet line, also all Daimlers have a serrated finish on the radiator top. Another factor is that all Edwardian Daimlers of this age had a factory fitted scuttle which had a rounded top and nickel plated rounded top corners. So, no Daimler. But then, what other make could this be? I still haven't a clue.

Copyright image EurotaxOlyslager.

June 9, 2006


Rascal, Rascal!

Herkomer_500RBOn first sight the above drawing has nothing to do with prewar cars. But it does! It's an angry, shouting peasant, holding his bleeding goose that has just been run over by a passing motorist. The pen-and-ink drawing was made in 1904 by Hubert von Herkomer, who was born in Bayern, Germany, but grew up in England. Herkomer was a very talented painter, most famous for his portraits and The Last Muster a study of Chelsea pensioners. As a motoring enthusiast, Herkomer wanted to help the development of the motorcar by presenting a trophy to the Bayerische Automobil Club. Herkomer designed the 40 kilogram sterling silver trophy himself. It was to be the first prize in the so-called Herkomer-Konkurrenz, a series of reliability trials that were held between 1905 and 1907. Rumour has it that the drawing was made by Herkomer during the discussions with the B.A.C. about his prize.


images collection Rutger Booy

March 26, 2006

Just look

maastunnel_300RBThe prewar-cars on this photo may be difficult to spot. They are part of a long mosaic that can be found on the entrance of a tunnel for cyclists under the river Maas. The tunnel, part of which was also for cars, was built during the late nineteen thirties by the Dutch city of Rotterdam. Many cars, heaps of cyclists ( and lots of pedestrians made good use of it to go to and from work in stead of using the small and crowded bridges. Nowadays the very long escalators ( aren’t used much.maastunnel_500RB

photos Rutger Booy

March 19, 2006

Gordon Horner 1916-2006

Horner_Bentley_450RBThe motoring artist Gordon Horner died last Thursday (January 26, 2006) at the age of ninety. Gordon Horner worked for “The Autocar” where he became their staff artist right after World War II. He produced artwork with much attention to detail, like this Lagonda at speed (see below). Later Horner developed a looser style with abundant use of bold colours, particularly bright blues, reds and yellows that predominate many of his works. A good example is the above Bentley. Apart from “The Autocar” Gordon Horner also made artwork for magazines like “The Motor Cycle” and in later times contributed to “Classic Car”. Gordon has always been interested in older cars, especially the pre-war Riley’s that often featured in his work. Although Horner did not want to be branded as a motoring artist only, yet today his work is viewed as that of an exceptional artist who recorded an important period in motoring history.


Gordon Horner at the age of 88 with his Riley

images courtesy Tony Clark

January 30, 2006