Growing up in the 1970s means that I am now officially ancient, and this is reflected in the birthday presents I get.
One of this year’s more left field was a secondhand book catchily titled, ‘THE STORY OF THE MOTOR CAR.’ This apparently was a ‘Ladybird ‘achievements’ book,’ one of those little hard backed numbers that used to be found in thousands of primary school classrooms and children’s bedrooms.
In this irony-infested age the archetypal illustrations Ladybird books contained have now been re-used for a series of Christmas stocking friendly titles with names like ‘The Laydbird book of the mid-life crisis,’ which features on its cover illustrations of cars like the Rover 2000 and Vauxhall Viva, which children of the 1970s will instantly recognise. Since those children are today’s middle aged, this is clearly a book that knows its market –people like me. Perhaps that’s why I read my original Ladybird from cover to cover.
It comes from a long vanished era, as witnessed by the write up on the inside cover, which proudly tells the reader, ‘this is a book for every boy –and many fathers too!’
Girls, apparently were not allowed to read it, but being a chap I did, and was a little surprised to discover that it was one of most interesting things I’ve seen about cars in a while.
I didn’t know, for instance, that in 1769 a French army engineer called Joseph Cugnot built ‘a heavy three-wheeled machine designed specifically for pulling big guns. Luck was against the inventor because it turned over on only its second test run and no more was ever heard of it.’
This cautionary tale was illustrated by a colour picture of a man in a three-cornered hat and large wig being flung from a lethal looking vehicle as it plunged into a ditch.
Sadly, there wasn’t an illustration of Sir Goldsworth Gurney’s ‘vehicle with mechanical legs,’ but there was an amusing picture of a steam powered stage coach with four belching chimneys at the back that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a dragster.
The book then took its readers on a jolly canter through the car’s first six or so decades, finishing with what was then the modern era, where it concluded that in the future ‘the gas turbine age will come, possibly even the atomic power age… In the meantime, the car is amazingly comfortable, speedy, silent and reliable, and it can be produced at prices varying from just over £500 to as much as £8,000,’ which, when you come to think of it, is itself quite ironic too.