July saw a red-letter day in the Fullerton house – or rather, in the Fullerton garage, for we finally took delivery of a new car.
Our old car had given us good service for more than 19 years clocking up almost 251,000 km, so it was time for a new one. We are now the proud, if somewhat nervous, owners of a Hyundai Ioniq, a fully electric car.
A new car has turned my thoughts to cars in literature. There’s the flashy Rolls-Royce in The Great Gatsby which seems indeterminate in colour, according to who describes it. Sometimes it is bright yellow, sometimes cream. It is, of course, the car that kills Myrtle Wilson when Daisy is at the wheel. Driving well or badly is quite a theme of the book, and cars are one of the examples of conspicuous advertising which Gatsby chooses in order to attract Daisy.
A favourite literary car is the one purchased by Toad in The Wind in the Willows. He’s a terrible driver and in one of the best literary quotes ever, we are told that “the rush of air in his face, the hum of the engines, and the light jump of the car beneath him intoxicated his weak brain”. Whenever I see some lunatic driving dangerously, I think of that quote and smile. Toad crashes the car he steals, and ends up in prison for reckless driving. Cars symbolise his immaturity, his disregard for others, and they also represent the modern, industrialised world so loathed by Kenneth Grahame.
James Bond drives many sleek and costly vehicles (his Aston Martin is probably the most famous), usually with an amazing range of gadgets attached, but did you know that the creator of James Bond also created a car named Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang? It’s a flying car that takes Mr Potts and his family on amazing adventures in the 1964 book Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car. My children when young adored the movie and watched it over and over again, so I grew very familiar with that flying car.
In John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family crudely convert their Hudson Super Six sedan into a truck that will take them all to the promised land in California. Steinbeck provides the reader with a grim picture of used-car salesmen, while the cars on Route 66 become a symbol of America itself. In Travels with Charley, Steinbeck drives a camper van around America, and names the vehicle ‘Rocinante’ after Don Quixote’s horse. (I do like literary names for cars and must start thinking of a suitable moniker for our new car.)
Lord Peter Wimsey in Dorothy L. Sayers’s fabulous series of detective novels drives a Daimler that he has named Mrs Merdle, after a character in Dickens’ Little Dorrit because “of her aversion to row”. He likes a silent car that never makes a fuss (hopefully our new car will emulate Mrs Merdle!)
Then there are the cars that are intimately connected to a particular character, such as the Batmobile, the Weasley’s Ford Anglia which ‘flies’ Ron and Harry to school in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Noddy’s little yellow car in the Enid Blyton books, and Spider-Man’s spider-mobile.
Rudyard Kipling was an early motoring enthusiast, but did not drive himself – he had a chauffeur. He named one of his cars Jane Cakebread, after a notorious London prostitute, because his car, like Ms Cakebread, had so many convictions to her name. His blue Rolls-Royce is now on display at his gorgeous Sussex home of Bateman’s.