Every so often I start a column because there is something that has caught my interest, but it does not pan out to the full one thousand words demanded by the editor, a cruel taskmaster. This is not a column, this is a potpourri of columns that never were.
There was a movie, The Man Who Never Was, and with the recent release of government papers it has been updated into a fine book, Operation Mincemeat. The Allies were preparing to invade Sicily and Operation Mincemeat left the Germans wrong-footed. The body of a down and out was floated off neutral Spain and chained to the corpse’s wrist was a brief case containing invasion plans for Greece.
British intelligence knew that German spies in Spain would be given access to the contents, and so it proved. German divisions were moved to Greece and many Allied lives were saved. The intelligence officer who ran with the idea was Ian Fleming. Churchill called it, “corkscrew” thinking.
The corpse was in London, refrigerated, and had to get to a submarine base in Scotland as quickly as possible. Most German spies had been captured on Day One, and turned. Since the alternative was the hangman’s noose, they were compliant. The problem was possible undetected spies, so a submarine had to put out from Scotland as normal.
MI5 employed racing driver, St. John Horsfall, to make the trip with the cadaver. Horsfall won the 1948 Spa 24 Hours and the Aston Martin Owners Club still names its main meeting for him.
Otto Merz, who later raced for Mercedes, was a chauffeur in the cavalcade of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajavo in 1914. I have even seen it written that he was the prince’s actual driver. There had been a bomb thrown, so the route was changed at the last minute and the procession mistakenly took to a dead end. It was while the parade was backing up that Gabriel Princeps took his chance at an almost stationary target.
Louis Chiron was chauffeur to Marshals Foch and Petain during WWI. You can see where I was going with this.
One of the pioneers of motor racing was a Belgian aristocrat, Camille Jenatzy. He was part of the team that won the 1903 Gordon Bennett Trophy and was the first motorist to exceed 60 mph—and that in an electric car. In 1913, he and some friends went to hunt for wild boar. They had no luck by lunchtime when they stopped at a lodge for refreshment.
Jenatzy thought it a terrific wheeze to slip out of the lodge and hide in the undergrowth making the noises of a wild boar. He was Belgian, remember, so this was the height of humor. His impression seems to have been excellent and his companions were soon on the case with their guns.
It would have made a good start to “Bizarre Deaths of Racing Drivers,” but I could not think of any more which were as amusing. Gold Darwin Award to that man.
In one column, I suggested that the Ford Mustang was the movie director’s car of choice when it came to establishing the outline of a character. Since I wrote that, the Mustang has become ever more popular in movies, even as the original recedes into history.
No sooner was my column out than bijou, yet perfectly formed, Tom Cruise, was battling Martians with his Mustang in The War of the Worlds. H. G. Welles set the original in Woking, home now of McLaren. You sort out the implications of that. A Martian in Formula One? That could work if there is sponsorship?’
A BBC TV detective series is Inspector Lynley. He is an Earl, with an estate to inherit, who gained a brilliant First at Oxford, yet has become a copper. His sidekick is a feisty young woman from the wrong side of the tracks. It probably happens all the time, but does not get reported.
You know, as I know, that a detective is a troubled individual with a drink problem, whose marriage broke up due to pressure of work and who has a problematic relationship with the daughter who is now a woman. It is a rule.
Peer of the realm who is also a copper, there is only one car he could drive, a Bristol, and not a new one. Old money is not shiny.
Bristol Cars recently went into liquidation and was bought by Frazer-Nash Research. I have seen magazines link Frazer-Nash with Frazer Nash, the revered marque. I assume that my readers are up to speed on the hyphen. Archie Frazer Nash founded the marque and it was only after he sold it that he adopted a hyphen, for personal use.
The company which has bought Bristol was, indeed, founded by Archie Frazer-Nash, after he sold the marque. For me, the hyphen howler is up there with abuse of the noble apostrophe.
Another of my “things” is the misuse of “alloy.” Popular alloys include bronze and brass, and brass has been used on recent F1 engines. Designers now can go way below the minimum weight rule and ballast has to be added. A brass sump on an engine makes sense.
Some journalists still confuse aluminum, which is an element, with alloy. Autocar magazine still does not get the point that the word “alloy” is useful only when you specify what the alloy is.
Then there is the ignorant press release. A German company has revived the name “Veritas” to badge its niche car. The press release said that Veritas made the first postwar German Formula One car, but it did not. Veritas made only 2-liter BMW-engined cars, in other words, Formula Two cars.
There you have it, the start of a number of columns which never made it. As I ride out, I like to think that someone says, “The West would be a better place if there were more men like the Lone Pedant and his side-kick, Kay-cee.”