Monday, 21 March 2016

Back Fire!

Back Fire: A Passion For Cars And Motoring (2001) is one of my favourite motoring books.

I lent it to a friend a year ago, who has yet to return it to me.

Back Fire is a collection of the Hon Alan Clark's columns for the magazine Classic Cars and other journals along with a few extracts from his celebrated diaries.

I had a sneaking admiration for Alan Clark, despite his reputation.

He eventually became Right Honourable, as a Privy Counsellor.

His father, the Lord Clark, was the famous art historian and broadcaster.

I have the collection of Alan Clark's Diaries and Back Fire.

If Mr Toad hadn't pre-dated Alan Clark by some 21 years ~  The Wind in the Willows was published in 1908 and Clark born in 1929 ~ one could make a good case for Clark's having been the model for Kenneth Grahame's daredevil, outrageous, but loveable, rogue.

Conservative MP, historian, man about town, notorious womaniser ~ and at the same time fiercely loyal husband and father ~ he died in 1999.

He bought his first car, a six-and-a-half litre vintage Bentley, while he was still at Eton and only 17 - it was typical of the stylish flamboyance which became his trademark.

Many a Jaguar, Rolls Royce, Porsche, Buick and Chevrolet followed. So did old Citroens, a VW Beetle and latterly a beloved and "totally reliable" Discovery.

He was a collector par excellence, who was addicted to the buying and selling of cars all his adult life.

Every garage and enclosed space at Saltwood Castle, the family home in Kent, remains full of Clark's cars.

Clark's son James writes in Back Fire that "Outside the family, I truly believe, cars were my father's greatest love".

But he didn't approve of over-enthusiastic restoration.

When he drove his 1920 Silver Ghost, of which there is a photograph in Back Fire on the 1993 Rolls Royce Enthusiasts' Alpine Commemorative Run, a fellow competitor remarked, to Clark's amusement, that
if he can't afford to maintain his car properly he shouldn't be allowed on the event.
Whatever else Clark was or wasn't, he was never dull and he was certainly a writer,
What do we want a classic car for? Showing off, of course. Nothing wrong with that; they are more idiosyncratic than beach jewellery.
First published in March, 2014. 

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