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Automobiles Lost & Found.


Michael Ware.
ISBN 978-1-84425 438 5
First Published 2008 (Hardback, 175 pages).
Book cover

UK RRP 19.99

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Few enthusiasts of vintage and/or classic motor-cars can fail to get excited at news of an old car, tucked away and to all intents and purposes forgotten about. If it languishes in a dry barn or garage, as a "barn find", then all the better. Many though have not benefited from years of dry storage, but were left to disintegrate behind hedges and in forgotten fields. Of these, the majority will have been swept away, perhaps by disinterested relatives of the car's original owner, or by new owners of the land, keen to clear and re-develop a site in as short a time as possible.
Some of these forgotten gems though fall into appreciative, or at least understanding, hands, and are given the chance to live again. This book chronicles some of these fascinating old vehicles that Michael Ware, former Curator and Director of the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, has had experience of over the years.
It isn't just the exotics that feature in this book, cars that once were a common feature of family life in the olden days get equal exposure throughout this book's 175 pages. A chapter is given over to the Austin 7 for instance, a car that Michael has a fondness for, his first car being a 1931 Austin 7 saloon, bought in 1956 and later turned into a trialling special.
Chapter one takes a look at a selection of eccentric vehicle collectors, whose intent is to amass large numbers of vehicles, often in original un-touched condition, and preserve them this way. Some of these cars appear on the market after a number of years, the contents of the Sharpe Collection for instance found new homes via auction in 2005, while others remain tucked away, hopefully preserved for future generations to re-discover and enthuse about once more.
Of course for every well stored and preserved vintage vehicle, there are others whose survival is less assured, having been left to the elements. A chapter is given over to vehicles discovered in unusual locations. A vintage chassis, slowly dissolving into a rocky shoreline is featured, as is a post-war Austin 10 recovered from a flooded quarry. The disinterment of a wartime air-raid shelter, formed underground using the bodyshell of a vintage Essex, is also featured, as are other tales of elderly motor-cars being stored underground, only to be re-discovered many decades later.
Most car discoveries though take place about ground level, and even into the 1960s scrapyards were still excellent hunting grounds for automotive archaeology. Black and white, as well as colour, photographs act as reminders of these fascinating memorial grounds, packed with decaying cars that, today, would be keenly rescued but back then were valued more for their weight, and/or the demand for the components they harboured. Photographs from more recent times are evidence that interesting old cars can still be discovered in breakers yards, but they tend to be on foreign soil - for example in Australia - where climates tend to be kinder to vehicle coachwork than damp old Britain.
Enthusiasts of veteran cars will probably head to Chapter Four first of all, as various car discoveries of that era are discussed, followed by vehicles of the years leading up to WW2. I still struggle to get my head around anyone leaving a 1920s or 1930s Bentley to go to ruin, pushed into the corner of a barn and gradually covered with junk. Yet cars like this have turned up on a number of occasions, even in recent years. As a fan of pre-war cars, and semi-derelict ones in particular, this along with the scrapyards chapter is my favourite section of the book.
As mentioned, the diminutive Austin 7 gets a chapter all of its own, as do vehicles produced by Rolls-Royce prior to the war. Classic Cars form the subject for Chapter Eight, while the products of Abingdon (MG) get special coverage in Chapter Nine. Specials, ie cars usually built as a one-off by a home-based enthusiast, often with fast road or competition use in mind, have their own section too. The story of the 27-litre, Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered Swandean Spitfire Special is described, from its beginnings in the early 1950s to its re-discovery in (much) later years. Two Daimler Dingo Scout car chassis were used in the build of this amazing machine, into which a Merlin engine, which cost all of 50 from a scrapyard, was encouraged to fit. At the other end of the size spectrum, the tiny "Wee Three" special is described, a three-seater car designed with frugality very much in mind.
The final chapters cast light on a number of competition cars that have turned up in unusual locations over the years, and also tales of automotive "finds" that weren't necessarily all they were cracked up to be.
Anyone who, like me, can't get enough of reading about old cars sat in garages, barns and outbuildings, will I'm sure find this book well worth a look.
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