Back in ~1965 I first read Don Stanford's juvenile novel The Red Car (1954). It's a charming book, full of sound engineering and sound morality --- in both areas without a hint of ponderous preachiness. The dedication reads:

To Donald Kent Stanford, Jr.
and to the other boys of all ages who admire fine cars
and good sportsmanship

I bought a copy of The Red Car a few months ago as a birthday gift for my son Robin (aka RadRob); more recently Paulette found a copy at the local library's used-book sale. Some excerpts that convey the spirit of Stanford's prose follow.

from Chapter Five, as the French mechanic explains some basic automotive design theory to the boys in front of a dismantled M.G. engine:

"Ah! It does not looks like much, hein? It is not very big, the little engine; it has but four of the so small pistons, like this one. How can such a little engine move a car as fast as, perhaps, eight very big cylinders will move the car of your friend, Lennie, eh? Well, I tell you, it will not --- not quite. Your friend has the power of more than one hundred horses; this little engine has the power of perhaps fifty-five, fifty-six. And so he can go, as I have heard him say, faster than can Steve Norton. It is true."

Frenchy waited, grinning, and Hap kept his mouth shut, and finally Shorty asked, puzzled, "Then --- then why ---? I mean, if an M.G. won't go as fast as a Ford, even, then what good is it? Isn't that what it's for, to go fast? To win races?"

"It is not to win races," Frenchy said, emphasizing the word, "but to win competitions of all sorts. In its class! You do not ask the little flyweight boxer to fight with the heavyweight champion, hein? This little engine has won all of the competitions in its class, it is the champion. Your friend Lennie, with an engine perhaps four times this size, develops only about twice its power, that is not very good. And with it he must move, we will say, nearly two tons of a soft fat automobile that will not go around a corner ver' well because it is too comfortable. Now, this little engine, it is not soft and it is not fat and it is not lazy; the four little pistons work very hard and very fast, and though they are only one-fourth the size of Lennie's they will produce half as much power. And with that power they do not have to move two tons of fat automobile, but less than one ton of very lean, hard automobile which is not very comfortable, but will go very fast around curves. . . ."

Frenchy then goes on to discuss cornering and engine displacement.

from Chapter Eight, as protagonist Hap Adams's father comes back to his senses after a too-fast first ride with his son in the red M.G.:

"However, I've got something serious to say, and I want to say it to all of you boys. I'd just started to say to Hap when you all came in --- that was a darn fool stunt! Now, I was just as much to blame as anyone --- I'd be obliged if you boys would refrain from telling it around --- but the fact is I got kind of carried away myself. I was urging Hap on to race you, Lennie. A man can be just as foolish as a boy; he just doesn't get caught at it so often.

"But driving at that speed, on the open road --- that's for fools! Granted the highway was clear, granted neither of us took any foolish chances in passing, granted both of you boys kept your cars under control --- it's still dangerous, and stupid! Suppose somebody else did come around one of those curves, and you saw him in plenty of time but just then you blew a tire? It isn't fair to other people to make them share your risk! I hope I never hear of any of you doing anything like it again; if Hap ever does, he loses his car, and that's final. Understand?"

Mr. Adams continues, however, to muse in favor of safe, well-managed auto racing.

... and shortly thereafter, much to the consternation of his son Mr. Adams leads Hap to a fashion shop down the street where he selects a sophisticated cocktail dress for his wife:

"We'll have that black one with no top to speak of, I think," he said, taking the pipe out of his mouth long enough to speak with clear decision, and then stuck it back in and mumbled something that sounded like, "Your mother has scandalously pretty shoulders. Come on, son."

Struck dumb with surprise, Hap followed silently into the shop, and stood by speechless while his father bought the dress and had it wrapped and paid for it, and finally stuffed his change into his wallet and tucked the box under his arm.

As they prepare to go home Hap attempts to figure out the logic behind his father's purchase. Finally Mr. Adams explains:

He pointed the stem of his pipe at Hap, and said, "Remember this, son: a luxury is a thing that's perfectly unnecessary, perfectly useless. It's a thing people don't need, but want; and the more useless it is the more they want it, just to have it and love it. And everybody ought to have one luxury, one useless thing he loves just to have. Even people who can't afford luxuries, like us; maybe especially people like us . . "

He paused, and his eyes twinkled briefly, and he said dryly, "That is truth, that bit of philosophy. It is also what we are going to try to sell your mother, when we come home with this absolutely unnecessary, wildly impractical, perfectly useless car of yours. We'll give her her present first; if she likes it as well as I think she will, knowing your mother as I sometimes dare to think I do, you're in. We have only to point out, then, when she sees the car, that she has something useless to love, and certainly you should have the right to the same luxury. Right?"

They had reached the M.G., and Mr. Adams stood by while Hap unbuttoned the canvas boot that covered the folded-down top and revealed a luggage well big enough to stow the dress box in. It took him more than a minute to put the box away, and he did not speak at all during that time; he was lost in thought. What his father had said seemed to him to be very true and very profound. He knew he would not forget it for a long time; he hoped he would never forget it. He understood now why his father had bought this extravagant and impractical dress instead of, say, the steam iron his mother had mentioned wanting; he understood --- and knew that his father understood and approved, now --- another part of the reason he loved the M.G. so. ...

(see also DetectivesInTogas (6 Aug 2003), BroncBurnett (1 Jul 2004), ... )

TopicLiterature - TopicScience - TopicPersonalHistory - 2004-08-25

(correlates: WindToThyWings, TheNewTwenty, ParamilitaryOrganization, ...)