A WOMAN is delivered by a doctor of a baby; fish or furniture is delivered to you in a van; but of a car you take delivery. It is ready born, ready to be weaned. You have only to go there and take delivery.
In a long quiet hall the new cars were echeloned up, awaiting owners. There must have been thirty or forty, all of them four-seater open models with their hoods up, black with red upholstery, and the flat caps of their radiators made a straight silver line down the hall. A tester in brown overalls jumped into a car and drove it from the line. The sharp high note of the new engine beat against the roof. The mechanic swung around the pillars of the place and left the car revving in short bursts by the office. There were forms to be signed, equipment to be checked, all very calmly with a little casual conversation about the weather, rate of production, about anything but cars and this car. Then it was mine. I asked the way to Wallingford, and said 'Thanks; thanks very much; thank you' not listening to the answer. I drove it in third gear from the works, down Abingdon High Street and into the country somewhere. At the first signpost I turned left into a lane, clipped down the hand brake, switched off the motor and got out and looked at it.
It was a long narrow deep lying car, underslung front and rear so that it looked built up from the ground it stood on; a cat could just about crawl in underneath without singeing its fur on the exhaust piping. It was a small car, built down from a model that had won fame on the race track. But I saw at once that it had the dignity and the sizelessness of great works of art. Like the Mauretania, the Parthenon, or one of the Great Western 'Castle' locomotives, its line and proportions were so good that one could tell its size only by comparison. It did not feel like a small car or a big car, it did not look like one. It looked a dignified and lonely work of art. I went right away and sat on a gate and contemplated it.
The next step was to examine the car from all angles as a film producer might prowl round a star-to-be for photogenic pitfalls. Yes, like many a lovely woman, it had its ugly angle--a three-quarter rear view where it looked suddenly shorn off, front-heavy. For a moment it seemed as if I had made a horrible error, as if I loved a mean ungraceful woman; then I moved a couple of inches forward and the car was again beautiful. It was all right, its character was sweet and noble. The best and loveliest women have just one movement or mood where it is better not to know them.
But if they have some moods or movements that are better forgotten, they have also a look, a sudden turn of the head, the surprise of a smile that in a flash contains their whole lovable nature. So too had my car. As the six-cylinder double carburettored engine drove it forward, it had a way of shrugging the long bonnet from the radiator cap up along in a quiver to the windscreen; it shrugged, then settled down to the grey road, where it ran so low and steady that a child could have held the steering wheel and at the bends and corners it went round with the road, the road and the car and I all going round together and coming out straight again in one rhythm.
But not at first; for we were not yet wedded. I got in again and held the wheel in a number of ways, explored the controls, pressed buttons, turned switches. I was at the wheel of a strange and powerful machinery. I could make it go and I could make it do things; but I had no feeling as yet how it preferred to run and climb and corner. I just drove along the motor.
On the windscreen was pasted a paper instruction not to exceed forty m.p.h. for the first thousand miles running. This was one reason why I took delivery from the works in person. I did not want some bored mechanic to let out the new engine and probably ruin its future sweetness and crispness. Purring along at thirty miles an hour seemed an insult to such a motor; but it had compensations. For the first time for many years I saw England. I saw the beauties of the English countryside in mid-May. I saw petrol palaces, advertisements for the French Riviera, and the back of one overtaking car after another. I obtained a front view of a few bicycles and a woman and children watching a man in a bowler hat trying to change his offside front wheel without losing an important part of his anatomy to the passing traffic.
It was now approaching lunch time, so I turned off the Reading road and went down a steep lane to the Thames and there in the yard of the Beetle and Wedge hotel I parked the car for the first time among its fledged fellows. I hoped it would be remarked upon and professional motorists would be stalking round it in my absence and peering at the gears and dashboard. But there seemed no one. At any other time, particularly if I were in a hurry or had some life's problem to solve in silence, I could have depended on meeting in the bar a man who would describe in detail a motor run from London to Llandudno, his average speed (allowing for stops), petrol, oil, and beer consumption and what did I think of the new fluid flywheel? On the one occasion when I should have astonished such a man by my sympathy and interest he was not present. No one was present. Life never loses its sense of the ridiculous even if the livers do at moments. I sipped sherry which I did not want and do not like in the hope that the barman would start a conversation, about anything, Irish sweepstakes, the decline or increase of drunkenness--I would have conversed about absolutely anything with my whole intelligence, for my whole heart was with my car. But he was a non-conversing barman. It was very sad. I was in a mood to invite the plainest woman to lunch, tea or dinner or make friends with bores and bounders. The day, strung up tight with anticipation, threatened to snap. I had lunch alone in a corner of the restaurant where it so chanced there was a mirror facing me. In the mirror I could scarcely help observing the cars in the courtyard.
What pleasure and relief to climb into my new car again! All of a new world with new innumerable roads and hills and valleys lay under the shining bonnet. And this time as I slumped down in the driving seat and threw in the gear I felt that I knew it. I knew my car. I let the wheel spin as I reversed on the gravel; I swung it up the lane. I had the feel of what it would do and what it wanted. This was to be the companion and the thread through the next three years of ragged aimless living. With my head full of lovely emptiness I drove to London.