Back in 1908, when Henry Ford first produced his model T, a motor-mad toad stole one of them, which led to a lengthy prison sentence when Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows was published. This was one of the earliest appearances of a motor car in literature – certainly the first instance of motor theft!
Since then, cars have been central to many a story, helping drive along plots in much-loved books for more than a century. Today is World Book Day and we’re remembering some of those marvellous motors – and not just the ones features in those Haynes manuals. Poot! Poot!
Perhaps the most famous literary car has to be Chitty Chitty Band Bang – ‘our fine four-fendered friend,’ as the song from the 1968 film goes. Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car is a children’s novel written by Ian Fleming for his son Caspar.
The film was produced by Albert R Broccoli, co-producer of the James Bond film series, which were based on Fleming’s more famous series of books.
In the novels, Secret Agent James Bond got behind the wheel of a variety of cars, including a 1930 Bentley, a Ford Thunderbird and, or course, an Aston Martin DB Mark III.
More recently, JK Rowling gave us a magical with the Flying Ford Anglia in her Harry Potter books. The 1960s light blue was enchanted by Arthur Weasley and was fitted with an Invisibility Booster. It was used to rescue Harry from the Dursleys’ home where he was being held captive.
A less child-friendly auto is the Stephen King’s Christine – a red and white 1958 Plymouth Fury which was possessed by supernatural forces. The novel was turned into a grisly film in 1983, which saw the classic car stalk the streets of Libertyville, fixing her own dents and scratches after her murder sprees.
Nearly 20 years later, King wrote a second story around a classic car - From A Buick 8 in 2002. The titular 1953 Buick Roadmaster was also a self-repairing vintage car, but this time was a vessel to another world instead of a killing machine.
Another sci-fi tale, though nowhere near as recognisable as King’s creations, is The Number Of The Beast by Robert A Heinlein. Published in 1980, the tale follows a group of friends as they travel through different universes in their modified car, the Gay Deceiver, equipped with a ‘continua’ device which helps them travel through dimensions.
One of the greatest road trips put down on paper is the adventures of Sal Paradise, and his friend Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s beat novel On The Road. The pair share experiences around America, travelling by any which way they can – including a brand new 1949 Hudson Commodore, a beat-up 1947 Cadillac rental car and an even more beat-up 1937 Ford Sedan.
Staying with classic literature, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a fatal accident involving his 1928 Rolls Royce Tourer unravelled a lavish lifestyle in the Roaring Twenties with a pretty tragic conclusion.
Which is your favourite literary motor?
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