By Robert Goldman
Back in June, I opened our Friday night pre-Motorfest party with a brief story. It went something like this. History is the context which links seemingly disconnected things into a story. Among my possessions are a funky striped silk necktie, a Japanese cigarette case, and a Thornton-Pickard MkIII Hythe camera.
The necktie was a unit tie, worn by a young man, who to be “demobbed,” or in other words to get out of the military, needed a job. After the war, there were no jobs in the UK. His older brother lived in Japan and was the importer of Haig & Haig scotch. He offered a job. While working in Japan, the young man, my grandfather Maurice, bought a cigarette case and had a local silversmith add an image of a biplane.
The biplane was a Vickers Gunbus, a flaming death trap of an airplane, all of which were shot down. Fortunately, after training as a gunner-observer, my grandfather became an instructor and survived the war. It wasn’t until after he passed away that I learned of and purchased the Thornton-Pickard camera. The Hythe camera is shaped to mimic a Lewis machine gun. It was a training tool meant to save money on ammunition. As an instructor, my grandfather could have used one of these cameras. In fact, there is a minuscule chance he could have touched the very device in my collection.
It is within the context of history that these three dissimilar physical items are connected, and make an interesting story. We moved on to the Hall of Fame program from there.
The next evening, I was riding in a car with John Nikas and HoF inductee, Graham Robson. They were swapping anecdotes. As the lightweight in the room (please gentlemen, place no weight apun my use of the word “weight”), my metaphorical shots at the conversation had to fly true. I offered up an anecdote from some years back. In September 1993 we were putting on a British car event at a horse ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley. One afternoon a woman, probably somewhere in her 80s, came walking up the driveway. It was not a short driveway, and the neighbor’s properties were a respectable distance away.
As she approached, she asked in a lovely English accent what all the British sports cars were doing about. I explained the nature of the show, and in the course of a brief conversation, she stated in the 1930s she had raced factory-sponsored single seater Austin 7s. Needs of the moment drew me away. When I returned, she was gone. Who was she? Graham piped up, “Was she an elegant woman?” Yes. “Kay Petre was her name. She was the only woman to drive a factory sponsored single seater 7.”
Had John Nikas not asked me one day over a burger, to house a British Sports Car Hall of Fame, one half of this article would remain an amusing little mystery to me. Who was the aged woman with the sports car story? Nothing more. Two years later, the burger lunch landed me in a car with Graham Robson, who swatted aside the fog. I now have the historical context to go with that encounter. What a tenuous thread connected the woman in the story to her name. History is a fragile thing, worthy of protection.