My obsession with #Alfa-Romeo-8C
s stems from a copy of #Autocar
published in November #1967
(inset below). Covers of motoring weeklies were generally dull in the ’60s, but I was transfixed by the dramatic action shot of the Hon Patrick Lindsay gunning his ex-John Cobb Monza down the Hangar Straight. Better still was the feature inside, which combined the talents of writer Ronald ‘Steady’ Barker with ace photographer Michael Cooper. Atmospheric monochrome on-board shots perfectly captured the stirring, damp blast alongside Lindsay around Silverstone while Steady’s prose passionately described the great car’s history. This famous Monza, Donald Healey later claimed, was the very car that became the template for the fabulous Triumph Dolomite.
Cobb was Steady’s hero as a schoolboy, and the highlight of the shoot was Lindsay digging out the #Napier-Railton
before the Christie’s director took his visitors in turn for tours around the estate aboard the 24-litre Brooklands giant.
Lindsay, Cooper and Steady were all heroes of mine, but sadly the last of these great characters has gone with the passing of the popular journalist aged 94. I was lucky to enjoy many adventures with him in a fantastic variety of machinery, ranging from #Cadillac-V16
to the treasured #NSU-Ro80
that he never tired of demonstrating. The advanced Wankel-powered wonder was even entered in the VSCC’s Pomeroy Trophy, where it cornered at dramatic angles of roll while out-handling much more exotic machinery. “The faster you go,” he enthused, “the smoother the engine gets.”
Be it leading a Mini race for journalists at Goodwood or chasing GP Bugattis over the Alps on his #Yamaha
XV1100 ’bike, Steady enjoyed every mile. Our shortest journey was aboard a vintage Lafitte Type D in which the whole engine swivelled to give variable ratios via its novel friction drive, but frustratingly the transmission started to slip not far from his home. We made it back, pushed it into the barn and headed off in his grand 8.5-litre, straight-six Edwardian Renault 45hp – the commanding view from its long, lofty cockpit being the total opposite to the cramped, sluggish Lafitte. The contrast was typical of Steady, who would get as animated about a Peugeot Quadrilette cyclecar as a new Audi quattro.
But our most memorable exploits were on his exposed #1908 #Napier
60hp, particularly over routes he knew well that allowed him to confidently illustrate both its effortless torque and its impressive acceleration. His smooth technique – “Never surprise a car,” he always maintained – was vindicated by a moment that caused us both to turn white. With a lesser helmsman, the consequences are unimaginable.
En route to Cefntilla Court on Welsh border backroads to visit his chum Lord Raglan, we crested a brow at speed… On the clear descent we spotted a huge stretch of mud where cows had left a wide 50ft-long trail crossing from farm to milking yard. Early morning rain had turned the road at the valley bottom into a treacherous, slippery mess.
There was no chance of braking before the muck started, so Steady kept his cool and relaxed his hands on the wheel. As the Napier’s skinny beaded-edge tyres scythed through, I could feel the chassis develop a gentle snaking movement before we reached the tarmac and grip again. Steady knew that it was a close call, but I was full of awe for his remarkable ability.
Along with the constant puns and limericks, the joy of long road trips were his vivid stories about childhood in Much Hadham, living in Germany during the ’30s, and motor show visits with his hero Laurence Pomeroy of the rival weekly The Motor. Steady never married, a situation he blamed on his father who once read aloud a “silly” love letter he wrote from school to a local girl, but his bachelor retreat at Shorncote was a car enthusiast’s dream.
The spiral staircase – its walls plastered with colourful motoring posters from his continental travels – was much admired, but the spectacular decoration was sadly lost when arthritis forced him to move into a bungalow.
Although Steady always reckoned that writing was a struggle, his wonderful stories came as naturally as his driving skills. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate his life than searching out old copies of Car and settling down with a smooth glass of Pinot Noir.
‘Along with a constant stream of limericks and puns, the joy of road trips were Steady’s vivid yarns’
Fully exposed to the elements, Walsh records a trip on Steady’s Napier.
Cooper’s striking shot of riding with Lindsay in the Monza.