Friday, December 30, 2011

Betty by the Numbers: Cars

via email from Betty van den Betsy:

Betty by the Numbers: Cars
Did you know this figurehead-thingie is called ‘The Spirit of Ecstasy’?
No doubt for good reason...

Well, this slice-and-dice proved something I’d kinda noticed whilst paging through the canon: as Betty aged, either she or her editor decided detailed information on our hero’s chariot was unneeded or unwanted – or else Betty lost touch with or interest in the automotive world. In the last 68 books, from 1985 on, our hero drives either a Bentley or a Rolls (sometimes called a Rolls-Royce), with the very occasional Jaguar, Daimler or Rover for back-up. Only two of those late books identify which model of Bentley, and there are no specifics on the Rolls-Royces.

That’s a long way from the early years, when every Rolls is a Silver Shadow drophead coupé, Merlin or Corniche; Rovers are Land, Range or TC 2000s; and Aston Martins, Panthers and Lamborghinis zoom across the Afsluitdijk. One notices, too, that in later years our hero is apt to explain his Rolls or Bentley by saying that he needs a big car to accommodate his large frame. In earlier years, he was apparently content to cram himself into a sporty Italian model that must have required tucking his knees into his underarms. And, incidentally, those cars were seriously ugly – check all the photo research the Founding Bettys have generously done.

Of course, in early years he also had a back-up car, to vary the ergonomics a bit. In the first three years (1969-71) and nine books she published, Betty’s menfolk average 2.1 cars each. From 1972-79, over 37 books, they average 1.7 apiece, and then from 1980-2001, 89 books, we’re down to just 1.1 vehicles per man. The most conspicuous consumer of automotive goods is Fraam der Linssen of Ring in a Teacup (1978), who kept a Panther 4.2, a Rolls-Royce Carmague, a Range Rover and a Mini. Which one do you think he passed down to Fraam Jr. sixteen years later?

The final count: of the 176 cars Betty names for her menfolk, Rolls Royce wins the checkered flag, with 58 product placements. The Bentley folks are close behind, with 50 mentions. Since 37 of these children of fortune own multiple luxury automobiles – let’s just tot up some maths here – that means 43% of perfect husbands drive Rollses and 37% drive Bentleys. Only two heroes – Jonkheer Max van Oosterwelde of Visiting Consultant (1969) and Radmer ter Bavinck of The Moon for Lavinia (1975) – drive one of each.

And what do the gentlemen drive when not in those exemplars of British automaking? Other exemplars, mostly. Ten Daimlers (typically Sovereigns) and ten Aston Martins lead the pack, with nine Jaguars almost keeping pace. Six Rovers and five Bristols make a nice showing.

I was surprised to find four Panthers on the list. That has got to be some kind of early-childhood fixation of Madame Neels’s, because no one could love that thing on first sight. The ones, twos and threes include: Mini, Jensen, Volvo, Iso Grigo, Mercedes, BMW, Citroën, Porsche, Lamborghini, Iso Lele, a shabby Fiat, Maserati, Lagonda, Ferrari and – say it with me – “The Man in the AC 428 Fastback!” I do think it impressive, and interesting, that Betty Neels had so detailed an interest in automobiles. I read once that she didn’t know how to drive (it was in a Harlequin author profile, in response to a question about what she’d do differently in her life, or something like that), yet she obviously had strong opinions on how, and in what, it ought to be done. She routinely praises her heroes for fast driving, and a few heroines in earlier books have ‘advanced driving certificates,’ as a point of pride.

Incidentally, my notes show no car named for either George Pritchard of A Summer Idyll or Duert ter Brandt of Not Once But Twice. And back here at home, I recently (under duress after a large-ish pickup truck rear-ended me) traded my old Saturn with the busted sunroof for a spanking nearly-new mini-Honda, while the Jonkheer occasionally chauffeurs me to dinner and no dancing in a socking great 13-year old vintage Corolla. We’re moving to Friesland.

Here’s what I drove on my birthday weekend, though – that’s not us in the car – through a sunshiny rural autumn Saturday. Life could be worse.


  1. We have a socking, great Corolla as my Mijnheer's commuter car. Nothing beats that thing. It still goes like a bomb!

    Love all this info, Betty van den Betsy!

  2. Betty Barbara here--
    Betty van den Betsy-I am just loving your distillations from your awesomesauce spread sheet.

    I had my first sighting of a Bentley in the wild a few weeks before Christmas. Mijnheer and I were on the road in suburban Maryland(near our home)when our eyes beheld this (a href= marvelous sight(/a). I quickly Googled Bentley and found the price--Oh my! (whispers---$189,900 base price).

  3. Betty Barbara here--
    Hmmm, let me try a non-embedded link
    We saw the Bentley Continental GT

  4. Betty van den BetsyDecember 30, 2011 at 8:44 PM

    Nice work, Betty Barbara. I typically don't go farther than "it's a blue one" when identifying cars, which is reason enough to be in awe of Betty Neels's extensive knowledge of cool wheels of the 70s. I honestly don't know that I could tell a Bentley from a Sebring from a Cadillac.

    This June, I visited Toronto and dined at a restaurant with sidewalk tables in the trendy/wealthy/arty Yorkville district (if you're interested, the restaurant was Sassafraz, and it was quite good. The Canadian wine was actually excellent, too.). There was a constant parade of super-fabulous cars passing by, including a Bentley, several Ferraris and a Lotus or two. I know this because the traffic moved slowly enough that I could read their logos as they passed. It was mystifying to me that Torontians (?) would keep painfully expensive convertible sports cars, but they seemed to do so in droves.

  5. I was leaving Marshall's (a wonderful chain we have here in the Eastern U.S.--discounted goods remaindered from other, pricier stores), a woman in a Mercedes pulled into the space next to my Honda Civic. I had to smile because, probabilities being what they are, I don't think she's *actually* richer than I am--just more insecure about her automotive self.

    Still, I understand the desire to stick nice cars in one's books. I have my judge driving a Lexus--his first foreign-made car in years because, as an Article 3 federal judge, his appointment is for life! He lets the heroine drive it and she describes is as riding on the wings of burly angels...

  6. Cheese Board Alarm!!!
    Thank you Betty van den Betsy for your new Guest Post. Great work, as usual. Ugly cars? I agree. However, I find that almost all cars from the 70's, for example, seem ugly to me when I see them today. In the 70's they looked completely normal to me. Thanks also for mentioning your stay in Toronto in your comment. Boy, am I glad you couldn't see me when I read it. I turned positively green with envy. (In a very ladylike way of course.) I would never have styled myself as a Torontonian, but I did reside in that city for a while.
    Legal driving age in the Netherlands (before 2011): Fraam der Linssen Jr. would have had to be 18 years of age to receive one of his father's vintage automobiles as a cast-off, er, gift.
    Not Once But Twice: "The Rolls was below and Duert was getting into it. It was annoying that he should look up, just as if he knew that she would be there, and wave. It was time for Mijnheer Beek's pills. She handed them to him and when he spoke to her, ..."

    The Cheese Board?

    Sassafraz. Go to the link, look at the pictures. That's the fanciest cheese board I've ever seen!!!
    Betty Anonymous

  7. Gracious, Betty Anon, as I look over those photos they make Sassafraz look much more upmarket than it did when I was there. It had more of a crunchy-granola vibe, in a neighborhood of ferocious chic. I suspect a smidge of lily-gilding. The waiters were wonderful, and kept reconfiguring our orders: that soup is too rich to have with that entree; that dessert isn't very sweet; you'll love the pinot noir. (I would have fought for my dessert choice, but my dining companion was in thrall to the adorably bossy waitress.)

    Betty Magdalen, a NY Times reporter has coined a word for you, and all those who prioritize their spending so paperbacks and profiteroles (world travel, 19th-century farmhouses, retirement funds, etc) get in ahead of Mercedeses: "carsimonious." I am "gastringent," and the idea of Betty Barbara's Bentley's 12 mpg city and 19 mpg highway causes my respiratory system to seize up a bit.

  8. Betty Barbara here--

    Betty Magdalen--well, it is possible that she saved enough at Marshall's to afford the Mercedes!(*snork*)
    Betty van den Betsy--yes, the Bentley is vastly impractical. And in our neck of the woods one's driving is mostly stop and go, typical suburbia. The speed limit on the closest Interstate Highways is 65 and the traffic is often too heavy to go much faster than that. It is sort of like the people who live in Honolulu and drive Lamborghinis!
    I am driving a 10 year old Saturn sedan and am in no hurry to trade it in. So color me 'carsimonious' as well.

  9. Bettys, get out the oliebollen!

    All the best wishes for 2012!!!

    Betty Anonymous

  10. Re.: "Incidentally, my notes show no car named for...Duert ter Brandt of Not Once But Twice."

    One of my favourite books. Was re-reading it last night. When Christina came over to work in the Netherlands Dr ter Brandt sent Corvinus to meet her at Schiphol. "He led her through the crowds and outside to where a Daimler Sovereign was parked. And very nice too, thought Christina. Dr ter Brandt must be doing very well for himself. The stout man opened the door with a flourish, but she said at once, 'Oh, no — if you don't mind I'd rather sit with you.'" So apart from the aforementioned Rolls ("The Rolls was below and Duert was getting into it...")Duert ter Brandt owned a Daimler as well.
    Betty Anonymous

  11. Betty van den BetsyJanuary 2, 2012 at 8:19 PM

    Thanks, Betty Anon. I need to go back and re-read that one -- I'm missing a lot of fields in the s/sheet. I appreciate the extra eyes, and attention!

  12. Amazing factoids and analysis Betty van den Betsy, thoroughly good work.
    Also, nice back-up action Betty Anonymous, this close reading of the canon is becoming quite intense. I foresee (hope) for an honorary doctorate coming to you all soon - one can be both a Betty and a Doctor!
    Can't imagine any Eurodoctor not owning a Mercedes/BMW/Porsche/Lexus vehicle. Cars leave me cold, no license and have stopped even pretending to learn to drive, but I admire Betty for her full patriotism and Austin Powers sense of automotive style. Seems so incongruous the idea of a vast (though weight slim) professor jumping out of some of those boxy car design culdesacs. But they probably matched the glamourpuss high maitenance girlfriend and her outre knickerbockers.
    I think the status anxiety involved with cars is weird, have far more ridiculous things to aspire too ;-), but as where I live in one of the dense yet luxury branded places in the world its amazing how slow you can see a luxury car go. I did meet recently a lovely Dutch couple whose father is an awarded wellknown RDD, they had no idea why I was excited. No Rolls, just Mercedes.
    Betty AnHK

  13. Betty van den BetsyJanuary 7, 2012 at 10:04 AM

    George Pritchard has a Bristol, which identification our authoress makes glancingly on page 44, when Phoebe watches "Dr. Pritchard, splendid in a black tie, get in his Bristol and drive off." After they marry, he and Phoebe do a great deal of driving about Somerset and the Netherlands in it, but ever after it's referred to only as "the car" or "his car," and no one ever comments on its comfort, cost, well-bred speed or great-sockingness. I feel a bit cheated, actually.

  14. Betty van den BetsyJanuary 7, 2012 at 10:06 AM

    And it's Suffolk, not Somerset!

  15. " one ever comments on its comfort, cost, well-bred speed or great-sockingness. I feel a bit cheated, actually."

    Snort! You owe me a new computer screen!

  16. Betty van den BetsyJanuary 8, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    Betty Keira, you can apply to Betty AnHK for your new screen, as I am still despoiling mine over her "outre knickerbockers" phrase. So she owes me one, which I pass along to you. (In truth, if we can't learn to snort in a more ladylike way, we probably don't deserve nice screens...)