Monday, July 7, 2014

Betty by the Numbers: Cars Redux

If you've taken a look at The Huge Roses, my Betty homage, you may have noticed a Rolls Royce Phantom and an elderly Subaru.  They are, of course, sub-homages to TGB.  (If I were fully homage-ing, I would have my heroine drive an American make, but elderly Subaru are the quintessential New Hampshire vehicle for students, recent grads, and almost anyone else in the state who's not wealthy.  Rich folk drive younger Subaru, ha ha, and the RDD comes to grief in a rented Mercedes -- you don't drive rear-wheel drive in New Hampshire in the winter, for silly's sake!)  I love Betty's anomalous interest in, and knowledge of, hot car models.  It adds a touch of butch competence to the froth of dresses and souffles in her stories.  The great medical scenes of the early canon lay the foundation of gender-irrelevant competence, but the car-knowledge is a fun garnish.  So here's a redux of BbtN: Cars.

Did you know this figurehead-thingy is called 'The Spirit of Ecstasy'?  I have got to hitch me a ride in a Rolls...

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; 80 of them have a single auto and nine have two – Titus Tavener of Dearest Love (1995) has three.  The average for all 135 heroes is 1.3 cars each.  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 180 cars Betty names for her menfolk, Rolls Royce wins the checkered flag, with 59 product placements.  The Bentley folks are close behind, with 50 mentions.  Since 38 of these children of fortune own multiple luxury automobiles – let’s just tot up some maths here – that means 44% 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:  eleven Daimlers (typically Sovereigns) and ten Aston Martins lead the pack, with nine Jaguars almost keeping pace.  Six Rovers and six 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.  There are also four Minis, which are more likely to be wifeys, as no one as vast as an RDD will be comfy in a Mini.  The ones, twos and threes include:  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.

And back here at home, I recently quit my career and had to give up the dream of augmenting my nearly-new Corolla with an elderly Miata for summer days.  Ah, well.  It’s worth it not to have a career that makes me stress-eat to the point of not being able to wedge myself into a Miata anyway.  And the Corolla has a sunroof, so life could be worse!