Simanaitis Says

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MY 1923 COOK’S TRAVELLER’S HANDBOOK for Normandy and Brittany offers interesting tidbits on Cycling and Motoring, including an extensive list of light cars and cyclecars. Here in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow are several of Cook’s insights.

Cook’s Traveller’s Handbook for Normandy and Brittany, Thos. Cook & Son, 1923

Beware the Dreaded Town Cubes. “Few countries,” Cook’s wrote, “present such attractions to the cyclist as Normandy and Brittany. Given fine weather, a good machine, agreeable companions, and some knowledge of French, most enjoyable tours may be made. The roads are good, but the streets of the town are generally paved with cubes.” 

That is, cobblestones could be tricky, particularly on two wheels. And if the weather was less than fine, they could be especially slick.

And, Of Course, the Wrong Side of the Road. Cook’s warns, “Cyclists must keep to their right when meeting vehicles, horses, or other cyclists, and to their left when overtaking them; in the latter case they must warn the driver or rider by means of their warning apparatus and moderate their speeds.” 

Cook’s added, “Drivers of vehicles and riders must keep to their right at the approach of a cycle so as to leave a free available space of at least 5 ft. wide…. Cycles must stop when a horse shows signs of being frightened at their approach.” 

Size Matters. The cost of getting one’s machine from England to the Continent evidently depended upon its heft as well as other characteristics: A car with “detachable or collapsible hood” and wheelbase not exceeding 8 ft. 6 in. (e.g., a Ford Model T Roadster’s 8 ft. 4 in.) would have had a transport cost from Dover to Calais of £6 6d ($15.60 back then, worth about $268 in today’s dollar). Transporting a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, wheelbase 143.5 in., would have cost £8 8d ($20.80, $358 in today’s dollar). 

Generally, a closed car’s permanent top added £2 2s (about $5.20) to the transit charge of an open one of similar wheelbase. Cook’s also lists shipping tariffs for sixteen specific light cars and cyclecars. A selection of them follows here, with information gleaned from Nick Georgano’s The Complete Encyclopedia of Motorcars.

Light Cars and Cyclecars. To a Brit at the time, a light car was powered by an engine of less than 1.5 liters displacement. Even today, Wikipedia notes, “The current driving license B1 (‘Light vehicles and quad bikes’) in Great Britain covers motor vehicles with four wheels up to 400 kg unladen, or 550 kg if designed for carrying goods.” 

By contrast, the term “cyclecar” was reserved for those filling the gap between motorcycle and motorcar. There was a cyclecar boom occurring shortly before the outbreak of World War I: Wikipedia notes, “The number of cyclecar manufacturers was less than a dozen in each of the UK and France in 1911, but by 1914, there were over 100 manufacturers in each country, as well as others in Germany, Austria and other European countries.”

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll consider three frugal (and I suspect adventurous) means of taking a 1920s’ motoring holiday to the Continent. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 

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