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True love and Car Culture

This February, two love stories surfaced in various publications, linking Valentine’s Day and modern car culture. The first is local: —the secret to lasting love as revealed by Bob and Zoe Longshaw of Vancouver, married 65 years this spring. The first car Bob drove Zoe in was his 1937 Willys Americar. They were still teenagers then and although the story doesn’t expressly state it, Bob must have been a car nut from the get go. Certainly the Willys Americar to this day is a favourite for hot-rodders. Bob enlisted in the RCAF, trained as an instrument technician, and then after the war as a car mechanic, a trade he practiced for 38 years at the Volkswagen dealership in New Westminster.

The couple married in 1946, had the first of their five sons in 1949, and in 1951, Bob bought Zoe a 1951 Dodge. This was, said Zoe, “the most romantic gesture,” Bob’s idea, and all the more original given how rare it was then for women to drive. The irony of the story is the contrast between their prescriptions for lasting love—“Don’t try to change one another. You’re the way that you are …You have to be tolerant of one another” —and their implicit synchronicity with the fast and ever-changing nature of car culture.
This story prompted a look at predictions about the future of automobile ownership. The 2009 25th edition of the Shell Passenger Car Scenarios, a report based on observed developments of motorized individual transport in Germany since 1958—Germany having the second highest number of cars per 1,000 inhabitants after the United States— predicts that car ownership by women in Germany will increase “from today’s level of about 340 to more than 430 cars per 1,000 women in 2030. This means it will reach about 60 % of men’s motorization. Car ownership among men will increase slightly from just under 700 per 1,000 today to about 715 in 2030.”
A hood ornament is the subject of the second story. Since 1911, Rolls-Royce cars have been adorned with a nymph-like figure in a backward flowing robe with long wing-like sleeves. She was modeled after Eleanor Velasco Thornton, a young former model who worked for the Automobile Club of Great Britain. In this role she met John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott Montagu, Conservative MP and the owner of the luxury car magazine Car Illustrated.
Mr. Montagu persuaded Ms. Thornton to come and work for the magazine, romance blossomed, and Mr. Montagu was smitten. Unable to marry ‘Thorn’ because of their class difference, he paid tribute by having his friend Charles Robinson Sykes create a sculpture of her to ornament the hood of his Rolls Royce. Rolls Royce then commissioned Mr. Sykes to create a variation, which became the iconic Spirit of Ecstasy. Ms. Thorn sailed to India with Mr. Montagu in 1915, but, when a German U-boat torpedoed their ship near Crete, a wall of water swept her out of Mr. Montagu’s arms. The current Lord Montagu, in a 2008 interview about plans to film the story said, “My father was shattered by Thorn drowning. Theirs was a great love.”

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