I received an entertaining email some weeks ago from a US enthusiast who had just completed the restoration of a TR250. It seems he'd obtained a badge bar at no small cost and was spending further funds in having it restored and replated. The impression I gained from his post was that he was more excited about the badge bar than the fact his car was now completed and he could drive it with confidence. Moreover, he was at pains to point out the car had reverted to "total originality and looks just the way it did when it left the factory. The paint job has cost me a fortune and the depth of the patina has to be seen to be believed." Well, that worried me for a start. All the Triumphs I saw when new, never had a particularly deep patina, unless they were at a Motor Show - but I hadn't the heart to tell him his car probably now looks anything but the way it did when new. He went on "I'm anxious to ensure my TR250 reflects a total Englishness on the badge bar. I've sourced two genuine Lucas spot lamps and when fitted, I guess I'll have to locate as many relevant badges as I can. I think I'll have room for about six. What do you suggest?" This required a great deal of tact because if he sought 'total Englishness' he'd entirely overlooked our national characteristic of understatement.
While things have changed a lot in recent years, along the lines of "if you've got it, flaunt it" - badge bars and what they display, should not ideally find themselves 'jostled for space.' If they do, the front end of the car will look like a Boy Scout's shirt - and that's not the idea at all, old boy. A badge bar is intended to display the fewest possible number of badges, to best effect - and, of course, badges of taste and prestige. Three is really the maximum and a subtle prominence is what's needed here, so the badge you do have on display truly stands out.
A few weeks ago, I was given an impressive booklet about the history of badges relating to The Royal Automobile Club - popularly and not entirely accurately known in the UK as the RAC. However, a word or two about membership of this august institution. There are two levels. Associate membership is for those lesser mortals (like me) who pay a sum of money each year to receive emergency rescue services at the roadside. I've been a true RAC member, off and on, for about forty years though I've never been able to catapult myself to the giddy financial stratosphere of full membership of The Royal Automobile Club. That's the difference! While RAC means Royal Automobile Club, there are distinct and discreet variations. Membership of The Royal Automobile Club is undoubtedly prestigeous. In the event your name appears in Debretts Nobility and Peerage, it could be argued you'd be 'in' without a second thought. That said, if it was later determined you dropped your aitches in conversation, ate green peas off your knife or slurped your soup at every spoonful, there's a reasonable chance your application might not be offered for renewal. This is an organisation for discerning individuals of unquestionable taste - though in these liberal times, that in itself is a complex issue to unravel.
Too many confuse 'taste' for substantial truckloads of money - and oh dear No, that's not what it's about at all. It should be noted the first Patron of The Royal Automobile Club was no less a person than His Majesty King Edward VII. This was a man who took motoring to his heart in every way, not to mention untold numbers of women, among whom was one Lily Langtry, a thespian of some renown. Undoubtedly, she pleased the King but for somewhat obscure reasons was not held in such high esteem by his wife, Queen Alexandra. But I digress. This famous patronage from His Nibs gave the Club its 'Royal' identity and it appears from assiduous study of the booklet I was given, that the King was consulted at some length on the design for a suitable badge. The eventual sketch to receive the Royal Assent had two faces. This was for no other reason except it could be reversed vertically as location and opportunity allowed. The obverse had a disc in the centre showing the head of the King - as on a coin, while the reverse had a similar disc of the Union Flag.
There was a very sound reason for this dual-faced design and I commend the Badge Committee of The Royal Automobile Club for such foresight. When using a car "in the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the (now former) British Empire," the member was required to ensure the head of the King's Majesty faced forwards. This was done so that approaching cars could immediately screech to a halt, for their occupants to emerge and offer a discreet bow or bob a quick curtsy as the car bearing the King's image passed by on the other side. At least, that was the idea - though I greatly doubt it ever happened. However, when driving in 'foreign' countries, the member was again requested to ensure at all times the badge was reversed so the Union Flag faced forwards. This also served to remind the occupants behind the screen, that the image of the man facing them still ruled the greatest Empire on the planet and no matter what the locals did, one always dressed for Dinner.
There was another more subtle reason as well. It was assumed an Automobilist (who was only ever male) would inevitably find himself motoring in a foreign country and a prime concern seemed to centre on the possibility of the car being driven in Germany. In such an eventuality, the unacceptable risk was the image of the King might be mistaken by some hapless yokel as that of Kaiser Wilhelm - and that would never do! The fact both men were closely related as uncle and nephew with facial similarities is irrelevant - the badge position had to be FFFF - Flag Forwards For Foreigners! Moreover, in countries that had had what they felt was the foresight to guillotine or shoot their royal families and adopt republic status, the image of a hereditary ruler sometimes had unfortunate outcomes. Certain left-wing inhabitants had already demonstrated their disdain for Royalty and were inclined to spit on what they saw - and that would certainly never do!
But back to my correspondent and his TR250. Six badges? Absolutely not! He really ought not to have more than three at the very most. Two would be better and one on its own would be ideal. But which badge? A motoring club, even if it does have to be Road Rescue oriented, is of paramount importance. This enables road rescue personnel to immediately recognise you and offer the customary servile and grovelling salute as you pass, to which the merest nod of acknowledgement is a more than adequate gesture in return. Your own preferred local car club is a just acceptable second choice - providing "it is a club of substance and suitable prestige." A badge belonging to The Coventry Dynamo and Starter Motor Appreciation Society would not be acceptable and other badges along the lines of the county where you live, your family coat of arms, abstract Scottish tartans and others of that ilk are absolutely outside the pale.
Some years ago, I studied a badge bar on a newish Rolls-Royce and this told me all I needed to know about the owner. This somewhat pointless exercise of badge-bar study is not unlike discreetly reviewing the bookshelves in someone's house. Tangible evidence of the collected works of Shakespeare, together with a fair sprinkling of other classical writers, Caesar's Gallic Wars and the collected works of Aristotle (in classical Greek, of course) will always assure you of safe ground and provide further re-assurance of the reliability of your host. But where publications predominate on the lines of "Europe on Ten Dollars a Day," "Practical Bricklaying" or "Revitalise your Sex Life after Fifty Years of Marriage" - gives me grounds for a degree of uncertainty and circumspection as to the cultural stability of the household in which I find myself. If you then discover your host or hostess pours the milk before pouring the tea, well - you have no further need to determine where they stand on the ladder of social acceptability.
Clearly, the Royce and its owner were not accustomed to the comforts, like a pair of old household slippers, of 'old money.' Many in the UK still harbour the view that Royces are truly at home in 'old money' surroundings and these noble horseless carriages should not be expected to endure anything less. This is an opinion to which I, as a stalwart, eccentric and utterly impoverished British subject doggedly adhere. If you are a 'new money' person, or let us say, the President of some upstart and bankrupt third world republic, a large Mercedes is really all you need and probably the zenith to which you should be encouraged to aspire. A Mercedes is, after all, the world's most popular taxi, though Heads of State can perhaps be excused for wanting the petrol rather than the diesel version. I'm fairly certain the owner of the Royce that happened to be under my gaze, had possibly made his fortune from some mere commercial enterprise such as designer clothing, computer technology or maybe it was just simple trade? Perhaps he owned an eating establishment that charged outrageous prices to support the cockroaches in the kitchens or, heaven forbid, a chain of shops where one placed wagers on 'horsis'?
The badge bar on the Royce said it all - and it was one badge in isolation that enabled me to draw the conclusion its owner was not what the French charmingly refer to as 'notre milieu' - our class. It manifested itself in proclaiming the owner was a fully paid up member of The International Dog House Club. The emblem was that of a man crouched cowering at the entry to a dog kennel, alongside which was the image of a woman beating him over the head with a frying pan! While the Royce's owner may have laboured under these daily travails, to publicly admit to such domestic difficulties through membership of such a body, clearly demonstrates an undeniable plebeian ancestry. Furthermore, to actually fit such a trophy in close proximity to the majesty of a Rolls-Royce radiator shell is sacrilege to that classic shape - let alone the rest of the car behind it!
I incline to the view the Royce owner was similar to the owner of the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo in which I recently travelled on a closed test track. In the case of the Bentley, it had spotless white suede seats, substantial reserves of power and other 'interesting features.' These took the form of a Sony television beneath the walnut drinks cabinet for the enjoyment of back seat passengers and while cossetted on these cushions, I watched a football match - sipping a very pleasant gin and tonic. This may not seem too unusual in itself but perhaps I should add we were doing 110mph at the time and in a gentle four-wheel slide to the distant and muted sounds of four massive Avon tyres enduring a briefly violent period in their existence.
The Bentley's owners were undeniably another example of 'new money' and without casting too many unfavourable aspertions, this husband and wife team 'were in knickers.' She owned the designer label, the shop and the marketing nous - and he owned the factory that made them, both physically and financially! Being thus made aware of their wealth and its origins, it wouldn't have surprised me to have found an enamelled thong, with another in the form of a brassiere on the badge bar of the Mulsanne if I'd taken the trouble to look - which I didn't. That really would have been taking things too far - even for a Bentley. Sadly, as the company is now owned by Volkswagen, I suppose anything now goes and important British traditions have irretrievably been thrown to the winds for the rest of time.
So, if you have recently found yourself pondering the whys and wherefores of badge bars and what to mount on them, hopefully this little treatise will have either clarified things - or created even greater confusion. For my part, my car has only two badges. One is the Associate membership of the RAC with the Union Flag facing forwards at all times. As I said, I can't afford the annual dues to be a full member and display an effigy of King Edward VII or his successor, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. The other badge belonged to my late Father and is the Order of the Road. Membership of this club was only possible after you had continuously held a blemish-free driving licence for fifty years and in Dad's case, it was 52 years when he took out membership in 1970. Looking at the badge bar itself, it's probably a very good thing I'm not a full member of The Royal Automobile Club with the image of a past or present Sovereign on display. The bar itself, isn't a genuine Standard-Triumph accessory and has humble origins that would make any judge obsessed with originality, shudder for the rest of his life. The central support is nothing more than a bathroom towel rail support with a short piece of the same rail on which the badges are mounted. Being made of heavy chrome, it polishes up superbly and I'm very proud of it. But wait a minute! Perhaps if I limit myself to the cheaper brands of spaghetti for a few months, I might just raise enough cash to apply for full membership of The Royal Automobile Club. I'm sure the King (or Queen) would approve having their image on my badge bar and thereto, perhaps I might just succeed in claiming genuine authenticity of component origin. Could I, for example - and by the widest stretch of the imagination, claim my towel rail and its support was once in the King's bathroom? Indeed, could I further claim it once held the towel the King removed from it as Lily Langtry emerged from her bath - and before he gave her a good rub down? But of course! Definitely a nice bit of elitism to ensure I win the next Concours and the sort of provenance that is totally unprovable but so important to judges - especially those wearing a bowler hat, a Guards tie and who talk to you through clenched teeth. After all, it's all in the best British tradition.
© 2002 John Macartney for British Car Week