Autograph Letter Signed "J. S.", 5 pp. on yellow lined pages, in pencil, Sag Harbor, June 30, 1965
by STEINBECK, JOHN
Writer John Steinbeck was a Land Rover enthusiast and in our letter to Howard Gossage (1917-69), famed advertising executive called "The Socrates of San Francisco" because of his appreciation for thinkers and writers. His office housed in a Firehouse became a meeting place intellectuals. Gossage confounded the Freeman, Mander and Gossage agency whose clients included Land Rover, the Sierra Club, Qantas Airways, and Petrofina Oil Company. Throughout the letter Steinbeck suggests changes for the Land Rover including air pollution controls. His last idea has to do with seat design to better accommodate a headrest. He seemed certain his words would not clearly convey his intention, thus, Steinbeck illustrates his proposal for head rests. Steinbeck first comments on the elegance of the car particularly the feel of its leather seats. "Sound is very important." He writes that he installed a "three toned boat whistle" which produced "a lovely chord." "Next is smell." He suggests "cakes of slowly releasing perfumes" be inserted into the air system, "Men who protest that they don't like perfume are liars." He comments on adding musk for excitement. He notes the importance of air pollution controls suggesting Land Rover be the first auto maker to include emissions controls in the basic car rather than offer it as an option. Lastly, Steinbeck complains about the seats. "The reclining seats are wonderful except that your head hangs over the back." This disagreeable predicament leads Steinbeck to illustrate an improved seat with head rest. He signs this long, detailed letter with initials, "J. S." Full text: I sent the Land Rover to Grattan to be checked for any needed repairs and he left a new 2000 or MM for me to drive while LR is being fixed. And I must say it is an elegant little car. The Jaguar I used to have went buckety-buckety over the country concrete but not MM. It is remarkably agile actually a small dream car. Elaine [Steinbeck's wife] complains that I can't let anything alone. She says if I can't improve on a thing, I cover it with leather. Perhaps she is right. Cars are, or try to have personality. And as with the girls who sell hair stuff, it's always the same personality. But recognition of personality comes through all five senses. Why do people love leather seats. Of course it is more expensive but mostly it is because it feels good to the touch. All right - what you touch most often on a car is the steering wheel. I am fortunate in that my hands do not sweat, but most people have that trouble and the hard plastic or wood wheel then becomes slippery or sticky. The finest and best feeling and most easily gripped is cork. It is used on the handles of all sporting goods that require a firm non slippery surface. A layer of cork or synthetic cork on the steering wheel would feel very good. Another fine surface which would also be trés snob would be checking and knurling like that on a fine gun stock. But the "feeler" is very important to people even when they don't know it. A second personality recognition is sound. Do you remember the high whistle of a Viscount? It may not have been pretty but you always know what kind of an air craft it was. Now they are selling silence in a car. That's fine for rattles, but I don't know a driver who doesn't want to hear his engine. Now MM has a cute little panting mutter when idling that rises to a gentle whispering roar in the lower gears. Remember when the cut out was popular? Until it was made illegal. Last evening I tried something. I introduced a three toned boat whistle into the exhaust pipe. What came out was a lovely tuned chord., very satisfying. Such an orchestra would be very easy to make a part of the car so that in the lower three gears you got a low musical sound. By its tone you would also know what gear you were in. Sound is very important. Next is smell. People are greatly moved by smell, often unconsciously. Men who protest that they don't like perfume are liars. I suggest that cakes of very slowly releasing perfumes be placed in the air system - something like Russian leather - not too obvious but having a little musk in it for excitement. The leather of the seats should also be impregnated with a quiet but persuasive odor. Let's face it, people don't smell good, even at their best. Now next, let us enter superstition. Just look at the symbols and talismans people hang in their cars. Some time ago I invented a talisman for metal cars - it was just a slab of beautifully polished wood with a magnet on the back to make it adhere to the dash board. It would be much better mounted in front of the driver's seat - wood for touching. It should have carved on it "God willing" or "Deus Vult" or simply D.V. A small thing, but attractive and everyone touches if he can find it. There it is. I give it to you. Let it be the penate of the MM. All of these are very inexpensive changes but they would be effective. The horn of MM is too treble. It should be deep and masculine. It would do no harm to have a subliminal Bermuda bell. Do you remember that particularly nasty horn on Citroens some years back? Just to hear it made you mad. A day in Paris with those damn things going made you come out fighting. The horn is very important. It should be pleasant, courteous but with authority. I have my old bull horn on the Land Rover as a supplement and when I needed it, it really clears the road. Now one more thing. I don't know whether I dreamed it or not but I believe I was told that our 3 litre has a device for eating its own pollutant gasses. If it has, not much was made of it and I don't know whether MM has it and the engine bonnet seems to be locked. I can't get it open. What I am getting at is this - Many states have bills pending which will require gas control to lessen the deadly air pollution. This will probably be followed by a federal law. When that happens and the law is tested, Detroit will reluctantly comply, charge it to the customer and take the role of public benefactor. I think it would be excellent publicity for Rover to advertise that they have done it first. I also think a small bronze plaque should be mounted where it is clearly visible which says something like: This car consumes its poisonous gasses and does not pollute her air. This would not only be good public relations but also might pressure our native industry. Emphasize that Rover did it first voluntarily, that it is not an extra. The general apprehension over air pollution is becoming very great. One more little suggested gadget of a snob nature and I am through for the moment. You know the small stainless steel staffs mounted on the forward bumper on which ambassadors fly their national colors and military brass their stars? Put it on the Rover. Let if fly the Rover insignia but make it available for personal pennons or yacht club budgies (sp). Even shields of arms could be flown. I, for example would fly my MIYAGUS. Also good for small national flags. They would be stolen of course but that's part of it. Enameled on metal so that they did not fall limp, they would be very effective. I have one more suggestion. The reclining seats are wonderful except that your head hangs over the back. If the top four inches of the seat were raisable on two steel shafts somewhat like the head rest on a dentist's chair, it would make a great difference. Even the driver, sitting upright would like a head rest. Racing drivers have one. Make it like - [Followed by a drawing of the suggested seat design]. Elaine gets neck ache. She would love to have this. I have looked at the accessory provided and they are clumsy and do not match the upholstery. This should be as inherent with the car as the arm rests are. Well, there are a number of things to consider. When we go to Ireland this winter I should love to visit the factory because I like to see things made. I'm sure you could arrange this. We might even pick-up our Irish car at factory. Think about that. We still think the best colors of all are black with red leather. A single thin stripe along the fender tops to pick out that curve. [Followed by a drawing of a car with the note - red or same color as upholstery]. Seat belts are still no good. Should be redesigned. A strong strap from door to door might be good. That's all. J. S. (Inventory #: 4333)
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