Friday, November 15, 2013

What’s What: Muggins Simoon

Jonathan Barnavelt's automobile; a 1935 model, described as "a big black car with running boards and a windshield that could be cranked open" [The House with a Clock in its Walls; 94].



By 1900, at least 100 different brands of horseless carriages were being marketed in the United States. Since they were all virtually handmade, the cars were outrageously expensive, and those individuals that built their own custom automobiles thusly named the one or two production models whatever they chose. The closest in name to the Muggins we ever heard about was something called the Mugge that Chuck Conrad with the Classic Car Club of America says was supposed to go in production in 1910 in Tampa, Florida. This may be named for the same Robert Mugge who immigrated from Germany in 1875 and ran a beer and wine distributorship, was a watchmaker and saloon operator, and later built and operated the Bay View Hotel (1912-80).

During the 1930's most cars were first equipped with heaters and radios and it was during this time that the shape of the car began to take on a smoother, more aerodynamic design. Classic car aficionado Amy Friend says that the description of the Muggins Simoon could accurately describe a number of cars from the mid-thirties: “there is a 1934 Airflow that is large, black, has running boards, and the windshield cranks out to let in fresh air.”

However this ridiculous contraption...this Muggins Simoon...does not exist. Bellairs created the fictitious car by combining two words and basing its description on various cars of that time period.  Muggins is British slang for a fool or someone easily outwitted (there is also a game of cribbage called Muggins).  Simoom is a strong, dry, dust-laden wind that blows in the deserts of Arabian Peninsula. The name means "poison wind", given because its sudden onset may also cause heat stroke. In keeping with its tradition of naming engines after winds, in 1925 Wright Aeronautical named their Wright R-1200 radial engine the "simoon".

The word simoom is used in a number of prominent literary works, some of which would have been familiar with Bellairs: Poe's MS. Found in a Bottle (1833), Dickens’ Hard Times (1854), Stoker's Dracula (1897), and Mencken’s Making A President (1932).

Oh, yeah...if Jonathan Barnavelt built his own car he would have been at the opposite end of the spectrum from Bellairs himself, since Bellairs once claimed that he didn't know anyone who had less of an interest in cars than he did – so noted since no car has ever had a radial engine.

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