THERE is no doubt that it is a rare and historically important vehicle, but more than that, there is also a touch of mystery about it.

The old car in question belongs to a Maldon resident and is kept in beautifully preserved condition at his house just outside of town.

You will, very occasionally, see it on the road, but for obvious reasons I will not give its precise garaged location.

Known as a Perry 11.9hp two-seater tourer, the date of its construction – 1914 – is a clue to its intriguing story.

Born on the eve of the Great War and during an era when motoring was still very much in its infancy, it was bound to have been purchased “as new” by someone well to do.

When the current owner bought it (in the 1980s) he was told that it had once belonged to a Royal Flying Corps pilot.

To reinforce that attribution, there were worn canvas headlamp covers bearing the RFC monogram – but they could have easily been added later.

Notwithstanding that, the date would certainly tally, but was it true or just a fanciful idea, invented by someone down the intervening years?

As the car was being restored the back seat, or “dicky”, had to be reupholstered. While the old material was being removed a crumpled letter was discovered tucked down in the lining.

The owner recalls that it was written to a pilot from his mother, but very frustratingly both the lamp covers and that all important letter have since disappeared and the owner can’t recall the name of the mother or of the pilot. Not only that, but the car was not formally registered until 1920 and so no early ownership can be traced.

So with very little to go on, I went in search.

After pouring through the archives I came across an article in a 1989 edition of Motor Sport magazine. It is a report on the Royal Welsh Show and references the vintage cars that appeared there that year and had previously.

Amongst those listed was an "11.9hp 1914 Perry with the posh distinction of having been driven during World War One by a Royal Flying Corps pilot’s batman”.

So perhaps it was true after all – the lost letter and covers and this article seemed to confirm that an RFC pilot had once been driven to his aerodrome in the Perry.

Those early aviators were certainly the darlings of their age, many of them from wealthy backgrounds who had learned to fly and transferred to the fledgling RFC from regular Army regiments.

Talking of the RFC, Maldon was once home to an important part of the Corp’s Home Defence network – with 37 Squadron headquarters at The Grange, Woodham Mortimer, and flight stations at Goldhanger and Stow Maries.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

Commanding Officer Claude Ridley

Some have even, albeit rather optimistically, suggested that the pilot who owned the Perry was none other than Claude Alward Ridley, DSO, MC, one time Commanding Officer of 37 Squadron, but there is nothing to verify this exciting possibility.

However, both Stow Maries and Goldhanger were known to have had their own resident vehicles. I have, for example, a photograph in my own collection of a Crossley Tender in the MT (Motor Transport) Shed at Stow.

By 1918 there were 11 of these light tenders on site, as well as six heavy tenders, eight motorcycles, three ambulances, assorted trailers and side cars.

The records indicate that there were 41 vehicles in all, but as well as the official ones, there were also station “runabouts”.

We know from another surviving image that, in the winter of 1917/18, the pilots stationed at Goldhanger had access to one of these privately owned cars.

Whilst it is clearly not a Perry, it is shown outside one of the massive “aeroplane sheds” (or hangars) with eight members of the squadron sitting in it, on it or beside it.

Amongst those who are identifiable are Captains Arthur Dennis and Frederick Sowrey.

Around the time the picture was taken, nonchalant-looking, pipe-smoking Arthur Dennis had a narrow escape when he made a forced landing near the canal at Heybridge Basin after a night-time spat with a German bomber.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

A Crossley Tender in the MT Shed at Stow Maries

Captain Sowrey, formerly of the Royal Fusiliers, was, on the other hand, an ace, having shot down a Zeppelin and a tally of no less than 12 enemy aircraft.

He was eventually awarded the Distinguished Service Order, Military Cross and the Air Force Cross.

As well as being “knights of the air”, those aviators also seem to have liked their four-wheeled ground transport, but unlike the Perry there is no sign of a batman to drive them.

On the invitation of the current management of Stow Maries, the owner of the Perry drove it to the aerodrome and parked outside the ready room – the building where anxious pilots awaited a call to take to the skies in defence of Maldon, London and the east coast.

The car looked very much at home – on the one hand a true vintage piece that was in-keeping with its surroundings, but on the other somehow timeless, just waiting for the still anonymous pilot to walk over from his aircraft, jump in the back and shout out to his driver: “Take me home to see mother.”