European letter

[By means of which our roving European reporter keeps in touch with the editor.]

Dear W.B.,

The other day some of us were discussing car names and their origins, not the manufacturers' names, such as Austin, Morris, Ford or Ferrari, but the model names. Daytona for a Ferrari and Carrera for Porsche are self-evident, as were Sebring for a Frazer Nash or Ulster for an Aston Martin, but what were not self evident were Capri, Toledo, Marina, Granada, Dolomite or Cortina. What, we wondered, had happened to the good old English names like Westminster, Oxford, Cambridge or Princess? It was suggested that model names and marketing are all so tied up with PR work that the Publicity department, who spend untold thousands of pounds on parties for the press when releasing details of a new model, make the decisions. They know that if they take the journalists, who write about new models, to some far off glamorous place and wine and dine them suitably, then any defects in the new model might be overlooked. Someone obviously thought up a super press-jolly to the skiing resort of Cortina d'Ampezzo, in the Italian mountains, and looked around for a new model to name Cortina; equally the name Capri was a sitter for one of the best jollies of all, and Toledo and Dolomite were not bad. We could imagine the design department of a British firm finishing off the prototype of a new model and deciding to call it the Lugano or Como, and then the Publicity department wondering what they ought to do about releasing the new model to the press.

This discussion enlarged a bit and we wondered what sort of press acclaim a Ford Folkestone or a Morris Manchester would get, though it was pointed out that the Ford Thames never suffered, but we agreed that the commercial world is something very different. Other ideas were thrown in such as the Triumph Tamworth and the Bentley Bognor Regis and we then wondered why other parts of Europe fascinate the British manufacturers so much these days, yet Great Britain does not seem to interest the European manufacturer. Why not a Citroën Cirencester or a BMW Bournemouth, with press-release parties for the French and Germans to those two pleasant English towns, or a Mercedes Marlborough or Renault Royal Tunbridge Wells. There were immense possibilities, though mistakes could happen, like the Peugeot Pontefract! German, French and Italian manufacturers seem to be fixed to numbers rather than names, like 280SE, 124, 2800, 2CV, 203 and so -on, and this talk took us on to motorcycle names and models and today the motorcycle gets enthusiastic about a series of figures and letters, like CB750, YD2, R75/5, gone are the Ulster, Manx, Gold Star; Gambalunga, Saturno and so on, though the British are hanging on to tradition with the Trident, Bonneville and Commando. The motorcycle world was always quick to produce nick-names or personal names for their machines, but some of the imagination seems to have gone from this activity, or else the bikes of today don't provide inspiration. Such names as Noggy (Norton), Jimmy (James), Fanny Bee (Francis-Barnett), Beesa (BSA), Cammy Velo (o.h.c. Velocette), Bruf Sup (Brough Superior) carried a lot of feeling with them. Today Kwacker (Kawasaki) is about the only one left, for Yam (Yamaha) and Susy (Susuki) don't stretch the imagination too much, and a Honda is a Honda from any angle.

Talking of motorcycles, which one can do as often and as easily as you can cars, the current expression for having the throttle wide open is "full-handle". It used to be "full noise" or "against the stop" or "the wick turned right up", and recently I had a couple of impressive experiences of "full handle". Cruising along a Belgian Autoroute at about 85-90 m.p.h. I saw a small speck ahead of me that was obviously a motorcyclist, and I was not gaining appreciably, if at all, so I speeded up and zoomed the E-type up behind him. It turned out to be a Belgian Gendarme on his 1,200 cc. overhead valve Harley Davidson, complete with full-sized screen, leg-shields, panniers and he was in all his finery and sitting bolt upright on the huge tractor-like saddle. For mile after mile (kilometre after kilometre for our pedantic readers in Oxford) I sat behind him with our speed nudging 100 m.p.h. and the noise coming out of the back from that big vee-twin was most impressive. Personally I find 100 m.p.h. on my Norton Commando, on race-bred Dunlop tyres and tucked well in around the tank, a satisfying experience, but nevertheless impressively fast, so that the sight of this Gendarme sitting as if in an armchair, on podgy tyres, and thundering along at the three-figure mark was impressive to say the least. I was rather relieved when he slowed up and turned off the Autoroute.

In Germany, on an Autobahn, I had just left a petrol station (six pounds to fill the Jaguar tank, against five pounds in most countries, and three pounds 50 in England) and was accelerating up to around the 80 m.p.h. mark, when I saw a single bright headlamp in the mirror, even though it was broad daylight. I eased off slightly and a fellow on a BMW motorcycle went by, clad in leathers and tucked well down on the tank. He had the brand new 750 c.c. flat-twin BMW well and truly on "full handle" by the sound of the scream from the engine. I just had to give chase, but by the time I had got over the pleasure it gave to see someone really tramping on, he was a speck in the distance. I took the Jaguar up to 120-125 m.p.h. and gradually began to haul him in, but never closer than a quarter of a mile or so, for traffic was making things a bit tricky. That BMW was going at a consistent 110 – 115 m.p.h. and overtaking with plenty of room to spare, whereas the Jaguar was frequently baulked. This was all happening on a very fast part of the Autobahn around Kassel and in places I could see the road for five or six miles ahead as it ran across open country and valleys and all the while the speck that was the BMW was getting smaller and smaller. I never did see him again, but it was very impressive and I could appreciate why he was travelling with his headlamp full on, for he was obviously in a hurry and wanted people ahead to know that he was coming. The Gendarme on his "Hardly Ableson" and the German on his "Bee Emm" were on "full handle".

I was interested to read in your Matters of Moment last month about the proposal for artificial bumps or "sleeping policeman" on minor roads, for this is just what the Austrians have done in all the small villages around Vienna. They have dug a trench right across the road about six foot wide and a few inches deep and filled it with a mixture of earth, sand and sawdust. On each side of this strip there is a raised lump of tarmac, in some cases as much as six inches high, and by the edge of the road are usually some tar barrels or trestles, and a sign that merely indicates 30 k.p.h. In the daylight you can see all this so you slow right down and bounce over the two tarmac humps at 5 k.p.h. If you hit them at 30 k.p.h. I would not like to think what would happen, and as you so rightly say, a motorcycle at the recommended speed would be in real trouble. As these traps are the full width of the road, not only do you have to stop before entering the village, but also on leaving it. The first few I came across I assumed were serious road works, drainage pipe laying or something, until I realised they were at every village on my back route from Vienna down towards the Osterreichring. I was finally convinced that they were a government project and not just local council work when I found one at the entrance to the Osterreichring!

When you travel the main road down from Vienna to Zeltweg you have to climb the Semmering Pass and this used to be the scene of a hill-climb until about 1931 or 1932, having started before the turn of the century, in 1899. It is a very impressive climb through wooded mountains, up to the health resort of Semmering and it is easy to see how such a challenge was taken up by the pioneer racing motorists in Vienna, especially as one of the earliest mountain railways also wends its tortuous way up to the summit. Nowadays the pass is smooth and wide and is four-lanes wide in places, and you can really motor up it when it is traffic-free, reaching an easy 80 m.p.h. in lots of places, but it is interesting to recall the heroic days when racing cars were driven up it on the original narrow gravel surfaced road. Apparently it went out of favour in Edwardian times when the Austrian Alpine Trial was started, it no longer being a test of machinery to reach the summit, and when it was resumed in the nineteen-twenties, it became a pure speed hill-climb. While I was in the area the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club were having a "jolly" in the Austrian Alps to commemorate something or other to do with Rolls-Royce and the Alpine Trial, and were gently gliding their way up and down the Austrian Alps. At about the same time, at the opposite end of the Alps, in the French section near the border with Italy, the Frazer Nash section of the VSCC were hard at it commemorating H. J. Aldington's unimpressive performance in the 1933 Alpine Rally with a Meadows-engined TT Replica Frazer Nash. There were nearly thirty Nashes charging up and down the passes finding it very hard to maintain the 1933 average speed, and a lot of people were developing a new respect for "Aldy" and the others who drove chain-gang Frazer Nashes in the Alpine Trials of the early nineteen-thirties.

After the French Grand Prix I called in on the Frazer Nash jolly at Briancon, to see how they were faring, the main topic seemed to be "where can we buy 4.50 x 19 inch tyres in France?" The weather had been so good, and the mountain roads such fun that the rubber was fast disappearing. At one point they had been staying at a hotel about 8 miles up a mountain pass and every time anyone wanted to post a letter or buy a newspaper there was a whole season of VSCC hill-climbing to do each time. Of course they didn't have to return up the mountain in a series of opposite lock slides, but put temptation in the path of a Nash owner! At one point we fell to discussing the Rolls-Royce "Austrian Alpenfahrt" and the "Nash Raid" and visualised a glorious situation at the top of a mountain as a gleaming parade of Rolls-Royces ascended up one side in a gentlemanly fashion, carefully carrying their hampers of gastronomic goodies and champagne, in expectation of a nice picnic at the summit, while up the other side came a horde of travel-stained TT Replicas, tails sliding out on the hairpins, with packets of sandwiches and bottles of beer flying about under the tonneau amidst the tools and spare chains.

However, both one-make clubs are extremely well-organised, so this situation did not arise, for the responsible members of both organisations had compared notes before it all began.

On a recent private "jolly" of mine, taking in the Grand Prix races and the sports car races, I had occasion to motor in Denmark and Sweden and my principal impression was one of delightful lack of signs telling me how to conduct my motor car. In most other countries you seldom see anything except negative instruction, such as No Entry, Don't turn left, Don't turn right, Don't stop, Don't go too fast, You can't do this and You can't do that. If they are not negative then they are regimental instructions to Do this or Do that, but all the time there are signs, signs and signs. Denmark and the lower part of Sweden seemed to be surprisingly free of such things, which made a pleasant change. Occasionally you see signs which are refreshing in their simplicity and they are not telling you what you can do, or what you cannot do, they merely indicate, but these are rare in our sign-infested environment.

Crossing from Germany to Denmark involves an hour's boat trip with the car, and compared to the business of crossing from Dover to Calais, it is simplicity itself, and cheap. I arrived at the entrance four minutes before sailing time, merely because I had no idea of the frequency of the boats, and it cost £5 for the Jaguar. You buy your ticket at the gate, follow the number indicated, which leads you along clearly defined lanes right into the boat. On the return journey the fare was due in Danish Kroner and after emptying my pockets I was still 15 Kr. short. "Do not worry" said the ticket man, "Give me an English pound note". Can you imagine the ticket man at Dover or Folkestone saying to a Danish visitor (in Danish or even German), "Don't worry, give me 15 Kroner to make up the difference". Great Britain is a small island off the coast of Europe, and always will be I am afraid.—D.S.J.