by KENT KARSLAKE HAVING written an article last month which I called Flying Horses ” because it was about the Pegaso ears with their flying horse badge, I was moved to call this one ” Flying Hacks ” beeause it was about an aerial journey undertaken by three journalists. But as in fact one of these journalists was aphotographer—while a hack is essentially a writer—and as another of them was the Editor-7-and you can’t call your Editor a hack—I came to the conclusion that actually I was the only hack in the party and that it would be safer to put the title
in the singular. Rather a pity because I think ” flying hacks ” sounds better, but there it is.
Among the many ill-explored byways Of motoring history, one of the most completely neglected, or so it seems to me, is the history of motoring journalism. From a study of thte contemporary records it is obvious that in the early days it was practically impossible to find anyone who both knew anything about motoring and also knew anything about journalism. Editors therefore had to choose between journalists who perpetrated those gems of tieettnital nonsense which have been the delight of later historians, and motoring experts who were responsible for Such journalistic ineptitudes as that of the man who was sent to report a motor race in, I think, 1904, and who in effect wrote that he did not propose to so as all motorists who had ever seep a race knew what it was like without his telling them and all those who bad not had better arrange to do so without delay !
The situation was further complicated by the fact that most motoring events took place abroad, with the result that they had usually to be reported by foreigners, either in what they imagined was English or else in their native language for translation when the report reached London, with results which in either ease were apt to be comic. As time went on. such reporters were generally replaced by displaced English person:, who usually lived in Paris and were styled ” Our Continental Corresienident.” (I myself have been somebody’s ” (ontinental Correspondent ” without living in Paris, but that is another story.) Then as care got faster this system was again changed in favour of one in which “Our Racing Editor,” or some such, darts to and fro all the season between London and the various scenes of activity, with the result that some of these people I know often look as if they are not quite sure whether they are in Sicily or Sideup.
Well that’s the system that operates nowadays, but it makes the SpUiliS11 Grand Prix awfully awkward for this paper, as it always happens on the last Sunday in October This allows very little time before the appearance of the number of Nlortot Scum! for November, and this year at any rate left practically no time at all after the closure of the Motor Show, which the Editor had to keep an eye on until the lest possible moment. It AVa:i obvious, in fact, that even with the fastest car in existence, no one could get down to Barcelona just before the race and back in time to go to press ; Moron Seoulmust take the air. Midday of the Friday before the race,. therefore, saw the Editor, the photographer and the hack Assembled at
Cros den Aerodrome and about to board an Anson bound for Spain. The winds, the pilot informed us, were unfortunately unfavourable, and he proposed to break his journey for fuel at Rennes and Toulouse. The Intek, whose mind runs on such things, immediately had visions of a French lunch at Rennes, but being an old campaigner. wisely provided himself with a very tired-looking British ham sandwich. at Croydon. After which we got into the aeroplane and flew away.
I know very little about aeroplanes, but for some reason the Anson reminded lila of a “110/98 ” Vauxhall. Perhaps it was because. the navigator wound up its engines with a very large and rather crude-looking starting handle—Which he afterwards deposited among the baggage at the rear of the tonneau in a very nonehalant manner ; perhaps bemuse it. made a lot of noise and gave the impression Of rushing through the sky in no uncertain style. In any ease we climbed up above the clouds, which just parted in time to allow us to see Mont St. Michel, strangely out of place, or so, without a map, it seemed to me,.and two hours after leaving Croydon we set down at Rennes. The aerodrome attached to the capital of Rrittany proved to boa very mournful place.. Some huge and rusty hangars. housed some sad-looking aeroplanes., and in the pale and misty sunlight or the autumn afternoon one of them, which was being wheeled onto the tarmac, gave the impression that its pilot was proposing to take off just when all activity should be _ending for ti e day. Remembering an excellent champagne luncheon that I had taken at the airport of le Touquet not long since, I looked around for a similar restaurant. There was no sign Of suck a thing, Bet I had not yet
lost hope. Can one eat somewhere ? ” I asked the bystanders, knowing that in France such a question is always answered in the affirmative. ” But yes. monsieur,” they answered, ” over there. it. is only a kilometre, only fifteen hundred metres.” They poinhal acr,:, ti,,• descrI c? I eountrvside to -where a wood lay, darl; on the horison. Alas ! 1 kie•w Ii mac kilometres, those fifteen hundred II 10 res of old ; it was clear to me that we. should not, eat at Rennes in the short hour. while the aeroplane was refuelled.
We Hew oft. over the countryside of France. as slowly the daylight died, trying to trace the roads below us and wondering which of them our wheels. had traversed in our •earthboued days. The tterodroine at Toulouse after dark looked as sad anti deserted as that at Rennes, but fortune now was less inclined to frown, for in answer to my usual question, we were led. groping our way,
into the bright interior of a bi.vIro. The little bar was very full Of people and on the stove in the centre a pot of soup waa simmering. At last we ate.
We ate with our loins girt, for we had already wasted time with passports and the like and the pilot told us that in an hour we must take off again. But when we had groped our way back to the airport building we found that we were by no means about to depart. The Customs Officer, it -seemed, was not present. He would be there, however, in two, three minutes. Like the kilometres, the fifteen hundred metres I have known those two, three minutes of old ; for the next hour the hack, at least, thought of how much mere he might have eaten, had he but realised he had two, three minutes more.
Monsieur le Donanier at length emerged from the darkness, On t motorised bicycle. It appeared that he had been interrupted in the consumption of his dinner. He blinked for a while at the Carnet–aeroplanes, it scents, have carnets, too—and finally declared that as we had dot been stamped into France at Rennes we could net be •stamped out of it at Toulouse. With great self-control I forbore to interfere by suggesting that as on the evidence of the eareet we were not in France at all, there was nothing he need do about it but return, to his dinner. At 9 o’clock, after a-delay of 2i hours, we took the air for Spain.
Two hears later, that is midnight by Spanish time (which; it seems, is Willett all the year round) we flew over the brilliantlyilluminated city of Barcelona. Reyond it its airport lay clearly visible in the starlight, but although according to our pilot’s guide it should be open all night, of artificial lighting there was no trace. We flew round and round, flashing the landing light, While the pilot, it seetes,. was despairingly resolving that lie would have to go all the way back to Perpignan ; and then at. last the runway lights went on and we were down.
As we stepped out of the aeroplane we found quite a little delegation waiting tor Iii on the tarmac. Some spoke to me in Spanish, a language in which I reply far from fluently, some sp°ke. to the pilot in French, one even addressed the others in English. ” You are rather late,” they seemed to say. ” But you are open all night,” replied the pilot. ” Alt, no,” they said, “provisionally, provisionally At present we close at eight. However, when they learnt that we were journalists and had come to report the Grand Prix, they treated us with the utmost consideration, while the Editor kept describing to me in lurid detail what. would happen to foreign reporters arriving in England in similar circumstances to cover it British race. They would telepltorie to the Club, they said, so that a taxi should be sent out. from Barcelona to fetch us in : its there were !IQ police present, we had better leave our passports at the airport until the morning, when they would be sent to our hotel ; as there were no customs officers present we. had better dispense with customs formalities ; and in the mean
time, although the airport had been closed these four hours, the bar was open. A number or people were assembled at the bar, which was tended by an improbable looking individual who was not, apparently, a very regular shaver. One of the company claimed to be the Airport Manager, which seemed exceedingly improbable, ;mother that he was the Meteorological (Meer, whielt seemed even less likely. They were busily drinking Spanish brandy and they urged ns to do
the same. Drink again, drink again,” they said. for all is paid for.” When we came to leave the airport two days later. a gloomy-looking individual Vita obviously was the real barman appeared and said Ii tat if we were the Englishmen who had arrived at dead of Friday night. we ()Wed I a 67 11eSetaS for brandy.
no. we said, you go and see the Meteondogical Officer. Ile did not press the point.
In the meantime, however, our taxi had arrived, and not only our taxi but with it. a member of the Pella Rhin who had come all the ten kilometres out to the airport, to accompany us back. TI is name Pena Rhin has long puzzled me, for if you look up Pena in tlte dictionary you tind it means a stone, and if you look up Rhin you don’t find it. The explanation, for the benefit of those who are also puzzled, is that Peint also means a Club and Rhin is the Spanish for the river Rhine, after which was called the caft, where the Club used to meet. They met to such good purpose, these enthusiasts, that now they are the organising body of the Simiaish Grand Prix.
We (limbed into our aged Citroen taxi and drove off into the night, along the road across the marshy plain which separates Barcelona from its airport. Suddenly we stopped by a lonely hut in whicll burned a brazier and from which there strode the anaelmatistic figure of a Guardia (Veil. ” They have been dressed and modelled after the fashion of the transpyrenean gent arnwrie,” says Ford, in his Gatherings /ram Spain, which was published over a century ago, of these ” guards . . by whom the roads are regularly patrolled ” : but while the gelid:mites of France have since presmnably. been redressed, the Guordins Civiles of Spain, I take it, have not : and wrapped in his long green cloak with his rifle slung front Itis sltoulder and his black Napoleonic hat on Ids head, our questioner looked like something straight out of the Peninsular War. lie did not detain us long, lad as we drove on I felt that. luny we were truly in Spain.
At half past. two in the morning the offiees of the Pena Rhin were in the full swing of activity. We were given an almost, royal welcome (which again made the Editor matter about foreign journalists in England) presented with our Press Passes on the spot, and finally left to retire exhausted to our hotel, after many mutual expressions of good will. The next. morning we set out to survey Barcelona in general and the motoring scene there in particular. NvItet, Ike Vintage sports Car (lob hem its Welsh Rally in October, 1 was laseinated as stood on die st ei)s of the Radttor Arms in Presteign to see the village street there crowded with vintage ears, as if the clock had been put latek tweidy years, with searcely is modern vehicle amoitg tl tel t to strike a discordant note and spoil the illusion. Barcelona is rather like that too. The Spanish Civil War, I imagine, interrupted the importation of
ears, and ever since they have been so expensive that even in 13areelona, the richest. city of Spain, one hardly sees anything built after the mid-thirties. Most motor ears there, indeed, are a good deal older, aml. We. 1eld a rertaja amount Or mild trouble with. the Editor when we came tit take a taxi, since he was continually complaining that we were being fobbed off with a mere 12 ,24 lt.p. Citroin WI ereas Ite Iutd seen plenty of 11.4 It.p. models further back on the rank, and even claimed that sonte of tile more antiquated ones about were 10.4 lup• anti must be 1922 or earlier. Nor had the taxis any monopoly of age. The streets were pullulating with vintage ears, from Model 309 Fiats lo Chenard et W’alekers. and Lancia Dilambdas Li, ” 7.3 ” Citroi!us. ‘• Buck land truck, ILL Delage Van. Goliath three-wheeler, very old Chevrolet lorry, Delaltaye truck, .kustin Seven (7hummy, Gray tourer, Benz lorry. vintage Adler, Overland NVItippet. Model A Ford ” intoned the Editor, who was obviously in grave danger of being run over at any ndnute. Even the dust carts were very ancient Ilispano-Sniza lorries, and ate station bus belonging to One itotel was vat Itala. We saw a vintage Renault with streamlined bonnet. and dashboard radiator, and the photographer did not know what, it was, which made the rest of us feel very old : and we saw an exquisitely chic Delage coupe de vine, decorated with white streamers, and inside there were banks of white flowers. and, believe it. or not, the upholstery was all white too, and sitting on it. was such. a dazzling Spanish beauty of a bride that we felt younger again and. -I did not notice what type of Delage it was ! But we did see the first petrol car ever built in Spain, which Walt on exhibition in tint hall of’ the ENASA faetory, and the story of which, as told by Senor Carlos Carreras in the Spanish technical journal S.T.A.. provides aim’ earlierchapter in the biography of M. Marc I3irkigt. designer of every Ifispano-Suiza front the first in 1904 to the last some thirty years later, than was previously known to me. — Artillery Captain Senor La Cuadra,” he writes, ” rendered enthusiastic by the results of the world’s first serious motor race. Paris-Itordeaux-Paris of 1893 . . began with 1-)orningo Tamaro the study of an electrie car, but having made a journey to Paris, he abandoned the idea of an electric car and decided on it petrol car. In Paris there was recommended to him a very wide-awake Swiss engineer, with whom It’.’ came to an agreement, and that was how there eanw to Spain the man who in a …cry short time became the celebrated creator Of the automoldle industry, Don :%lareos Birkigt 13y 1909 the wide-awake Swiss engineer load built the 41-1o.p. La Cuadra which is IlOW in the ENASA factory, and which has a vertical two-cylinder engine at the front, with dimensions of 80 by 110 HMI. Tlte inlet valves are automatie. MI lit Med vertically above the exhaust. valves, and ignition is by low-tension magneto, hut there is in the clean lines and smooth black surfaces of this engine something which is curiously iwrophetic of BirkigCs later work. Behind the cwfine there is a cone clutch and a conventicmal gearlars:. with, however, the gear-lever mounted tam the steering column, an aberration in
which. Birkigt, seetilti to have anticipa tec even Darraeg but which he never succumbed to again. Front. the gearbox the drive is by a single ehain, somewhat to the left of the centre line of the car, the driven sprocket of which. is Manta et’ on -what is really a live axle, in that the whole thing revolves, Iii the centre, however, it. swells out into a casing in Odell, I ant assured, titere is contairied a differottial gear, front. which I assaime that tile axle easing rotated by the driven sprocket UI lopts the role usually assigned to the crown wheel, and that tItere are tial fshafts inside it.
‘II us car, we were assured, is still in perfect running order and was started up not long ago yvithout the slialttest diffieulty after its engine had been silent for I wenty years. •11 ‘Ong outlasted the business which was responsible for its construetiott, however, for in 1901. as a result. of a strike in Barcelona, Senor La Cuadra failed. Ills business and Ids Swiss engineer were taken Over by the I rincipal creditor, Seim’. Castro, who continued the manufacture of ears under the style, ” J. Castro, E. en C., Fabrica I I i.:31):1,110-StliZa de Automoviles.” Castro ears were manufactured for the next three years, and then this company also ran into difficulties, with, the result that in June, 1904, the business was taken over by the ” Soeiedad Ifispano Sousa, Fabrica de Automoviles,” and the Ilispano-Suiza car, as such,, was born. *
The Spanish Grand Prix this year was, in may opinion, quite one of the best: races of the season, run in weather so delightful that we were sorely tempted to do a lotuseater act and stay on in Barcelona. But such was not to be, and as soon as Ow race was over, we climbed into our aeroplane and headed for Inane. The Editor and the hack addressed themselves; with varying degrees of assiduity, as we flew along, to the preparation of (spy. ‘rite hack, it must be admitted, was more inclined at first to look down on the Spanish countryside, bathed in autumn sunshine, and then, as clouds rolled up, to go to sleep … I was :awakened by the violent jolting of the aeroplane, clouds were swirling past the windows, lutil was battering on the roof like it barrage, lightning playing around the fuselage and St. Elnio’s Fire along the wings. Suddenly we dropped into so profound an air-pocket that I had a vision of the photogra)dter’s cameras half way between the empty seat on whielt they had been lying and the roof. And still the Editor wrote ! I do not think that storm did our radio much good, but we made Lyons to refuel and, just before midnight, we made Croydon. For the hack it was the end of a perfect week-end. For the Editor and the photographer. as they departed to get the story printed and the photographs developed, it was the beginning of another working dav. Aren’t these motoring journalists lucky !