AT THE TOP OF THE MAP
TREKKING TO UMEA, THE MOST NORTHERN STARTING POINT OF THE MONTE CARLO RALLY
By T. G. MOORE.
pREPARATION, and again preparation, is the watchword of the Prospective entrant in the Monte Carlo Rally. Given a suitable motor car, with adequate ground clearance, power, stability, and steering lock, rooms have still to be booked, a crew got together, petrol supplies arranged, spares selected, emergency rations packed, and a hundredand-one details gone into. In most cases it is something of a relief when the fatal day of sailing arrives, for one Must then definitely leave for foreign parts, even with some final details overlooked. In our case things were further complicated by foggy weather, which left us in doulyt until the last moment as to whether till. ship which was taking us to Sweden Was leaving from Millwall in the London Docks or from Tilbury. It proved to be the latter, and we pursued a difficult cour.c through the tra hic of the City, with tlit• interior of the car well cluttered up with last-minute additions to our baggage. During a momentary stop on the Southend by-pass, we saw a car approaching a tgreat speed, and bearing the familiar red Rally plates, and which proved to he the supercharged Graham, driven by Browning. Arriving at Tilbury, we found other companions of former Rallies-Lord de Clifford on a Lagonda Rapier, Jack Hol)bs with a neat little Riley M.P.H., and Symons with a supercharged N type M.G. Magnette, so there was no lack of good companions for our trip across the North Sea. It was dark before the ship, a 5,000-ton vessel, belonging to the Swedish Lloyd, drew alongside the landing stage, but our cars were soon
hoisted aboard, and the size and comfort of the ship were encouraging, in view of the bad weather often met with on the Swedish run. We were summoned to dinner by a sort of baby xylophone, suitably christened a ” gong-gong,” and after a cheerful round .. i table gathering, n which former rallies’
experiences were recalled and discussed, we sought an early bed. Next day the weather remained kind, and all the Englishmen answered the call to meals, particularly good ones, in which we were in to ” Smargasbord,” or Swedish hors d tires, which contains an amazing
variety of dishes. One of our fellow-passengers, a Swedish gentleman who had driven cars ever since 1897, had informed us that temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit were reported from Unica and the far north but the snow which greeted us as we stepped off the gang plank at Gothenburg was, all the same, unexpected and un
welcome. The first part of the road lay over hilly country, so for safety we laid in a set of chains right away. and with a pair on the back wheels set oft On our journey across Sweden.
The A.C. was as steady on snow as on ordinary roads, and after negotiating some steep pitches through pine woods, purred along smoothly at 40 m.p.h. through a land of lakes, beech trees and firs. Villages were everywhere, rather a contrast to the sparsely populated areas one is accustomed to drive through on the other Rally routes.
The roads were narrow but well graded, with the corners banked, and occasional wide sections which by-passed the difficult stretches bore witness to the great improvements being carried out here and throughout Sweden.
Darkness had fallen as we dropped down into jonkOping, on the shores of the great Lake Vatter, the point where We gained the Rally route. At this lower elevation the snow had disappeared, and after clanking through the outskirts of Husqvarna, where the famous motorcycles are made, not to mention meat choppers and oil stoves, we were glad to cast off the chains. Memories of the run along the lake were Chilly of fast roads between tall trees, and then a stretch of open country across which an icy gale whistled, almost pushing the car off the road. It was the writer’s turn to occupy the back seat, now rendered more bearable by the removal elsewhere of sundry packages, and he Was impressed equally by the comfort of riding and the searching qualities of the draughts around the side curtains.
The other English drivers on our ship had decided to stay the night at Linkoping about 100 miles from Stockholm, but we made our minds up to ” commit caulkerei,” otherwise to make the car as airtight as possible, and therefore determined to push_ on to the capital, in order to put in a whole day’s work before the shops closed on Saturday night. The only trace of the other competitors we saw was a pair of unmistakable S. Lewis’s Sidcot suits at the hotel, and Riberia Eerreira’s Railton Terraplane in the square, the same car he drove in last year’s Rally. Another thing remembered about LinkOping and other towns were the enormous Christmas trees in the square, constructed of fir trees 60 feet high, and glittering with electric lights, a commodity on tap in even the smallest towns in Sweden.
We came on to snowy roads again soon afterwards, but as it was so late decided not to replace the chains, even when the snow gave way to black ice, slippery as glass, and difficult to negotiate even on a car as stable as the A.C. at over 30 m.p.h.
We reached Stockholm, somehow, at three in the morning, and eventually found the K.A.K. hotel, a hotel-cum clubhouse run by the National Motor Club, and so to bed.
The winds next day were almost as biting as the night before, though it was only 10 degrees below zero, so we applied ourselves most carefully to stitching side curtains to hood, fitting spare petrol tins, and other attentions which had suggested themselves on the way up. The other British competitors turned up in the evening, and we went to quite a cheerful restaurant, but the night-life, we were told, was badly upset by a police raid on the only interesting ” Nachtlokal ” the week before. The city itself is built on a series of islands in the Ma,haren. Sound. and abounds in fine buildings, but unfortunately time was pressing, so we had very little chance of getting round to see the sights.
All was bright and gay on Sunday morning as we set off, now furnished with Gunnebo combined ice and snow chains, which were said to be required on the more treacherous roads further north. Coming out we took a route north through the Norrtullsgaten, the Bond Street of the town, narrowly escaping death from the cars which darted across it from either side, quite undeterred by any idea of main road preference.
With our Rally average always in mind, the fine roads which run north from the capital to Uppsala were distinctly encouraging. In summer one could safely accomplish 100 m.p.h. for many miles, and as it was we held a comfortable 50 or so, deterred somewhat, however, by the deep ditches on either side. The roads in this part of the world are raised three or four feet above the level of the plain to prevent snow gathering on them, so woe betide anyone who drives carelessly and drops over the edge. Where the traffic had packed the snow ice had formed, and with fresh snow on the top a rather slippery surface ensued. We experimented with various chain arrangements, and found that a right hand front chain and two rear ones gave the best result, confirming the advice of other English competitors.
Villages were few and far between, but the inner man would not be denied, so we drew up rather doubtfully, at mid-day, outside a house labled ” café,” in the rather obscure hamlet of Loby Saw Mill.
An old woman presently appeared, and though our Swedish vocabulary was limited to ” egg ” and ” beer,” very soon we were sitting down to excellent ” smorgasbord,” basins of eggs, veal cutlets and cheese, the bill for three coming to the lordly sum of six shillings. Almost more important, we solved the problem of No. I beer. lip to now we had always been given No. 2 Pilsener, an agreeable and remarkably harmless light beer, but the old lady produced for us some bottles of No. I, which surpassed even our conception of how thin beer could be. It was produced, as we surmised, by filling a barrel with rain water and leaving it in the street for a short time near a No. 2.
brewery. Suitably refreshed we pushed on north, now entering more wooded country.
It was comfortable travel, for even Wills, who is 6 ft. 3 ins, in height, managed to fit himself in comfortably, while whoever was travelling in the rear found himself sung to sleep by the monotonous sound of the chains. The road was winding, but again by-passes driven straight through the woods had cut off the worst sections. We reached Soderhamn, our night’s destination, about seven, and found the A.A. one-star hotel quite adequate for our needs. Food and drink work out at most to 21 per day, and with Esso petrol averaging Is. 4d. per gallon. Sweden is a country for Englishmen. In addition, English is spoken almost everywhere, and our countrymen are everywhere assured of a good welcome. Sunshine is a mixed blessing on the Rally, and we found next day that the milder weather had again covered the roads with a tricky coating of ice. The road lay through woody country, with great rocks all scattered amongst the trees, with here and there a little village of red-painted wooden houses. The inhabi
tants had a wilder look and wore high sheepskin hats and rough leather coats, while the wiry horses which pulled the sledges mostly sported Garbo-like fringes drooping over the eyes.
Just before Sundsvall we got our first glimpse of the sea, a wide bay with the further side lit up by the yellow rays of the sun, already moving downwards at halfpast two in the afternoon. Here, and at Sundsvall we got a glimpse of the timber industry, the principal means of livelihood in this part of the country, and the saw mills with their -tall chimneys and mountains of timber stacked for maturing were seen at all the river mouths. A prolonged twilight extends the hours of daylight in northern latitudes, but it was dark by 4 o’clock when we reached Hurnosand. However, we had already proved the qualities of our lights earlier
on. and decided to push on to Ornskoldsvik, a further 70 miles. It was actually an unfortunate move, for we missed seeing the best of the coast scenery by daylight, though the moonlight gave the sea an eerie beauty of its own. A more immediate cause of concern was the Veda ferry, a steam-operated affair crossing a sound about a mile wide. We calculated that if we missed the appropriate ferry on our way south we should lose 40 minutes, and as the roads were bad enough to keep us down to our Rally average of 25 m.p.h., this was a serious matter. However, as we left the ferry there was a furious flashing of lights behind us, and an ancient continental saloon, a Horch or an Opel, shot past at a steady 50, giving us some idea of what speed one could attain on the roads if the need arose. Our original intention had been to push on to Umea that night, but to our surprise we found at Ornskoldsvik, a small town some hundreds of miles further north than John o’Groats, a hotel which would compare favourably with any three-star establishment one meets with in England. An interesting man we met there was the local pilot. In his early days he had
several times been out to Australia in English full-rigged ships, and was now ending his career guiding his own countrymen through the difficult waters of that coast. We took our breakfast looking out on the frozen harbour, with the sun rising on the far side, and then stepped out, yvithout warning, into the most icy blasts we had yet encountered. Zero weather and a north wind make breathing difficult, and we made our way to the garage with faces swathed in scarves.
By this time the interior of the car was almost cosy, though there was ice on the inside of the side-screens, and the writer took the wheel in fine spirits for the final stage of the journey. After some miles of switchback roads, with steep gradients of something like 1 in 8, we hit better roads, and the car swooped round banked bends, covered with snow, as though alive and anxious to be doing. At one point the road came right down to the sea, and in the sunlight, and with a pale blue sky, the scene might almost have been the Riviera. After a time conditions improved, and Eadon was able to keep up 45 to 50 m.p.h. over wide straight roads through the forests.
The approach to Umea was uninspiring. Small wooden houses, some of them haysheds and some of them dwellings, came into view scattered over a wide plain, giving it almost the appearance of a giant poultry farm. At last the half-frozen Pine River was reached, and we clattered over the long bridge to our journey’s end. We had reached it over 780 miles of snowcovered roads, nothing very strenuous in itself, but rendered pleasurable only when one is driving a staunch and easily controlled car.
Wooden houses are the rule in Umea, and as the town is laid out in blocks, it has something of the appearance of a Middle West city. Motor cars chase up and down the streets, but so do sledges laden with wood, furniture, oil drums, or bottles of beer. We are definitely in the kingdom of the ski, and half the people one sees are punting themselves along on these tricky pieces of black wood, or pushing their purchases along on little chairs mounted on steel runners ; in a country district we saw an earnest-looking business man, all complete with spats and a bowler, solemnly taking along his portfolio in this fashion.
The shops are good, but the places of amusement rather limited. The great stand-by is the Stara HoteBet, or Grand Hotel, the resort of all the Rallyists each evening. The dining room is decorated with a great back cloth, in futuristic style, depicting successful cars approaching the Palace at Monaco, but we noticed that the artist had failed to depict any open cars. These are confined, we feel, and not unreasonably, to mad dogs and Englishmen. Hobbs and Griffiths, on Rileys, were up here before us, and we have now been joined by Lord de Clifford, Symons. Browning and Healey on his supercharged Triumph. Trevoux and Chinette, on the Super charged .Alfa, arrived later, as also did Miss Allen also on an AC., lidlev On a Triumph, Madame Mareuse (Peugeot), and Riberio Ferreira on the Terrapla,ne, which visited a snow-filled ditch. on the way. A B.M.W. is outside the window as we write, and an open 4i-1itre Bentley, with hood down, bears witness to the enthusiasm of A. C. Scott. Other English
drivers expected are S. C. H. Davis (Railton), Major Douglas Morris (Ford), Seborg Montefiore (Frazer Nash), and Minshall (Singer).
The local inhabitants are bent on giving us the best of welcomes, and Rally news forms an important feature of the local papers. There is even a section printed in English, which is in Sweden the second language of most of the people. On the Thursday an exhibition of ski-jumping was given for our benefit, and was sufficiently disturbing to make us determine to keep to terra (fairly) firma. The gala night at the Stora was attended by all the townsfolk, but rather handicapped by the drink curfew at 11.30 p.m. Friday morning brought with it an unpleasant surprise, for the temperature, which had been rising from zero to only 8 degrees below freezing, then crossed the fatal mark, and a thaw has set in. The roads near the town do not seem too bad, but further south the Rally competitor’s worst fear, wet ice, is likely to be encountered. Most people are still executing last minute adjustments, and we had some anxious moments with our chains before we found the screw on which the back ones were rubbing. On our way out to test them we met Sebag Montefiore in his ancient supercharged Frazer-Nash, hood down but filled high with baggage. It appears that on the way north he broke headlamp brackets three times, refitted main bearings and big ends, and had his supercharger in a sack lashed alongside,
so he did well to get here at all. De Clifford has also had bad luck with his Lagonda Rapier, as the spring tensioner for the camshaft drive broke, necessitating much work to replace the broken part.
In the morning the papers and ballast of the competing cars were checked outside the Town Hall. British cars, such as Symons’ M.G., Hobbs’ Riley and Davis’s Railton gave a sporting touch to’ the scene. The latter crew, Davis, Brackeribury and Mrs. Petre, are travelling throughout with the hood down, so one hopes the rear windscreen and the heater at the back are efficient. The town is all keyed up for the start, and autograph hunters are more persistent even than at Belfast. Tomorrow we start off at 9.45 for our 2,400 mile journey to Monte Carlo, satisfied with our car, but nevertheless a little anxious about road conditions. So much can happen on narrow roads under present conditions.