RALLYING FROM TALLINN
Four hours ago, which seems like an age, we left our warm beds in Tallinn ; outside the hotel we found it mild and clear, and debated removing the front. chain. Caution won and it remained in place.
With Lahaye and his Renault safely in Athens, the Lagonda was due to take its place as first car away, with Good next behind. There are twenty-three cars in all, and the populace turned out en masse at the Estonian Theatre to cheer us on our way.
The official car took its place, the flag was raised and at 9.20 we were dispatched on our 4,000 kilometre journey. The streets of the town were coated with slippery ice and the writer had to tread warily to avoid charging the crowds on the pavement.
Out in the country there was little snow, but a layer of ,ice on a steeplycambered road made us glad we kept on our chains. The road wound this way and that, but the Lagonda swept smoothly round the well-banked curves.
Slowing down to avoid a throng, Bakker Schut passed us on his Ford, but no one else had come into sight. We have averaged 34 m.p.h., which is quite encouraging. As I write this we are passing through Parnu. The river is once more frozen and we were able to drive acrossit. We have so far made up an hour on our Rally average. Now for a sleep at the Latvian frontier. Riga
Just before the frontier we were pass.,1 by a German Hansa, and then by Vasselle on the tiny two-seater Hotchkiss. At the frontier post itself an enthusiastic crowd closed round the cars as they stopped for the custom formalities. All the papers had been sent on from Tallinn, and instead of the hour which the rally authorities allowed us, we passed through in five minutes. Over the frontier a good deal of snow had fallen and the road was uneven and slippery. Driving with considerable ease we noticed at a right-angle corner ahead a bunch of people round a car. This proved to be the speedy Vasselle, whose car had shot into the ditch stern first. He waved cheerfully to show all was well and we .continued on our way. A few minutes later we had a narrow escape from a collision with a sledge. The horse tried to pull across the road, then changed its mind, and shot off
across the fields, dropping the driver on his way in the ditch. The roads improved near Riga and we got up to 55 m.p.h. The route we found thirty miles shorter than the distance given in the road book and so, much to our surprise, reached the check actually 4i hours ahead of schedule. At the check we learnt that Good’s Lagonda
had gone off the road at exactly the same spot as Vasselle. The clutch casing caught On the edge of the road and the clutch was damaged. Chinetti and Gastaud had shot off the road on their Ford but were towed back by Dobell. Another Ford driver who came off the . road was the Dutch driver, Dr. Sprenger van Eijk.
The Riga Club provided food and a room to rest in, and the most gassy lemonade we have yet encountered. Strengthened and rested, we set off for Kaunas at 9.20 p.m. Vasselle’s car was undamaged, but we left Good anxiously wondering whether his car would be fixed in time to continue. Light on the A.C. discovered he had left his carnet in Riga, but quick work by thc local authorities provided him with another.
Konigsberg We are now feeling much more cheerful, having negotiated the bad section in Lithuania between the main road and Kaunas without any trouble. The roads from Riga to where we turned off were excellent and, leaving at 7.20 in the evening, we averaged 46 m.p.h., including five minutes for crossing the Latvian-Lithuanian frontier. The turn
ing to Kaunas would have been difficult to find in the normal way but arrows and the use of the lamps turned us at the right place. For the first. five miles, the surface was appalling, 20 m.p.h. being the absolute maximum and we envied the drivers of the independently-sprung German Hansa, which was disappearing in the distance. Soon, however, the road. improved and we were bowling along at 45 m.p.h. Then a forlorn figure appeared at the roadside. It was one of the Germans, his car had shot off the road at 50 m.p.h. By a miracle both men escaped with nothing worse than bruises, and we completed the remaining eighty miles to Kaunas, most of which was very rough, with the two Germans in with Wills and all the coats in the back.
Outside Kaunas a crowd had gathered and a marshal sent us off with one of a fleet of waiting motor-cyclists who guided us into the city. Crossing a wide bridge on the river, and fussing through mean streets which had a distinctly Balham smell, we gained the centre of the town. At the control point a battery of cinema projectors were blazing, and half-a-ton of flash powder must have been shot off at our arrival.
It was half-past one in the morning but large crowds were gathered there to cheer the Rally cars. The. Auto Club de Lithuanie provided us with supper and bedrooms free of charge, and the enthusiasm for the rally extended everywhere. Very smart policemen guarded cross roads and the local inhabitants watched at cross roads with lanterns. The road from Kaunas was very much better and we made our 40 m.p.h.. average between there and Konigsberg. At the German frontier there were
banners out, a guard of Nazis who ” Heiled ” us in the approved manner, and a host of interpreters to overcome any difficulty which the foreign competitors might have. Efficiency even extended to cleaning the windscreens and distributing apples and coffee.
Arriving here we were disappointed to find that the damage to the Clutch on Good’s car was too serious to allow him to continue. Equally disquieting was the news that the Hotchkiss entered by Gayard and driven by Charboniere had ccllided with a train outside Kaunas, the drivers being injured, and it was quite a relief to see Healey rolling into the check in the Dolomite.
We were hoping to find that snow had fallen freely in this part of the world, covering up the pot-holes in Poland. We found little in Konigsberg, so are fortifying ourselves for fifteen hours of bumping by a little sleep in the Park Hotel. Hanover The • run from Konigsberg to here could scarcely have been better. We left the East Prussian capital at midday in bright sunshine and drove over
straight roads almost everywhere clear ham snow to the frontier post. Needing as we did every moment of time to negotiate the rough Polish roads, we kept the needle at 70-75 m.p.h. and covered the hundred miles in 21hours. Five minutes stop for each customs house and then we set out for the most strenuous part of our venture.
We soon found that we owed the Poles an apology. Following the route provided by the National Automobile Club, we were let over new dead-straight roads with good surfaces making 55 instead of the 25 m.p.h. which was our maximum on the way up. Forty miles from Warsaw we returned to the had old road, but we were so relieved at missing the early part that it made no impression. The Polish Club fed and slept us,, and wo set out due westwards towards Germany in fine form. Dead straight for the first fifty-eight miles, Wills pushed along at a steady 75 m.p.h., :1 fine run except when a mongrel
dog rushed out and impinged on the bumper.
Half-way to Posen we began to get worried about petrol, as apparently we had not filled the tank fully at Poland. The gauge needle dropped to ” four,” but stayed there for thirty miles, and we knew that we were not to be condemned to a midnight search for petrol in unknown Poland.
For once we kept ahead of Bakker Schut, the very rapid driver of the VS Ford next behind us. He had already been christened ” Public Enemy No. 1,” to his huge delight.
The run to Berlin was uneventful, but we arrived there with six hours in hand, having covered 350 miles in eight hours. We cut right across Berlin in the early morning and settled down at the Auto Hotel which is the check point, and combines garage and hotel accommodation. The proprietress told us that no eggs were available, as they were so scarce in Germany, we had already had the same experience elsewhere when we asked for butter. The British contingent from Tallinn was still intact, though the gear-box on
Dobe11’s Lagonda was rather shaky, and only top gear remained functioning. .Harris and lveson took life easily on their Singer, arriving with an hour to spare. ‘’asselle came in with his car still intact,, but his arm was tremendously swollen as a result of his crash.
We left Berlin by the Avus road, and apart from fog, had an uneventful run to Hanover, averaging 40 m.p.h. Little interest was taken in the Rally, and Harris was allowed to wander about the city for an hour without finding the control station. He had been driving without a hood so far, but rain outside Rabin made him break his record.
The Stavanger and Umea routes joined ours at this point and we heard how drivers from the Scandinavian starting points had fared. The Stavanger route was unusually difficult, with ice through Oslo and down to the coast at the south of Sweden. The high spot of the run was Wist, a Norwegian, who was driving a Morris Eight. Disdaining chains, he drove absolutely flat out ‘and as steady as a rock, leaving the other six starters, Fords, Railtons and a 5-litre Renault, far behind. Browning, who was driving Wilnott’s Rover at the time’, overtook him in Denmark, where British driving methods were allowed mote scope, and the Norwegian remarked ” We are better on the ‘ice, but you make a better progress along the dust.”
Starters from Umea found really Rally conditions. There was eight feet of snow in the north of Sweden, and without snow ploughs, it would have been impossible to get through. Ice all the way from Stockholm kept drivers on the qui vive, and one competitor we spoke to had only had an hour of sleep on the way ‘south.
The hopes. of the Tallinn contingent were sadly dashed by the news about Athens. Favourable conditions were now reported, and all starters from the most highly-marked starting place were expected to get through.
The Dutch authorities were making atrangements to help competitors across the Venlo frontier, and the majority of those passing through Hanover continued over that route. We kept the Lagonda going at a steady seventy over miles of straight, tree-lined roads, only slightly impeded by rain before the frontier.
It is first come first served when getting through the customs, and we indulged in several ten-mile chasses, catching up slower vehicles. We were followed for miles by a very fast Ford and when we slowed down to consult a map, he shot off into the blue. We then found the road we were following led due north, and history does not relate where the Swede finished up. Near Roemond, a Dutch garage was displaying quite extraordinary service with cold buffet and champagne for all, and of the fifty competitors who passed into Holland before us, only three preceeded us to the Belgian frontier. The route across Belgium was comparatively simple, though owing to the lack of signposts, we tried every way from ‘quite small villages without success. We reached Brussels with six hours in
hand, and spent the time well in adjusting carburetters which seemed too weak, changing the Dunlop sports tyres which had run quite happily up to 80 m.p.h. without cruising.
The check point at Paris was the A.C.F. headquarters at the Place de la Concorde. We debated hotly whether we should have the tyres ” cut ” in view of the run over the EStorel, but fine weather prevailed and we slept instead. We fought our way out of Paris at 4 o’clock to begin the last 1,000 kilometres, over which the schedule was 35 to 37i m.p.h. Dijon was our objective and our rOute advised going through Troyes; missing the turning, we took the Auxerre road instead, actually a
fortunate accident as the road was much easier. We reached Dijon with forty minutes to spare and ” tanked ” the car and our own interiors. A fast run to Lyons followed and here we had an hour in hand. The Rhone was now free from floods and Wills made good time to Avignon, in spite of having to meet streams of lorries with blazing lights. Near Avignon the whole sky was lit up by an enormous one which had caught fire by the roadside, and as we passed we quite shamelessly cheered.
The last two stages, Avignon-Brignoles and Brignoles-Monte Carlo were the most strenuous, for apart from the twisty roads, the time margin was small, in one case twelve minutes, and, in the second, fourteen. Rain was falling as we left Avignon, and Martineau who knew well how slippery those roads could be was doubtful of our chances.
We flashed out of the Avignon check like a’ green projectile, blazing with lights and horn blowing continually. Ten minutes to spare at Aix, then an unforgettable climb up and down mountains in mist, wind and rain to Brignoles, passing one rally car in pieces, a second in the ditch and a third overturned in a field. We arrived at Brig
neles with 25 minutes to spare, and what an experience.
Next came the run over the Estorel. The writer took the wheel and just used everything the car had, the wheels snaking even on top gear on the few straight stretches and bumping round the narrow hair-pins up and down the mountains. One was remarkably grateful for the perfect balance of the car which made such manceuvres possible, but even more thankful when Cannes was reached, with the average speed just maintained. A fresh driver seemed wise for the final dash to Monte Carlo, so Wills took over, and aided and abetted by Martineau, who shouted warnings of twists
and turns, we set out for Nice. Flat out was the command, and we had gained two minutes by the time we got to Nice. Full speed along the Moyenne-Corniche, fortunately free from traffic at nine in the morning, and a lightning dash down the winding streets of Monte Carlo to the front.
Within a hundred yards for our goal we avoided, by inches, a blundering local car which was suitably dealt with by the police, and gained the triumphal arch leading on the Quai. We got there with ten minutes in hand, very delighted at the successful outcome of what had virtually been an unguarded road race.
Checking over was diversified this year by the special method of marking the components. The car was run up a ramp and a special compound which reacted with the varnish applied to cylinder block and other parts at the d6part was rubbed on with cotton wool. The organisers soon satisfied themselves that our components were the original ones and we were allowed to collect our luggage in the pouring rain and bear it away to the hotel. Great fun this rally,. ing with a suitable car, but we doubt whether another year the organisers will be allowed to have their Mille Miglia finish.