A PRE RALLY DIARY EN ROUTE TO TALLINN WITH A 4′,-LITRE LAGONDA
No matter how carefully a sports car is built, the final test of its qualities, assuming that bad luck does not intervene, will always be to enter it in open competition. Previous experience has convinced me that the combination of rough roads and high average speeds one meets with on the Monte Carlo Rally, form one of the most strenuous possible tests for the fast sporting car, and so I was particularly interested to be able to secureone of the new 4-4-litre Lagondas for the 1936 event, a sister car being driven by Mr. A. P. Good, the chairman of the new Lagonda concern, who was thus gathering first-hand information under conditions of strenuous service. The cars prepared for the job were standard productions except for fitting 19-inch wheels in place of the 18-inch type which are the standard equipment. The mudguards were raised to give full clearance for chains, and for running in ;oft snow, we were also equipped with a Pair of Dunlop sports tyres on the spare wheels. The bodies on the new cars are notable, apart from’ their sporting line, For their very comfortable upholstery and the side-curtain equipment which provides almost the equivalent of a closed car,
Planning to get on to the Rally route as soon as possible, we took the cars via I-farwich and Antwerp, reaching Parkeston Quay after, the usual hectic rush over those last thirty winding miles to the port. The sea was kind to us and by daybreak we were sailing peacefully up the Schelde, docking at Antwerp at eight in the morning.
Apart from avoiding much of the pave roads of Northern France and Belgium, our idea was to prospect a new route from Hanover to Brussels, avoiding the industrial areas round Cologne. To do this we had to run eastwards over fifty miles of cobbled roads, but the suspension proved excellent and we were able to keep up 55 m.p.h. After Bosshot and Aerschot (the golfer’s joys) there were big diversions where the main road was being re-layed with concrete, but at last we reached Diest; and through narrow streets in which every other shop displayed a string of brightly-painted sabots, we gained the route to the Dutch frontier. The roads were straight and easy to find, though surfaced with the inevitable
By T. G. MOORE pave. Soon we were crossing the narrow strip of Dutch territory, en route to Venlo. Our Dutch money was confined
to one note of 15 guilders, worth ,23, and the keeper of the toll bridge was somewhat taken aback when this was presented for a threepenny toll. However, he took it in the form of a handful of Belgian ” washers,” and we were free to proceed on our journey north through Germany. A prolonged lunch at Venlo delayed us, and darkness fell soon after we entered Germany. The headlamps of the cars were fitted with dip-and-switch mechanism, and we used this religiously going through towns and villages. Passing through one of these we were suddenly held up by a flashing light and found it was the village policeman, who was furious at cars which had, what he considered, only one front light. The sidelights he disregarded. He was joined by
half-a-dozen other uniformed men, but the word ” Englfinder ” had its usual effect and we were allowed to proceed unmolested. Twice more we were held up in the same way, the second time by a fire-engine complete with flashing red light, and so we decided to practise a special lamp ,drill, extinguishing the head
lights and putting on the two fog lamps when approaching villages.
We stayed, the ‘night in Munster, and next day pushed on through a thicklypopulated countryside’, where the halftimbered houses and low hills reminded one of the North Downs, to Berlin. The roads were much improved in comparison to what we found on a previous trip over the same road and, in any case, our springs seemed adequate for all surfaces.
We stopped for lunch at a small town near Hanover, pulling up at a tiny, but clean-looking, restaurant. Its name, the ” Horrido ” should have given us a clue to its products, but we failed to be warned. A wait of an hour, and the toughest steak ever recorded made its appearance, and continued to remind us all the way to Berlin. We turned off from Potsdam to the Avus road which is used, when not required for racing, as a by-pass to Berlin. Rather to our surprise, we found the road had quite appreciable gradients and curves, so that it must be far from ideal at speeds over 150 m.p.h. The Berlin exit was completely blocked by a procession of Nazis, which we afterwards
found was at least half-a-mile long and six men deep. They were all returning from the Sportpalast where they had been attending a lecture on motor-racing. At Berlin we left Thornley to await Mr. and Mrs. Good, who were following on by aeroplane. Martineau and Wills re-packed the car with great skill, the back seat being stacked high with
luggage we were to discard at Tallinn, and so we left the German capital by the Frankforter Alice en route to Warsaw. A magnificent highway raved with smooth stone sets led to the Polish frontier and promised well for the return journey. Over the border the road continued satisfactory for a few miles and then began the sort of surface with which we wvre soon so familiar. The roadsurface was hard but was -broken up by a continual series of pot-boles, making 30
m.p.h. the utmost limit for cars not fitted with all-round independent suspension.
Snow and ice began to appear on the road, but only where the sun bad failed to strike through the surrounding woods. Poznan was our limit that night, and next day we continued east with further bumpings. If the roads were bad the stretches in the villages were ten times worse, and the sound of our tyres bump ing over cobbles and pot-holes was painful to hear. Then suddenly, twenty miles east of Warsaw, conditions improved and
Wills, who was then driving, pushed up the speedometer to SO m.p.h. over highwith grey stone. blocks. W a vs sot
Warsaw proved quite amusing—but very expensive. Next day, after losing our way out of the city, we were cheered to see a further revised highway, but alas, it did not last long. A ” cassis ” sign proclaimed the start of the usual, shatter
ing pot-holes, and over these. with little respite we continued to the German frontier. Not a single private car was encountered in the country from frontier to frontier, which is easily understood. The ” road ” was, in places, so bad that we preferred to take to the hardfrozen ruts running alongside it, but it
certainly gave us a good chance of appreciating the steering, which remained free from ” kick ” under the most trying ccnditions, and the springing which allowed us to push on at 35 m.p.h. where the surface definitely forbade more than 20 Rally averages take no account of road-surface. Bright sun cheered our way, and we reached the German frontier at three o’clock, averaging 19 m.p.h. from Warsaw. Neat houses replaced the thatched shacks of Poland, and the roadsurface was also very different, but we did not have much chance to notice it, as the snow began almost with the frontier Hoe. Stopping at Ortelsburg, we first le;irtied from a German newspaper of the illness of the late King. The sad news of his death was conveyed to us two days later by seeing all the flags in Riga at half-mast._ We put up at the excellent Park Hotel at Konigsberg and were here joined by
Good, who had come direct from Berlin. Martineau created a certain sensation by rushing about the bedroom passage and calling ” oder ” instead of ” ober ” when he wanted a waiter, but nobody seemed to mind. Two other rally cars, a French Talbot and a Ford, were also in the, garage, so we felt that we were getting nearer the centre of things. With plenty of snow about we decided to try our ” comp.” back tyres, and found a useful increase of braking and traction on the northern. road.
We arrived without incident at Tilsit, the German frontier town, and after declaring our many currencies at great length, passed oveç the bridge into Lithuania where the process was repeated. Not for nothing is one given a time allowance of sixty minutes in the northern countries. As a parting gift, and all unknown to us, the Nazis inscribed the swastika and ” Tilsit ” in the mud on the back of the car. Just over the border we saw our first sleighs, crude structures which have a single horse and only one shaft. Evidently it was market day at Tauroggen, for scores of these vehicles were streaming out as we approached, taking not the slightest notice of the horns until we were almost on them. Market day is very
, similar all over the world, and in one case the driver was lying on his face dead to the world as a result of the local firewater, while faithful Dobbin (or possibly Ivan) took the usual road home. The road was bordered with the usual ttees, coated here with newly-fallen snow, and the grey sky and the snow, coloured by the rays of the setting sun, made a picture of surprising beauty. The road was often dead straight as far as the eye could See; cleft straight through the forest as though with a knife and straight-edge,
and we had no difficulty in keeping up 55 m.p.h. The Latvian customs gave little trouble, and we arrived at Riga at eight o’clock in the evening, and were escorted to the hotel by a representative of one of the petrol companies. The town has many fine buildings, and is dominated at night by a floodlit marble statue eighty feet in height commemorating the liberation Of Latvia from the Russian rule. The toads out of Riga were again fast but decidedly icy, so we applied a chain to the near-side front wheel. In this trim we were able to hold 55 m.p.h., which was quite encouraging. Apart from the sledges which carried all sorts of freight from live cows to piles of fir branches, we ” encountered two other forms of road traffic. One was the timber sleighs, where a whole tree trunk thirty feet long is ‘supported on tw,$) small
skids, the back part slewing round in an alarming way when the driver is at last persuaded to leave the crown of the road. Complete hay-ricks piled on runners also made life difficult, but the loads were so heavy that the horses lacked the necessary acceleration to bolt across the road as often happened with the lighter outfits.
The road was rutted in places, especially when we took a wrong turning and proceeded off north instead of northeast, but there was nothing to compare with what we had encountered three years ago. On that occasion roughness reached its climax on the final stretch between Parnu and Tallinn, and the writer drove off expecting to be plunged within a few kilometres into what resembled a frozen ploughed field.
Tremebdous road works have been undertaken since those days, however, and instead of a rutted wilderness, we found a somewhat windy road with highly-banked corners round which the car came smoothly at 40 m:p.h. Within two years a brand new road dead straight from Tallinn to Parnu will be completed, and a first-class highway will then be available from Konigsberg to the Gulf of Finland. Rally weather does not seem to be like it used to be (perhaps it never was), and when we arrived in Tallinn we found thaw instead of the ten degrees of frost we had expected. Since then we have had rain and finally snow again on the eve of the depart, so no one knows what to’ expect. The local club advise ” no chains ” while Donald Healey, who
has just appeared on the Triumph Dolomite, reports wet ice, which is the most difficult of all surfaces.
The town has laid itself out to welcome its visitors, and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. The Kuldhdvi hotel has gone all modern, but still retains its enormous •table Of hors d’ceuvres, Only beaten by the Hotel du Nord where half the morn is devoted to Vorspeisen of every kind : price all-in-two shillings. The local night-clubs are similarly moderate in price, ten shillings providing drink and amusement for the evening for four people. The town with its fine old walls is most attractive, and taking it all round, Tallinn would be a good place in which to retire. Twenty-seven cars were down to start
from Tallinn and only four are missing. All four elected to start from Athens, amongst them the redoubtable Lahaye and Quatresous, last year’s winners. Continual blizzards are reported from the Athens route, and it is doubtful whether any cars will get through. Our own route should be possible everywhere, the most difficult section being the road from the Lithuanian frontier to Kannas, the latter part of this being un-surfaced and much cut-up. The English starters from Tallinn are T G. Moore and A. P. Good (4-litre Lagondas), W. H. Murray (Frazer-NashB.M.W.), Dobell (Lagonda Rankle), S. H. Light (A.C.), D. E. Harris (Singer) and D. M. ,Healey (Triumph Dolotnite). Murray, Light, who is driving one of the new short-chassis A.C.s, and Healey should do excellently
on account of their short-wheelbase cars. The figure-Of-eight test tells rather heavily against the Lagondas with their 11-foot chassis.
Of the foreigners, the most formidable is the veteran, Vasselle, who is driving a 3.8-litre Hotchkiss mounted in a 9-foot chassis. Fords are driven by Bakker Schut, Sprenger van Eijk and Chinetti, while Balester and Trintignant have a light two-seater Hudson, which ought to be fast in the final test.
Our own car has been well tested by the run north, the only attention it needed being a small adjustment of two tappets. Much can happen in 4,000 kilometres of rough ahd snow-covered roads, but with a roomy and well-sprung car, we have every chance of a comfortable and trouble-free run.