One Of the privileges and pleasures of editing MOTOR SPORT is the constant stream of interesting correspondence received from its readers, which is something I appreciate deeply, even though only a very small proportion of the intelligent and ingenious letters sent to me get published, due to the ever-present exigencies of space. However, I can assure all who write that their letters are read with the utmost attention, for a heavy post is not only proof of a magazine’s virility but also, to a very large extent, guides the policy of the journal by enabling its Editor to assess accurately prevailing public Opinion. Quite apart from letters conveying worthwhile information or intended for publication, my readers are exceedingly generous in presenting ” bits and pieces ” of historic value for my private motor ” museum ” and rare books for my now quite extensive motoring library. In expressing my gratitude I can but quote from such books from time to time, so that the interesting material that thus comes to light can be shared with others.
Last year, for example, a reader very thoughtfully sent me two valuable travel books, “The High Roads of the Alps,” by C. I. Freeston, F.R.G.S., and ” Motoring in the Balkans,” by F. Kinsley Hutchinson (Hodder & Stoughton, 1910). The latter is a particularly interesting account of a journey from Trieste to Vienna via the highways of Dalmatia, Montenegro, the Herzegovina and Bosnia, undertaken in 1908, during the months of April and May. I was amused to be given the pleasure of reading this account of such an adventurous journey in Edwardian days because in his so-entertaining book ” Lost Causes of Motoring,” Lord Montagu remarks, apropos of a gentleman who toured Yugoslavia in a Trojan in 1935, that ” before 1939 “one did not tour the Balkans—except from the safety of a yacht—unless one was compelled to, or was a Monte Carlo Rally competitor, or both.” Clearly, Lord Montagu had not heard of Kinsley Hutchinson, who most certainly toured the Balkans purely for pleasure as long ago as 1908 and then wrote a book about it.
Who comprised the party in the car in which Mr. Hutchinson travelled one cannot tell, because, as was the habit in those days, his fellow travellers are referred to as the Leader, the Enthusiast, the Cautious One, Madame Content, the Gentle Lady, Her Ladyship, and the Chauffeur, and not by name. Indeed, there is also reference to the Persistent One but it seems unlikely that the party consisted of more than four or five people, so the author must have adopted more than one title for single members of the expedition. What is obvious is that this party consisted of wealthy Americans, including, it seems, one lady then 80 years of age, as sure then as such citizens are today that to be American is to be welcome anywhere—” The word ‘ America ‘ always brings a glance of pleased recognition. Is it not the dream of many a boy to some day visit that wonderful country, and, of course, to bring home a fortune ? ” Or, ” Da America always brings a light to the eyes (of puzzled onlookers) wherever it is mentioned; for there is sure to be some member of the family, some friend or neighbour, who has been, or is going to, that Eldorado.” So the expedition progressed, frequently to the dismay and even disaster, of horses and horse-drawn carriages encountered en route; but no matter, the motorists were Americans and so ” people speed us on our way with pleasant nods and smiles of friendly sympathy.”
What car did they use ? The make is never so much as hinted at but it is described as ” of 2,8/32 h.p. with a double phaeton body and a Cape cart hood, and (it) carried 90 litres of gasolene in the tank with two extra tins of 12 litres each strapped on the side.” From photographs it was obviously a Mercedes; according to David Scott-Moncrieff the 28/32 was in production only during 1902 and 1903, so it would appear that this adventurous Balkan journey of 1908 was undertaken in a veteran car then five or six years old! We are told that two good-sized trunks were strapped on behind, the hat-boxes slipped within the tyres, and the night things packed in a huge sack which was placed in the tonneau. The occupants dressed in cloth suits and waterproofs. The Leader, aforesaid, ” had made arrangements to have tyres forwarded by parcel-post to any point on receipt of a telegram, so we took only three extra ones with us.”
Thus this Mercedes was driven, fifty-three years ago, towards the wilds of Dalmatia. The story is really of the places passed through and visited and, being Americans, the party naturally ” kodaked ” everyone and everything, many good pictures being reproduced. But we learn a little of how well the old car stood up to the decidedly difficult conditions. In all the Mercedes covered 1,483½ miles, passing en route through no fewer than 36 towns. It also ascended a number of formidable passes, one of which, the 15-kilometre Vratnik (2,326 ft.) took 59 minutes to climb. It performed admirably, for, a little tyre failure apart, the only trouble was occasional overheating and loss of all the cooling water when a radiator hose split. In fact, it was in use for 21 days, averaging 70 miles a day, the longest day’s run being 149.7 miles.
The chauffeur was obviously competent for the passengers felt only passing fear when steep descents had to be made, and the author remarks ” with what surety we make the short turns ” as they come down the Turia Pass (2,643 ft.), and how the Mercedes ” obeys the strong clutch of the brakes.” They wonder, will ” the tremendous friction set it afire as it has the machine of a friend,” but all is well, which makes one wonder if the Mercedes water cooling of the brake drums was of help on these occasions. It seems that the author was one of the two ladies who occupied the tonneau on this long tour and if so she was converted into an enthusiast, as witness the following extract : ” We love the motor for itself alone. We climb into its capacious tonneau; sink into its luxurious springy seat, just the right height, with a back which touches just the right places; tuck the fleece-lined leather robes about us tightly, and as the car moves gently off—gradually increasing its speed until it settles down to the steady hum which tells of perfectly adjusted machinery—we look at each other in sheer sensuous joy of the motion, and up to the very last day of our journey we exclaim, ‘Isn’t it blissful! Is there anything to equal it ? ‘ ” Which is a very good description Of the delights of Edwardian motoring. . . .
In Gacko the ” parade “—presumably the famous Austrian Trial that later bred the ” Prince Henry ” Austro-Daimler—of the Austrian Automobile Club is encountered, Our travellers having to run against the competing cars, which numbered seventeen, six of which, one of American make, they pass on the Grabok Saddle (3,640 ft.). What fun it would be to make this same journey today, with this book in one’s possession. Would Trieste still contain but 26 automobiles, as the author found it did in 1908, and are automobiles still owned only by Royalty in Montenegro, and do you still need influential friends to whistle up a government barge on which to ferry the car across the Boeche di Cattaro, between Kamenari and Lepetane ? Maybe someone who knows the Balkans of today will tell me! Curiously, shortly after receiving the book aforementioned, I was lent another account of an Edwardian continental journey undertaken in a powerful car of quality; this was not a book but an advertisement brochure issued by Itala Automobiles Ltd. of Wigmore Street, London. Written by a lady, it describes a journey made in 1905 and is titled “To Venice and Back by Road.” We are not told who this lady is; she merely explains that ” we “—presumably she and her husband—thought they would like to own a high-powered car, so they went to London and tried a 50/70-h.p. Itala. They tried it up the Netherall Gardens hill (which is a steep climb, even now) and found the car ” quick, strong and vital.” But they had a fancy to try it up Bury Hill, from the village to above Arundel. So on August 22nd, 1905, the car was brought down and they left home at 2 p.m., passing Whiteway Lodge, 1½ miles beyond Arundel, 25 minutes later. The ltala sped down towards Chichester and exhibited its power on ” the straight road from Petworth towards Milford.” Although she had done this run in Fiats, Napiers, Mercedes and a Serpollet steamer, the author found the Itala the best for ignoring Bury Hill. The matter was discussed, other cars of the same horsepower were tried, but by the end of the week the Itala was decided upon, on account of its vitality, buoyancy and ” joie de vivre.” Apparently it was a used car, because later we are told it had finished second in the Touring Class at the 1905 Mont Cenis Hill-Climb, covering the 23 kilometres in 24-min. 41 sec., five up, beaten only by a 75-h.p. racing car fitted with a touring body.
The car having been purchased, it was decided to have a new body made for it in Paris but to borrow a body (probably the one already on the chassis) and drive to Brescia “to see the races.” A start was made on September 4th, the Itala carrying the owners, two friends, a mechanic, two suitcases, a kitbag, a small trunk, two hand-grips, a bundle of rugs, coats, mackintoshes and dustcoats, but no spare tyres, as these were to be bought in France.
Those who know the route may care to note the times taken. Leaving home (presumably near Bury) at 5.30 p.m., the Itala was driven, again up Bury Hill, to Southampton in 1½ hours. Next day Havre to Rouen occupied 2 hr. 10 min., including three-quarters of an hour to secure a loose mudguard. One stretch of 15 kilometres was covered in 12 min. 2 sec. A French luncheon obviously slowed things up, because the party did not get to Versailles until 10 p.m. Lighting up (of the gas headlamps) had taken much time and at Mantes they got lost. Incidentally, they were using ” Taride ” maps, whereas the Mercedes party had read ” Baedeker.” They, too, made good use of their Kodaks, but, not being Americans, spelt the name with a capital ” K.”
After this first day on the Continent—” like coming into fresh air out of a music hall in summer to get on the French roads after twisting about in Sussex lanes “—it was decided that the ” lamps were nearly useless, the borrowed body inhumanly uncomfortable, our general appearance a disgrace.” Next day the Itala got to Dijon, the last bit from St. Seine over the Cote d’Or in pitch darkness taking 41 minutes for the 30 kilometres. And along the banks of the Rhone a level kilometre was covered in 31 sec., equal to 72½ m.p.h.
The third day took them from Dijon to Culoz, after getting lost several times and suffering “a few punctures.” Leaving at 6.30 a.m. the next morning, Aix-les-Bains was reached in half an hour, but later the driver misjudged a corner on the Mont Cenis climb and ran well and truly out of road. It took two hours to extricate the Itala, which had to continue with a bent front axle and no starting handle. Its occupants recalled that earlier that year Itala cars had been placed first and second in the Mont Cenis Hill-Climb. Crossing the Col at 5 p.m., Susa was reached in 2½ hours including half an hour’s delay at the frontier. Susa being very jolly and alive but “a trifle smelly and not over clean,” the car was restarted with a push and the night run on to Turin was made in four hours. The proprietor of the Grand Hotel was roused from his bed at 2 a.m. and a meal prepared! The Itala factory repaired the damaged axle and 6.30 p.m. saw the travellers on their way, bound for Milan; unlit carts proved an unexpected danger and the night was spent at Vercelli. Now they really began to worry about missing the races and made Milan in 1½ hours; thereafter a long stop for breakfast and a bd road caused them to arrive in Brescia too late to see Raggio’s Itala win the Coppa Florio
Although the race was over, the party insisted on driving to the grandstand, a terrible journey through clouds of dust as they inched past the cars, “some 500 or 600,” returning therefrom. Then the Itala ran out of oil and partially blocked the road, until mechanics from the Itala pit brought replenishments. After some sightseeing a serious start for home was made on September 17th. A heavy downpour and two punctures halted the journey at Cuneo. Still in rain (with no hood or screen) the Itala averaged over 21 m.p.h. to the Col de Tenda, up a corkscrew gradient of 1 in 6 to ! in 8. Coming down from the Tenda the driver casually remarked that the brakes were not holding (he descended at a mere 22 m.p.h.). But he now had new lamps, fitted in Turin, and at Nice the brakes were adjusted and the car washed. From Cannes to Aix-en-Provence, via Grasse and Draguignan, took six hours, including stopping for dejeuner, and for bicycle races to pass; the running time was 25 m.p.h. for 125 Miles. Next day Avignon to Orange was done at over 67 m.p.h., but this gave rise to punctures. Another just beyond Lyons in the morning called for a visit to Maison Michelin, makers of good tyres in 1905, just as they are today. With the punctured tyre replaced and new spares strapped on behind the Itala covered the 62 kilometres to Mâcon in 58 minutes, the P.L.M. express making up nothing on the speeding car. From Mâcon to Tourus the average was better than 66 m.p.h.
The outward route was rejoined at Chalons-sur-Saone. Next day a resolution was made to curb the speed, as this had resulted in many punctures. But the road from Troyes to Estissac proved irresistible, 20 kilometres being devoured in 13 minutes, so that the chauffeur soon had another tube to mend. Yet Fontainebleau was reached from Pont sur Yonne in 40 minutes for the 41 kilometres. In a downpour the big Itala ran into Paris and the 18 day tour was over.
Not one iota of trouble had this 1905 car given in 2,000 miles, not an igniter had been adjusted, only the brakes. The only unwarranted stops were for punctures, the only casualties one dog and the author’s hat, which had been “strapped in a small box upside down just over the exhaust” and lost its shape in consequence.
These accounts are interesting because they prove that, given a powerful car of renowned make, long-distance tours over difficult roads were quite practical in Edwardian times. The Itala publication is especially interesting because Sam Gibbons, of New Zealand, who lent it to me, suggests that it was written either by Mrs. (late Dame) Ethel Locke King or one of her friends and that her husband was the driver. What evidence is there to support this theory ? We know that Mr. Locke King decided to build Brooklands Track after a visit to Brescia to watch the Coppa Florio and that he did, indeed, arrive too late to see the race. Work commenced on Brooklands Track in September, 1906, a year after the journey to Brescia described in the brochure. Moreover, the Locke Kings were known to own a large Itala car in which they made Continental tours. Admittedly from 1907 they lived at Weybridge, but they owned property in Egypt, and had farms in Surrey and Sussex, and if they commenced this journey from a house near Bury they were no doubt living in 1905 at one of their Sussex estates. A further clue lies in the fact that during the Brescia tour they named their ltala ” Attila ” and that at Brooklands in 1908 Mrs. Locke King drove an Itala of Lord Montagu’s (apparently the car which had won the Targa Florio in 1906) called ” Bambo,” in a Ladies’ Race, proof that they liked nicknames for their cars. So it seems as if this rare publication tells of the journey that was the Cause of Brooklands being built and I was intrigued to have it in my hands 53 years after the famous Motor Course was opened.
Indeed, there may be even more to it than this. I have always wondered how the Itala factory came to be built at Weybridge, then a quiet, unimportant hamlet, before Brooklands Track was built and assumed that Locke King had a financial interest in this make of Italian car, particularly as he owned more than one of them. However, I asked Lord Montagu of Beaulieu about this last year (Lord Montagu’s father was a Committee Member of the B.A.R.C. when the Track was opened in 1907 and had been of great service to Locke King, by publishing strong articles supporting the proposal to build the Track in his beautiful journal Car Illustrated) and he promised to put the matter to friends who knew the Locke Kings intimately. He told me recently that, so far as is known, Mr. Locke King had no business connections with the Itala concern. Yet here, it seems, is a publicity story written around a journey made by the Locke Kings and published by the Company; which had a factory on the Locke Kings’ Brooklands estate. Moreover, it appears that not only were they able to borrow a body for the secondhand chassis used on this occasion but that either they, or the mechanic who accompanied them, was known to the Itala racing mechanics in Brescia. Surely there was some connection between this wealthy family and the Italian automobile concern ?—W. B.