An Early[Motoring Book.
A-1’40’NC, my collection of books, ancient and modern, on motoring,
there is one of which I am particularly fond, and which is entitled ” Les C.;rands Itineraires en Automobile,” by Baron Pierre de Crawbez. The curious thing is that I cannot now remember where I acquired this volume, but I have a faint recollection that it caught my eye in a second-hand bookshop in a small town somewhere in the centre of France. The name of the author is at least familiar to all who know the history of motor racing in the early days. To the best of my recollection the first appearance of the Baron in the great races was in 1901, when he drove a 40 h.p. Panhard et Levassor in Paris-Bordeaux and ParisBerlin, while the next year he was sixth in Paris-Vienna, also on a 40 h.p. Panhard. De Crawbez however will always be reinetnbered primarily as the virtual founder in 1902 of the Circuit des Ardennes, the Belgian race which was destined to become one of the most important and most popular events in the motor racing calendar. He himself took part in the first race of the series on a 70 h.p. Panhard et Levassor, but after making the fastest lap of the day, his car collided with a Germain and was put out of the race. Everyone, however, was delighted when after running fourth in Paris-Madrid on an 80 h.p. Panhard, the popular Baron won the 1903 Circuit des Ardennes with this type of car. The next year he took part in the French Eliminating Race for the Gordon Bennett Cup on a 100 h.p. Hotchkiss, and finally represented Belgium, his native country, on a 60 h.p. Pipe in the race for the cup in Germany,
Touring all over Europe in 1906.
In spite of this racing activity, however, de Crawbez evidently managed to put in an enormous amount of long distance touring, as is shown by his ” Grands Itineraires,” which represent the record of his travels. The book is undated (a bad fault this, which a good many guide books suffer from), but from the advertisements of cars at the end of it. I judge that it was published no later than 1907. In order that what follows may be really appreciated I suggest that those who drove even 1904 cars in the recent Brighton Run consider for a moment that the Cars used by de Crawbez can at most only have been two or three years later than theirs. Yet by 1907, the Baronii had of course thoroughly explored his native Belgium, although in the midst of his eulogies of
its scenery, he veraciously mentions “the atrocious prehistoric ‘ pave,’ which is certain death to the best springs.” He had covered France from the Belgian frontier to Biarritz and from Quimper in Brittany to Nice. He had toured the Pyrenees and motored in Spain and Portugal, although he says of the former country, “if you wish to tour Spain in an automobile—leave your car at the frontier and take the train ! ” Space does not permit of a list of all the Alpine passes which he had climbed in France, Switzerland and the Tirol, except to say that it includes the Stelvio and the Galibier. He was the first motorist, apparently in about 1899, to make the complete journey from the Northern frontier of Italy right down to Reggio in the “toe,” whence he crossed to Sicily and went as far as Marsala. He had toured Corsica thoroughly, and not content with going to Vienna, had pushed on to BudaPest, while he had continued the journey to Berlin as far as distant St. Petersburg (” Russia,” he says, “is far from possessing any claims to the affection of chauffeurs “). Moreover the adventurous spirit had taken him outside Europe to North Africa where he had journeyed from Flemsen, almost on the borders of Morocco by Algiers to Gabes in Tunisia, and had penetrated into the Sahara as far as Ghardaia.
Gt. Britain—and the Balearic Isles.
Finally I should not omit to mention that de Crawbez had toured extensively in England, Scotland and Wales, and his remarks on the subject are most intriguing. He is enthusiastic about the scenery, and on the subject of road conditions he says :—” One must distinguish between the ‘ main roads’ (sic. in the original French) and the ‘ lanes ‘ (sic), which are often hard to distinguish one from the other. . . . Unless one knows the neighbourhood very well, one should never venture into the ‘lanes,’ on any pretext, or one will never get out again ! It is all the more difficult to find one’s way in the ‘ lanes ‘ because they are bordered with high hedges, which make them a veritable labyrinth.” In the course of his introduction the Baron mentions the Balearic Islands, and remarks,’ A visit to the island of Majorca S’impose ‘ (my powers of translation have deserted me there) because of its beauty and the mildness of the climate. It is useless to take your car.” Now here I beg most firmly to disagree with the Baron. I have just returned from a visit
to Majorca, and, partly on de Crawbez’ advice, I did not take my car. But I soon found that a motor was as necessary there as anywhere, and proceeded to hire one. How many of my readers, incidentally, know that until quite recently, they built a car, called a I,oryc in Majorca ?
A ” Targo-Florio ” Course at Majorca !
Motoring in the island, however, is very good indeed, even if the roads are rough in places, by English or French standards. They are to a great extent mountainous, and the small number of cars on the road gives one a delightful sense of freedom, such as is beginning to disappear nowadays even in France. Incidentally I sketched out for my own delectation a delightful ” Targa Florio” course in the island, 75 miles to the circuit, involving a wonderful series of mountain roads. My intinerary, for the benefit of these who know the island, is Palma, Andraitx, Banalbufar, Coll de Clacet, Miramar, Deya Soller, , Coll de Soller, Palma. The roads would need improving in places, but perhaps one day we shall have a Majorcan Vincenzo Florio capable of bringing sonic such project to frution.
Those G.P. Regulations.
The projected rules far the Grands Prix of 1934 have caused quite a flutter in the dovecot, and while I am all in favour of having some rule which will interest manufacturers sufficiently for us to have a proper Grand Prix again, with cars built specially for it, instead of being modified production models, I do think that a weight limit of 750 kilos has got remarkably little to recommend it. In the first place the great drawback to a weight limit at all is that it tempts designers to cut down essential parts of the car in order to lighten it, until the machine is definitely unsafe. Surely no one has forgotten the terrible lesson of ParisMadrid which was really the outcome of building racing cars to a maximum weight limit. If, however, in spite of this, one was going to have a maximum weight limit, surely 750 kilos is much too high. In this respect one may recall what was done nearly 30 years ago. In 1903 M. Darracq succeeded in putting into a car weighing 650 kilos complete (or 100 kilos less than the proposed 1934 racers) a 4-cylinder engine of 130 x 140 mm. bore and stroke (7,433 c.c.) ; while Louis Renault on a car of his own construction, with a slightly smaller engine (124 x 130 mm.),
built the same year, is said to have covered a timed stretch during the Paris-Madrid race at nearly 90 m.p.h. A minimum area of 850 x 250 mm. at the level of the driver’s seat, also required for 1934, will of course necessitate far less wind resistance than was offered by the unstreamlined ” voitures legeres ” of 1903. and altogether, unless little or no progress has been made in the last thirty years, it seems certain that manufacturers could easily build racing cars for 1934 which would be potentially faster than road conditions would ever allow. In other words one might as well have no restrictions at all.
The “Formule Libre.”
The whole question of rules for motor racing is, however, a terribly difficult one, as will be realised at once if one merely looks back at what has happened in the past. To begin with of course, when the great question was whether any sort of motor car would work at all, the ‘ formule libre ” met the case excellently. But by 1902 the A.C.F. had come to the conclusion that racing cars were becoming too powerful and introduced the maximum weight limit of 1,000 kilos—which stung Panhard et Levassor into bringing out a 70 h.p. model to replace the old” Forty ” !
Fuel Consumption and Capacity Limits
This rule lasted until 1906, and in 1907 was replaced by a petrol consumption limit, obviously the only sensible rule technically, but one which is naturally universally unpopular at all times and in all places. In 1908 it gave way to the limited bore rule, which lasted on for the Coupe de l’Auto Voiturette race until it produced the V-twin I4ion Peugeot with dimensions of 80 x 280 mm. and a bonnet which the driver had to look round the side of ! These sort of excesses brought the consumption rule back again for the 1913 Grand Prix ; but in the meantime the voiturettes had shown the way with their capacity limit of 3 litres—the Delage engine in ” Handy-Andy ” illustrated in MOTOR SPORT last month was one of them—and in 1914 this limit, at 41 litres, was introduced for the Grand Prix. It was destined to last on, reduced first to 3 litres, then to 2, finally to 1,500 c.c., until 1927; and then it fizzled out, with
the result that after one attempt at the unpopular consumption limit again, the A.I.A.C.R. fell back on the uninteresting —technically—” fonnule libre.” What to do now is a baffling question. M. Delage, I understand, favours a large minimum frontal area ; but one cannot but remember with horror these unfortunate motors surmounted with a huge sandwich board which ran in the 1907 Tourist Trophy. However, M. Delage’s idea certainly has much to recommend it from the technical point of view—always supposing of course that the authorities persist in refusing to adopt my maximum engine weight—minimum chassis weight formula !
The Dubonnet to he raced.
I suppose the Dubonnet car was probably the most interesting feature of novelty for 1933, and the news that this car will be seen in races next year has given me quite a hell of a kick. Andre Dubonnet’s use of a Hispano-Suiza engine is not at all surprising for he has considerable experience of this machinery.
Has anyone Seen ?
Some people I expect remember the delightful Boulogne chassis with a. special streamlined 4-seater body built by the Nieuport Aviation Company with which he ran fifth in the 1924 Targa Florio. Incidentally this car used to be in London until a year or two ago and may be still for all I know, although I have not seen it about lately.
Driver-Manufacturer . . . .
. . . . The case of Dubonnet (that’s a joke) has set me thinking of other famous drivers who have afterwards become motor manufacturers. Apart from those who have achieved their great racing successes on cars of their own construction, I suppose that the most noteworthy is Vincenzo Lancia. One might say that from 1904 to 1908, Lancia, as the leader of the Fiat team was more or less the Nuvolari of his day, and it is rather curious that the cars bearing his own name, although universally popular as sports models, have never really been associated with serious racing. His great team-mate Felice Nazzaro of course also took to
building cars of his own, and although not so successful commercially as Lancia, he did build racing cars and won the Targa Florio on one in 1914.
. . . . and some others.
. . . .
Then of course there were the three famous Panhard drivers of the early days, Charron, Girardot and Voigt who built the C.G.V. car, and possibly were the first to use the straight-eight engine. Under the name of Charron alone the car had a considerable commercial success before the War—there used to be a lot about and one felt rather knowledgable when one could distinguish a Charron at a glance from a Renault. Brasier, too, made his name as a member of the Mors team, and then in collaboration with Georges Richard proceeded to build perhaps the most successful racing cars there have ever been, which won the Gordon Bennett Cup in 1904 and 1905. There are probably a lot more names which do not come to my mind at the moment, but if Dubonnet gains the racing achievements of a Brasier and the commercial success of a Lancia he will not do too badly.
I stopped the car in the Majorcan village, and removing my hat, in order to appear polished and unconcerned, adopting my best Spanish accent, in order to disguise the paucity of my vocabulary, I enquired of a local inhabitant “To Palma ? ” “No,” he replied in a tone of considerable astonishment. This rather annoyed me, as I saw no reason why he should be surprised at my being on the wrong road in one of these confounded villages, which I found about as much like labyrinths as de Crawbez did the lanes of England, and which boasted nothing in the way of a signpost. However I only said, more politely than ever, “Where then ? ” “Nowhere,” replied the local, looking at me as if I was a specimen in the Zoo. This was more annoying than ever, as I was sure I was on a main road and not a local cart-track. I decided to prevaricate, and after momentary thought produced with confidence :—” Is it not possible to go thus to Palma ? ” “But, senor,” replied the local, “I assure you I do not want a lift anywhere.”