Ten European Capitals in Four Days
An Adequate Road-Test of the BMW 3.0 CSL Coupe
“I have no copyright, no freehold, in the road, and have no foolish ideas tending that way. But I do claim—more, believe—that then and now, from 1896 to 1906, and from 1906 onward, few ordinary men ever loved any personal thing as I loved and still love the never-ending road.”—Charles Jarrott, pioneer racing driver, in his Introduction to his book “Ten Years Of Motors And Motor Racing”. (London, 1928).
So many publicity stunts have been thought up for testing and proclaiming new cars that there is very little novelty left in this field. However, although not novel, the idea of driving to many European capitals with an economy of time has long appealed to me, as an amusing and interesting motoring feat. The late Dudley Noble pioneered the thing, by taking the then-new Humber Snipe to ten capitals in ten days in 1937, when he was in charge of Rootes publicity. He encompassed Paris, Berne, Vaduz, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Berlin, The Hague, Brussels and and, reading his entertaining auto”Milestones in a Motoring Life” (London, 1969), there is no reason to believe any great difficulty was experienced, the run resulted in some very valuable in the Sunday Pictorial.
In 1947, in order to publicise the then-new Austin Sixteen, particularly in countries where it was expected to be a good export commodity, Alan Hess, Austin’s PRO at the time, contrived to take three of these saloons, professionally crewed, to seven capitals in seven days. They started from Stavanger and took in the capitals of Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and Berne, finishing at Geneva. Re-reading accounts of those journeys, it occurred to me that as roads have become much faster and cars likewise since those days, and bearing in mind that Britain would soon be part of the European Economic Community, it should be possible perhaps to halve the time taken by that Humber saloon 35 years ago, at a period when a quick tour of Europe would be most appropriate. I visualised leaving the London Motor Show on Opening Day and returning there with ten capitals in the bag as it reopened on the Monday. I thought that as the most exciting new British car we had seen for a very long time was the Jaguar XJ12 it would be pleasing to try the journey in this Coventry confection. Alas, when I proposed the scheme to him, asking for a six-day loan of a 12-cylinder Jaguar or Daimler, Andrew Whyte, Jaguar’s Publicity Chief, said very firmly that he could not find us a car. Fortunately, a month or so later the fast lightweight BMW 3.0 CSL coupe was due to be tested and when we suggested to Raymond Flayfoot of BMW Concessionaires (GB) Ltd., that we should take one on this European pocket-tour, he was immediately enthusiastic and helpful. The plan was that the driving would mostly be done by Michael Tee, Motor Sport’s Production Manager, who would also double up as photographer, because he is a superb fast driver and has a very good knowledge of European roads, while I would keep the Log, write the story, and be available for relief driving when required. It would have been nice to have penetrated to places like Prague and Budapest but “Editor” and “Photographer” on our passports made vizas difficult to obtain, so we replanned the route to embrace more friendly countries. There was to be no suggestion of heroics, of a record-breaking run, merely a little jaunt to discover just how much quicker roads and cars have recently become. For my part all that was entailed was to pack a suitcase, throwing in a re-charged Bardic torch for night emergencies, as the best torch there is (in the event it was never needed), refill my Papermate pen and drive in the BMW 2500 to the London rendezvous with the CSL.
The BMW CSL had previously had the luggage stowed in its spacious boot, and been equipped with some spare tins of Duckhams 20/50 oil with which the sump had been filled, suitable clothing, two umbrellas, snowboots and a Porsche first-aid kit, etc. The Production Manager had prepared a splendidly detailed five-day route card on his pilot’s clip-board. At Paul Street Garage, behind the Motor Sport offices, one Wednesday in November, the fuel tank was topped-up, screen and windows cleaned, and the tread-depths of the Michelin XAX tyres measured, before we drove to Tower Bridge for the start. At 7.10 by my Breitling Navitimer we moved off towards Dover, with 1.9 miles on the trip odometer. Dover was reached by 8.50 and we topped up with petrol before boarding the Esso-fuelled Seaspeed hovercraft “The Princess Margaret”, which took us across the Channel in 42 minutes.
It was now possible to take stock of the car we were using for this European escapade. The CSL has the 200 (DIN) b.h.p. fuel-injection six-cylinder engine of normal BMW type but enlarged to 3,002 c.c. It is intended as a homologation model for BMW’s future Group 2 saloon-car racing, about which a good deal has already been said in Motor Sport. ,
The body has bonnet-lid, boot-lid and doors of aluminium and lighter-gauge steel pressings and 195-70 VR14 Michelin XAX tyres, a limited-slip differential, “eyebrows” above the wheel arches, a larger fuel tank, taking 17 gallons, “speed-stripes” and less sound-damping figure in the specification. However, the suspension remains quite soft, there is ample space within the two-door Karmann body, the luggage boot is huge and visibility excellent. The bucket front seats are very comfortable but have the disadvantage that the squabs are fixed, so the passenger cannot lie down to sleep. The interior is a combination of wood-trim and black upholstery, and there is plenty of stowage for oddments, and the cubby locks, which it doesn’t on the 2500 saloon. The driver’s instrument panel contains four dials, the clock having been moved over onto it instead of being in front of the passenger and the fuel and heat gauges being combined to accommodate it.
The lights switch is on the console instead of on the facia and the screen shelf has a wooden lip. The tachometer gives a top limit beginning at 6,400 r.p.m. and the convenient controls are as on the other big BMWs. There should have been electric window-lifts but these were only fitted to the rear pair of side windows. The price is £6,399 and BMW are cheerfully selling them here at the rate of about 80 a month ….
We were away from Calais in this interesting car at 11.27 Continental time, heading for Dunkirk and the Autoroute to Paris. Already the sense of freedom one feels as soon as France is entered was apparent, as we made good time under a cloudy sky. That is, until we got lost in Dunkirk, with lunch-time traffic emerging from the docks and only one Autoroute sign encountered and that seemingly pointing in the wrong direction. However, by 12.19 the crisis was over, the Autoroute being reached and the BMW set to cruise at 5,900 r.p.m., with the speedometer indicating 130 m.p.h. Here I will digress to remark that subsequent timing between kilometre stones showed that the speedometer was 2 m.p.h. slow at this engine speed.
So here we were in this excellent motor-car, going at more than 130 m.p.h., with church spires the flat under a sky of the faintest blue, a painter’s paradise no doubt, but for us merely fleeting scenery flanking the rapidly-unfolding ribbon of the Al Autoroute beyond Lille. There had been a brief panic about not finding the A1, as we drove through the town, a short piece of pave under our wheels, and bedding hanging from the apartment windows, drying in the November air in casual French fashion. But by 12.44 the fast route to the capital showed up, and the BMW was back to the cruising speed it was to hold for the better part of four days. We had to enter Paris as part of our self-imposed contract and we had decided to take a representative photograph in each European capital we visited. This being a quick tour and not in any way a record-seeking stunt we had made no arrangements to have anyone check our passage, so you will have to take it on trust that we did go through the towns listed, at the times we specify!
The German car took us very quickly towards our second capital, only minutes being lost in buying tickets for the Autoroute (12 francs at the first window) where we were momentarily reminded of England by seeing a Unic truck stacked with Minis. Jet aircraft flew beside the road and in the comfort of the BMW we conversed easily, the wind noise not excessive and reduced later by lowering the front-mounted aerial for the Philips radio, which would be better at the back; and should surely retract automatically on such an expensive car? The bonnet lifted rather alarmingly at speed but we were reassured by its front-placed hinges. Just before Paris, where there is a big DAF establishment, we stopped to buy chocolate and Total Super. Fuel thirst was working out at around 14-15 m.p.g., surprisingly good under the circumstances, but the range necessitated refuelling at intervals of about 200 miles.
Paris was entered at 13.12, the trip reading 284 miles. Naturally the traffic delayed us but the PM proved as apt a navigator as he is a safe fast driver, for keeping one eye on the road he turned the other to the town-plan which I was feverishly trying to understand. Taking the Periferique anti-clockwise we bore down the Champs-Elysées and in due course the Eiffel Tower hove into close proximity. Photographing it took up more precious time and it was four minutes over two hours before we were clear of the romantic City and on our way to Lyon. Heavy rain was falling and when the reserve-fuel light flickered the PM enquired how much petrol was likely to remain. I was telling him that a BMW 2500 does about 32 miles on reserve when the engine cut-out. Fortunately we had two cans of fuel with us, one of these being a Transpress “Ready-Can”, which is particularly useful on the Continent as it holds 5-litres. Pulling off the Autoroute under a convenient bridge we primed the tank without getting too wet but were not happy until we had topped up with BP Super at the next filling station, for the CSL’s reserve supply was obviously only good for about ten miles. Dusk had closed in as we went through Lyon, at 18.07 hours. The traffic was fairly thick and here we saw one of only two accidents encountered on the Continent during the entire trip and that a minor matter of a lorry in fact, done Calais-Monte Carlo in l l f hours, inclusive of all stops such as a tourist would take for meals etc., an average of some 70 m.p.h. On that note we went to sleep.
We were reluctant to leave the Principality, because sunshine, blossom, the lilos ready by the swimming pools, and warmth in the air r were a change from England in winter. But enough of these thoughts, we said and, having topped up with Total, were on the winding road for Ventimiglia by 9.10. Frontiers no longer consist of a pole across the road and long delays inside cold and uniniviting hutments. Passports handed up and almost as quickly passed back, and we were into Italy. The Autostrada was as fast as the Autoroutes of the previous day and the BMW responded with a timed 138 m.p.h., its speedometer modestly saying 135. On this rapid route the beauties of Geneva and Florence have to be imagined, because the road skirts them; but the kilemetres fly by. Between the two places we overtook a truck carrying some mysterious-leeking Fiats, which I expect were new models bound for Sicily for the motoring writers to test the following week.
A pause to put in some Agip Super, another after Florence for Mobil and we ran into Rome to chalk up, or rather, te expose on film, our fourth capital. Now I know Motor Sport has a widespread circulatien but we had informed very few people of our trip, so we were as gratified as we were surprised at the reception we received. Every road was lined with troops in ceremonial dress, the Politzi were out in force and the cavalry were on parade, together with military vehicles. Less gratified, we discovered that at any moment the President was due to visit the Coliseum, which hampered the PM’s photography. However, this gave me a chance to relax from opening the BMW’s window at the frequent Autostrada ticket-offices with the very low-geared and badly-placed winder and to note in the Log that more and more petrol companies are entering the hotel trade, emphasised by Agip’s big Motel, bars and service-station area near Florence, that BMWv are encountered everywhere, with a 3.OS and a 3.0CS parked at the place where we made our last petrol-stop and bought Toblerone chocolate, and that the Goodyear airship was outside its Rome hangar. Also that skirts seem longer in Rome …
Picture-making took over 2 hours and then we were faced with the long haul to the Austrian frontier, first filling-up with Esse and stopping thereafter for a tankful of Sarom beyond Verona, where the Autostrada is sparsely equipped with petrol stations, many of which were closed. But as we tanked up with this previously unheard-of fuel a 2002 with a BMW badge on its flanks came in . . . . Our only meal since breakfast in Monte Carlo was taken in Bolzano, a dreary town in the winter gloom, full of poor cafes and not a Frazer Nash in sight. Leaving at 21.49, the Brenner Pass was crossed with a threat of snow in the air and enormous trucks to impede us. The intention had been to sleep at Salzburg but just as restaurants had been difficult to find in the area of Bologna and Modena (only one ancient Ferrari was seen, so perhaps they hibernate in winter?) so now we were desperate to discover vacancies at the Motor Hotels. This led to us going on to Linz after an Esso refuel, so we were now into our third day, a spotlessly-clean truckers’ Motel being found at 1.45 on the Friday, with 2,038 miles on the clock.
Before sinking into oblivion I reflected that the CSL was going as well as ever, in spite of having been held at 5,000-6,000 r.p.m. almost continuously and that even in the dark it had blown off Porsche 911s and the very occasional Citron SM.
About four hours’ sleep and we resumed the motoring, first treating the BMW to a quart of Duckhams. By 9.14 we had photographed Schonbrunn Palace, home of the Hapsburg dynasty, and were leaving Vienna behind, with 60/ litres of BP in the BMW’s tank. They have trams here, as they do in so many Continental towns, and trains still hauled by steam locomotives, but that’s all I saw of the capital of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire where Strauss waltzes once floated over the Blue Danube! But our score of capitals was now five—we were halfway!
It was raining again and as the near-side wiper lacked the air scoop which kept the driver’s blade on the screen at over 130 m.p.h., I tended to view the sudden traffic decelerations ( I refuse to call them incidents) as through a glass darkly. Which may be why I fell to thinking how brave John Cobb was to drive the Napier-Railton for 500 miles round Brooklands, passing slower cars all the time and with not much hope of stopping it in less than a quarter-mile. In the BMW we had no such problem, because the ventilated-disc brakes were truly superb, never fading or grabbing as we came down from our habitual cruising pace in the path of 60 k.p.h. dodderers. I was reminded that tyre regulations are strictly enforced in these parts, cars on cross-ply tyres having to carry a 100 k.p.h. maximum-speed sign on their back windows, which made us conscious of the splendid grip our Michelin XAX had on all kinds of slippery surfaces.
Snow was dusting the Germanic firs as we retraced our path towards Salzburg, averaging 114 m.p.h., and soon a real blizzard was raging, which reduced the PM to a cruising speed of 100 m.p.h. The snow eased off and it was now a case of on and off the Autobahn as we took on more Esso, crossed the frontier, and, with the Brenner now away on our left, made the BMW’s home town of Munich. Getting lost momentarily in Munich, we followed a girl driving a BMW 2500 out of the town and as the snow began to fall again the engine cut-out and lost most of its power, presumably because icy water thrown up by cars in front had entered the air-intake. As the weather improved this cured itself without causing us to stop, apart from the inevitable refuel, this time with a petrol called Freiethis was before Karlsruhe but I would hate to blame it for the fall-off in power. Between Munich and Stuttgart traffic had come down to a crawl, far below the imposed minimum speed-limit of 70 k.p.h., and the engine’s refusal to open-up had seemed likely to defeat the object of this personal exercise. However, speed was soon fully restored and we were planning to abandon our scheduled five-day drive and reduce it to four, for by 15.59 we were at Basle and not much more than an hour later were photographing in Berne— capital six. Full of Agip Super we crossed the frontier in the main street of Basle at 18.18. The light had been fading so fast in Berne that we were faced with the difficulty, having entered the town between the Mercedes-Benz and GM-Opel showrooms, of finding something to photograph, settling for the curling-rink, as typical of Swiss sport.
More trams, a policewoman directing the traffic, and Berne had been cast aside, its Citizens off home to tea and television, love and sex, or whatever occupies the Swiss on a Friday evening, but for us, in the isolation of the speeding BMW, it was a case of getting back onto the Autoroute and driving 300 miles to Bonn. Here we arrived at around 23.00 hours with the trip recording 3,121 miles and found an hotel beside the railway station and the tram-track.
After a ghastly night I was glad to rise early and go motoring. First we put two more pints of Duckhams into the sump, which brought the dip-stick almost to the full mark, then drove down to the Rhine to give the BMW a picturesque background in its seventh capital, a river boat named “Moby Dick” competing with the bridges and the barges. We left at 8.30, heading out of the town, busy on this Saturday morning with trams, electric-trains and barges. We drove past signs saying “Nurburgring”, overtook a BMW 3.0S, and came onto a snow-lined Autoroute, stopping only for Shell. The fast road ended before Trier, where the good citizens were busy spending their money in the Shopping 2000 supermarket and where an ancient horse-rotated crane was spotted on the banks of the Moselle. From this pleasant countryside factories and Army helicopters marked the frontier, as we entered the tiny Duchy of Luxembourg. Soon afterwards we came upon a man furiously waving its down at a bend in a village and round it two Mercedes-Benz which had collided head-on, presumably after one of them had swerved to avoid a skidding Opel. This was the second and last accident we saw in Europe and black ice was to blame, which had not been salt-gritted in this area. No-one appeared to be hurt but we noticed that although a Police VW was in attendance, its occupants taking particulars, it was a civilian who was warning other drivers and who probably saved us from becoming involved. Too late, a gritting-lorry was driving to the Scene . . . .
There was no problem about what to photograph in the capital, because the new Eurocontrol building was tmering into a blue sky, with light aeroplanes and jets flying over it. A Holiday Inn stands not far off, awaiting the flow of soon-to-be-expected business.
We departed from Luxembourg at 10.40 in very good spirits, for so far ahead of our original schedule was the indomitable CSI., we were over the frontier into flat Belgium and at Namur by 12.12, where, with more BMWs about than anywhere else, we passed the railway yard and got jammed up in congestion on the bridge. In Bastogne we had noted an American tank, a relic of World-War-Two history—where have all those once-proud 1914-18 tanks from English villages gone? At 12.45 we were searching for the Atonium in Brussels, and buying yet more Esso. Even Belgium’s non-Autoroutes are very fast, with high-slung traffic lights guarding the crossings. Our mission, this rather ambitious road-test, was ‘almost over. True we had to divert to Amsterdam and get mixed up in the Christmas shopping and as we flashed into Holland I thought how peaceful a horsedrawn plough looked, but maybe the horse wouldn’t agree. As we netted our last capital, there was a trace of fog in the air. Canals and the first floating Bank (American naturally) photographed, we left Amsterdam by 16.00, to return to Belgium, with no frontiers in operation. After another fill-up with Esso Extra it was now just a matter of a 120 m.p.h. thrash in the rail along that incredible, well-lit four-lane E-10/E4 Autoroute betwem Ghent and the coast.
As we drove back through Belgium we talked of how these European Autoroutes have been closed for record-breaking runs, with Jaguar taking the original X K120 to Jabbeke and MG using them for record-breaking up to 1950; such roads are still closed for this purpose, and not only for International bids either, for did not the Bentley DC hold its usual speed-trials in Belgium again this year, with “Jumbo” Goddard clocking a remarkable 158.2 m.p.h. in his Bentley at Ghent?-but I cannot see our MI or M4 or M6 being used for such happy events. The previous day we had remembered the pre-war use a German Autobahnen for the Mercedes-Benz and AutoUnion record runs, with Caraccioja doing over 268 m.p.h., as we sped along them at 135 in the BMW-it’s all relative !-and had also seen what great roads these are for the motoring public in ordinary cars. Incidentally, the use of wind-socks or wind-generator-fed warning lights where the Italian and German roads suffer from gusting was noted; I wonder why Britain does not adopt this Sensible accident-prevention measure?
From Ostend, after topping up with Amoco, we took the night ferry to Dover and were delayed because it had to wait to berth, but we were again on Tower Bridge by 24.35 hours. Ten capitals in four days, a total mileage of 3,789, mostly at well over 100 m.p.h. Yes, roads are faster, now!
There is little more I need say about this very effective BMW CSL. It gave no trouble, apart from that momentary loss of power and of the intermittent action of the screen-wipers. It gave an overall fuel consumption of 15.13 m.p.g. and an oil consumption of 950 mp.p. Its top speed timed against kilometre posts in the Po Valley proved to be 146 m.p.h. at 6,500 r.p.m. with the speedometer reading 140 m.p.h. The best hour was 124.7 miles on the wet Autoroute south of Paris on the first day. No water was required. Far from being a “rorty racer”, this is a refined fast car of very great performance. It is well balanced but not harshly sprung. The i.r.s. is well contrived hut back axle tramp can be induced if very violent acceleration front rest is indulged in. A five-speed gearbox would be a possible improvement. The power steering is excellent and enough praise cannot be meted out in print to the brakes and tyres. The heater kept us comfortable but not stuffy. None of the spare plugs was needed. The CSL confirms the Well-known fact that BMW have scarcely ever made a had car and it must enhance enormously the prestige of the entire present-day range. This CSL made no bones about running at close to its top speed for hours on end and this, coupled with considerable use of the brakes when coming up behind slower cars, resulted in the front Michelins losing 1.3 and 1.1 nun. of tread, respectively near-side and off-side, and the rear tyres shedding 2.8 mm. from the off-side, 3.2 mm. from the near-side. The test car had an experimental front spoiler which seemed to contribute very effectively to front-wheel adhesion. The side windows tended to film over, which may or may not be aerodynamically significant.
So much for this pocket Grand Tour, In the 18th and 19th centuries it would have lasted more than seven months and cost some £420. A well-known motor-writer has said that twelve years ago it could be done in seven weeks, at half the cost. We did ours in four days, for rather less, but perhaps the tourists did a trifle more sightseeing than we allowed ourselves.
The point we had intended to make, namely that cars and European motor roads are now decently fast, had been proved, at least to our satisfaction, and all that remained was for me to retrieve the BMW 2500 and do a little motoring. I will confess, however, that the 180 miles home now seemed rather cumbersome and that I spent another night, Continental fashion, at the Master Brewer Motel at Hillingdon, opened, incidentally, only four days before, when we were setting out on our BMW road-test, Looking back, I would not claim that Autoroute travelling is anything but characterless, but it does get the businessman and the holiday-maker to their destinations with a great saving in terms of time and stress. But the one-time fun of looking for ancient cars in everyday use on the Continent seems to have gone forever; apart from a Citron 12 and what looked like a rusty BMW 328 outside a garage in Belgium, and what was probably a 1930-40 Hupenobile on a truck in Amsterdam, it was left to the British to uphold old-car enthusiasm, a smart RM-type Riley being encountered, southward-bound, before Brussels.-W, B.