Letters from Readers, August 1948
"Baladeur's" notes. This is a very involved subject, but certain angles of "Baladeur's" notes can…
T. G. MOORE.
DURING the past few years many more motorists from the British Isles have been sampling the roads of the Continent than used to be the case, but there is still a feeling that something unusual in the way of preparation is required before a journey of this nature may safely be undertaken. The following notes based on personal experiences may be of use to those who contemplate taking their cars to the Continent.
First of all as to the documents required. The principal ones are the International Driving Permit and the Triptique or Carnet. The first is issued by the R.A.C. or A.A. after a short driving test, and costs 10s. 6d., and each person who proposes to drive must have one. The two motoring bodies have examiners in most of the big towns.
The Triptique or Carnet are alternative documents, the first permitting the car to be taken into the countries for which it is issued, while the latter allows the motorist to travel in all countries of Europe except, I think, Russia. The Carnet is slightly more bulky, but since it covers practically everywhere in Europe it is to be preferred, unless one definitely decides to confine the tour to one country.
The two above-mentioned bodies also issue the triptiques, or carnets, and a deposit varying with the country through which it is proposed to travel has to be deposited. Actually only £30 in cash is required, the remainder being in the form of an insurance policy or banker’s guarantee, and based on the duty of the country which has the highest tariff. With one of these documents, passing from one territory to another is a matter of the greatest ease. On entering the new country a perforated strip, carrying particulars of the car is torn out of the book, and the counterfoil is stamped and signed by the customs officer, and the same ceremony takes place on leaving it. There is nothing to be watched for except making sure that both signature and stamp are there, otherwise there may be some difficulty when bringing the car back to England. The title of International Registration Book is selfexplanatory. The fiscal permit is a fairly recent introduction which allows a car to be driven in Italy and several other countries without paying the circulation tax.
In France, of course, the petrol tax is the only impost which is now levied on cars.
A fee of £3 is charged for issuing these documents, and included with them is a Continental handbook of hotels, and the necessary G.B. and identification plates for the car.
Passports will, of course, be required, and these can also be obtained by the motoring bodies. It is wise to verify that the list of countries inscribed in the passport includes all those to which a visit is contemplated, while supplementary visas are required for most of the Balkan and Baltic states.
Time will be saved, and money, too, owing to the unfavourable exchange abroad, by buying maps before leaving England. For France there is little to choose between the Michelin and the Taride series, with scales respectively of 3 and 4 miles to the inch, but for a straight run on main roads the singlesheet map of France published by Michelin at 6s. is probably sufficiently detailed. For Germany the atlases published by the Continental Tyre people are widely used, while the series issued by the Viennese firm of Freytag and Berndt are almost the only accurate ones covering the Balkans.
Italy is well served by the Touring Club Italiano which publishes maps in all scales, while Switzerland features in the lists of all the publishers. The Automobile Association keep a large stock covering all requirements. Any normal car is suitable for touring in Europe, provided that it is given the same preliminary attention which a similar trip in England demands. The engine should be free from carbon, the valve clearances should be checked up and a spare coil should be carried. Spare plugs, a new valve and springs, and an assortment of nuts and bolts with English threads are worth taking, and it is wise to check over the cooling system and the fan belt if the car is to be used in mountainous country. The sump should be drained and refilled with fresh oil, and if the car has any special fads in the way of oil, a two-gallon tin may be carried on
the running-board. All-night petrol stations are the exception abroad, and I have several times been glad of a twogallon tin of petrol, also carried outside the car. The tyres should be replaced if they
seem likely to give trouble, for with the popularity of super-balloons English sizes arc often difficult to get. All chassis nuts should be tightened up, and a stoneguard on the bottom of the petrol tank is advisable on many cars. The automobilist travelling to France is nowadays well catered for by the Townsend. Ferry, which runs from Dover to Calais. The cars are carried on the lower deck, while there is comfortable passenger accommodation above. Furthermore one does not have to arrive there until 10.30 a.m., which makes it possible to drive down comfortably from London in the morning. The ” Autocarrier,” the Southern Railway steamer, which runs in the summer from Dover to Boulogne, and leaves at 11 a.m., is equally convenient. It is worth remembering that petrol tanks need not be drained on these
steamers, and since petrol is at least twice as expensive in France as in England, it obviously pays to start with a full tank.
One of the cheapest ways of reaching Germany, by the way, is to go from Harwich to Antwerp. The journey is made by night, and avoids the rather tedious run over pave roads through Northern France and Belgium.
French main roads are famous for their long straight stretches, but somehow one’s average speed is not as high as would be expected. For one thing, they are often badly corrugated, which makes things uncomfortable on a small car, and they are not particularly wide. French lorries, most of them Diesels, are only exceeded in width by those one finds in Italy, and often the English driver has reason to be thankful for his right-hand steering, which allows him to take his car safely well down the camber. Most of the towns are still paved with stone setts, and the sound of bumpers clashing like cymbals in every town in Central France becomes rather irritating. Over the 800-mile run from Boulogne to Monte Carlo, which I have done several times lately, the only sections which caused any real discomfort was some of the roads around Aix-en-Provence.
Under the Fascist regime, the roads of Italy have been vastly improved. Apart from a stretch near the French frontier, they are splendidly engineered from Ventimiglia right on to Genoa, though the town itself has some very inferior patches. Over the Pontedecimo Pass to Milan the roads are equally good, from Bologna
to Florence and Rome, the route of the Mille Miglia, the road winds up and down magnificently over the various ranges of the Apennines and is well graded and surfaced, with guard-rails and posts at dangerous points. Tarmac is the general rule, but concrete roads are used to some extent in the Plain of Lombardy, and ” Periculo di Slittamento ” notices give warning of their condition in wet weather.
I was not very much impressed by the Autostrade, which are only about 50 feet wide, with a tarmac surface. However, they do not carry much traffic, and since all other roads pass either over or under them, one can maintain an average of 60 m.p.h. without exceeding 70.
When last in Italy, I decided to return to England via Switzerland, and entering the latter country at Como, found the road far from prepossessing, and in the villages it is sometimes only wide enough for a single car. However, I learnt that the main road was through Varese and Pontetresa.
Until the passes open the only way of passing from the south to the north of Switzerland is to put the car on the train, and this service is available for the Simplon and the St. Gothard Tunnels. The total charge for taking a Talbot car and two passengers by either route worked out at about 40s.
The configuration of the country makes it necessary to build the roads in most cases either along the sides of mountains or along the lakes, and consequently they are rather narrow, but are perfectly suitable for ordinary touring and, of course, command magnificent views. Switzerland is probably at its best in the early summer, and by going at this time one avoids the crowds of tourists who abound at many of the centres in August and September.
A survey of roads would be incomplete without some reference to Germany. My experience of them has been varied, but generally they seem rather rough in the North, but well-graded and in good condition in the Black Forest and other districts which appeal to the tourist.
Although hotel-keepers on the continent have, in many cases, made concessions for foreign tourists, the unfavourable exchange makes hotel accommodation a serious item in the expenditure. The Autocheque system is useful because one knows the outside cost of this item before starting the trip, and even the ” C” class hotels where, dinner, bed and breakfast costs 15s. were clean and comfortable in every case where I have tried them.
A final and less cheerful word on the price of petrol. The Anglo-American Oil Co. have depots everywhere at which Esso, which is more or less equivalent to Ethyl in England, can be bought. The price of this is so high in many places that I tried the No. 1 spirit, which is called “Standard,” and though my Talbot has a compression of 7 to 1 this fuel proved quite satisfactory for ordinary fast driving. Benzol can be bought in most places in France at the price of Esso but is not always clean. Shell Dynamin, which has the same price and characteristics as Esso, is now available in most of the towns. Here is a list of the prices per gallon I encountered :
Esso … France 2/10d. to 3/1*d. Italy 3/31d. Switzerland 2/5d. Germany 3/0d.
Standard France 2/90.
Switzerland 2/2d. Germany 2/9d.
Oil costs from 11/0d. to 13/0d. per gallon.
Sometimes I ask myself what is the attraction of touring abroad, since it is obviously more expensive than a similar expedition in England. Apart from the interest of seeing car races in countries which understand them, which is a sufficient excuse for many people, there is also a spice of adventure and novelty in seeing new scenery, hearing new languages, eating a new kind of food which appeals to most people, and the fact that one can drink the final larger at 11 p.m., instead of at 10, if so inclined, cannot help appealing to the Englishman’s love of freedom, now so severely circumscribed in England by the offspring of Dora.
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