It was, I suppose, inevitable, as soon as Serpollet, Levassor, de Crawhez and the other pioneers of the Nineteenth .Century had successfully demonstrated the ability of the motor car to go anywhere suitable for motor cars to go, that enterprising automobilists of the Twentieth should seek to prove their ability to go everywhere that wasn’t. Having successfully raced to Berlin in 1901, French manufacturers, accustomed to the routes nationales of their native country, got some pretty rude shocks, moral as well as physical, from the Austrian roads in the course of Paris-Vienna the following year. It would have been of the utmost interest to see how many of the Paris-Madrid competitors would have survived the roads of Spain if the race had not been stopped at Bordeaux.
However, in spite of such indications that road conditions at that time made France the only really suitable country for motoring, there were not wanting enthusiastic individuals who were determined not only to go to the other end of Europe, but even outside it. And it is a sobering thought, or it would be if sobering thoughts were needed in this age of planned austerity, that in some respects such expeditions had a better chance of success in the very early days of motoring than they have had for the past thirty years or more. Not but what a Jeep or something of the sort is probably a more suitable vehicle than any of its predecessors to tackle the physical difficulties of Asia: but if the suspicions of Tsarist Governments made Russia a difficult enough terrain for the explorer, the Soviet “Iron Curtain” has, I suppose, rendered it completely impenetrable.
However, as early as the beginning of 1902 it was announced that a certain Dr. E. E. Lehwess was going to make an attempt to drive round the world on a Cudell car. What this gentleman was a doctor of, I am afraid that I have not the slightest idea; but I believe that he was born and brought up in Germany, and all Germans are doctors of something. Subsequently he became a naturalised Englishman and set up in London as agent for the Dürkopp car, which, however, he does not seem to have considered suitable for globe-trotting expeditions. Whether the Cudell was any more so, or whether it was originally decided upon because Mr. Max Cudell was to be one of the party, I do not know. In fact I know shamefully little about the Cudell car at all, except that a 5-h.p. model, which weighed 450 kgm., and therefore had to run with the 20-h.p. Darracq voitures legeres in the 650-kgm. class instead of with the 8-h.p. 400-kgm. Renault voiturettes, had started in the Paris-Berlin race the year before, driven by a gentleman who rejoiced in the name of Plum, and, as far as I can trace, had not succeeded in getting even as far as Aix-la-Chapelle. However, as things turned out, it is of no great consequence, as in the end the idea of going round the world in a Cudell was abandoned anyhow. Not for nothing had Dr. Lehwess been educated in France as well as in Germany; in spite of selling Dürkopps and talking about Cudells, he finally decided to use a Panhard.
Details of the machine were disclosed in February by The Autocar. It was, reported our contemporary, to be a 30-h.p. model, with a specially strong chassis (sic) and a body fitted up like a wagon-lits. M. Réné de Knyff was to try it (the chassis, I mean, not the wagon-lits part) and then it was to be sent to England. By the end of March, the engine had shrunk to 25 h.p. and the body, instead of being compared to the luxury of a sleeper, was to be “of the modified ‘bus pattern.” However, “apart from the necessities of the route, sporting requisites in the way of guns and fishing tackle” were to be carried. The Autocar, indeed, was informed that a place in the car, which was to be christened the “Passe-Partout,” could be found for a good sportsman who would like to make the trip. (At times the English press varied “Passe-Partout” into “Passé Partout,” which does not mean quite the same thing; but that is by the way.)
By the end of April the world-girdlers were actually ready to leave London, and the public were treated to either an actual view or at least a photograph of their conveyance. Without exaggeration, it was immense. In plan its dimensions were admittedly moderate — it was officially stated to be 13 ft. long and 5 1/2 ft. broad; but nothing appears to have been said about its height. However, Dr. Lehwess was so obliging — or so rash, if you prefer it — as to have his photograph taken alongside the “Passe-Partout in the Agricultural Hall, where the Automobile Club was holding its fourth motor show; and although at the time he was wearing a top-hat, as well as a stick-up collar and a bow-tie, careful measurement reveals that he stood less than two-thirds as high as his £3,000 motor-car. Of course, I do not know how tall Dr. Lehwess was; but a comparison of his dimensions with those of his faithful Irish terrier shown recumbent at his feet, suggests that he was in no real sense a dwarf, and that the “Passe-Partout,” therefore, was quite unlike the Holy City, for if its length did perhaps exceed its height, the latter quite clearly was comfortably in excess of its breadth. Painted bright yellow, the coachwork, “of the modified ‘bus pattern,” must have been highly impressive. Small wonder that contemporary commentators marvelled at the Doctor’s decision to use pneumatic tyres!
The expedition, it should be explained, was organised by “the new society paper,” The Candid Friend, and its editor, Mr. J. S. Harvey, at one time thought of becoming a member of the party. In the end, however, he evidently decided that even compiling candid chronicles of Edwardian Landon was a less hazardous occupation than that of encircling the world by way of Paris, Brussels, Cologne, Berlin, Posen, Warsaw, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Omsk and Tomsk; of deciding when they got there as to how to cross China, “according to the political situation”; of going by Japan and Honolulu to San Francisco, in order to strike south into Mexico before beating up by way of New Orleans to Chicago and the Niagara Falls; of making an excursion into Canada before at last taking ship at New York for Liverpool en route to London. At any rate, he resolved to send Mr. H. Morgan-Browne in his place, while the party was completed by the intrepid Mr. F. G. Aflalo, the editor of the “Encyclopaedia of Sport,” who was doubtless attracted by the guns and fishing tackle. Moreover, anyone who liked to subscribe to the expedition was promised that they would be sent a postcard from each one of the stages on the route; the resultant collection, it was suggested, would be unique.
By the time it started, the “Passe-Partout,” which had been first a 30-h.p., then a 25-h.p., had become, somewhat inconsistently, a 20-h.p., with a 40-h.p. engine; a fortnight later, it was admitted that a mere 16-h.p. engine was being asked to propel the vast machine, which weighed close upon three tons (I should hardly have been surprised to hear that it weighed thirty). However, Mr. Alec Govan, the manager of the Hazier Engineering Co., evidently considered that even this power was unnecessary for the work in hand, and announced that he would back his company’s crack driver. Mr. D. H. Whitehead, to follow the “Passe-Partout” on an 8-h.p. Argyll — provided that the former carried his kit. With this proviso, the Argyll, which had a light open body, was, I should think, far the more suitable car of the two.
Together, then, at the end of April, the two cars set off from London, accompanied by a 20-h.p. Daimler and a “speedy 10-h.p.Dürkopp” driven by Mr. Frentzel, who perhaps was going to deputise for the Doctor during his absence. Twenty-four miles from London., the “Passe-Partout” burst its first tyre; the crew left the experts to fit a new one, and went into Guildford for lunch. It was 6 o’clock before they got going again, and then, just outside Farnham, “the wretched tyre showed signs of weakness” again. The party was in despair; what did they care now of Southampton, of Paris, of Moscow or of Omsk and Tomsk? — They decided to stay the night in Farnham.
However, they finally got across the Channel, and by the 2nd May they were in Paris, after traversing the last nightmare 20 kms. over the greasy pavé from St. Germain. They were due to stop in Paris for 10 days, while the “Passe-Partout” had a dynamo fitted; they actually stayed there six weeks. Whatever was the cause of the delay, it was too much for Mr. Morgan-Browne’s patience, and after hanging about for a month, he packed up his traps and returned to London. Nothing daunted, Dr. Lehwess called in the services of another doctor, Dr. H. P. Kennard, to take his place as log-keeper. Still, however, the party showed little impatience to face the rigours of Asia, and decided to stay in Paris to see the Grand Prix — not, of course, what you and I mean by the Grand Prix, but a nice bit of “‘orse-back racing.” At last, on 15th June, they were persuaded to leave, and face the mischances of the road. They had innumerable punctures, at the French frontier they ran over a cat, with the result that the infuriated women of Lorry proceeded to stone the luckless “PassePartout,” and near Sehl, “the car, by some unaccountable means, charged an iron fence,” which had to be pulled down before they could extricate the stranded monster.
However, at last, after an exacting journey lasting 12 days, they finally reached Berlin. (A year before, Fournier, on his 60-h.p. Mors, had covered the same journey in a net running time of 15 hours 33 minutes 6 seconds!) After such an effort it was decided that a rest was imperative, and in Berlin, without even the excuse of having a dynamo fitted, they rested for nine weeks! It was the 1st September before “having dined previously in a style befitting the occasion,” they left Berlin — at dead of night and in a fog! By the time they reached Warsaw, a week later, Kennard calculated that their gross time amounted to 3,175 hours 40 minutes, of which stops accounted for 3,043 hours 35 minutes.
They only stayed a week in Warsaw, but it was October before they made St. Petersburg and by the time they reached Moscow the Russian winter was setting in in earnest. But disdaining the example of Napoleon, Dr. Lehwess refused to turn back. On the contrary, he set his face firmly to the east; and having been finally convinced by nature that there is a right and a wrong season for crossing the Steppes, the dilatory doctor was at last forced to abandon his monstrous motor-car in the snow near Nijni Novgorod. For all I know, its Mouldering carcase may be still there.
I must again plead ignorance as to whether, in face of this fiasco, The Candid Friend succeeded in remaining both candid and friendly. I am merely left to imagine for myself what were the reactions of the enthusiastic subscribers for the post-cards which were to have been sent to them from every halting-place of the “Passe-Partout” throughout its journey. But any recriminations which may have been hurled at the unfottunate Dr. Lehwess on account of his management of the expedition were completely misplaced; it is obvious that, however shrewdly the season for the journey had been chosen, a motor car on the lines of the “Passe-Partout” had not the slightest hope of accomplishing it. The fact was proved against all possibility of argument five years later, when le Matin issued a challenge to see whether any kind of motor car could accomplish that portion of the route which lay within the Old World. In order too to make sure that any automobilist who picked up the gauntlet should at least have a crack at some of the difficult part, the French paper reversed the usual order of things and set them the task of starting at Pekin and getting to Paris. Even if they didn’t succeed, they’d at least have to prospect the section east of Nijni Novgorod.
Twenty-five enthusiasts or braggarts immediately sent in their names as those of people willing to accept the challenge. When, however, le Matin demanded, as a guarantee of good faith, a deposit of 2,000 francs which would be refunded to anyone who actually turned up at Pekin for the start, the ardour of the majority cooled off immediately and they promptly withdrew. In some quarters, however, the matter really was taken seriously. Responsible opinion in France took the line that a motor car probably could make the journey; but, basing their view, no doubt, on the relative merits of the performance of the Argyll and the “Passe-Partout” in 1902, the pundits declared that the lighter it was, the better would be its chances. Indeed an intrepid individual by the name of Pons chose as his mount a most terrifying-looking Contal tricycle, with the single wheel at the rear. On the whole, however, the experts were inclined to favour the chances of the two De Dion Boutons, one of which was driven by Cormier, who had finished third in the motor-cycle class in Paris-Berlin on a De Dion; had graduated to a 9-h.p. Renault voiturette in 1902 and finished third again in his class in the Circuit do Nord and Paris-Vienna races; but, having been further promoted to a 12-h.p. Renault voiturette in 1903, had failed to finish in Paris-Madrid, after which he “had travelled over Spain and Hungary with machines of inconsiderable horsepower.” Cormier, in fact, had no use for your monster motor. “An 8-h.p.,” he was reported to have said, “an 8-h.p. is all I require.” So they gave him a 10-h.p.
His companion Colignon, the driver of the other De Dion, was also an ex-racing driver, having started in Paris-Madrid on a 9-h.p. voiturette of the famous marque. These three made up the French contingent and they were apparently satisfied that, in spite of their light weight, they stood the best chance of success. Of their rivals, the Dutchman, Godard, considered that a little more power was desirable, and chose a 15-h.p. Spyker, a car which for long held the distinction of being the only Dutch marque known to the world’s markets, and which at that time specialised in a flat under-tray to the chassis, designed to minimise the dust nuisance. On this particular occasion this feature was hardly of prime importance; there weren’t enough people about in Mongolia to be worried much by dust, and anyhow there was less dust to worry anyone than mud.
Prince Scipione Borghese, the Italian challenger, had quite different ideas from anyone else. It was not so much low weight that would count, he argued, as a low ratio of weight to engine power. The Spyker, which was time heaviest of the other starters, Weighed 1400 kgm.; the Prince’s Itala a full 2,000. But then the Italian car had a 35-40-h.p. engine, with a bore and stroke of 130 X 140 mm., and the Prince was convinced that that would pull it through anything. He set off with great confidence accompanied by his chauffeur, an Italian journalist named Luigi Barzini, who afterwards wrote a highly dramatic account of the expedition, and vast quantities of luggage.
As a matter of fact the Itala, by reason of its sturdy construction, did prove the most successful of the competing cars and, having left Pekin on the 10th June 1907, duly reached Paris, exactly three months later, on the 10th August. And yet, admitted the Prince in September, this journey from Pekin to Paris in a motor car did prove, as many people promptly pointed out, that it was impossible to go from Pekin to Paris in a motor car. Impossible, that is to say, if you wanted to motor; half the time the unfortunate Itala, for all its 35-40 was being pushed behind by Chinese coolies or pulled in front by Mongolian oxen.
Le Matin, however, was delighted with the success of the affair. So much so, in fact, that the next year it decided to go the whole hog and start the competitors off from New York; then, if they succeded in getting to Paris, they would have done pretty well the whole of what the “Passe-Partout” had set out to do, only, of course, in the reverse direction. This time there were six entrants for the competition, one more than the year before, and the international element of interest was well maintained since, while the Dutchman was out of it, there were both a German and an American car to make up for it.
The French contingent still inclined towards the light car. There was again a De Dion Bouton, and instead of the Contal tricycle, there was now a Sizaire-Naudin, a formidable machine on which to go round the world if you like it, for all that it had just won the Coupe de l’Auto two years in succession. The Motobloc, I take it, represented rather heavier metal. The Protos, from Berlin, was a rather lumpish-looking motor-car, but the Thomas was quite one of the most presentable vehicles that America had as yet produced. This was not altogether surprising, as after running a very moderately successful 6-cylinder car, with an enormous long bonnet and the driver seated behind the back-axle, in the American Eliminating Trials for the Vanderbilt Cup Race in 1905, the firm had sent over to France the next year for Le Blon and Caillois, two old Serpollet drivers who had been rather at a loose end since steam dropped out of racing, and for some French engines to copy. Unfortunately they sent for them too late and their 1906 Franco-American racers were never really ready in time for the race. However, Le Blon’s performed quite creditably, and certainly the car that was sent off round the world seems to have benefited from its ancestry.
As before, most is known about the adventures of the Italian representative, because the Italians saw fit. to take with them a scribe, by the name of Antonio Scarfoglio, who afterwards wrote a more subjective and highly-coloured account of the affair even than Luigi Barzini’s. This time Italy was represented not by anything with such an obviously Italian name as an Itala, but by a Züst. Such research as I have devoted to the subject, which, I must admit, is not very extensive, has quite failed to elucidate why any Italian car ever had such a name. However, it appears that the company’s chief engineer was called Huber, the New York-Paris car was driven by a German named Haaga, and altogether the Züst looks suspiciously like an anticipation of the Axis.
I do not think that it was so good a car as the Itala, and certainly the Americans were able to boast that the Thomas won the “race” — the only weakness in this claim being that the affair was not by way of being a race anyhow. But at least the Züst did succeed in getting from New York to Paris, and in spite of the almost incredible hardships to which its crew were subjected on the way, Signor Scarfoglio found time to describe its journey in considerable detail, as well as to take a very large number of photographs. On the whole America in February proved a tougher proposition than Asia, which they did not reach until the summer — the cars spent most of their time in the New World bumping along the railroad track. But Haaga was evidently a man of resource. If I understand correctly the rather curious technical desciptions indulged in by Scarfoglio, the car, by the end of its journey, must have been almost more Haaga than Züst. As a driver, in fact, the worthy German could hardly have been improved upon — until he reached Germany. It was September, by now, and the party was almost in sight of their goal. “Beyond Halle we stopped for luncheon in a little inn at the entrance to a village, where we had burst a tyre. We really ate too much sausage and drank too much Rhine wine at the Thuringer-Hof! Then, the tyre being repaired, we started along the magnificent road, through villages drowsy in the September sun. Haaga and I are seated in front; Huber, the engineer of the Züst Company, who has done a great part of the journey with us, behind on the big petrol tank. He is asleep, and we, too, are nodding slightly, after the Rhine wine. Suddenly there is a violent jerk to the left, another to the right, trees are grazed . . . ‘The brakes, Hauge., stop!’ . . . a twist . . . the edges of the road approach and recede . . . shrill cries . . . It is all over, all over!
“I recovered my senses in a strange bed, with my hands and head bound up. Haaga was groaning beside me. I was told that a passing car had picked us all up; we were unconscious, bruised and covered with blood. And the car was stuck in an embankment with a wheel smashed, the axle bent, the springs broken, and the stays of the engine bent. It was carried to the Ruppe automobile factory on a cart, like a corpse.
“And this place is Apolda. Huber is in hospital. This evening he was delirious, calling his mother.”
In fact a horrible motoring accident. But there was service in 1908, as well as plenty of sausage and Rhine wine. I do not know whether they fetched Huber his mother, but on September 13th. exactly five days after the smash, Scarfoglio was able to report: “The car is saved: and Huber also.” Four days later they were in Paris.
Well I don’t know how long they usually take to bring you round from a delirium nowadays, but if my recent experience of repairers is any guide, I should think that a car with “the stays of its engine bent” would be more likely to be off the road for five months rather than five days. In fact, what with one thing and another, I should have to have a great deal of Rhine wine taken, before I set off to go round the world in a motor car.
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