"Chitty" nonsense

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A lot of nonsense has been written at one time or another about the immortal aero-engined “Chitty-Bang-Bangs” with which Count Zborowski used to thrill Brooklands habitues, but none so concentrated as that in an article by Frank Illingworth in “Mileposts,” entitled “Shades of the Mad Count.”  Throughout this article Zborowski’s name is spelt ” Zbrowski,” which in no way daunts the author. He describes the Count as having had  “three Chittys, all driven by 21,000-c.c. Zep. engines…”  Actually the engines of the first three “Chittys” were all of different sizes, of which the largest was 23 litres. “Chitty II” and “Chitty III” did venture into the Sahara desert but did not exactly cross it, as Illingworth states, while the first “Chitty” did more illustrious things than the episode by which it is recalled, namely “careering through the timing-box at Brooklands.”  We recall its cowl flying off but not its bonnet, nor do we agree that “her weight approached that of a light tank.” Nor, Mr. Illingworth, was “Chitty’s” bonnet quite eight  feet long!  Nor, again, can we recall twenty-four mysterious switches, levers, taps and plugs on the great car  —   her facia layout was really rather simple. The story becomes quite entertaining when we read that  “The Count was a man of ideas. Perched a-top a soap-box seat, engine revs, controlled by hand-throttle, he was known to drive with both feet on the brake-pedals, applying first one and then the other as he took left and right-hand bends, the idea being to retard the inside wheel to help cornering.” 

The true facts would seem to be, merely, that two brake-pedals were fitted, one applying the brakes normally, the other applying them and at the same time freeing the clutch. Having driven “Chitty I,” we can say that it had a proper seat, not a soap-box, nor had “Chitty II,” in which Illingworth took his ride, such a crude seat. Further, the latter car had two carburetters, not one “the size of a soup bowl.” Nor do we believe that the big Benz engine  “eclipsed the howl of a diving Spitfire” at speed. It may or may not be true that Zborowski  “used a horse to tow his ‘Bangs’  through Canterbury, because the City Fathers forbade him to drive them through their streets,” but Illingworth is a brave man to state dogmatically that “brakes cost Zbrowski his life,”  while to dramatically assert that he risked decapitation from one of  “Chitty’s” chains at 40 m.p.h. is, in our humble opinion, an insult to the memory of the late Parry Thomas. Finally, “Chitty II” was not  born “in a Coventry works and a private garage.” To cap it all, this inaccurate article is illustrated by a photograph captioned,  “… the Mad Count at the wheel of one of his ‘Chitty Bangs’ … built from a Mercedes chassis of about 1912 make.”  —   and the picture is of Zborowski in his 1-1/2-litre G.P. Aston-Martin!  In view of the foregoing, perhaps we may be excused for mentioning that, while you will not get such a dramatic story, you will find the truth about the “Chittys” in W. Boddy’s new book “The Story of Brooklands.”

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