[By means of which the Continental Correspondent, while he is motoring abroad, keeps in touch with the Editor.]
Since my last letter many kilometres have passed under numerous wheels and winter and winter has really gone from Europe, although the mountains north of Madrid are still snow-capped, which seemed incongruous when they came into view after motoring across the arid plains from Burgos under a clear blue sky. The dark, the fog and the wet in Europe always seem much more foreboding and sinister than in England in the winter months, probably because of distances. In England 150 miles of bad weather seems a lifetime, but in Italy, France or Germany it can be 500 miles, and even then you may not have reached your objective. I’m glad to say that sunshine and light have arrived and motoring takes on a happier prospect. The Elan +2 served adequately, and did its job well and I now await the opportunity to do a trip in a “modern” Lotus, with the engine in the right place, just behind the driving compartment, and the Europa fulfils this requirement, though the engine is a bit small and puny, but the conception of the car is right.
On the way back from Modena, on the Turin Autostrada in the dark, I came across a pretty large accident, with two big lorries involved, and it brought the flow of traffic to a sudden stop. This called for some pretty heavy braking, and, being cautious, I pulled across into the inside lane well out of harm’s way, knowing that I had recently overtaken quite a bit of bunched-up traffic. I was horrified to see a woman driver of a Fiat saloon stop at the end of the queue in the outside lane, switch of all her lights and then get out and stand by the car! A pile-up seemed inevitable, but fortunately the next driver along was not going too fast and obviously had good eyesight, but I was staggered by the complete lack of imagination of that woman. I must say I felt sorry for the police and the breakdown crews who were trying to clear the wreckage of the lorries in the dark, and the “rubber-necking” attitude of most of the people driving past the wrecks was depressing and didn’t not help to get the traffic flowing again.
In broad daylight and under perfect sunny conditions I saw two motorist get pinched by motorcycle police, and they both deserve everything they got. In Europe there is a simple circular sign depicting two cars alongside each other, drawn from behind; one is red, the other blue or black, and it means quite simply “NO OVERTAKING” until the all-clear sign appears. If you have passed this sign and then overtake and are caught, you’ve had it, there is no way of arguing out of it. The first incident in France, where mobile police travel in pairs on B.M.W. motorcycles that stand out a mile away. We were flowing down into a village with a “no-overtaking” sign at the entrance and half-way along the main street was a nice shiny B.M.W. motorcycle parked on the footpath, unattended. Long before we got to the sign you could see this motorcycle, obviously the policeman was not far away, yet a driver in a Simca 1000 pulled out and started to overtake a van, almost level with the parked motorcycle. A little farther up the street, but obscured by the van and other moving traffic, the mobile was talking to his travelling partner and, of course, the Simca driver drove straight into their arms and their notebooks! The second incident was equally stupid, this time in Spain, and again a driver of a Simca 1000 (significant perhaps?). A column of traffic had formed due to two lorries nose-to-tail and going slowly, and we were crossing a railway line by way of a long ess-bend over a bridge, with the usual no-overtaking zone. Coming the other way on a clear road were two motorcycle mobiles, and they were looking back at the procession to see if the obstruction of the slow lorries could be eased, especially as the road was running into a small town with lots of parked vehicles about. By the time they got about half-way along the procession (I was at the back of it) they turned round and rode back down the centre of the road so that they could be seen in everyone’s mirror as they overtook the nearly stationary column. Just over the bridge the Simca driver pulled out and overtook the car in front of him, even though it was in the forbidden zone and even though there was no obvious gap in front. While one mobile went by to the head of the queue to sort things out the other one “booked” the Simca driver well and truly. It really is amazing how stupid, dim and unobservant some motorists can be. As I said, these two deserved everything they got, to my way of thinking, not because they broke the law, we all to that, but because they were so unobservant. People who drive with their eyes that dim should not be on the roads for they will eventually bump into something, someone, or even each other. A friend of mine once got pinched by an English mobile for speeding, having been followed in a derestricted road into a restricted one. The policemen told him quite frankly that he was not necessarily pinching him for speeding, but principally for being unobservant and not looking in his mirror. It taught him a sharp lesson. If you get caught by a radar trap, that’s different, there is little you can do.
On the lighter side of motoring and the roads I saw a splendid scene in France that was quite serious, but one which Jacques Tati would have put over on the screen in the most hilarious fashion. It was at a main road level crossing of the type with tubular barriers painted with red and white stripes that hinge upwards from one side of the road. Two men were engaged in re-painting the pole, one doing the red stripes and the other the white ones. A simple enough task, except that they could only reach the pole when it was horizontal, stopping the traffic flow. They could have used a long ladder up against the pole while it was vertical, but that would have complicated things when a train approached and the pole had to be lowered to stop the traffic. It was a busy road and a busy railway line, so what they were doing was standing by with dripping brushes at the ready and when a train was signalled and the pole came down they slapped away furiously until it went up again, taking a last swipe with the paint brush as it rose out of their reach. They seemed to be winning, but it was not a very elegant paint job!
While Spain is nothing like as advanced as other European countries, as regards many mechanical things, they seem to be making good progress and in some ways they are profiting from being behind. For many years Spanish firms have been making things under-licence from other European counties, but now they are making things from scratch, having said to themselves: “Why do we go on making this ‘under-licence’ when we can design and manufacture a better article ourselves?” One big electrical industry in Madrid recently made a contract with South America, big enough to build new factories out there for production, simply because the South Americans tried the well-established electrical firms in England, Germany and Italy and found them all fully occupied with the European motor industry, with no time or capacity for further contracts, especially relatively small ones. The Spaniards, however, were only too pleased to do business with South America and the Madrid firm got the contract that was intended for another European country.
Transport in a big country like Spain is all-important and for a long while big firms like Leyland, Mercedes-Benz, Scania-Vabis and Fiat were supplying all the trucks, but today on the roads the great proportion seem to be Spaniard Pegaso vehicles, ranging from delivery vans to really big articulated trucks with power-steering and exhaust-turbo-supercharged diesel engines. While styling does not normally enter into commercial vehicle design, the cabs on the latest Pegaso trucks look very sleek, with sloping roof lines and built-in sun-visors across the front. They look efficient, purposeful and modern and make some of their European rivals look a bit “vintage”. At the Pegaso factory they still keep a sort of “museum” of their racing days of around 1954, with two-stage supercharged V8 engines, the technically-advanced Pegaso sports car and so on, and the engineers look at the bits through misty eyes and think what might have been, but then turn to the job of designing and building modern commercial vehicles.–D. S. J.