Alcohol and cars can mix



As if there is not enough to worry about, TV produced the news that three buses in London are running on hydrogen fuel cells, a reminder that one day supplies of fossil fuel will run out, although I would expect paper to go first.

Attempts to run vehicles on fuels other than petrol are not new. In 1902 France, keen to publicise a national product, contrived to have its two-day 537-mile Circuit du Nord race restricted to alcohol fuel. Maurice Farman won in a 40hp Panhard, at 44.8mph, but the fuel was generally disliked, the steam car entries said to have lost 20 per cent of their speed with clogged burners.

When racing was at full pace during the 1930s, Mussolini sent telegrams to the Alfa Romeo team, and to British drivers of these cars, urging victory for Italy. But less well-known is the fact that the Italian dictator entered a car in his name in the 1936 Mille Miglia.

The fuel shortage during the Abyssinian crisis caused Italy to encourage alternatives to petrol, and quite a number of competitors used alcohol mixtures, including Benito’s 2.3-litre Alfa Romeo. Mussolini’s drivers were his chauffeur Boratto, and Mancinelli.

The following year Mussolini again entered a car, for Boratto and Guidotti, who won the touring car division with a 2.3-litre Alfa Romeo coupé, although in fact Guidotti drove the whole way. Mussolini’s son Vittorio also entered, in a streamlined 1500cc Fiat.

During WWI bags inflated with coal-gas were carried on the roofs of cars (which was probably a serious hazard when a lighted cigarette was thrown from the upper deck of a passing bus), and in WWII it was not uncommon to encounter trailers containing all types of fuel, burnt to generate gas to run the car engine, giving rise to the delightful sight of owners beside the road raking out the ashes. The better-off would have posh trailers for the purpose; I recall Ken Hutchison, who had laid-up his monoposto Alfa Romeo for the duration, using a very splendid one.

The day may yet dawn when we will all be resorting to something like these alternatives to petrol and diesel fuelling.