Veteran Types CHITTY-CHITTY-13ANG-BANG
IMER in recent years has there been a more picturesque figure in the world of auto mobilism than the late Count Louis Zborowski. He was in fact a figure which
-Adid not seem really to belong to the postWar era when the fame of his doings was world-wide, but which seemed more in keeping with the older and more heroic days, when his famous father was driving Mercedes cars along with such men as Camille Jenatzy, the “red devil,” Baron de Caters, Werner and the rest. And the cars he drove were in keeping with his character. for Zborowski never seemed so much at home as at the wheel of some colossal monster, with a huge engine, vast outside exhaust pipes, and chain drive.
I suppose that of all the cars which Zborowski drove, none were more famous than the two Chitty-ChittyBang-Bangs. The name itself, of course, was a piece of genius, as anyone will admit who has ever heard an engine, each of whose cylinders is of several litres capacity, ticking over as slowly as only such engines can. But the specifications of the cars themselves was enough to thrill any enthusiast.
Shortly after the War there arrived in this country several Maybach Zeppelin engines of a size and power which seemed to make them too much of a good thing even for the most exciting of motor cars. These engines had 6 cylinders of 160 x 170 mm. bore and stroke (20,392 c.c.), with push-rod operated overhead valves and the cylinders cast separately, which were capable of some 1,800 r.p.m. I do not know the actual power which these engines develop, but it is probably in the neighbourhood of 300 h.p. although I have heard estimates up to 500 h.p. At any rate, Count Zborowski acquired two of these engines and proceeded to instal them in two 90 h.p. Mercedes chassis of about the year 1910, making few modifications to the chassis which had direct ratio chain drive, but equipping them with modern Rudge-Whitworth wire-wheels. The doings of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang at Brooklands are of course famous ; but in September 1922,
Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang I burst a front tyre during practice, and after a series of most marvellous gyratory evolutions proceeded to wreck the time-keeper’s box, and considerably damaged himself in the process. This was rather the end of Chitty’s active career, and I believe what remains of him now lies in a shed somewhere on Romney Marsh.
Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang II, however, still remained, and it is this car which I have chosen as the most worthy subject for the first of this series of articles on “veteran types.” Through the courtesy of Messrs. Scott-Moncrieff, Ltd., who deal in odd cars, and who had Chitty in stock recently, I was able to have a run in the veteran monster, and some account of him is, I feel, likely to be of interest to readers of MOTOR SPORT.
Arriving at Cheval Place we proceeded to get the car going, and repaired to the monster’s garage. To anyone who is only familiar with modern sports cars the very sight of the veteran is thrilling enough. The car gives one the impression of being immensely long, and quite 90 % of the length seems to be taken up with the bonnet, the little four-seater body behind seeming ridiculously small in comparison. In sober fact, the scuttle does end only just forward of the driving sprocket. Opening the bonnet, the colossal Maybach was disclosed, and we proceeded to set about starting it. On the top of the centre of the scuttle is mounted an aero-type hand-pump connected to a Y-shaped pipe. Turning the tap over one way we proceeded to pump oil to the engine, and then reversing the tap we applied the pressure to forcing petrol from the tank to the carburettor. This done one operates an enormous vertical lever just beside the driver’s seat, which would do jus tice to most cars as a gear-lever, but which in actual fact is a priming device. Having seen petrol squirt satis factorily from the inlet pipe unions, the great engine was turned over slowly with the starting handle. Then it was switched on and pulled over compression while someone else wound the handle of the starting magneto. At about the second or third pull over there was a
woomp-woomp ” in the exhaust pipe, and then a hearty ” wuff-wuff-wuff.” The half-compression device was pushed home, and Chitty was in action !
“A spot of oil on the rockers” said someone, and a mechanician hurried up with an oil-can to lubricate the engine’s exposed overhead valve gear. Then the bonnet was strapped down, we took our seats and ChittyChitty-Bang-Bang II got away.
. I cannot pretend that in London traffic Chitty is as easy to manoeuvre as an Austin Seven. To begin with the car gives one rather the impression of being about as big as a battle-cruiser and twice as powerful. The power is in fact colossal even for the transmission of a “Ninety” to deliver comfortably to the back wheels and the clutch has to be used with circumspection. However, one soon gets into the habit of tipping into neutral when one has to slow down., and then re-engaging a gear either without revving the engine or else just jabbing at the throttle and letting the engine fire heartily about once. But if Chitty is not quite at his best in London traffic, what a joy when one gets out on the open road ! One gets into top at last and soon one is sweeping along with just the ” ob-blob-blob-blob ” of the engine and the snarl of the chains in one’s ears. Now one can imagine how the automobilists of the real old days felt as they thundered down some long straight French road in a great town to town race. Actually however, we were merely on the Great West Road and having to take care not to run over some of the staid saloons which were
proceeding in the same direction as ourselves. A real direct final top-gear ratio is a thing of joy which has to be experienced to believe, and it is marvellous nowadays to think that the engine only has to do 900 r.p.m. to drive the car at 60 m.p.h. As a matter of fact we were accompanied on this particular expedition by another car which followed us closely, and after we had been, it seemed, just trickling along the road for some time, its occupants informed us that we had been doing a steady 55 m.p.h. Speed on Chitty is very deceptive ! With regard to the Maximum possible we had no soft of chance of testing this, but it is anyway something over 100 m.p.h.
Chitty has one characteristic which may or may not be regarded as a virtue, and this is that one cannot stop without collecting a crowd. People stand and gaze in awe at the monster, as the real automobilists descend and ungoggle like some visitors from a bye-gone age. We had in fact to have dinner where we could keep a good eye on the car, for one feared the souvenir hunter !
Then with the lights on Chitty, was started up again, and we thundered back to London to return the great car to its garage. For one evening we had gone back to the grand old days and known the joys that were the portion of the men of yore : and as we crept home to bed we wondered why we had not been born a quarter of a century earlier, but thanked a fate which had at least allowed us just to taste the grandeur of a more glorious age.
E. K. H. K.