THE CARS OF SWITZERLAND IN SOME IMPRESSIONS OF MOTORING CONDITIONS THE LAND OF THE ALPS
IWANTED to go to Switzerland for a long walks with an alpenstock, a holiday. You know the sort of thing, rue-sack and gargantuan boots, intermingled with lazy days of
bathing in sun and lake at the foot of the mountains. But somehow it seemed unnatural that I should dispense with cars altogether for a fortnight, so I suggested to the Great Man that I might combine business with pleasure and slip over to the Alpine Trial Route, just to see the cars pass through, you know . . . .
The Editor did his best to assume the mien of a medical consultant.
” What you need, my boy,” he intoned, “is a complete change. Forget all about cars, and trials and motor-racing. Get back to Nature.”
” You’re not suggesting that I should join a Nudist Colony, I hope ? ” I asked in alarm.
He ignored my question, in that sweeping way in which Editors are so adept. ” Now, I know just the place for you, It’s 50 minutes run up a dead-end road, right in the heart of snowcapped mountains. Once you get there all you can do is to walk and climb and to walk and
bathe in the most beautiful swimming pool in Switzerland.” And so I went to Adelboden. The deadend road starts at Frutigen, through which runs the main Simplon line to Milan. Once out of the village the road starts climbing with endless twists and curls, crossing ravines by those exciting wooden bridges which thunder mightily as you drive across them. The climb is gradual, but soon the snow-mountains appear, and after about half an hour you begin to wonder where this winding road will lead to. Postbuses come along here, but give good warning of their approach by the whit-whit-whit-whit ” of their hooters. Just when you decide to :stop and look at the map, sure that you have taken the wrong road, two hairpins bring you into Adelboden, and if you are lucky enough to arrive in the evening you will immediately be heartened by the cheerful atmosphere of the
place, its gaily lit cafés and hotels, its thronged street (there is only one) and a warm welcome from your hotel proprietor. For a few days the scenery, walks, and
bathing occupied my whole attention. The swimming pool I found was all and more than the Editor had said it was, lavishly equipped and set in perfect sur
I basked and swam, and had long talks with the ” maitre de bain,” whose maximum amount of clothing in summer was a battered Panama, a pair of shorts, and nailstudded shoes. In winter he was a ski-instructor and. guide, and had once jumped 71 metres at Pontresina. . . .
Then I began to notice the cars. To begin with they were nearly all American and that fact alone was sufficient to make an impression on my mind. Not just a few makes were represented, but Chrysler, Buick, Essex, Dodge, Hupmobile, Studebaker, Packard, Ford, Lincoln, Cadillac, Pontiac, Plymouth, Hudson, Nash, de Soto, Oakland, Chevrolet and so on, and so on. Some of them I didn’t recognise, new models we never see in England. The American sales organisation in Europe certainly functions. The chief reason for this popularity of American cars is probably price. Then the Swiss themselves like a car to be big and shiny. Nevertheless the machines have
got to be able to cope with the conditions imposed on them, miles of climbing under a blazing sun, a good lock for hair-pin bends, adequate brakes, and suspension that can deal with rough roads. Somehow I had not manufacturers had to bear these conditions in mind when considering the home market, but for reading matter on this non-motoring holiday I had taken “Free Air” by Sinclair Lewis. The greater part of this novel is taken up with a description of a coast-to-coast tour in a big French car called a Gomez-Deberdussin (Hispano-Suiza ?) in the course of which the travellers duly reach Ccitarado and theYellowstone Park, where the road reaches 10,000 feet above sea level, and in fact Alpine conditions are found. Indentally, “Free Air” is a most enjoyable book, for except for one regrettable lapse it is free from those irritating mechanical mistakes which are generally found in novels. This is
because Mr. Lewis is himself a keen motorist, having toured with car and caravan all over the U.S.A. and Great Britain.
To return to American cars in Switzerland, their popularity made me realise the extremely divergent uses for which they are designed. The same model has to be capable of a life of accelerating and braking in a city, with high speed runs on flat, straight roads during week-ends ; or it has to spend its life in a prairie district of dirt roads, rough and dusty in summer, with the engine pulling slowly on top-gear, or rough and muddy in winter, or it finds itself in a mountainous region of hour-long climbs in second gear with little wind about and a hot sun, constant hairpins, a rough surface, and hourlong descents with heavy braking on every hairpin. Not an easy job. German cars were second in the order of popularity, French and Italian being ail equal third, with British cars a bad last. The German vehicles were mostly Mercedes-Benz, the new small model being seen with a variety of bodies, open and closed. There was a very handsome 8 cylinder Rohr, with a smaller brother
and the rest were Adler-Trumpfs, Stoewers, Horchs, Wanderers and Opels. As an ardent believer in the value of independent wheel springing, these German cars attracted me immensely, all of them except the Horch using this system both fore and aft. Once more I mentally congratulated the Alvis people on being the only English concern who build a car with a suspension that will one day be universally used.
French cars also had an exponent of independent springing in a L elage, other machines with this country of origin being Salmson, Peugeot, Citroen, Renault, Talbot (Darracq), but mostly Citroen. The ” star ” French car, however, was a most handsome 12 cylinder Hispano-Suiza, with a cream all weather body by Kellner of Paris. Italy also had her independent springing example in a Lancia Astura on which I cast most covetous eyes. The remainder were Alfas, Fiats, Isottas and a solitary Martini. There were two ” resident ” English cars, both of which seemed in good condition although by no means new. They were an Armstrong-Siddeley and a 1928 Morris-Cowley saloon. We saw one or two English cars on tour, two girls in a
Midget, a Talbot 75 saloon with preselective gear box, and an old Armstrong saloon.
On the evening before I was due to return there was an unmistakeable ” lVfolsheim ” roar outside the hotel, and I went out to find my friend R H. Riley, well known to all Bugattisti in England as the owner of a very handsome Type 55 2 seater. Riley lives in the Principality of Liechenstein. His arrival completed the return of my interest in motor sport, for I had not heard the crisp note of a racing engine for two whole weeks. We sat up late that night, talking in a café-garden of the village—Nuvolari, the French Grand Prix, Whitney Straight, Von Stuck and Shelsley ; the Douglas race, Klausen Hill-climb, and the Alpine Trial. Then the moon came up in full splendour over. the shoulder of the Gross Ulmer, and it was time for bed.
The Editor greeted me at the office with” I bet you forgot about the existence of such a sport as motoring and motorracing out there ? “
My answer is this article, which in a few minutes will doubtless be dropped with an air of great finality into his voluminous waste-paper basket.