War-Time Motoring in Three Continents
OTORING in time or War is for M cu most enthusiasts -drastieally r
tailed. In tlimmt, respeet I , must have been particularly fortunate. my annual peace-time mileage was around the 60,000 figure, covered in all -shapes and sizes of autanobile. Until I was posted to my first H.A.F. unit in July, 1941, I was engaged in work of an essential nature, and a certain amount of motoring was therefore permissible. However, my experiences with the horSelemo carriage since that date may be of greater interest.
The lirst two months, from the motoring angle, were disappointing, and it appeared rather surprising that Male of my companions, most of whom were cadet pilots, evinced the slightest enthusiasm over any unusual type of motor car. Some, in fact, had never driven a car.
However, a .pleasant Atlantic crossing found me in Canada, en route for the U.S.A. Nothing spectacular was noted during a week’s Sojourn in Canada, although a lone E. W. Daytona Hornet Special was encountered in Toronto in company with a few of the smaller models of Austin and Singer. Strangely enough, quite a few twin-cylinder Jowetts were seen, quite happily and unselfconsciously chugging along amongst thousands and thousands of large American vehicles. That statement is made in a by no means disparaging manner. I have a warm spot in my heart for the Jowett, but for some reason Or another the number of them to be seen seemed surprisingly high.
The highlight of the visit to Toronto was a trip to Niagara Falls in a late Chevrolet over the very fine Queen Elizabeth Ilighway—then uncompleted. The return journey of approximately 85 miles was made in the dark at an average speed of some 55 m.p.h., with no hectic driving whatsoever.
It was not until I arrived in Florida that I began to comprehend that the soft American type Of suspension, which the enthusiast at home despises so heartily, may have its advantages so far as v( ry many American roads are concerned. The main highways are well planned and are good, providing for high cruising speeds ; lait the snrface of the lesser-used roads leaves III 1,1 eh to be desired. On these, either very soft, springing or some form of independent suspension is an absolute necessity.
While in Florida a visit, to a cinder-track Meeting, then held on alternate Sundays at Tampa, provided something which, while in no way approaching the thrill of a Continental formula Grand Prix, or even Of a British event. vas both stimulating and satisfying. This meeting at Tampa was not so much of a freak nature as the doodlebug-type of events that were held a few yearS ago in this country, in so far as the speeds reached were higher and the competing vehicles bore a striking resemblance to the 1934/5 type of European voiturette. One car in particular. of Miller origin (rear wheel drive), was beautifully turned out and was an eminently satisfactory looking job. At that time, due to the fact that we were something of a novelty to the emo
Some interesting experiences in England, U.S.A. and S. Africa, described by P/O Arthur Rusling, R.A.F.V.R. tional Southerners, and no doubt basking in the reflected glory of the Battle of Britain fighter boys, R.A.F. cadets (or
as we were officially style(lBritish Flying Students “) were accorded the same treatment that is, one imagines, only given to film stars and such superhuman beings. Consequently, it was not a particularly difficult matter to persuade the owner of a business-like Miller that an Englishman should be allowed the opportUnity of showing his paces at the following meeting. This would have been ‘a highly illuminating experience. Unfortunately, in the Service one learns in due course to go where one is sent—and the U.S. Army Air Corps deemed that I should be in residence in a distant part of America before the next event was held. A special type of driving technique is, of course, essential to any degree of success in these cinder-track races, and the thought was inspired that, given that technique,, the o.h.c. Austin could cause acquisition of large bags of .gold to its sponsors. (Post-war hint to Messrs. Hadley & Co. 1)
During the rest of the Atheriean visit nothing more than the normal Yankee motor was encountered. One’s acquaintance with the Cord was renewed in Boston–an enjoyable experience, this time a black saloon (or should one say ” sedan ” ?). A 1931-ish Lincoln drophead coupe provided fast and Comfortable motoring. New York was crowded with American types, naturally enough, and solitary 25-11.p. Rolls-Royce, looking very much aloof.
On a brief infiltration into Mexico a lone Fiat ” 400 ” caused surprise. This particular ” Mouse ” had left-hand steering and was finished in a brilliant orange hue.
Eventually Canada was re-visitedthis time not. a 11111(1 of sunshine, but of SHOW, ice and frost-bite. The Daytona Hornet was still giving excellent service in Toronto where, it, was whispered, a blower Bentley (rumour had it ex-Le Mans) was to be found. Most unfortunately this was not located. Mont real provided a few more of the smaller models of the Houses of Austin and Morris, nipping smartly in traffic between their larger American contemporaries, the Smartest of which may have been the popular Packard ” Clipper.”
In the early spring of 1942 England was seen again an England where comparatively little private motoring was being done and where even fewer sports cars were seen on the roads. However, after exile, a select few motor ears proved that the joy and thrill of handling a real car still remained—a thrill that the true enthusiast surely never bases, however blasé he may liecome – and a supercharged Atalanta in
the West Country, a ” Brook lands ” Riley in the Midlands, and lastly a 2-litre Lagonda in Cheshire, in turn, gave promise of better things to cektrie. Unfortunately, j tist as it was once again realised that after all life had its compensations, another sea-cruise was indicated—somewhat longer this time—and England’s summer was abandoned for South Africa’s winter.
Acquaintance ?N’tVi soon made with the beautiful city of Durban, and a Dodge was quickly acquired with which to explore the surrounding Natal countryside. Here the motoring atmosphere is entirely different from that of either the States or Canada. Here are to be found cars emanating from Germany-, France, England, the U.S.A., and Canada, while Czechoslovakia sends its representative, the Skoda, in by no means small numbers. Incidentally, time unfamiliar Skoda, with all four -wheels independently suspended, tubular cliassis, and typically Continental, proved sofim(tiuirig of a headache until a specimen was discovered standing at the kerbside. Your enthusiast hates to admit to his less knowledgeable friends that he is unable to identify what to them is merely a normal little car—but to him is something quite out of the ordinary !
That first glimpse of Durban held a promise —a promise that was later amply fulfilled. There are to be seen numbers or D.K.W., Morris, Austin, Singer, again the Jowett, Adler, Wanderer, Citroen, Fiat, Skoda, Peugeot, and, of course, various makes of American manufacture. A few Rover and the smaller Mere6desBenz are also to be found.
En passant, one Wonders how far the popularity of German vehicles is doe to German supremacy in pre-war Grands Prix.
It was somewhat surprising to learn that time Natal C.C. and M.C.C. still found it possible to hold competitions. It was possible to attend one such meeting at Currie’s Fountain, Durban, in August. Time small grass circuit is roughly rectangular, with one bend a. banked cinder track. Most of the competing ears are single-seaters based on Austin, Singer Le Mans or Ford chassis. Basil Cook, an enthusiast who spoke of his visit to the E.H.A. works at Bourne, won the main event of the day, the Alalvern Trophy, in his businesslike single-seater Austin, while 13eall’s Ford Special would have made the heart of any Shelsley Special builder rejoice. Beall very kilally allowed me to motor his car around the circuit, while another competitor most considerately lent me his Singer Le Mans Special for the last race, in which second place was a(•liieved. Although the meeting was something in the nature of’ a circus, and was not, of course, comparable with any British meeting I have attended, it was nevertheless .f.rmat fun among a tine little band of enthusiasts. Pietermaritzburg, within easy reach of Durban, is the home of one of the Union’s most promising drivers, Roy Hesketh. His stable includes an R-type M.G. Midget, acquired in 1936, and an E.R.A. —the only car of that marque resident in South Africa. This was purchased in
1938. HeSketh, who is a flying instructor in the S.A.A.F., gained valuable experience racing-motor-bicycles before turning his attentions to four wheels, and has shown good form against Continental and British competitors in South Africa’s premier road ‘ races. He finished second in the 1938 Rand Grand Prix, and there is little doubt that the war has prevented more from-. being heard of him.
While flying around Pretoria I was fortunate enough to be on the same station as a very great enthusiast, J. G. 0. Watson, perpetually “browned off” (to use an R.A.F. term), with the dismal prospect of completing the war in the capacity of a flying instructor instead of that of an operational pilot. Jimmy Watson, a young Johannesburg architect, raced an Austin in more peaceful days, and his present pride and joy is his “San Sebastian” Salmson, now in many small pieces. Meanwhile, he was enjoying himself with his old 14.9 Ford, purchased for a nominal sum of money. A true enthusiast in the strictest sense of the word.
Ariother S.A.A.F. pilot on this station was u vintage Bentley enthusiast. His war-time conveyance is a late Skoda 2-seater cabriolet. This was my first opportunity of trying the Skoda on the road,. and an excellent impression was gained of the capabilities of this attractive little:car. The design is compact, and one of its chief characteristics is its roadholding ca pa eit v, di le no doubt to its form. of suspension and good ;weight distribution. ( /u the ifidifferent tracks in which South Africa.spehilises—they are riot roads as we in England know theni—she chins like a leech. One wonders why this little car never found its way on to the British market.
Another interesting car discovered around Pretoria was a black ” Ulster ” Aston-Martin, the condition of which was not all it might have been. This may have been the car entered by W. A. F. Mills in the 1937 South African Grand Prix.
In addition to the usual galaxy of Continental, British and American cars of the more normal type in Johannesburg, there are a few more interesting vehicles. Worthy of mention are a Type 540K Mercedes-Benz cabriolet, a few S.S. Jaguar saloons, a lone S.S. “100,” a few “J,” ” P ” and “T “-type M.G. Midgets and the larger rerresentatives of Abingdon, one or two Rolls-Royce, a “Speed .25 ” Alvis, and a 31-litre Bentley owned by Eric Longden, a Johannesburg business man who took part in British events in the 1920s. And there should not be omitted a beautifully kept late A.C. ” Ace ” 2-seater, finished in black, which was personally collected by its owner from Thames Ditton. Last, but certainly not least, there is the vintage enthusiast’s representative, an ex-Guy Warburton “80/98” Vauxhall, owned by another S.A.A.F. enthusiast, burbling along quite happily through the “Golden City’s ” main thoroughfares, and still able to show its rear view to American cars its juniors by some 12 or 13 years.
Johannesburg has its own event—the Rand Grand Prix—and it is not surprising to find enthusiasts there. These include Maurice E. Bothner, J. G. Clark, A. S. du Toit and V. C. Berrange. ” Bobby ” ..Bothner, a young music dealer, drove a Type 37 Bugatti in 1936, a supercharged ” 2.3 ” Bug,atti in 1937, and the following season saw him with a monoposto ” 2.9 ” Maserati. Jimmy Clark, a popular motor trader,. is a Riley exponent, and in 1937 and 1938 drove a if litre of that marque.
“Sonny “du Toit, after driving converted Americans, turned to Laslo Hartmann’s 21-litre Maserati in 1938. Vernon Berrange has consistently:driven in all kinds of South African events, using Riley, Ford and Whys products.
The home of motor-racing in South Africa, and the venue of the South African Grand Prix is East London A great deal of fun was obtained in negotiating the fast circuit per Austin 16 ” York ” saloon, circa 1935. Needless to say, Auto Union’s lap record remained ‘rata. ct ! The fast, winding leg is surprisingly narrow, and it is not hard to understand that Rosemeyer and von Delius experienced a certain amount of difficulty in overtaking slower cars on this stretch of coast road. Poor Rosemeyer’s record lap stands at 115 m.p.h., while Raymond Mays completed a circuit in the 11-litre E.R.A. at 106 m.p.h.
I was extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity of meeting John Griffin and his charming wife. John, an East London chartered accountant, has been, since 1937, the chairman of the hoard of directors of the company promoting the South African Grand Prix, and we spent many happy hours discussing motor-racing and mutual friends. John introduced me to W. Buller Meyer, another great enthusiast, whose record includes second place in the 1937 South African Grand Prix in a 1,100-c.c. “Ulster” Riley circa 1934, and first in 1938 in the ex-Dobbs offset Riley, now powered by a 11-litre engine, at the fine average speed of 86.53 m.p.h. Although by no means a young man, Buller, who is engaged m the brick industry, is among South Africa’s best drilvers. A real sportsman, Buller was tutored by Lord Howe, to whom South African motor-racing owes a
great deal, and had competed in various South African events for a few years before turning his attention to Grand Prix type racing in 1937. The ” Ulster” Riley is a most satisfactory-looking vehicle and is a sight “calculated to stir any enthusiast. The offset Riley, which Dobbs drove with such effect in England, is now finished in an unfamiliar shade Of red, while a streamlined radiator cowl is a distinct–improvement so far as appearance is concerned over the bleak radiator core previously exposed to the eyes of the British racing fraternity. The 1/-litre engine appears to have been installed by Thomson and Taylor before being shipped to South Africa in 1937, but still retains the characteristic six Atrial carburetters in line.
Buller now has a 6-cylinder 1/-litre Maserati, which was obtained from the Italian works for the 1939 season, when, unfortunately, it gave trouble. It is now dismantled in Cape TOwn.
Two of Buller’s brothers are also enthusiastic motorists and have competed with an “N “-type M.G. Magnette and a 2-litre Bugatti.
Other notable South African motoring enthusiasts include “Mario,” F. Chiappini, D. van Riet, W. It Roderick, W. Ross, H. F. Hooper, A. GOvOni and J. H. Case. “. Mario,” • or Dr. Mazyacurati, is an Italian engineer residing in Cape Town, and is head of the Eagle Racing Stable. He is the dashing type of driver, and from 1929 to 1932 ‘competed success
fully in international events on the Continent. He won the 1936 South African Grand Prix in a 2.3-litre Bugatti at an average speed of 88.33 m.p.h. Since 1937 he has handled a mono-post° 3.7-litre Maserati, and in addition drove a 14-litre Maserati during 1939.
” Steve ” Chiappini, member of an old Cape family, and now in the Army, has been a consistent competitor in South African sand races, trials and hillclimbs. He drove a 1,100-c.c. Riley in 1936 and 1937, and used it to good effect in finishing third in the 1937 South African Grand Prix. In 1938 he handled a monoposto 2.9-litre Maserati, and the following season saw him behind the wheel of the ex-Howe 3.3-litre Bugatti and a 11-litre Maserati.
Douglas van Riet, also from Cape Town and now in the Army, has competed regularly and won the 1938 Rand Grand Prix, held near Johannesburg. He drives a rapid 750-c.c. single-seater Austin.
Roderick, a Bloemfontein motor trader, at one time held the lap record for the Lord Howe circuit, Johannesburg, at 65.82 m.p.h. He handles a 2.6-litre Alfa-Romeo.
During 1934 Bill Ross achieved third place in the Kimberley Hundred road race, and fourth place in the South African Grand Prix at 78 m.p.h.’ using a converted 8-cylinder single-seaterfludson. In 1936 he handled the 2.6-litre Monza Alfa-Romeo, and 1939 saw him with the ex-Howe ” 3.3 ” Bugatti.
Hooper has competed regularly, particularly in events held in Natal, and has experience with a 3-litre Talbot and the ” 3.3 ” Bugatti. Govoni handled a ” 2.3 ” Bugatti as a member of the Eagle Racing Stable. Case drove a twin-‘ carburetter, single-seater V8 Ford in the South African Grand Prix of 1984— when he finished second to Whitney’ Straight’s ” 2.9 ” Maserati—and in 1936 and 1937.
In addition to the ears already mentioned there. are others worthy of note in the Union. These include a supercharged 2-litre Bugatti, raced in 1938 by Prosser Roberts, of Johannesburg, who also drove a converted V8 Ford the following year. One of the beautiful old 8-cylinder 1litre Talbot-Darracqs has been rebuilt and raced in single-seater form by the Eagle Racing Stable. The ex-Maclachlan 747-c.c. single-seater Austin, well known at sprint events in England, showed its paces in 1939 under the direction of Neville Clayton, of Cape Town. Then there is an M.G. ” Montlhery ” Midget, a T.T. Replica Frazer-Nash, and two or three ” Brooklands ” Rileys.
In 1934 South Africans drove large converted American machines, some of which went remarkably well, against Straight’s Maserati. Five years later, when the S.A. Grand Prix became a 1/litre event, there were three Maseratis, and an E.R.A. handled by Springboks, against strong Continental and British opposition.