Letter from Europe

[By means of which the Continental Correspondent, while he is motoring abroad, keeps in touch with the Editor.]

Dear W. B.,

Motoring in Europe has not been very exciting recently, mainly due to all the races being in Northern Europe, so that the trips have been relatively short, a leisurely day sufficing for most of them. To some people the five-hour drive from Dunkerque to Nurburgring, or Boulogne to Le Mans, may seem exciting and interesting, and they consider it a “Continental Trip”, but I cannot work up much enthusiasm. I like to put in 200 miles before lunch, another 200 in the afternoon, and finish off with 100 in the evening, go to bed satisfied with the day’s motoring, and then do the same the next day, and the day after that, then I feel I am really “Continental motoring”. Some of the racing transporters do fantastic trips, such as Vienna to Madrid, or Nuremberg to Portugal, or Sweden to Sicily. Of course, with their lower average speeds, and frontier delays, they have to run non-stop between races, the mechanics taking turns at driving and snatching the odd hour or two of sleep in the passenger seat, or in a bunk if they have a big lorry. By the time you read this I shall have been back in the “Continental motoring” groove, with a trip to Zeltweg in the middle of Austria. Knowing the route I can plan ahead to stay at various motels, which I enjoy for a quick over-night stop. Good motels are springing up all over Europe, but unfortunately so are some had ones, and, worst of all, the hotel trade is cheating by calling very orthodox hotels by the term motel. As far as I am concerned a motel is a place that provides a simple, comfortable room where you can back the car right up to the door, or underneath the room in some of them. The eating facilities are straight-forward and unpretentious, everything is on the “cash sale” basis, so that you pay your money as you get the room key, and there are all motoring services, such as petrol, air, oil and so on, at an adjoining garage, and the service is there night and day. All this means that if you want to leave at six o’clock next morning you can have everything ready and leave immediately, without having to waste five minutes for the bill to be made out, five minutes for your baggage to be brought down four flights of stairs, five minutes fiddling about getting the car out of the garage; five minutes getting petrol because the garage shut early the previous evening, and so on. I find that all that sort of thing, which is all right when you are just pottering about on holiday, puts me off if I am starting the second or third 500 to 600-miles-a-day leg of a journey, and if you lose the rhythm to start with it’s hard to pick it up. Just recently I was on a Continental Motorway and saw a sign saying “Motel”, so pulled off to it. It was nothing more than a “Ritzy clip-joint” for American tourists and bore no resemblance to a motel whatsoever. What a pity that there is always someone in this world who has to cheat, distort the truth or just mess up a good idea. This sort of thing is not restricted to one country, unfortunately.

While I was down at the Daimler-Benz factory I was suddenly aware of the signs within the factory grounds that said there was a speed limit of 40 k.p.h. (25 m.p.h.). Now I find that 15-20 m.p.h. is adequate when pottering about factory roads, especially busy ones, but I could not help admiring the minds of the works management who fixed such a reasonable limit; I felt they must be motoring minded. I always smile when I go to some English factories and see speed-limit signs at the gate of 10 m.p.h., or even 5 m.p.h., as I feel the management are still in the horse-and-cart age of thinking, and I’m sure that the decision-makers have never tried driving a car at 5 m.p.h. Surely advanced thinking must produce advanced cars?

While on the subject of speed limits, I hear rumours that there is to be a revision of our speed limits at home, with an 80-m.p.h. limit on Motorways and 60-m.p.h. limit on main roads other than Motorways. While preferring freedom all over, I will accept that this new move is more intelligent thinking by the law-makers and “permanent civil servants”, for I’m sure such decisions have little to do with the figure-head at the Ministry of Transport, whether it be a Minister or Mistress of Transport. Back in June the Belgian Government brought out a series of new motoring laws and among them was a minimum speed limit for Motorways, there being no maximum limit in Belgium. This minimum was 70 k.p.h. (43½ m.p.h.), and while I applauded the idea I did not think it would be enforced, but I hear that the Motorway police on their big Harley Davidson motorcycles are very hot about it. This season has seen the Duckham’s Oil Company spreading its wings in motor racing, expanding to bigger and better things, though they have supported racing in a small way for many years. Anyway, the Duckham’s yellow, white and blue publicity caravan was taken to the Nurburgring for the German G.P., its first venture abroad, and was towed behind a Land Rover. It is rather large and cumbersome and 35 m.p.h. is about the top whack with safety, and while the “oily boys” were bowling along the Motorway from Ostende to Bruxelles a couple of mobile gendarmes drew alongside and urged them on to greater speeds. They struggled up to nearly 40 m.p.h., swaying about a bit, and then the mobiles stopped them and said that if they could not reach 42½ m.p.h. (70 k.p.h.) they would have to leave the Motorway and use the normal roads. As they could not comply they were escorted to the next turn-off and sent on their way down the normal road to Bruxelles. Agreed it was a bit hard on the Duckham’s lads, but on a limit-free Motorway they were very much in the minority and a travelling hazard to 100-m.p.h. motoring, not in themselves, but because someone travelling at 50 m.p.h., would be bound to try and overtake them just as a fast car was coming up behind. Belgium can be a tiresome country in some ways, but they have some good motoring sense. I well remember watching the four-lane roads being built in 1948 and marvelling at the forward-thinking when they said that the road scheme was for twenty years’ life, for 1968 seemed a lifetime away. Those four-lane roads are now chocka-block with traffic and Motorways are replacing them.

After the German Grand Prix I made a quick trip back to London by courtesy of the B.B.C. to watch their television play “Mille Miglia”, which I mentioned last month. All I can say is that if that was representative of TV theatre and entertainment, then I would rather spend my spare hours working at something useful. Not being a TV-addict I have no standards for judgement, but it would seem that the remarks made many years ago to the effect that “Television would replace entertainment” were absolutely true. That costly and extravagant 90 minutes’ worth, that didn’t pay “royalties” or “imitation fees” to either Moss or me, depicted him more as he is today than as he was in 1955, and the ham-actor who played me produced a fictional character that was neither me “then” or “now”, and I certainly hope not “tomorrow”; or maybe I have the wrong opinion of myself?

In closing, I am sorry to hear about the demise of Lotus Cars! Some years ago I was talking to Colin Chapman about the Daimler-Benz Museum and a projected one at Porsche. He said “Museums are out; the day you start thinking about museums and the past you are finished as a progressive manufacturer.” Coming from Chapman I accepted this in the light of a new car-builder, but recently I found copy of the Daily Mail where it said, “Colin Chapman, the millionaire (! D. S. J.) designer of Lotus Cars, is to start a museum of all the cars he has designed, at his works in Norwich. . . .”D. S. J.