Yes, gentle reader, a car yarn in a timeline of motor cycling. I came across it while trawling the net for caption information to tie in with the pic of a Laurin-Klementz that completed the Paris-Vienna race. The byline attracted my attention: Charles Jarrott—a founder-member (in 1901) of The Motor Cycling Club, MCC president from 1908-22, stalwart long-distance motor cyclist…his name crops up regularly in this timeline. So I read the beginning of Jarrott’s story and found reference to Selwyn Edge, who was the MCC’s first president who won his first engine powered event (at Crystal Palace) on a De Dion trike in 1898. (Jarrott and Edge, like their contemporaries had cut their teeth on bicycles which might account for the astonishing powers of endurance). And then my tea went cold as I read on, entranced by yarn so ripping that it demands inclusion here. It’s mid-summer 1902 and we’re off to Vienna…
CHAMPIGNY LOOKED AS IT ALWAYS LOOKED on the morning of the start of a big race, with thousands of cyclists, touring cars, and people occupying the village and roads adjacent to the start; and away up the hill stretched the long line of racing cars, much longer than had been seen in any previous race.
Once more I was lined up with my car, ready to start off on the long journey to Vienna, and once more, with the happy experiences of the Circuit du Nord race in mind, George Du Cros was accompanying me. We had for this race obtained our “70” Panhard—a replica of the speed monster we had seen De Knyff use in the Circuit du Nord—and very much impressed we were with its capabilities. Three days before the race, I had taken the car out on the road for the first time. I remember, after our first real burst of speed, we had to pull up for a shower of rain, and when we got down to take shelter under a tree, we compared our sensations of the fearful speed which the car appeared to be capable of attaining. As a matter of fact, when it came to the race itself, we would have given much to have had an engine double the size. But our first experience, on a lonely country road, without the excitement and fever of the race itself, gave us something to think about during the few days before the start.
A word about the race itself may be of interest. The Paris-Berlin race had been so successful, both from the spectacular and sporting point of view, that a race with Vienna as its destination seemed to ensure a similar success. The trouble with the French Government had been smoothed over. The Circuit du Nord had proved that racing could be carried out, if regulated properly, without danger to spectators, and the prohibition was removed when it was put forward by the champions of the industry that such an event would be beneficial and stimulating to manufacturers.
The race was somewhat involved, as it meant going through Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, and on no account would the Swiss Government permit of any racing in that country, although the authorities in Germany and Austria did everything in their power in order to make it a success. It was arranged that the race should occupy four days, and be run over four stages. The first, from Paris to Belfort, 408 kilometres; the second, from Belfort to Bregenz (this portion being neutralised); the third, from Bregenz to Salzburg, 369 kilometres; and the fourth, from Salzburg to Vienna, 343 kilometres; the total racing distance being 1,120 kilometres.
Owing to the difficulty of obtaining a permit from the French Government for a special race for the Gordon-Bennett Cup, it was decided to run this race over the same route and at the same time as the race to Vienna, the competitors in the Gordon-Bennett race being also competitors in the longer race. The rules of the Gordon-Bennett race allowed the distance to be much shorter than from Paris to Vienna, and the finish of this event, therefore, was fixed at Innsbruck, which would be reached on the third day, giving a total distance of 609.92 kilometres. The Gordon-Bennett competitors who continued beyond that place would do so as competitors in the Paris-Vienna race only.
As holder of the Cup, France had selected her team to defend it—Girardot, the previous winner (CGV), De Knyff (Panhard), and Fournier (Mors). England, being the only country to challenge, was represented by two cars—Edge (Napier) and Austin (Wolseley). The Gordon-Bennett competitors were given the post of honour at the head of the long line of starters, and were dispatched on their journey first. I, of course, driving a Panhard car, was not competing in the Gordon-Bennett race, but only in the race to Vienna.
Everything ready, spare tyres strapped on to the back, tools in their proper places, petrol tanks filled, we were in outward appearance prepared to go through in great style. I had, however, noticed on the previous day with some misgiving that my car seemed somewhat lighter than the other 70hp Panhards which were taking part in the race, and I ascertained that owing to lack of time it had been impossible to strengthen the frame of my machine, which had at the last moment been considered advisable in connection with the other cars; and this, as it turned out, proved to be my undoing.
At 3.30 Girardot (the winner of the previous year) was sent off on his long journey on his C.G.V. car. He was followed by Fournier at 3.32 on a Mors. Then came Edge and De Knyff, and the rest of us were dispatched at intervals of two minutes. Having been over portion of the route prior to the race, I had decided that under no circumstances would I be bustled over the first eighty kilometres to Provins. The road was bad, and with hundreds of miles in front of us it did not seem advisable to run the risk of breaking up our beloved.
“Seventy” right at the commencement. It was very difficult to adhere to this decision when cars began to catch us, but I held on my way serenely, never attempting to use my fourth speed until, after leaving Provins, the character of the road changed and a smooth surface presented itself. Then in went the fourth speed and we really began to race. Pinson, who had previously passed us, was quickly caught and left behind, and we were in full flight after the leaders. Fournier we had already passed, and from his gesticulations it was obvious that he was in serious difficulty; hence one member of the French team was to all intents and purposes finished.
We soon came upon Girardot, also in difficulty, and this meant that only Edge and De Knyff were really racing for the Gordon-Bennett cup. After that we came upon Edge, who had started a considerable time in front of us, getting along very well. A wave of the hand, and he was soon swallowed up in our dust, and only three cars remained in front of us—De Knyff, who was leading, and Maurice and Henry Farman. We eventually ran into a control at the same time as Maurice, and racing neck and neck we caught Henry. Then a terrific race took place between the three cars, and to this day I am not clear which of us did the fastest time to Belfort, although the actual order of finishing was officially given as De Knyff, H Farman, Jarrott, M. Farman.
In the last control just before Belfort, both the Farmans dashed off instead of waiting for the proper signal to go, but I was very quickly after them, and Belfort saw us arriving within a minute of each other and within seven minutes of De Knyff, who had covered the total distance of 253 miles in 7hr 11min Allowing for neutralisations, our actual traveling time was 4hr 6min being equal to fifty-six miles an hour.
Edge arrived some time afterwards, but with the exception of De Knyff, the other Gordon-Bennett competitors were out of it, both Girardot and Fournier having given up. I remember on that evening having a conversation with De Knyff in regard to his retaining the Gordon-Bennett cup for France, and even then, on the day when he had finished first and seemed to be going better than anybody, he expressed a doubt as to whether he would be able to hold his position, as during the run that day his differential had developed in view of the rough roads which had to be traversed before Innsbruck (which was the finishing-point of the race for the Cup) would be reached, the terrible journey over the Arlberg, which would try the strength and construction of every car in the most severe manner, had to be negotiated. If anything happened to De Knyff before Innsbruck, and Edge could only keep going, the Cup was a certainty for England. However, it was useless surmising as to what might happen.
Belfort is an interesting town, owing to its being on the frontier and the extraordinary precautions which have been taken to make it into a fighting town—every wall and house is loopholed, although, as Du Cros pointed out, a battery of modern guns some miles away would play havoc with the town in spite of its preparedness for hand-to-hand fighting. But it was particularly interesting to us by reason of its lack of hotel accommodation, and it seemed at first that my usual experience of being landed in a town without a place to lay my head would be repeated. Finally, we found rooms some distance out of the town, and capturing our bags from the hotel to which they had been sent, we shouldered them and made ourselves comfortable in the house of a hospitable peasant.
One of the most extraordinary things in connection with racing is the apparent length of the days. Starting off at daybreak, it always seemed that by ten o’clock one had been traveling throughout the whole day, and having lost all count of time, midday seemed like four o’clock in the afternoon. As a rule, unless a great amount of trouble was experienced, it was always possible to finish by twelve or one o’clock, and thus the whole afternoon could be given up to watching the late arrivals and interchange of experiences with the various drivers. That afternoon, in Belfort, I discovered Edge wandering about unable to find accommodation of any description, and it was only when we had tried every available place in the town and eventually discovered a small loft over a provision dealer’s, in which a large number of hams were in process of curing, that Edge found a resting-place for the night.
On our arrival, our cars had as usual been taken charge of and lodged in a huge riding-school, being locked up for the night, and the procedure was somewhat amusing when early the next morning the great crowd of drivers, mechanicians, and mechanics were ready, waiting to be allowed to start off on the next stage. The cars were started off in order of arrival, and time was taken two minutes after the admittance of the driver and mechanician into the gates. This meant that immediately a particular driver and mechanician were admitted they started running at top speed to get to their car, as every moment was valuable, and then fearful scenes would be witnessed as the various cars were started up. All sorts of troubles would have developed during the night.
Leaking cylinders, which had run all right during the day owing to its being possible to replenish them with water en route, would have emptied themselves, and there was invariably a free fight for possession of water-buckets, as it often happened that several cars were in the same condition from this cause. At these early morning starts one also had the opportunity of observing how easy some cars were to start and what efforts were required to make others move at all. There was no particular courtesy shown to anybody, and if a car was not ready to go a squad of soldiers took possession of it and pushed it outside the gates, and the time was taken forth-with. Some of the drivers with refractory engines soon discovered this was an excellent way of getting their cars started without trouble, and it was a common trick to utilise the whole of the time available in replenishing the car, and then, as the military squad arrived and started to push the car out, a skilful manipulation of the clutch on the part of the driver would connect up the engine, and the impetus given to the car would start it up and everything would be well.
I was not altogether happy at the start of the second day. I had noticed that the frame of my car during the run through to Belfort had bent in a very ominous manner, and, in fact, had started to crack on the right-hand side. How far this would extend I did not know, but I was hoping for the best. The second stage of the race being through Switzerland, where racing was not allowed, was neutralised so far as speed was concerned, a maximum time being allowed between the controls, and any time taken beyond the maximum being deducted out of the total racing time. Twenty kilometres from Belfort our troubles began with a puncture, and in our eagerness to affect a rapid repair we nipped the tube and had to do it all over again. This caused us the loss of valuable time, and a lot of cars passed us. Then after another twenty kilometres an ominous knocking sound from the engines betokened that something was wrong, and I found that a plug had come out of the pump and we had lost all our water.
The engines on the ’70’ Panhards were of most delicate construction, and the water-jackets were soldered on to the cylinders. Therefore, judge of my dismay when I noticed that the precious solder, on which we had depended to keep our water-jackets water- tight, was running away in a molten stream. With the aid of a small hammer, and after spending a considerable amount of time, we managed to repair this, and then we set off across country to find water. Du Cros was the lucky discoverer of the precious fluid, and the nearest spot from whence it could be obtained was a farmhouse at least a quarter of a mile away from the road. We toiled on, carrying a bucketful at a time, until at last we had filled up, and once more started on our way.
The delays experienced had had a disastrous effect on our average, as we had on each occasion far exceeded the time allowance between the various controls, and we knew that all the delays would be debited against our net running time in the race. The frame of my car was getting worse and worse, and after crossing the frontier into Germany, when we were five kilometres away from Bregenz, a terrific crack advised us that one side had gone ; and the other looked very much as if it might collapse at any moment. Arriving at the control where the cars were stored for the night, we pointed out the trouble to De Knyff, and he held out no hope of our being able to run even another ten kilometres after starting out on the following morning. Two very disconsolate men wended their way to the hotel that afternoon, and it seemed as if the hopes we had entertained of making a fine finish into Vienna were already dashed to the ground. We felt that if we could only strengthen up the sides of the frame by some means or other, it would probably hold out sufficiently for us to get over the next stage to Salzburg, 369 kilometres.
But there we were, in a strange German town, unable to speak the language, and not knowing what we could obtain to effect the repair. However, it seemed that nothing could be done, so we resigned ourselves to our fate. One effect of touring instead of racing was that we had had to sit for hours in a continual cloud of dust, and our appearance on arrival at Bregenz was dirtier than anything I have seen before or since, and our one wish was to obtain a bath if that were possible. Upon inquiry at the hotel, however, we were informed that this was an unknown luxury. We therefore started out to see whether a bath was to be obtained anywhere in the town at all. On our way we met Edge and his cousin engaged upon a like quest, and at this moment I had the happy idea of using my slight knowledge of German to inquire from a passer-by as to whether there were any public baths in Bregenz to which we could go.
He gave me minute directions which I did not understand; but, nevertheless, it was sufficient excuse for me to lead the party off in the direction indicated. Then we suddenly came upon the railway-station. This not being what we required, I again inquired of a bystander, who talked to me volubly in German, and pointed to—the railway-station. We were all very puzzled, and proceeded to retrace our steps to the town. Again I inquired, but although we traveled by a more circuitous route, we again found ourselves at—the railway-station. Luckily, I then met a friend who explained the whole matter. Why I should have imagined that “bathhouse” in German was ‘bahnhof’ I do not know, but the fact remains that I had all the time been inquiring my way to the ‘bahnhof”, and consequently we found ourselves again and again returning to the railway-station. The purchase of clean linen in a small shop in the town also afforded us considerable scope in the language of gesticulation. Our experience of Bregenz, altogether, was not a happy one, when it came to making ourselves understood.
It was typical, however, of the difficulties with which an Englishman not knowing the language had to contend in these inter-country events. In my perambulations through the town I came across a shop in the window of which were exposed to view all sorts of tools, and it flashed into my mind that if I could succeed in obtaining suitable tools and material, I could possibly patch up our car sufficiently on the following morning to enable us to make another attempt to get over the next stage to Salzburg. So summoning Du Cros to my aid, we entered the shop together and endeavoured to make known that we wished to purchase a large auger suitable for boring wood. Much to our surprise we found the very instrument we wanted, but by no manner of means could we get anything more. We required in addition some long bolts and four long thick pieces of wood, but in this we were doomed to disappointment, and we seemed no nearer the solution of our difficulties than we were when we entered.
It was then five o’clock in the afternoon, and we were slowly making our way back to the hotel with the auger, having been quite unable to obtain either the bolts or the wood, when I met an English friend, who, hearing our story, undertook to get everything we wanted without difficulty. Of course it was obvious that even when we had obtained these things the fixing up of the car would not only be difficult but very likely impossible, but we sat down to dinner that evening feeling somewhat happier in the knowledge that we should at least be able to make an attempt at repairing the car.
My friend returned after dinner with a very long face and many apologies, saying that although he had been able to secure the eight bolts he had been quite unable to procure the wood. By this time I had given up the idea of being able to do anything, and we made our way up to bed, disconsolate and forlorn. The bedroom given to me was fitted up with very solid-looking furniture, but I paid very little attention as to whether it was solid or not, as I was worrying over one thing only—how I could obtain suitable material to repair my car. I was just getting into bed and had turned to put out the light, when my eye fell upon a stand used for carrying a tray, and in a second I perceived that the four legs of that stand were exactly what I wanted. I immediately had Du Cros out of bed, and then we discussed the advisability of consulting the landlord as to whether he would sell us the stand. But it was then eleven o’clock, and we had to be up and off by four on the following morning, and possibly the landlord would not sell it to us, and then we should be in a hopeless position once more ; so we came to the conclusion that the risk was too great, and the best thing we could do was to ask nobody, and explain all about it afterwards.
So we set to work forthwith. Our great trouble was having to demolish the stand without making a noise, but after much effort we had secured the four long straight legs, had broken away the connecting pieces, and then all we had to do was to drill four holes in each length, so that on the following morning we could place the pieces on each side of the frame and bolt them up. Then I produced the auger, and we set to work to bore the holes. Never in my life have I known wood so hard as that happened to be. I believe it was mahogany, but in any event, after boring two or three holes in one piece we were utterly exhausted; but still we struggled on. In order to make matters easier, Du Cros had the happy idea of putting one piece of wood against the wall, thus being able to get greater power in forcing the auger through. He was delightfully successful, but the trouble was that he drove it through too far, and as the wall was coated with plaster, he succeeded in bringing down half the plaster when he attempted to extract the auger. The noise that plaster made falling was horrible, and it seemed impossible for us not to have awakened the whole hotel. This, however, did not satisfy him, and in endeavouring to show how easy it was on another portion of the wall he succeeded in bringing that down also.
By this time the room was in a terrible condition, everything being upside down, and plaster was strewn all over the floor. Then I had an original idea, in the execution of which I bored a hole through my arm instead of through the wood, and for the next half-hour we were devising tourniquets and tearing up the bed linen to make bandages. In fact, there was nothing in the room we did not utilise for something or other. Having at last succeeded in boring all our holes, we then had to proceed to tidy up the room in case of trouble in the morning. With the aid of a towel we managed to sweep up the debris, and deposited it carefully in the bottom of a bureau. We afterwards moved the bureau to cover the wall, and the appearance of the room when we had finished was quite respectable; but I hate to think what must have been the expression on the proprietor’s face on the following morning when he discovered what had taken place. There was a great rush the next morning, and we had no opportunity of getting hold of him to explain. The only qualms of conscience I ever had in connection with the whole matter were that I had forgotten, and still forget, the name either of the proprietor or the hotel.
The next morning we were faced by another difficulty, namely, how we were to smuggle the table legs out of the hotel. It was dark, of course, and while I do not propose to describe how we managed to do it, I may say we were successful ; and we dashed off to the control where the cars were stored, all ready to begin fixing up our car immediately we were allowed in. Of course the repair took time, but this was a minor detail compared with the importance of our finishing at Vienna, or at least getting over the next stage to Salzburg. De Knyff was highly amused when he saw our preparations, and none of the other competitors considered for one moment that we seriously hoped to repair the car and arrive at Salzburg. But we worked on feverishly, and eventually had the satisfaction of seeing the frame stiffening up, and so sound did it appear when we had finished, that there seemed no reason at all why we should not only arrive at Salzburg, but eventually get to Vienna, if the Fates were kind. By this time it was seven o’clock, and nearly every-body else had started.
Mist and dust made passing difficult, but we soon began to work our way through the long line of cars in front of us, having but one idea—to finish at all costs in Vienna. And then at last the Arlberg loomed in sight, and, knowing the nature of the climb and the road in front of us, we made a hasty examination of the car to make sure that everything was in order. We discovered that our spare lubricating oil had been dropped overboard, and as it was too risky to rely upon the small quantity we had in our tank we had to return fourteen kilometres to the last control and obtain a fresh supply. This part of the journey was hair- raising. We were meeting cars all the time, and how we escaped colliding, in the dust and fog, I do not understand to this day.
By the time we had procured this fresh supply of oil most of the cars had passed us, and once more I turned round and was off again in hot pursuit. The Arlberg at last and we were climbing the first portion of the ascent in magnificent style. Up and up we went, passing other cars at every hundred yards. Then we struck the winding and dangerous portion of the road, and still it went up towards the sky, the road itself being cut on a ledge on the side of the mountain, with a terrible drop on one side and a sheer cliff wall on the other. The height we eventually reached was sufficient to scare the most intrepid driver, when the character of the road was taken into consideration. We found various cars in all sorts of difficulties. Some with engines overheated; others suffering from mechanical derangements; whilst in two or three instances the drivers seemed to have entirely lost their heads and driven hard into the side of the cliff, the continual effort of keeping away from that awful drop on the road absolutely unnerving them. Then the summit was reached and we began to descend. The ” Seventy ” had been traveling magnificently, and I was straining every nerve to regain some of the lost time, which we had expended in repairing our car and in returning for the lubricating oil. As we rushed down the mountain, corner after corner presented itself, and with hundreds of twists and turns the road gradually led down towards the plain.
The aspect of a number of drivers on the descent was curious. Some were crawling down slowly with the brakes hard on, whilst others had actually stopped to rest. Then, swinging round a corner, I came upon a driver sitting in his car, which was motionless, with his head buried in his hands. A few yards farther on I noticed a coat and a bag of tools lying in the road, but this conveyed nothing to my mind, and the matter was forgotten almost as soon as we had passed. What had actually happened was that Max, a driver of a Darracq car, had gone clean over the precipice, and the sight had so unnerved the driver of the car following that he was rendered helpless and unable to proceed another yard, The extraordinary part of the story was that Max was not killed. As the car leaped over the edge, the mechanician had been thrown out on to the road, and Max was also thrown out of the car after it had disappeared over the edge, and landed on a ledge some distance down, while the car was dashed to pieces in the depths below. It was said of Max that after he had been rescued the only observation he had to make was that it was just like his luck; apparently unable to appreciate his good fortune in having escaped with his life, and merely miserable because his car was hopelessly wrecked.
All this, of course, we did not see, and nothing checked our course down the mountain until we came upon a blue Panhard, similar to our own, deserted by the side of the road, and we immediately recognised it as the car belonging to De Knyff, who had obviously abandoned the race. The full significance of this did not strike us until we reached the bottom of the mountain and met De Knyff and Aristides walking into the nearest village. I immediately stopped and inquired what had happened, and he explained to me that the differential on his car had gone, and the last hope of France retaining the Gordon-Bennett Cup was lost. Only twenty kilometres from the finish at Innsbruck, hours ahead, but at the very last moment he had failed. De Knyff expressed surprise at seeing me, as he had had information that I had smashed up en route and had been killed. But I assured him that I was very much alive and in good fighting form, and that my car was going to get to Vienna if the repairs we had executed that morning would only stand. Then we were off again, hoping to catch Edge, who was some little distance in front, and advise him of his good fortune. We had made up a considerable amount of time in the ascent and descent of the mountain, and though we were not in the first flight were well up amongst the other cars.
Coming down a long hill at top speed we discovered a railway crossing with closed gates and four cars held up, waiting to get through. One of these turned out to be Edge’s, and we had the pleasure of informing him that he had but to finish in Innsbruck, fifteen kilometres away, to be declared the winner of the Gordon-Bennett Cup. He appeared to have had some hair-raising experiences; had run off the road into a field, and had a narrow escape of smashing his car up altogether. He had also suffered many tyre troubles; and Cecil Edge had performed great feats of valour in capturing petrol, lubricating oil, and spare inner tubes from various depots belonging to other firms, on the road, the attendants not realising at first that the car they were assisting was an English one, and making desperate attempts to regain what they had handed over when they discovered their mistake. I remember, just before the level-crossing was opened, telling Edge to run no possible risk over the next fifteen kilometres, but to take it gently. His method of doing this was to shoot off immediately the gates were opened, take the first corner at top speed, and, as it appeared to us, have an extraordinary escape from capsizing. How¬ever, we were after him and eventually passed him, again going very well.
Then once more we punctured, and had a further delay before getting into Innsbruck. There we again found Edge, radiant and joyful at having successfully completed the Gordon-Bennett course, and consequently having won the Cup for England. Innsbruck, however, meant to us but another stage in the long struggle to Vienna. We were by then in sorry straits. The malformation of the frame of our car had been attended with disastrous effects upon our gear, and we were all the time adjusting or readjusting various parts of the car, as occasion required. The stop in Innsbruck enabled us to have our tyres put right, and then on we went towards Salzburg.
The struggles of a race and the work attendant upon the driving and management of a racing car are not conducive to a smart and tidy appearance, and although I have in various races looked somewhat disreputable, I do not think that I ever presented a more ruffianly appearance than during the Paris-Vienna race. Du Cros was very little better; in fact, I think he looked even dirtier than myself. Hence, when stopped at a control some little distance from Innsbruck, we were addressed by some English girls who were at the control witnessing the arrival of the cars, clad in immaculate white linen, we were overwhelmed with confusion, and would have given almost anything to have denied our nationality. They were sympathetic, however, and realised that iced claret would appeal to us more strongly than any mere words of encouragement—an opinion with which, needless to say, we were in full accord. I was amused, however, when one of these young ladies asked me whether there were any ladies taking part in the race. I replied that it was “not a lady’s game, and that, as a matter of fact, I had come to the conclusion that it was more suit¬able for English navvies than for any other section of the community of which I had any knowledge.” That is exactly how the Paris-Vienna race appeared to both Du Cros and myself. It was undoubtedly sporting, but for sheer hard work I think those four days (which we occupied in getting from Paris to Vienna) were the worst I have ever experienced either before or since.
Our difficulties with the car grew more serious every minute; and then once more we heard the ominous hiss of escaping air and realised that one of our tyres had punctured again. We congratulated ourselves that it had happened in a charming spot, with a beautiful clear stream running by the side of the road in the shade of great leafy trees, and as we pulled up out of the sun we were almost pleased that the puncture had occurred under such favourable conditions. Little did we know what would happen before we had that tyre repaired. We soon discovered that we had stopped in the very midst of a vast colony of long-bodied, many-coloured dragon-flies, and as we got down to dismount the tyre we were surrounded by these fearful insects, which were nearly two inches in length, and seemed to take it in turns to dart upon us, and every time a huge swelling would result, attended by the most excruciating pain. The agony we endured I shall never forget; and at last, driven to distraction, I dashed to the edge of the brook and held my head under water to obtain some relief. Our appearance by the time we started again was deplorable; we were almost unrecognisable from the effect of the bites.
Still, our determination to get to Vienna was as strong as ever, and we went plodding on again. During these various stoppages we had, of course, been passed and had re-passed a considerable number of cars. My driving was not of a particularly careful or cautious character. When we were going we had to go fast, to make up for the stoppages. There could be no waiting behind any cars in front; we simply had to get by, without a moment’s delay. The result was that to the drivers of the smaller cars, who were wandering about from one side of the road to the other (not being clear whether they were driving according to the rule of the road existent in Austria, or to the rule of the road of France), we were something to be feared; and after we had passed the same cars two or three times we generally found they were on the look out for us, and made way very quickly.
A funny incident occurred in connection with the passing of a voiturette which had as driver and sole occupant a big, bearded Frenchman, who seemed incongruously out of place on such a small machine. We had had some trouble in passing him previously, and I had consequently had to cut matters very fine in getting by. One of our stoppages had allowed him to pass again, and once more we approached him from the rear. Suddenly he turned and saw the “Seventy” bearing down upon him once again. In his fright he gave the steering-wheel of his little car a sharp twist and shot clean off the road into a hay-field, being almost hidden by the long grass before he pulled up. He got out of his trouble, and arrived in the next control before we left. He explained the presence of hay on the front of his car by jokingly remarking that he had been studying agriculture en route. But, as he told me, he thought when he saw our car coming behind him we should require the whole width of the road to get by, and consequently, not wishing to inconvenience us, he had effaced himself. Salzburg was at last in sight, and never has any town appeared more charming, and never has the flag at an arrival control been more welcome than the one at the entrance to that city.
It was a gala-day for the town, which was bedecked with flags and flowers, the inhabitants and a large crowd of visitors welcoming the cars as they arrived with the greatest enthusiasm. I am afraid that we missed most of it, for the reason that we were, over that particular stage, more than three hours late, and most of the cars had arrived in front of us. We created some commotion on our arrival, however, as the news that I had been killed had reached Salzburg, and I had the pleasure of receiving the congratulations of nearly everybody at what they termed my “miraculous escape.” What I had escaped from I did not know, but “The Times” correspondent had his telegrams completed announcing my fate, and it was only through my arrival in the nick of time that the news was not sent through to London.
The race up to then had been between Henry Farman, Count Zborowski, Maurice Farman, and Baron de Forest, who had driven magnificently and had done the fastest time on that day, accomplishing the full distance of 369 kilometres in 5 hrs. 23 mins. Henry Farman, however, was leading on time over the full distance, with Marcel Renault making a very fine showing in the light car class. The sole topic of conversation that evening was the failure of De Knyff, and the fact that France had lost the Gordon-Bennett Cup. The Frenchmen, however, did not at that time attach very much importance to the holding of it – or at least they professed not to do so – and I do not think that any of us realised then the immense effect the winning of that Cup would have upon the automobile industry, both at home and abroad. Had the winning of the Gordon-Bennett Cup meant as much then as it meant in later years, the race would never have been undertaken by France in the same indifferent manner as was the case in 1902.
We had, in spite of the prophecies to the contrary, finished another stage, and there now lay between us and the goal of Vienna, 343 kilometres. There was nothing further that we could do to our car, and it was in the knowledge that our struggle on the following day would be a hard one that we retired to rest that night. I think both of us had had quite enough of the race, and had it not been for the fact that we had announced that by some means or other we would bring our car to Vienna, I am certain we should have given up, and finished the race so far as we were concerned, at Bregenz. We had no chance of winning, and the mere fact of arriving in Vienna hardly seemed sufficient recompense for the hard labor we should have to expend on the following day to get there.
Five o’clock in the morning, and once again the same anxious crowd of mechanicians and drivers were congregated about the gates of the closed park where the cars were stored. As they were dispatched one after another, we realised how much we had dropped behind, and it seemed that our time to start would never come. Eventually we were admitted, and then a desperate struggle ensued between ourselves and the motor, which would not start. Reduced to exhaustion, we were finally taken in hand by the customary squad of soldiers and pushed on to the road, when suddenly in the last few yards the engine started up, and we were away once again.
I will not attempt to describe the various mechanical troubles, which we experienced. One thing after another kept going wrong. Then a leak developed in our radiator, which necessitated filling up with water every few miles. I believe one of the rules of the race was to the effect that no mechanical repairs should be affected in any of the controls. I very quickly learned that this rule had been made merely to be broken, and followed the example of everybody else, making use of any time which we were kept waiting in any of the towns in the most effective manner possible. On no occasion was any attempt made by the control officials to enforce this rule, except at one little village in Austria. Here the officials, wearing red sashes to denote the importance of their positions, had evidently learned the regulations by heart, and were determined to enforce them. Hence when we arrived at the control and proceeded to open the bonnet and change one of our sparking plugs, an excitable old gentleman rushed up and poured out a torrent of expostulation, not a word of which we could understand.
Du Cros, on this occasion, was doing the work, and the troubles and trials we had gone through had reduced his patience to the finishing-point. His only reply to the worthy official with the red sash was to wave a vicious-looking spanner in his face, accompanied with a warning, in very forcible language, to get away from the car. At this another official rushed to the aid of his friend, but both were defeated ignominiously by Du Cros and his spanner. Force of arms had evidently to be met with force of arms, and the next thing we realised was the appearance of a beautifully clad soldier, dressed in a shining helmet, a blue coat, and white ducks, carrying a gun with a fixed bayonet, shouting to us in stentorian tones and making ready to clear us away from the car. I talked to him soothingly, but apparently the more I talked the more angry he became, and matters began to look very serious, when Du Cros, who had been getting things out from the back of the car, arrived with a long engineer’s oil-can, and proceeded to continue the conversation with the now infuriated soldier.
I had never believed that Du Cros had such a beautiful command of the English language, and I was moved to admiration at the splendid manner in which he was emphasising every remark with a swinging gesture of the hand in which he held the oilcan. I only realised a second sooner than the infantryman that every time he waved the oil-can he projected a stream of lubricating oil over the immaculate white ducks and the blue uniform coat I shall never forget the mingled look of horror and disgust which came over the face of that soldier when he surveyed the result of the argument, and the alacrity with which he rushed out of range. As for myself, I had by this time climbed into the driving-seat, and was convulsed with laughter. Du Cros, however, was very serious, and threatened all and sundry within reach that he would serve them in like manner if they came near the car. Then, the time when we ought to have started away having elapsed some minutes before, he jumped up into the car, and we were off once more.
I think it was on this day that we struck the “donkey backs” on the Austrian roads. The roads were cut in a series of steps, and before the car had recovered from the shock of leaping down one of these steps or drops in the road, another would be encountered. From a driving point of view, it was one of the most painful experiences I have ever had. It was impossible to travel at any speed, and the terrific strain thrown on our car completed its wreck. The leak in the radiator had become worse, and the only way we could get it to hold water at all was by wrapping a towel round one of the pipes, and Du Cros lying at full length along the bonnet, holding the water in.
Then we arrived at the last control but one. The car was getting worse and worse at every mile, but we hoped that we should yet be able to get to Vienna. At this control a number of the Panhard-Levassor workmen were stationed, but although they made an attempt to patch up our leaking radiator, their work was nullified immediately after we started. Then, almost within sight of our goal, crossing over a bridge into the city, with a mighty crash the grand catastrophe happened. The distortion of the frame had at last broken our gearbox, and huge pieces of aluminium fell out into the road. I could not disconnect the clutch, and the car stopped with a jerk. Five kilometres away from the finish, and unable to go another yard! As I investigated the damage beneath the car I was enraged to think that all the struggling we had gone through was to result in our being stranded so near to the finish. There was but one hope—perhaps if I could get one of the Panhard workmen along he could suggest a means whereby the car could be made to travel those last five kilometres; otherwise it was hopeless.
The sun was pouring down and the heat was terrible. The question was as to how I could let the Panhard men in the last control know what had happened. There was but one way of doing this, and taking away from the cyclist patrol, who was leading us into the city, the bicycle which he was riding, I took off my coat and proceeded to ride the five kilometres back to the last control, over the vile pave of which the road was composed. Du Cros took charge of the car, around which a great crowd had assembled, and as I toiled back I was continually turning over in my mind the problem as to what could be done in order to get our car on to the racecourse.
At last I arrived at the control, but not a man could I get. When I explained what had happened, I obtained but a shrug of the shoulders and the information that I had better resign myself to fat; as nothing could be done; and that I had better leave the car at the nearest place and make my way into Vienna the best way I could. So I started back once more, hopeless and despondent. In my tired condition I could not be expected to ride a strange bicycle in a very expert manner, and the next thing that happened was that I ran into and bowled over a burly gendarme, who arrested me on the spot What he must have thought of the wild-looking dirty individual who had run him down I cannot imagine. Without a cap (I had lost it some time before), without a coat, and with a grimed and dirty face, there could be no question but that I was the driver of one of the racing cars, and the welcome offices of a bystander who understood English straightened matters out for me, and the policeman’s manner immediately changed; I was released from custody, assisted on to my machine, and sent off.
And then, as I bumped about on the pave, a scheme came to me whereby I could drive the car and finish the race. It was a risky experiment and it would be risky driving, but the attempt was worth making. I sprinted over the remaining distance with renewed hope, and arrived back once more, to find that Du Cros had in the meantime been energetic, had engaged a cab, secured a rope and tied the car behind the cab, which he had loaded up with our coats and mackintoshes, etc. He himself had apparently been well looked after in the way of refreshments, and, as he joyfully explained to me, we were going to finish with the car even though it was behind a cab! I did not trouble to explain my scheme even to him, but pushed the crowd away, told the cabman to get out of the road, cut the rope, and jumped up into the driving-seat. The great trouble was that I could not take the clutch out, and consequently after starting up the engine, could not get in the gear. We got the engine started, and then I called out to the crowd to push, and immediately the car was taken possession of and was being run down the road. With a yell to Du Cros to jump up, I managed to force in the first speed, and the car shot off; and once more we were cutting down the distance to the finish.
Immediately after this our exhaust-box (which had been hanging by some thin wire) broke away, and as we dared not stop, we left it on the road; and now our condition was worse than ever. The engine was belching forth smoke and flame straight on to the road, blowing up a pillar of dust which must have been seen a very long way off, and smothering us to extinction. Turning a corner, a cyclist almost brought us to grief, as it was impossible for me to stop the car except by switching off the engine, and once more we had the struggle of starting with the aid of a crowd. At last, however, we arrived at the entrance to the racecourse, and away on the other side we could see the finishing-point.
I do not suppose that any car finishing in that race caused anything like the commotion and sensation that ours did, creeping slowly along, with the dust ascending in a vast cloud, and the open exhaust sounding like the crackling of many quick-firing guns. Coatless and hatless, we with the car must have presented a picture typical of a real derelict The vast crowd assembled to see the finish had departed by the time we arrived, and although we had nothing to grumble at in the cordiality of our welcome, nevertheless, the winner having finished some hours before, the enthusiasm had somewhat abated.
Immediately after I passed the finishing-point, my engine stopped once more, and when one of the officials came up and asked me if I would drive my car into the great hall where all the cars were placed on exhibition, I had to inform him that, much as I desired to comply with his request, I was absolutely unable to do so, as my car would not move another yard. When the times were eventually published it turned out that we had finished twelfth in our class, but this was due chiefly to the excellent time we made on the first day.
The next thing to do was to get to the hotel where we had booked rooms, to find baths and clean clothes. But here we met with a difficulty, as no cabman would allow us to get into his vehicle. The smart two-horsed victorias used as the common method of conveyance in Vienna during the summer, so smartly upholstered in fawn cloth, were altogether too fine for such disreputable creatures as ourselves, and it was only by offering much money, and agreeing to have horse-blankets laid on the cushions of the carriage, that we were permitted to get into one.
As may be imagined, I was almost dead with fatigue; but I think of the two Du Cros was worse than myself, and when we reached our rooms he flung himself full length on the floor, and his instructions to our two attendants who had traveled with our baggage were to remove the remainder of his clothes he was then wearing, and to take them away and never let him sec them again. He said that so far as he was concerned, motor racing might be very excellent sport, but Paris-Vienna had given him his fill. I do not want it to be supposed from this that Du Cros was not a sportsman. It may be sporting to drive a racing car, and even when troubles present themselves there is a certain amount of satisfaction in arriving at the other end of the journey, having successfully finished. But for the mechanician, whether he be amateur or professional, it seems to me a somewhat poor game. Achieving none of the glory, trusting his life in the hands of the other man all the time, doing most of the hard work and getting most of the grumbles, a mechanician’s lot on a racing car is certainly not a happy one.
I think both of us were compensated in some measure by the warm congratulations we received from the rest of the drivers, and the members of the Panhard firm. No one had expected us to leave Bregenz on the second day; our arrival in Salzburg was considered extraordinary; and the possibility of our eventually reaching Vienna with a car in such a crippled condition had not occurred to anybody. It was the carrying out of the same old dictum: “Win if you can, but finish at all costs,” which helped us to get through.
The winner of that race was eventually announced as Henry Farman, who was timed to have covered the full distance of 1,120 kilometres in 16 hrs. 25 mins. But in the opinion of many the race should have been given to Count Zborowski (who was timed to have completed the distance in 16 hrs. 56 mins.), as he was held up for some considerable time on one of the frontiers through irregularity in connection with his papers. The fastest time was actually accomplished by Marcel Renault 5 hrs. 46 mins. But as he was driving one of the light cars, although first in general classification, the real racing interest lay between the cars in the heavy class.
Had I attempted to record all the happenings of Paris-Vienna, it would have required a whole book to itself. Never was a race fraught with so many incidents and so many surprises; and never have I struggled harder in any competition. It had all the charm of driving over ground with which none of us were acquainted, and the passing through of towns and the passage over forsaken roads, which had up to then hardly ever been traversed by a motorcar. In fact this race had in every degree all those elements which go to make a really great sporting event, and although I cannot record it as being one of my successes, I have always felt that in my very failure I was successful, because for me, after the first day, it developed from being a race into a struggle between the car and myself as to whether we should reach Vienna or not.
Since uploading this yarn I’ve come across three De Dion Bouton car adverts that don’t really fit into a timeline of motor cycling but are so good that I couldn’t not publish them. So, this being an enclave of automobiling, here they are: