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WITH ALL the World War I reflections going on, I offer a celebration of its surplus aero engines. Specifically, three of these huge powerplants powered Chitty-Bang-Bang I, II and III, a trio of outrageous vintage cars run by an equally outrageous Count Louis Vorow Zborowski. Their legend influenced creation of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (one more Chitty, no hyphens), the magical car in a children’s book by Ian Fleming. Yes, that Ian Fleming.
Louis Zborowski was an English sportsman, auto engineer and international race car driver. His father was also an English race car driver; his mother, an American heiress, a great-granddaughter of John Jacob Astor.
Louis ran in the 1923 Indianapolis 500, one year before another Englishman, Alfred E. Moss (father of Stirling), finished 16th there. Zborowski was less successful in 1923; his Type 30 Bugatti threw a rod at lap 41 of 200.
Zborowski’s idea of installing an aero engine in a car chassis wasn’t new; a Sunbeam single-seater had a 9.0-liter aero V-12 just prior to WWI.
It was in 1921 that Zborowski’s first example, which came to be known as Chitty-Bang-Bang I, left Higham, his gentleman estate in Kent, England. Polite society ascribed the car’s name to its raucous engine noise at idle; more knowledgeable sorts recognized it from a bawdy Royal Flying Corp ballad.
The chassis of Chitty I was a prewar Mercedes. Its engine was a Maybach aero engine of 23,092 cc (ten times the displacement of a typical Honda Accord’s). The engine had exposed pushrods and rockers actuating four valves for each of its six cylinders. It produced perhaps 300 hp.
In its later life, Chitty I was owned briefly by Denis and Adrian Conan Doyle, sons of Sherlock Holmes’ literary agent.
Chitty II was a downsized Chitty I, but not by much. Its engine was a six-cylinder aero Benz of 18,882 cc. Like its predecessor, drive to Chitty II’s rear wheels was through a hefty chain on either side.
Zborowski used Chitty II for touring, not racing. In fact, its road use led to Chitty III, another Mercedes chassis, this one with a Mercedes aero engine of a mere 14,778 cc.
Chitty III followed as a “baggage waggon” when Zborowski drove Chitty II across France and then Algeria, where they toured the Sahara.
There was a Chitty IV on the drawing board, this one a saloon, when Zborowski perished while racing a works Mercedes at Monza in 1924. The only Chitty extant is Chitty II, seen as recently as 2007 at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
James Bond author Ian Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car in 1964. It is his sole children’s book, written for his young son, Caspar.
Fleming’s book led to a 1968 movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The movie added a love interest, Miss Truly Scrumptious, for eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts (in the movie), just Pott (in Fleming’s book).
A stage production, Chitty the Musical, followed in 2002, with revivals as recently as 2012/2013 in Sydney/Melbourne and a 2014 German version in Munich.
Not bad legs for a bawdy Royal Flying Corp ballad. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014