Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
By Lynne Burlingham
This article was originally published in the April 2002 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
Did any of you, like me, watch the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when it was shown on TV on New Years Day? If not, you may well have seen it at the cinema or on some previous occasion on TV.
It reminded that, many years ago, when he was young, my late father Bill Solley, actually saw one of the real Chittys, later immortalised in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Many years later, after he had retired, the memory prompted my father to start collecting material on the Chittys with a view to perhaps writing an article on the subject. Unfortunately he was pipped to the post by at least one other person with whom he then corresponded for a while (The Racing Count by P.G. Elgar published in Bygone Kent, October 1994). I rediscovered all this material when I started to go through my father's papers after his death in 1996. Although there are a few interesting photographs among the material he collected, these were all sent to him strictly for his own personal use because of copyright restrictions, so cannot be reproduced here.
It is not clear exactly when my father saw a Chitty or which one it was. There were, I believe, four models built during the 1920s (with possibly a fifth on the drawing board at the time of Count Zborowski's death in about 1924) and each seems to have had a chequered history both on and off the racing circuit!
He probably saw the car in the early 1930s when his parents Thomas and Ethel Solley ran the Hope Inn at Lydden, on the main Dover to Canterbury road. To quote from a letter written by my father "During the 1930s we lived in the Hope Inn, Lydden on the Dover Canterbury road and I remember Chitty Bang Bang passing through, his approach heard when he was a mile or so away.
Hope Inn, Lydden, 1935 and Centre - Lynne’s grandfather, Thomas Walter Solley and his wife Ethel May (nee Sidders).
In 1935 I lodged with an uncle, Bill Sidders, the local plumber, at Bridge and he had worked for the Count and awakened my interest with his stories". Count Zborowski, son of a Polish count and an American mother, lived in a large country house at Bridge, just outside Canterbury. In another letter my father writes "…there was good warning of his approach between the Halfway House and the village and, from memory, the car being 'held back' to some extent bucked somewhat".
Interestingly, Chitty 1 was eventually acquired after Count Zborowski's death by the Conan Doyle brothers, sons of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame. Count Zborowski himself was killed in about 1925 while racing for the Mercedes team in the Italian grand Prix at Monza when his car crashed at high speed into a tree. In 1992 Chitty 2 was loaned to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, where I have a vague recollection of seeing it. It may or may not still be there. The Hope Inn is still in existence although the main Dover to Canterbury road is now a dual carriageway and bypasses the village of Lydden. And Higham Park Place, once home to Count Zborowski, is apparently now open to the public, according to a snippet in a 2002 guide to the Canterbury area.
For those of you who want to know more about the Chittys, you can find a lot of information on the web. I found the Brooklands Society web site interesting. It includes photographs of the cars and the Count himself : http://www.brooklands.org.uk
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