100 year Alpenfahrt re-enactment report in a 1911 Delaunay Belleville & a 1911 Daimler Sleeve Valve

Published on Wed, 16 Jun 2010 01:00

A brief report of driving two 1911 cars in the 100 year Alpenfahrt re-enactment.

The Osterreichische Alpenfahrt was run during the years 1910 through 1914.  It was a contest & reliability trial covering arduous mountain passes & was open to all motor manufacturers.  Many of the majors participated with illustrious names such as Rolls-Royce, Mercedes, Star & Cadillac running along side little heard of, mostly forgotten names from the past.

This year, 2010, a re-enactment of the original Alpenfahrt was staged by Austrian car enthusiast & collector Herr Thomas Treul.  The entry list was limited to 25 cars from the beginnings of motoring civilization up to 1918.  Priority was given to makes & models of the cars that actually participated in the trial.  The brief was to start in Vienna & cover a grand loop following as nearly as possible the original route & taking in originally used sights & hotels.  Herr Treul was quick to stress that it was not to be a race, but rather a gathering of like minded enthusiasts  (Eccentrics & nutters were also present) to celebrate a tour in the spirit of the early motoring pioneers.

I recently sold a pair of eligible cars to a UK collector & he was prevailed upon to enter both cars in the rally, providing a coterie of friends to push start, change tyres, hand over required tools & generally act as riding mechanics despite most having a paucity of actual mechanical experience or knowledge.  Vintage car virgins would have been an apt description.

The cars in question were a 1911 Delaunay Belleville with 6 cylinder engine & displacing 4.4 litres & a Daimler tourer with a 6.4 litre sleeve valve engine, the latter a paragon of low down torque & lack of mechanical clatter, but with a proclivity to consume & burn engine oil in similar quantities to actual petrol!!!

Prior to shipment both cars were sent to noted veteran specialist in Sussex, Nigel Parrot, where a full service & fettling was performed prior to shipping the cars.  Kentvale transport did an admirable job of collecting the cars & arriving with them at the Vienna Hilton in time to unload the day before.  We were a little put out to see an open cockpit  Nazzaro pull up outside the hotel the following morning having driven the whole way down from Dorking.  Weather equipment consisted of goggles, a motoring helmet & nothing else whatsoever.  A credit to those hardy souls one of whom was of the fairer sex & whilst not octogenarian, had certainly seen a few summers pass.

During the next day an incredibly diverse array of owners & machinery trickled into the Hilton  Hotel’s underground parking lot.  Marques that made an appearance included Austro-Daimler, Protos, Simplex Mercedes, Opel, a brace of Silver Ghosts, an Hudson, Mercedes in various sizes, a Vauxhall, the Nazzaro & many others.  The owners turned out to be an equally motley crew  with  a head of  one multinational company  who actually built the car being entered, a pair of German heiresses driving a 9 litre Mercedes, several husband & wife teams, & our 8 man group from England.

The day prior to the start we fired up the Daimler / Delaunay Belleville duo & proceeded up the nearest mountain as a sort of test to ascertain we were up to the rigours that lay ahead.  The Daimler ran faultlessly, whilst the Delaunay Belleville developed a magneto fault which after a frantic night of spannering was traced to a bad magneto earth.  Not before we stripped the carburettor, blew out the fuel lines & did every possible conceivable other check before discovering the malady.  As a result the Delaunay missed the start, but by lunch time had caught up with the pack.

Departing Vienna in the morning was akin to an excerpt from the Wacky Races.  Around 25 vintage cars of all shapes & sizes set off in an unruly throng, jostling for position & paying scant regard to such niceties as red lights whilst the local bobbies smiled benignly & wielded cameras rather than radar guns.  The pack soon thinned out according to relative car speeds, but one was constantly passed or passing on the way up to the start of the first pass; a relatively mild affair called the Semmering.  I had the pleasure of piloting the Daimler, a car equipped with but 3 forward gears due to its ability to pull away from a standstill in top.  A dogleg first gear leads to second where one might expect to find 4th,  & third is forwards in its conventional position.  Brakes are not the strong point of these machines so our participants were enjoined to make ample use of the outside mounted hand brake to augment the limited powers of the foot brake. About 40MPH was the comfortable cruising speed along the flat with the engine chuffing along in near silence.

As the Semmering approached we could tell we were near from the ever greater trails of water, oil, fuel & other lubricants liberally spewed upon the road by cars in front of us.  Near the top taking the old road up now bypassed by the modern highway we stopped for photographs of the entire procession.  Shortly thereafter a Simplex Mercedes broke its clutch band & was unfortunately the first of several retirees due to mechanical failure  The Daimler blew two of its beaded edge tyres almost simultaneously, & was recovered to the night’s hotel stop in Schladming whilst a set of stronger Dunlops were rushed down from Munich to replace the 4 new weaker tyres fitted before the rally, the brand of which shall remain nameless.  Fitting a beaded rim tyre with nothing more then tyre levers & tyre soap is a skill in itself, & gave us an appreciation of the rigours faced by the pioneers running on mostly gravel roads.  The first change took three strong men a solid hour & a half to achieve with insults & invective being freely hurled for real or imagined slights or slips of the levers.  Having been through the learning curve, the second tyre was fitted in minutes.  Easy once one knows how!!  The Delaunay Belleville was still suffering a slight misfire & staggered to within 20 miles or so of the hotel & was also ignominiously recovered to await our spanners at the hotel.

The second day of the rally was misnamed a day of rest & sight seeing.  Most of the sights seen were in the garage where assorted teams toiled manfully (& womanfully) to redress assorted ailments to their & others respective steeds.  The garage resembled a sort of Dante’s Inferno of would be mechanics adjusting brakes, replenishing fluids, changing tyres & the intrepid owner of the Nazzaro completely stripping his clutch mechanism to add washers & thereby increase the loading on the clutch to cure a slight slip manifesting itself on the steeper sections.  Comments were passed by certain Rolls-Royce owners with regard to the perceived quality or lack thereof of lesser cars, but all was in good spirit & jest.

Day three of the run was to be the most difficult by a long margin.  The dreaded Katschberg lay ahead of us, preceded by a warm up round over the Tauernpass.  Its summit is 1738 Metres & the original Alpenfahrt had to endure snow there in the middle of June.  No such calamities assailed us however & everyone made it up the Tauern in unbroken sunshine, allowing us to take in spectacular alpine vistas upon our ascents & descents.  I was given command of the Delaunay Belleville for the two passes.  A quite spectacular French car built like a Silver Ghost but if anything rather better.  Its 4 forward speeds made up for lesser torque when compared to the Daimler.  We made it up the Tauern mostly in second but occasionally in first which gave us great trepidation regarding the rapidly approaching Katschberg boasting a short climb up of 9 or so kilometers but with double the gradient.  In the event we need not have worried as the Delaunay took the hill like a champ, trundling up in first with occasional adjustments to the hand throttle  The massive brass Oval Radiator never even approached getting seriously hot.  Mercedes Benz as a company were on hand at the top to transport down any cars with too high a gear to safely negotiate the precipitous descent.  Road signs enjoined modern cars to engage first gear before starting which made us wonder how we might fare.  In the event we ground down the pass, engine racing trying to conserve what little braking we had, & made it down in one piece.  The end of the day consisted of a leisurely trundle into Klagenfurt where our hotel awaited.

The following morning saw an early start with an easy coast down the scenic Drau Valley.  A stop for coffee was taken at a local inn where the Austrian Classic Car Club kindly laid on a repast of air dried ham & Austrian beer.  A little early for me at 10am but when in Rome….???  Thus fortified we passed over the border into Slovenia prior to ascending the Radl Pass; much easier than previous passes, it allowed us to enjoy the scenery on the descent back into Austria and the spectacular Styrian wine region.  Lunch was organized at a local winery where the cars made a superb sight lined up in the parking lot.  After lunch a quick dash to the Puch Steyr factory in Graz, where we were given a tour & fed yet more food.  Graz was our stop over also with the following day being declared a day of rest & sightseeing for some & more toiling with spanners for others.  The Delaunay Belleville & Daimler had by this time settled in & were running faultlessly.

After our Graz day the final run was a simple & flat affair back into Vienna to a celebratory dinner with distribution of plaques etc for the finishers.  All in all a memorable experience & well, well worth the effort of a future entry for anyone with an eligible car.

Richard Biddulph

Alpenfahrts are planned for 2011, 2012, 2013 & 2014.  Those with suitable equipment & of a foolhardy bent should contact Herr Treul for an entry form.  0043 7242 68847  Mob 0043 664 2057870


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