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The Bugatti Queen, by E.S. Turner

In 1936 – a black year for Helle Nice and motor racing in general – she was co-driver in Monte Carlo Rally, starting from Tallinn, with „a headlong rush along the glassy roads of Estonia, black ice all the way… the women drove as if possessed“. Summer found her in Brazil, taking the wheel of an Alfa Romeo Monza in the ill-organised Sao Paolo Grand Prix. Rounding a corner at 150 kph she was faced with a bale on the track and a policeman trying to remove it: „ A body flew up cartwheeling through a cloud of dust. The car jerked, spun and flung another body spectators…They went down like reeds to a scythe“. „I killed a poor man with my head, and his death saved my life. I broke his skull“, she said. „There were Speed Kings of all nationalities, unimposing men mostly with small moustache and apprehensive eyes, they where reading the forecast in the morning papers and eating what might (and in some cases did) prove to be their last meal on earth“. I should have liked to hear Waugh on the Monte Carlo Rally competitors, whom occasionally I saw checking into their luxury hotels. The newspapers hailed as heroes these exhibitionists who (like Helle and her partner in Estonia) drove „as if possessed“ over ice, black or white „running out of road“ all over Europe. The organisers always protested that this was a rally, not a race. How would Helle Nice and Bugatti crowed have relished the motor-racing scene today? Though they were used to speeding under and through mazes of advertising, they did not cover every centimeter of their persons and their cars with brand-names. Also their car looked like cars and not smoothing irons. It is odd that today`s strange vehicles should bear a close resemblance to those seen by a scornful poet at London`s Rotten Row a couple of generations earlier:

Cars flat as fish and fleet as birds,
Low-bodied and high-speeded,
Go on their belly like the Snake
And eat the dust as he did.
Flat as fish?

Could G.K. Chesterton unknowingly have been enjoying a vision of the future?

 

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