[Count] Louis Zborowski

[Count] Louis Zborowski
Birth and death
1895 - 1924
Profession details
Racing driver
Related place
David Haywood and Jonathan Seal
Count Zborowski

© Brooklands Museum

Life in Elmbridge

Zborowski raced for Aston Martin at Brooklands in 1923, but one of his finest moments on the track was in 1921 when his maiden automobile creation, 'Chitty 1', won two races on its first day out. Chitty's first win was the 100 mph Brooklands Short Handicap at a speed of 100.75 mph.

In 1922, Chitty 1 achieved her fastest lap at Brooklands with a speed of 113.45 mph. The car missed the August meeting but arrived in time for the September meeting. This was to be Chitty 1's last time in the company of Louis Zborowski, for in practice she shed a tyre and left the banking at high speed smashing straight through the timing box at the beginning of the Railway straight. After going through the trials and tribulations of being rebuilt and then Zbrowoski's death, the car ended up in the hands of the sons of Arthur Conan Doyle - they subsequently displayed it at Brooklands. The car was eventually abandoned at the racetrack, with the weathered chassis later found sawn in half for its gearbox.

Life outside of Elmbridge

Zborowski lived at Higham Park, a country estate at Bridge near Canterbury in Kent. His father, Count William Eliot Morris Zborowski (1858-1903) was also a racing driver, and died in a racing crash in 1903 during a race at la Turbie in France. His mother was Margaret Laura Astor Carey (1853-1911), a granddaughter of William Backhouse Astor, Sr. of the prominent Astor family. Another relative was John Jacob Astor IV, the American multimillionaire businessman, real estate builder, inventor, writer, and lieutenant colonel in the Spanish-American War, who died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic. He was the richest man on the ship when the Titanic sank.

Zborowski's career as a racing driver encompassed a wide experience of marques and events. He was an early patron of Aston Martin, and raced for them at Brooklands, and in the 1923 French Grand Prix. In the 1923 Indianapolis 500 he drove a Bugatti, and in the 1923 Italian Grand Prix at Monza he drove the single seat American Miller 122, creation of American Harry Arminius Miller. He joined the Mercedes team in 1924 but died in one of their cars at the age of 29, hitting a tree during the Italian Grand Prix.

As well as being a racing driver, Zborowski also desgned racing cars. He designed and built four of his own racing cars, assisted by his engineer and co-driver Captain Clive Gallop. All his cars were called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Chitty 1 had a chain-drive lengthened Mercedes chassis with a 23 litre six cylinder Maybach aero engine.

Soon after Chitty 1 had started racing during the summer of 1921, Chitty 2 was under construction. It was a car similar to Chitty 1 but with a shorter wheelbase, an early Mercedes chassis and an 18.8 litre Benz BZ IV series aero-engine. Chitty 2 was eventually sold to the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland Ohio. In 1992 she was loaned to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in England where she resides, albeit temporarily, today.
The 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bangs' were immortalised in the eponymous film of 1968. The children's book by Ian Fleming, 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang', and the subsequent musical film, were inspired by the romance of Zborowski's exploits. Ian Fleming had known Higham Park as a guest of its later owner, Walter Wigham, chairman of Robert Fleming & Co. Although in the film the name 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' came from the noise the car made, the name for the real cars actually came from the words to a World War I bawdy soldiers song about officers based in France. Officers would obtain a weekend pass or 'chit' so they could go to Paris to 'enjoy the favours of the ladies'. Hence 'Chitty Bang Bang'.

In 1924 Louis Zborowski was invited to join the Mercedes team as a works driver but he died soon afterwards in one of their 2-litre cars at Monza, crashing into a tree at high speed during the Italian Grand Prix. He died on the 24th October, 1924. Rather morbidly, it is said that when he died he was wearing the same cufflinks that had earlier brought about his father's death in 1903, when one of the cufflinks had become caught up in the hand throttle of his Mercedes.

However besides Zbrowoski's passion for automobiles, he also maintained a keen enthusiaism for railways, having a 15 inch (380 mm) gauge railway circuit, the Higham Railway, built around his estate in Kent. This line was part of the inspiration behind the joint decision by Zborowski and his racing friend Captain J.E.P. Howey to build a fully working express railway. Despite the Count's untimely death, the Romney, Hythe and Dimchurch Railway was the dream realised. When first opened to the public the line only covered, in double track, the eight miles between Hythe and New Romney -- the railways main terminus. Owner Captain Jack Howey soon had his eye on extending the line and in 1928 double tracks carried the trains to Dungeness via Greatstone, a fantastic main line ride of 13.5 miles. The line carries 100,000 passengers a year and is proof of the underlying appeal of the miniature railway that Zborowski showed such passion for during his lifetime.


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