When Chitty Chitty Bang Bang flies into The Marlowe this summer, she’ll be winging her way home. We take a look at the Canterbury connections of the famous car.
If you’ve ever walked down St Radigund’s Street in central Canterbury, you may have noticed a blue plaque on the disused building next to The Dolphin pub. It says: “Count Louis Zborowski constructed two Chitty Chitty Bang Bang racing cars here in the former Bligh Brothers Coachworks 1921-1922″.
Count Zborowski was the son of a Polish count and a wealthy American mother, Margaret Astor Carey. He inherited his fortune – and Higham Park, a large country house just outside Canterbury – from her aged just 16, his father having already died in a motor racing accident. Despite this, Louis followed in his footsteps.
He and his engineer designed a series of cars, known as Chitty Bang Bang 1-4 (The extra ‘Chitty’ was added by Ian Fleming when he wrote the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang novel), constructed around aeroplane engines. The ‘Chitty Bang Bang’ name is said to have come from the noise made by these engines (although an alternative theory suggests it comes from a rude saying amongst soldiers during the First World War). The noise of these massive engines was so loud that Canterbury City Council reportedly considered passing a by-law to ban then from being driven within the city.
Zborowski died aged just 29, in a car crash while racing at Monza in Italy – driving a Mercedes, not one of his own cars. But the story of Chitty didn’t end there, thanks to Ian Fleming.
It’s thought a young Fleming may actually have seen Zborowski racing the first of the Chitty cars at the Brooklands circuit in Surrey. Certainly, he knew Zborowski’s estate at Higham Park, which eventually passed into the hands of Walter Whigham, the business partner of Fleming’s grandfather Robert.
The novel Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was written in 1961, when Fleming was recovering from a heart attack. The dedication read: “To the memory of the original Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, built in 1920 by Count Zborowksi on his estate near Canterbury.”
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Wednesday 24 August to Saturday 3 September. Book here.