Saturday, 31 October 2015

Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow - 50th Anniversary of the Design

Click on any photograph to enlarge - far superior rendition

In the Autumn of 1965 the most radical design for Rolls-Royce was revealed to the public at the Paris Motor Show. Dealers caught their first glimpse of the car on September 30th and October 1st. The Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and Bentley T-Series was designed by John Blatchley who produced a far more compact design than the previous Silver Cloud but with as much interior space. Parked beside the present New Phantom and other current models, the Shadow appears dainty and elegant indeed, a car far easier to use and manage in the traffic conditions of 2015. 

Being of a monocoque construction with self-levelling suspension and disc brakes it marked the most significant departure in 50 years from the chassis based, coach-built models of the past. From the outset it was designed with the owner/driver in mind. Over a period of more than 10 years, 16,717 Silver Shadows and 1712 Bentley T-Series were produced making it the most successful Rolls-Royce of all time. A much underestimated car.

The original build sheets of SRH 18723 which I retain indicate that my car was completed on February 5th 1974. I purchased it in Wargrave near Henley-on-Thames on 19 May 1987 and paid £12,850 which would be equivalent to £ 32,280 in 2015. Not a great investment in real terms but wonderful in every other way.  The car was part of the fleet owned by the Sultan of Oman, HM Qaboos bin Said who loves the village and Rolls-Royce motor cars. This explains the registration plate 907 HRH which I have kept. Educated in England and at RMA Sandhurst he takes a keen interest in youth projects. As part of an Omani Evening in 1985 he contributed an 'Arabian Feast' together with a group of fully costumed ritual Royal Omani Sword Dancers and Musicians to the Wargrave Festival. 

The Sultan bought the Manor of Wargrave and the title in 1973. He does not live there but his mother and some of his wives did until she died. They used the cars and he was also chauffeured in them on his visits. The manor is also a horse stud where he breeds thoroughbred Arabians. 

More recently on 3 April 2015 the Prime Minister Mr. David Cameron spoke on the telephone to Sultan Qaboos of Oman following the recent agreement reached in Lausanne between the E3+3 (China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran. Cameron thanked him for the key role he played at the beginning of the process. There is a strong and enduring relationship between the UK and Oman.

The Sultan with The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh on a state visit to Oman, 2010 

The car presently resides permanently with me in Warsaw. I have now owned 'Roland' for almost 30 years.

Ideological Conflict - a noble RR Silver Shadow sets off Stalin's  Monolith known as the Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw 

Wargrave Manor nr. Henley-on-Thames where SRH 18723 used to reside. 
A large country house in landscaped park dating from the late 18th century and altered in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Rezydencje Parkowe  
The rather more modest Bauhaus landscaped estate in Warsaw where the car now resides

907 HRH at the Mazovian Ducal Castle of Liw on the former Russian Polish Frontier

The Silver Shadow before the entrance to the Citadel, Warsaw

Below you will find an entertaining and informative chapter from my literary travel book about Poland entitled A Country in the Moon. The text deals with an international Polish car rally in 1993 in which I took part - the first international rally here since 1913. 

The financial management training programme of which I was the Project Manager began to disintegrate for various complex reasons associated with the many rapid changes in society that accompanied the fall of communism in Poland in the early 1990's. The Swiss educational foundation that employed me found the learning curve in East-Central Europe rather steep. They considered that the Poles had begun to over-extend themselves.

I decided to distract myself from dwelling on the slow death of the contract with an adventure and decided to take part in an international car rally around Poland - the first since 1913. My friends, mechanics, family - in fact anyone at all - thought I was insane to take the Rolls-Royce to Poland that summer - a modestly priced and completely underrated touring vehicle with a capacious boot and luxurious interior not unlike an Edwardian library. The 1974 Silver Shadow SRH 18723 in Shell Grey with light blue leather is unmolested and has never ‘failed to proceed’ in ambient temperatures ranging from 40C to -25C.

SRH 18723 in Central Warsaw
But adventurous ideas of past Polish glamour had taken over. I had read the romantic story of one of the greatest Polish national heroes, General Władisław Sikorski, driving his rakish 1938 Rolls-Royce Phantom III drophead coupé out of Poland through Romania to Paris ahead of the German invasion in 1939. He was to take up the position of Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile in the French capital before relocating to London. This magnificent drophead coupé chassis 3CM 81 has a dashing two-seater body by the glamorous coachbuilder Vanvooren of Paris. The first owner was one Stefan Czarnecki but according to a Sotheby’s catalogue of May 1969 the car was built to the special instructions of General Sikorski and delivered to him in Warsaw (The Derby Phantoms Lawrence Dalton, RREC 1991 p394). It is now magnificently restored and resides in England. 

A Rolls-Royce Phantom II was also used by the Polish revolutionary and Chief of State of the Republic of Poland, Field Marshal Józef Piłsudski. The controversial Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, Marshal Śmigły-Rydz, reviewed troops and cavalry regiments in a Phantom II All weather Tourer until the Soviet invasion of 1939. He once memorably remarked of Poland's grim destiny  ' Germany will destroy our body; Russia will destroy our soul' (Quoted in Poland’s Politics: Idealism versus Realism A Bromke [Cambridge, Mass 1967] 26)

Winter in wonderful traffic-free days 20 years ago near Zelazowa Wola, the birthplace of
Fryderyk Chopin

Excuse the slightly whimsical formatting as it does not transfer all that accurately from the book proof to this posting. 

An account of the 1993 rally around Poland from the book I wrote about the country entitled A Country in the Moon (Granta, London 2008)


‘Not Upon the Polished Roads of
Their Makers’ Intention’

T.E. Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’) on Rolls-Royce Staff Cars in the Desert - Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Na zdrowie,  Mike! Good  vodka!’
Na zdrowie!
I downed  another  shot  of my home-made Żubrówka vodka.  I was sharing it amongst the other drivers of the Polish Automobile Club as we were interviewed under bright lights.
‘Who is the President  of the club?’ I asked naively. They looked at each other aghast.
‘Are you the President, Witek?’ one driver with a ponytail asked.
‘No, I’m not.’
‘Are you, Staś?’ This questioner looked  like Orson Welles in a
Bugatti T-shirt.
‘No. Not  me.’ Everyone  looked nonplussed.
We dont know  who the President  is and we dont care! We are all leaders here! Do you want to be the President?’
I declined graciously.
Upon  returning to Warsaw the problem  of parking the old Rolls somewhere  safe had become painful and I enlisted the assistance of the  automobile  club.  They  promised   a  space  in  the  Technical Museum as an exhibit, but as usual it required a number of obstacles to be surmounted, not  the least of which was the moodiness  and whimsical nature of the curator.
‘Perhaps he will decide against your car, Mike. You must contact him every time to go out and he may decide against it every day.’

214                     A COUNTRY IN  THE  MOON

There  was a faint possibility  of parking  in the basement  of the former communist party headquarters.
Zosias husband  generously  offered me the use of a cramped underground parking space in the centre used by the official drivers of his ministry. Double steel doors led from the street to a courtyard and a red and white striped boom barrier. The guard lived beside it in a shack. A steep ramp led down to another  padlocked  steel door and a bunker  about fifty metres below street level. The car was perfectly safe and I could have free access provided my romantic assignations with Zosia were never discovered. I dreaded to think of the outcome  of Polish vengeance on my beautiful  machine. I also felt morally  uncomfortable about  the whole situation.  However, I put any reservations  well to the back of my mind as there was no other viable alternative.
The first classic car rally around  Poland  for eighty years was to begin the following  week and I had decided to take part. The last international  event  of  this  type   was  won   in  1913  by  Count Konstanty Broel-Plater  in a valveless Benz. The Poles had an illustrious  record  as racing  drivers  long  before  the  exploits  of their fighter pilots. GP Bugattis were extensively raced in Poland by the wealthy aristocracy in the 1930s at the Lwów Grand Prix (now L’viv in western Ukraine) and in the Tatra Race in the Carpathian moun- tains. The female Polish grand-prix  driver Maria Koumian drove her Bugatti to particularly glamorous public acclaim. In 1952 the Italian ace Rudolf Caracciola was interviewed at Monte Carlo. When asked which tracks he found most difficult, he answered: ‘Definitely Nurburgring, next Monte  Carlo,  but  no . . ..Lwów,  yes Lwów  in 1932 . . . It was a difficult route, Monte Carlo is a mere velodrome. I remember Count Potocki,  oh . . . its an old story . . .’
The economic  depression  of the 1920s did for these great races but  failed to  demolish  the  élan of the  drivers.  The  most  famous Polish driver of the era was Count Louis Zborowski who raced at Brooklands in the 1920s and lived splendidly in the Palladian stately home  Higham   Park  in  Kent.  He  competed   in  Bugattis,  Aston Martins and his own aero-engined monsters designed with his engineer Clive Gallop, one of the original Bentley Boys. He called each of the four examples of this car Chitty Bang Bang. Ian Fleming was inspired  to write  the story  of the magical car Chitty Chitty

‘Not Upon the Polished Roads of Their Makers Intention . . .’   215

Bang Bang based on the Polish Counts  romantic exploits the day his son remarked to him, ‘Daddy, you love James Bond more than you love me.’147
Some  sixty  historic  cars  and  motorcycles   including  marques seldom seen by Westerners set off from Warsaw on a course of 1500 kilometres.  Richard  was to act as navigator and my son Alexander had flown in from Lisbon  to bolster  his fathers wavering resolve. We had first to complete  a few bizarre  driving  tests in Piłsudski Square near the tomb  of the Unknown Soldier balancing the car on a pivoting  platform  and driving blind  in a straight  line with  a green  bag over  the  drivers  head.  The  reception  south  along  the Vistula was tremendously enthusiastic with people lining the roads throwing rose petals as if we were in the Mille Miglia road  race.
Piękny! Piękny!’ (‘Beautiful! Beautiful!’) they called as I drove by.

The Rally takes a break at the picturesque and historic town of Kazimierz  Dolny on the Vistula River not far from Warsaw

The appearance  of a neo-Gothic fantasy  castle announced our arrival in Lublin, a city of rich intellectual, religious and cultural heritage. As is customary in Poland  the Old  Town  is surrounded by sterile communist concrete. The Nobel prize-winning novelist Isaac Bashevis Singer paints an eloquent portrait of nineteenth-century Lublin in his powerful  novel The Magician of Lublin.

The dusk descended.  Beyond  the city there was still some light, but among the narrow  streets and high buildings  it was already dark. In the shops, oil lamps and candles were lit. Bearded Jews, dressed in long cloaks and wearing wide boots,  moved through the streets on their way to evening prayers.  A new moon  arose, the moon  of the month  of Sivan. There were still puddles  in the streets, vestiges of the spring rains, even though  the sun had been blazing  down  on  the  city  all day.  Here  and  there  sewers  had flooded  over with rank water; the air smelled of horse and cow dung and fresh milk from the udder. Smoke came from the chim- neys; housewives  were busy preparing  the evening meal: groats with  soup,  groats  with  stew,  groats  with  mushrooms . . . The

147 In the film the name Chitty Chitty Bang Bang comes from the noise the car makes. Actually Count Zborowski named his cars after a bawdy soldiers’ song from the Great War concerning officers based in France. They would obtain a weekend pass known  as a chit to go to Paris and enjoy the delights of certain accommodating ladies. The unusual name Chitty Bang Bang is thus readily explained.

216                     A COUNTRY IN  THE  MOON

world  beyond  Lublin  was in turmoil  . . . Jews everywhere  were being driven  from  their  villages . . . But here in Lublin  one felt only the stability of a long-established community.

This original medieval trading city gave rise to its own characteristic form of Renaissance architecture and was one of the most important centres of Jewish life in Europe. Most importantly it witnessed the signing of the Union of Lublin which established the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569. In many ways this republic embodied  at a much earlier date similar political ideals to those that inspired the formation of the European Union. It brought together  democratic  principles,  civil rights, constitutional law and remarkable  religious  tolerance  in the finest of political  orders.  In 1939 almost a third  of the total population of Lublin  were Jewish. The largest Talmudic library in the world was located here and a famous Yeshiva (high school) was staffed with distinguished refugee Jewish teachers from all over Europe.
The scenes of innocently  integrated civilization were swept away forever  by  the  horrors of nearby  Majdanek  concentration camp. One  exhibit  in the  fine museum  is a barrack  block  crammed  to bursting with the discarded shoes of Jews. Without signage or commentary, choking with stale odour,  this silent testimony to horror is the most eloquent I have seen in Poland. Clouds of black ravens nest in the trees, squawking  raucously  and drifting above the camp like ashes carried by the wind. A synagogue has recently been renovated in the  city  within  the  elegant yellow-ochre old Yeshiva building where scholars used to study the Talmud. Exhibits for a museum are being collected mainly from Christian Poles who preserved  sentimental objects owned  by murdered Jewish friends a silver ladle, some broken  candlesticks, a powder  box kept for sixty years by an old lady. The mass killing of Jews was regarded  by a majority  of Poles as a sign of the depravity of the German conqueror. An unremarked solidarity existed in the face of this common enemy as Poles waited in fear of their own genocide. Scarcely any traces now remain of the Jews of Lublin. Their absence haunts ancient courtyards, their ghosts lean over the old wooden  balconies.
The modern  city is one of the most vibrant and attractive I have encountered in  the  country. The  reconstruction of

‘Not Upon the Polished Roads of Their Makers Intention . . .’   217

magnificent Renaissance town  houses in the winding warren  of streets and old squares  is proceeding  apace. In summer  the streets  and sidewalk cafés teem with Mediterranean bustle. A Jewish pub called Mandragora  has been opened  by a woman  with Jewish roots  who enthusiastically maintains many ceremonies associated with the culture  and  imports  spices from  Israel.  The  Catholic  University  of Lublin  is the  only  such  institution in  East  Central  Europe  and during the communist period remained a repository of Polish Catholic  culture.
The following morning I turned the Spirit of Ecstasy towards Zamość, the città ideale of the Late Renaissance known as the ‘Padua of the North’. An old wood-block print of this star-shaped fortified capital of the estate of Grand  Hetman Jan Zamoyski had fascinated me since I had first seen it in the window of a Warsaw antique shop. We left Lublin  early, mist rising from the fields, the landscape polished by moist light. The Lublin Upland  is a largely unspoilt agricultural region between the Vistula and the Ukrainian frontier in the east, part of the European latifundia  or great grain estates.
The old car was performing immaculately, wafting characteristically through the countryside with no apparent  motive force. The quilted  meadows were dressed in summer green. Enormous twin-spired   parish   churches   dominated   the  flat  landscape   but   one searched  in vain for  the  village that  financed  their  construction. Many single horses, a few harnessed  in pairs, ploughed  the fields. Surprisingly elderly men plodded behind the animals with the traces slung around their necks, grasping an implement of primitive design, pushing it deep into the earth. Women with their heads wrapped  in colourful  scarves were sowing seed in an ancient biblical manner, grasping a handful from a hessian bag and casting it in an arc with a wide sweep of the arm. Men dropped potatoes  into furrows.  These ancient Polanie or people of the fields unbend  from their work  to rise up in silhouette  against the wide sky and clumps of birch and willow to gaze vacantly at your passing. I stopped at a village to buy warm fresh bread for breakfast.
No  amount  of reading prepared  me for the exalted architectural impact of Zamość. The town was surrounded by characterless communist concrete but the elegant Baroque spire of the Old Town led me  forward.   Zamość  is  the  perfect  embodiment  of  the  Polish

218                     A COUNTRY IN  THE  MOON

Renaissance-Mannerist style. The sides of the square are some one hundred metres long, lined with Renaissance houses above vaulted arcades with  wrought-iron lamps and plasterwork. They  provide cool shade in summer  and protection from  the severe winter.  At night the square was eerie and mysterious with the galleries fitfully illuminated  by gas lamps in the shadow of Renaissance pediments. The folk decorations of the Armenian  merchants’ houses were transformed into  grotesque  shapes  that  seemed to  possess veiled threats. Hurrying silhouettes  were muffled against the chill. Today the architectural  spaciousness of the piazza has disappeared under a welter of sponsored brewery  umbrellas and alfresco dining.

The city was designed and built in the late sixteenth  century  by Bernardo  Morando of Padua as a work of art and the capital of the estate of Grand  Hetman (Commander-in-Chief) Jan Zamoyski (1542–1605), head of one of the most illustrious Polish magnate families and arguably  the most powerful  Pole in history.  A noble Sarmatian portrait of the Chancellor, a man of profound humanist learning who assembled one of the great libraries of Europe and studied at the University  of Padua, hangs in the museum.
The city is an expression of the platonic ideal of community life built according  to Italian Renaissance theorists  intended  to reflect the order of the cosmos, the divine music of the spheres. In the sixteenth  century  the market  would  have teemewith  Jews, Armenians,  Turks, Magyars, Ruthenians, Greeks, Italians and even Scotsmen as well as Poles. The city was on an important crossroads on the trade route  through Lwów  linking Northern Europe  with the Black Sea. The city is a perfect realization  of the Palladian bello secreto of musical harmony and architectural  form. For this illustri- ous magnate, the capital of his ‘kingdom’ (half the size of Belgium) combined  a centre of commerce and habitation,  a massive fortress, a cultural academia (university), a place of religious observance and finally his residence. This ‘Latin’ capital is a unique survival in Europe.
The town was one of only two fortress cities that managed to withstand the Swedish sieges in the mid-seventeenth century. Although once an important trading  hub, today  Zamość struggles economically  with unemployment as it is no longer on the way to anywhere. Colourful washing made bright splashes of colour above

‘Not Upon the Polished Roads of Their Makers Intention . . .’   219

vegetable  gardens  in  Italianate   courtyards.  Dogs  and  chickens rooted amongst the wrecks of old American cars. The Zamoyski Palace was turned  into a military hospital in 1830 but is now being restored,  the equestrian statue of Jan Zamoyski re-erected.
The Poles in the region  around  Zamość suffered  a terrible  fate during the Second World War. It was designated the ‘First Resettlement Area’ of the Generalgouvernement of the Nazis. This ‘ethnic cleansing’ resulted  in  the  resettlement, execution  and  torture of some 110,000 Polish peasants and the clearing of hundreds of villages. Thousands of Polish children were dragged from the arms of their screaming mothers to be brought up with a new racial identity as Germans. The town was renamed Himmlerstadt and intended  to be an outpost of German  culture  in the east. The Jews were trans- ported  to Bełżec and Sobibor extermination camps.

Mounted police fell like a pack of savages on the Zamość Jewish quarter.  It was a complete  surprise.  The brutes  on horseback  in particular created a panic; they raced through the streets shouting insults, slashing out on all sides with their whips. Our community then numbered 10,000 people. In a twinkling,  without even realizing what was happening,  a crowd of 3,000 men, women and children, picked up haphazardly in the streets and in the houses, were driven to the station  and deported to an unknown destination. The spectacle, which the ghetto presented after the attack, literally  drove  the  survivors  mad.  Bodies  everywhere,   in  the streets, in the courtyards, inside the houses; babies thrown from the third or fourth  floor lay crushed on the pavements.148

Thousands of Polish citizens of the town, including many children, were executed in the Rotunda, a nineteenth-century gunpowder magazine constructed by the Austrians.  It lies in a memorial  park south of the defensive walls. The road crosses the inevitable railway tracks near the local station  and shunting  yards. The building  is a brick  drum  with  an open  arena in the centre  covered  in cinders. There  are cells within  the  circular  walls that  are dank  and  dark,

148 David Mekler quoted  in Zamość Ghetto  Aktion Reinhard Camps (

220                     A COUNTRY IN  THE  MOON

reeking of evil and death. Many candles burn before memorial sculptures but no cosmetic restoration has taken place here since the war. The damp mould of decay catches in the throat as one wanders about, spirits sinking lower and lower. The arena is entered through the original Nazi wooden and barbed-wire gate painted with gothic German  script. Through the barred  apertures  one can see todays children  laughing happily  in the sunshine,  paddling  in the nearby lake, and running  along paths dusted  with wildflowers.  The presence of the black night of the soul directly beside the golden achievements  of the Renaissance is a haunting  and profound mystery. Poland is unique in these displays of light and utter darkness.
By chance we had arrived during a memorial service. The Polish Air  Force  provided  a guard  of honour. Cinders  crunched  ominously  underfoot. Torches  were lit around  the memorial  as dusk descended.  Carbines  were raised and the live rounds  fired with  a tremendous flash, smoke and deafening roar, the reports  tearing off the walls in a terrifying  amplified explosion that reminded  one in a physical way, like a punch to the abdomen,  of Nazi executions. The brick drum concentrated the sound painfully, acrid smoke filling the nostrils, brass cartridge cases spinning into the cinders. I circled the Rotunda looking at the forest of white crosses and the plaques denoting the camps where the citizens of the ‘Padua of the North’, the noblest expression of Renaissance humanism, had been brutally exterminated.

From  Zamość the rally passed through the Roztocze  National Park, the last home of the small, wild Polish horse called the Tarpan. Sitting in the centre of open field covered in yellow dandelions  was a tiny,  blonde  Polish  girl with  a red ribbon  in her hair making  a crown  of  cornflowers and  buttercups. A  shaft  of  sunlight  fell through a gap in the trees creating a golden halo around  her head. Two peasant farmers without teeth engaged me in conversation and leaped backwards  into a pond  in rustic surprise  when I said I was from Australia.  The forests of huge fir trees (the largest in Poland with a height of 50m) and magnificent Carpathian beeches give way to spruce,  oak, hornbeam and aspen. The superb  lakes support a huge variety of water-birds. There is an untouched wildness about the landscape of the eastern borderlands of Poland that is intensely romantic  in its solitude.  Yet in the midst  of this natural  lyricism

‘Not Upon the Polished Roads of Their Makers Intention . . .’   221

tragedy so often lurks. I came upon a car that had passed me at suicidal speed and which had now  left the road  and slammed into  a tree-trunk. The driver was slumped  unconscious  or dead over the wheel, his face crushed  and bleeding, his young  wife or girlfriend sitting by the roadside looking at him and weeping an awful irruption of reality into my dreams. I stopped at a nearby farmhouse and with great linguistic difficulty called an ambulance.
Some sixty kilometres from the Ukrainian border we reached the great palace of Łańcut which also lies on an ancient trade route from Western Europe to Ruthenia. After the ‘cynical surgery of the third partition of 1795 this area became part of the Austrian  province of Galicia. We were directed to the usual rotting former communist accommodation functioning at that time as a violin summer camp. Łańcut  hosts  a  famous  annual  music  festival.  What  a  contrast between the beautiful melodies floating from open windows and the dead flies in our freezing room,  the urine running  across the floor from the broken  pipes and blocked  drains of the communal  bathroom. This type of accommodation has happily almost completely disappeared.
The crush of people arounthe cars obscured one of the grandest aristocratic  residences in the country and one of the most remark- able in Europe.  The palace was one of the few magnate residences relatively untouched either by the war or the communist period. In the late sixteenth century a fortified country house stood on the site, the stronghold of the brigand  Stanisław Stadnicki known  as ‘The Devil of Łańcut’  for his reckless and predatory behaviour.  In the mid-seventeenth century the fabric was altered and expanded into a palazzo  in fortezza by the fabulously  wealthy  Lubomirski family. During the Polish Commonwealth they were said to own 360 towns and possessed greater  wealth  than many European royal  families. The ubiquitous Dutch  baroque  architect Tylman van Gameren modernized  the  castle,  adding  the  baroque   towers   with  great copper-sheathed cupolas as well as strengthening the fortifications against the Turkish  threat.
Elżbieta Lubomirska née Czartoryska was one of the wealthiest, most beautiful  and cultured  women  in Warsaw although  she suffered from  ‘excessive sensibility and a neurasthenic disposition. Later  in life she spent  her time at Łańcut  ensconced  on a chaise

222                     A COUNTRY IN  THE  MOON

longue in a darkened room with her migraine headaches ministered to by a graceful young Turk. She had shared a sentimental  and intellectual intimacy with the young Stanisław Augustus Poniatowski (the last king of Poland)  and thoroughly put him through the grinder  of jealousy  and  romantic  despair.  He  wrote  mawkishly in his Mémoires: ‘she seemed to belong to a superior  order of being’.149

The Gardens of the Palace of Lancut

Łańcut is reminiscent of a large English country house but rather more stylish and certainly less straight-laced.  Elżbieta transformed the castle into a grand palace worthy of one of the greatest magnate families. A large garden was laid out in the English style and a Florentine artist  created  a sculpture  gallery  that  displays  Roman busts and antique marbles covered by a superb trompe l’oeil sunlit pergola covered in vines. Elżbietas adopted  son Henryk Lubomirski  appears  as an androgynous, cosmetically  voluptuous sculpture  of Amor  carved by Antonio Canova.  The Turkish  suite pulsates in enthralling  red, an opulent  orientalism  casting one back to the Sarmatian heritage of seventeenth-century Poland.
Elżbieta was a good musician and employed  an Italian composer and a pupil of Haydn to be the Kapelmeister of her private orchestra. She created an exquisite private theatre and staged French plays by Marivaux and sketches (or ‘Parades’) written  by her son-in-law Jan Potocki (1761–1815). This character straight from fiction was an ethnographer, linguist, early balloonist, mystic, oculist and author of the astonishing Manuscript Found in Saragossa, a labyrinthine weave of exotic and fantastical tales told by a young army officer.
The Potockis  inherited the palace in the early nineteenth century and it ‘became a byword for slightly vulgar show and manic entertaining’.150  Emperor Franz  Josef II, Afghan monarchs,  Romanian princesses,  Daisy  von Pless, Madame  de Staël and the Duke  and Duchess of Kent were all house guests for foxhunts and shooting in company with assorted politicians, celebrities and the wandering refugee aristocracy  of France. My concert  pianist grand-uncle had taken  a few lessons  from  the  great  musical  pedagogue  Theodor

149 My account of Elżbieta Lubomirska is derived in part from the superb The Last King of Poland
by Adam Zamoyski (London 1992)
150 Poland: A Travellers Gazetteer, Adam Zamoyski (London 2001) p. 132

‘Not Upon the Polished Roads of Their Makers Intention . . .’   223

Leschetizky  who  was born  in the castle in 1830, his father  being music  master  to  the  Potockis.  In  Vienna  he  was  the  renowned teacher of some of the greatest pianists of the age including Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Ignaz Friedman  and Artur  Schnabel.
The unique carriage museum has, next to a collection in Paris, the most extensive assemblage of private equipage in the world, including the elegant calèche reputed to have been used by Chopin. Sleighs of basket-work, gilded and upholstered in green velvet and deeply lined with fur, remind one of races across the winter ice in the novels of Pasternak  or Tolstoy.  The walls of the museum are ornamented with hunting  trophies,  including a rather unpleasant giraffe severed mid-neck  and mounted vertically. The Potockis  retained the palace until 1944 when the dashing Alfred Potocki  was forced to load 14 railways freight cars with precious objects and dispatch them ahead of the Soviet Army to Vienna, Lichtenstein  and finally France. They were  related  to  nearly  all the  crowned  heads  of Europe,  which ensured  the survival of the palace (assisted by a sign hung  on the gate reading  National Museum),  but  the communists  forbade  the return  of its treasures  to Poland.  Despite  the depredations of war Łańcut gives a unique and breathtaking intimation of the splendour and wealth of Polish magnate families.
We were  treated  to  a fine chamber  music  concert  in the  Sala Balowa  the  first  evening  as part  of the  annual  music  festival. A number  of priests, bishops, and archbishops had chosen to attend a performance of Pergolesis Stabat Mater and Tchaikovskys Souvenirs de Florence. The elderly Princess Potocka was present but seemed rather distraite. In this beautiful Aigner ballroom I could imagine an elegant past audience of Polish officers, ministers, artists and revolutionary writers  dancing with radiant  women in silk and jewels as guests of the Potockis.  My body  aching from a fast and reckless morning ride on their hunting estate near Julin was now bathed and relaxed. Under the chandeliers listening to a sentimental Wieniawski Polonez  with the keenest pleasure, I recalled the forest rushing past, the pounding of hooves, the slight fear of the unknown as I too dreamed of a Polish mistress.

Early next morning  we left Łańcut. The rally was heading into the far east corner of the country and suddenly  took an

224                     A COUNTRY IN  THE  MOON

unsealed road outside of the town. At the bottom of an incline, the ruts and undulations of a dry stream bed appeared  to present  no particular danger. I overcooked my approach speed and the car violently bottomed. The unmodified suspension  is rather soft and I was forever clouting obstacles hidden spikes, stones, culverts. A frightful roaring came from the engine. The underside was intact but I had struck a rock  and  broken  the  left bank  of the  exhaust  manifold  at the elbow.  Experience  has taught  me that  although  they  are strong, nothing  is simple to repair  on a Rolls-Royce. We were 900 kilo- metres east of Berlin and in deep trouble.  Some Polish children, as usual, broke my despair.
‘Excuse me, sir. Can we take a picture of your beautiful car?’
The rally support vehicle led the car like a wounded lion, growling  and  vengeful,  to  a local mechanic  in  the  town.  A  man  was welding a pair of enormous wrought iron gates from the Potocki palace. Sundry  dilapidated  sheds contained  a riot of ancient lathes and other metal-working machines. His round,  fresh-faced wife immediately  offered me a hearty bean stew. I was despondently hunched  over a bowl of it in the kitchen lamenting our lot with my son Alexander when Richard came in.
‘Michael. Good news, old chap. There is a Polish mechanic down- stairs who worked  on Rolls-Royce cars in Chicago.’
‘Get out! I’m in no mood for jokes,’ I shouted ill temperedly.
‘No,  I’m serious.  He  repaired  the car owned  by the mayor  of
‘Richard, will you please stop torturing me and go away!’ Jan the mechanic stood in the doorway of the farmhouse.  He was a gangly, hyperventilating man with a cracked spectacle lens and a comforting smile who told me he ‘spoke American’.
‘No big video! I fix mayor of Chicago Royce-a-Rolls when mafia blow him up with a bomb. No big deal this repair. Józef he help me. No big video!’
The man working  on the gates wandered  in our  direction  and silently crawled under  the car. Jan clearly knew a great deal about the rear of the vehicle where the bomb had exploded but seemed less certain about the engine compartment. Anyway it was now well out of my hands. The Poles had taken over. The repair become a question of national pride. Correct size tools were the main problem  as

‘Not Upon the Polished Roads of Their Makers Intention . . .’   225

my carefully assembled English set had been stolen in the Poznań robbery. The rally  had continued on  south  towards  the  town  of Sanok and left us to our  own  devices. The two-way radio  of the Kommandor suddenly  squawked.
Yes. Whats up?’
‘Its Konrad.  Where are you?’
‘120 kilometres  from Łańcut. Why are you asking?’
We need some English tools for the Rolls-Royce  immediately!’
‘OK. I’ll bring them in a flash! Like bringing blood to the wounded!’
Darkness.  Torrential rain of a wild Polish summer storm. Vodka. Five men push a heavy car half into an ill-lit garage with a chicken coop and a crazy tethered Pekinese. The tools arrive but none fit the bolts as they have rusted slightly smaller over the years.
‘No big video, Mike! My cousin has a factory and will make tool for us. I will measure with micrometer. We go home now for dinner. You sleep my place! It will be big party!’
We returned to his modest home for a vast meal which confirmed with  a vengeance the  adage that  in Poland  guests are considered ‘God in the house’.
The next morning after a huge breakfast we returned to the garage and the tool was duly delivered. Its handmade  appearance looked none too promising  but it fitted perfectly. Each bolt was first hit a terrific  blow  with  an iron  bar  and  sledgehammer  to  loosen  it. I became nervous  indeed of the beautiful  machine and moved from foot to foot with a furrowed brow.
‘Go eat apricots from tree, Mike. You are make me nervous! Stop looking  and worrying. We done this to Russian diggers and tanks. No big video!’
Mechanics seemed to be arriving from all over Poland to work on the car. Giving unsolicited advice is a Polish trait that can be helpful but can often be conflicting. Two Poles and three opinions, it is said. The exhaust manifold  was soon off and they  hot-welded the cast metal after truing up the faces by eye on a grinding wheel. An art in itself. Russian tank gaskets were trimmed and glued to the faces.

Jan and Józef hot welding the cast iron exhaust manifold, faces trued by eye

226                     A COUNTRY IN  THE  MOON

              The repair came together  perfectly and by late afternoon the work was finished.
Jan  was  descended   from  Austrian   stock  who  had  inhabited Łańcut for many generations. While talking of the large number  of priests in his family he took me on a tour of the ‘hidden town. First to  the  parish  church  where  both  mechanics  had  repaired  icons, crosses and gates. The seldom visited dusty  tombs  of the Potockis were shown us by an old lady in headscarf, thick woollen socks and clogs. Then to the presbytery of a priest who had courageously concealed Solidarity activists hiding in the nearby forest in the crypt of his three-hundred-year-old wooden  church.  He had been arrested and tortured many times during martial law but had never become a collaborator, unlike many priests whose shady pasts are now being revealed. He lifted a lighted candle aloft for me to inspect the ancient polychrome decoration  in the cavernous roof. This intelligent, articulate and handsome man with a hint of subversiveness was clearly a character  from an unwritten Graham  Greene novel. He had many pretty female callers while we drank tea, vivacious young ladies who became innocently  flirtatious  in his company.
Another celebratory night followed.
In the morning  we were packing the car and about to leave when a voice erupted  from the house.
You dont leave, Mike! You must wait my brothers.’
I was getting impatient to rejoin the rally that was now hundreds of kilometres distant and camped by a lake. We waited. Seated in the car and poring over a map, I suddenly felt drops of water falling on my face. I thought it was raining. I looked around to see two priests, Jans brothers, dressed in surplice and soutane, blessing the car with holy water.
We come to bless your car for safe journey!’
Richard,  Alexander  and I were still not permitted to leave until we  had  consumed   yet  another   enormous  lunch.  Some  of  my favourite  Polish food  appeared   żurek (sour  rye flour soup with sausage and hard-boiled egg), naleśniki (pancakes with sweet or savoury filling), the fantastically popular  pierogi ruskie (dumplings shaped like ravioli filled with savoury  cheese served with chopped fried smoked bacon. The sweet variety with blueberries and slightly sour cream are superb) and bigos (a ‘hunter’ stew of sauerkraut and

‘Not Upon the Polished Roads of Their Makers Intention . . .’   227

various types of meat, sausage and mushrooms). The meal concluded with coffee and pączki (a closed doughnut with sugar glaze filled with rose-flavoured jam).
An unaccustomed joy entered the proceedings.  Jan and Józef charged us nothing  for the repair or the two full days accommodation and food. We had experienced  some of the finest qualities of Poles emotional warmth  and support in distress, solidarity,  overwhelming hospitality  and acres of food, the ability to improvise solutions  in impossible circumstances and a final flourish of the Catholic  Church. A big video indeed

The Rally continued around the beautiful south-east corner of Poland – pine and birch forests, pristine lakes, the craggy limestone crags of the High Tatras, magnificently sited castles and of course culturally rich Kraków. It concluded in Warsaw.

We were the first to arrive back at the Stadion Dziesięciolecia in Praga, which was a definite mistake. As it often happens in Poland, publicity for the event had been poor. There were no spectators and plastic cups of warm sparkling wine made the conclusion a mild anti-climax. The adventure of Łańcut was retold through loudspeakers to an empty stadium. The competitors did a lap of honour. In a doleful moment a man pushing a disabled youth in a wheelchair with enormous effort lifted him up to the driver’s window of my car so that he might see the interior.

Flurries of emotion alerted me that something was wrong when we returned to the Ośrodek. Two of the classic car transport vehicles that had been parked there while we were away had been stolen together with the trailer that had brought the BNC racing car.

The superb BNC Voiturette
Apart from Bugatti, Amilcar, and Salmson, the best-known small French sports car of the 1920s is surely the Bollack, Netter et Cie., or BNC.
 There was a high degree of embarrassment all round but it scarcely surprised me. Car theft was of epidemic proportions in those days, but is far less prevalent now with millions of imported second-hand vehicles on the roads. During the ball which concluded the Rally I realised through a deep haze of vodka that I was being awarded some sort of prize. I had come second in the timed driving tests, the Silver Shadow placed between an MGTF and an MGA. Another surprise was the extraordinarily generous gift of a replacement DKW to the competitors who had wrecked theirs in the ravine. As often in Poland emotions swing on a pendulum – two cars lost and one given.

And so the first Rally around the country for 75 years concluded: an adventure unlikely ever to be repeated in quite the same way. The exploration of a reborn nation of romantic landscapes and magnificent castles; the adrenalin of driving a great car on the deserted Polish roads of those days, far from help and without insurance; a lucky escape at the Palace of Łańcut; new Polish friends with their amazing hospitality and support in adversity – such experiences are given to few.

   Extract from A Country in the Moon: Travels in Search of the Heart of Poland. (London  2008) 

                   (English edition)


           The Polish edition is obtainable directly from the author

A happy couple celebrate their 50th Anniversary in Poland 

[1974 Royce Silver Shadow and 1968 MPW Royce Two-Door Convertible]