10 Feb 2017

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

We currently have Rowland Emmet’s Mechanical Things exhibition on display until 5 March which has been incredible popular with visitors. I’ve developed a 5 minute talk and decided to share a blog with everybody too, so why not have a read?

The Real Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

The real Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was built in 1921 by Count Louis Zborowski, perhaps the best known amateur racing driver of his time, who lived at Higham Place, a large country house near Canterbury in Kent. He was the son of a Polish count and an American mother and was wealthy enough to own and race many cars in Europe and America.

Count Zborowski built and named three cars…wait for it!.. called….Chitty Bang Bang!….note the one Chitty! …they were named from the words of a First World War soldier’s song. The cars achieved fame and fortune at Brooklands race track, winning several races and achieving a top speed of 113 mph.

In 1924, Count Zborowski died just before his 30th birthday whilst competing in the Italian Grand Prix. This was not in any of the Chitty Bang Bang Cars but in a Mercedes team car.

Soon after the count died, Chitty Bang Bang 1, was bought by the sons of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes.

However all this would inspire someone to write a book…enter 007!...not quite, but almost!

The Book

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – the magical car - was written by Ian Fleming, author of James Bond 007. Fleming, whilst recuperating from a heart attack, had written the book for his son Caspar. Although a work of pure fantasy, it was rooted in the truth.

As I mentioned earlier, there was a real car, all 3 of them called Chitty Bang Bang (just one chitty). Fleming put in an extra chitty into the title to give it a bit more of a lift and perhaps to avoid any copyright issues.  The book was first published in the year of Fleming’s death (1964) and a film of the book would soon follow.

The Film

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was turned into a film in 1968 and was produced by Albert R Broccoli, one of the James Bond producers. He carefully handpicked his key James Bond collaborators to help him bring Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to the screen. Famous Children’s author, Roald Dahl of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and many others was brought in to co-write the screenplay with the film’s director Ken Hughes.

James Bond, Production Designer, Ken Adam was adamant that as the star of the film, only a real car would be good enough. Rowland Emett was already on board to design all the wonderful inventions that appeared in the film, so he too had an input. Ken Adam and Rowland Emett were joined by the Ford racing team, headed by Alan Mann and together they set out to create a film and motoring legend.


The resulting vehicle weighed approx 2 tons, was 17 feet long and built on a custom made ladder frame chasis. No detail was spared in her creation to ensure that she stood up to the close scrutiny of the 70 mm film camera. At the same time as needing to foil car experts the vehicle had to be strong enough to withstand anything from driving on the beach and cobbled streets to descending a staircase.

The wheels were not timber, as they appear to be, but were moulded in alloy and made to look like the wooden wheels of the period. The car’s rear section boat deck was fashioned by boat builders in Windsor out of red and white cedar whilst the array of brass fittings were obtained from Edwardian wrecks.

Any required items that could not be located were faithfully and accurately recreated.

A British World War 1 fighter plane provided the alloy dashboard plate.

For the petrolheads out there!

The all-important engine was a Ford 3000 V6 with Automatic transmission! And the vehicle was actually registered with Ian Fleming’s invented number plate – GEN 11 (reading as Genii to mean magical being), so that it could be used in road driving sequences – the UK registration system would not allow the more familiar British Familiar spelling of Genie.

Chitty2 Copy

The Chitty Chitty Bang Bang cars – all 6 of them!

Yes there was more than 1 car used in the film of course.

As well as the original Chitty that was built, there were another 5 Chittys that were needed for the filming requirements…making a total of 6 Chitty Chitty Bang Bangs! 

Another 3 Chittys were built for other road scenes, stunt work, promotional work and one Chitty was built for the water scenes, while another Chitty was built for the flying scenes.

The Continuing success of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

For nearly 50 years the film of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has been a favourite film, whenever it’s been shown on television, particularly over the Christmas holidays. The film has been a classic video, DVD, and now Blu-ray to own and show and show again. In 2002, the film was finally turned into a musical, when it opened at the London Palladium with Michael Ball playing Caractacus Potts, the inventor of Chitty. Currently comedian Jason Manford has been touring up and down the country as chitty’s inventor.

Here’s to your continuing success chitty, our fine four fendered friend!