05/29/01
Ian Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
    by Kevin Shortsleeve

Most people recognize the name Ian Fleming as the author of the original fourteen James Bond novels. But Fleming is also remembered for another work, the well-known children s book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

In 1921, when Fleming was twelve years old, he visited the Brooklands racetrack in Surrey, England. Racing that day was a hand-built automobile that had been constructed by one, Count Zborowski of Kent. The Counts machine weighed over five tons. It was a frankensteinien conglomeration of parts, including, a Mercedes chassis, two Zenith carburetors and a Maybach aero-engine that had been used in World War I to power a German zeppelin. All this was enclosed in a gray steel body with an immense, eight-foot long, polished hood. The Count called his creation Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

As the impressionable young Fleming gazed on, the magical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang accelerated to 101 miles per hour and won the day along with the boys imagination.

But there was a second car that inspired Fleming. As a boarding student in Austria in the late 1920s, Fleming owned a British built Standard Tourer, and he would race it at break neck speeds along the mountain roads outside Kitzbuhl until the day came when he crashed it into an oncoming train. The demolished automobile was dragged fifty feet before Fleming emerged from the wreckage shaken, but not stirred.

Remembering these two cars, Fleming, later on in life, would tell his young son stories of an eccentric family and their flying car. He finally put the story down on paper in 1961.

There is a lot of James Bond in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, especially in the film version of 1968. The movie was produced by the same company that made the James Bond films. The same set designer who constructed the Spectre hideouts in James Bond, designed the Toot Suite factory with its catwalks and boiling cauldrons. And Gert Frobe, who played Goldfinger in 1964, played the part of Baron Bomburst. In fact, the car with all the gadgets, the exotic European locations, and even the name of the female lead, Ms. Truly Scrumptious, are all straight from the Bond factory, with the rpms backed down just a bit.

The music for the film was written by the Sherman brothers, who had done Mary Poppins a few years earlier. With additions to the script by Roald Dahl, the end result was a truly Fantasmagorical contraption.

Copyright 2001 by Kevin Shortsleeve

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