previously owned by Anthony Fokker
Anthony Fokker’s Lambda
By Jack Romano and Gerald Batt
Bill Bryson’s 2013 book ‘One Summer’ deals with the many momentous events that occurred in 1927 and his narrative revolves around Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic from New York to Paris. Though Orville and Wright had crossed from New York to Ireland some years earlier, this was the first time such a trip had been successfully completed solo. Previous solo attempts had cost the lives of several airmen but Lindbergh beat the odds, the weather and a poorly designed, overloaded plane to land precisely where he said he would, and on time. Not that Lindbergh and others were doing it for entirely altruistic reasons because the objectives were a) to win the Orteig Prize which came with a hefty sum of money and b) obtain the franchise for a highly lucrative mail route.
Some of America’s finest pilots and engineers were on hand to see Lindbegh leave Roosevelt Airfield, most of them believing it was the last time they would see him alive. Among the group was Anthony Fokker who evidently had little confidence in proceedings because he ‘drove up in his big Lancia sedan loaded with fire extinguishers’. (‘One Summer’ pp104 hardback edition, Doubleday & Sons Transworld publishing).
Fokker was in fact the designer and part sponsor of a rival bid by Richard E. Byrd an experienced hard-bitten pilot who had already set several records including crossing the North Pole (there is some evidence to suggest he never actually achieved this but the record still stands). Given that another sponsor was Henry Ford, Byrd was so supremely confident he could afford to be generous and allowed rivals access to his facilities and to an extent his know how and Fokker was quite happy to go along with this. Byrd’s bid for the first non stop transatlantic solo flight was well advanced, he was using a Fokker-designed triple engine aircraft that was tried and tested and had a fine reputation. It was dubbed ‘The America’ but on a test run with Fokker at the controls it crashed and was seriously damaged. It was quickly repaired but Byrd seemed curiously reluctant to name a date, meanwhile Lindbergh took advantage of a gap in the weather and made his successful flight. Lindbergh admired Fokker’s aircraft and desperately wanted a Fokker for his transatlantic attempt. He raised the money and approached Mr. Russell, Fokker’s sales manager, who refused to take him seriously and rebuffed him, hence ‘The Spirit of St. Louis’ was a Ryan NYP single engine high winged monoplane.>
The whole thing fascinated me. For a while Lindbergh was the most famous man on earth, to the extent that his life was ruined. He couldn’t leave his house without being mobbed, and he would never again lead a normal existence. After his child was kidnapped and murdered he left the US and lived in Europe, for a while near Sevenoaks, Kent. But there is plenty on Lindbergh. The internet has many articles dealing with his career, life and background, there are any number of biographies and an autobiography, plus a follow–up revised version, and a revision to the revision – Lindbergh was a prolific writer all his life. But my interest wasn’t especially piqued by Lindbergh, who comes across as bit of a cold fish anyway; I wanted to know more about Anthony Fokker. Who was he, why was he so often described as ‘controversial’ and what was he doing in the US with a large Lancia sedan? I recall hearing of this car in conversations with Gerald Batt, but what became of it and where is it now? Does the owner know of its history and its (albeit tangential) cameo involvement with the first ever non-stop transatlantic solo airplane flight?
Lindbergh taking off with Anthony Fokker chasing in the Lambda full of fire extinguishers
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More Cars from Italy
1927 Diatto Tipo 20A Tourer
Registration no. BF 6409
Chassis no. 20308
Engine no. 20304
- Originally a carriage maker, the Italian Diatto company later turned to railway engineering before abandoning its traditional businesses to become a motor manufacturer, setting up a new enterprise in 1905 in collaboration with Adolphe Clément. Its first cars were licensed Clément-Bayard designs, known as ‘Diatto- Cléments’. After Clément’s departure in 1909 the firm began making cars of its own design, the most significant and successful being the 12/15hp Tipo Unico, which formed the mainstay of production up to WWI. Diatto added a light car to its range after the war but found itself unable to compete with FIAT in that market sector and turned to the production of a high-quality sporting car: the Tipo Diatto’s most famous model, the Giuseppe Coda-designed Tipo20 was powered by a 2.0-litre overhead-camshaft four producing 40bhp. Breathed on by the Maserati brothers, racing versions produced up to 70 horsepower. A short-wheelbase Tipo 20S sports model followed, the original touring version being re-designated Tipo 20A. After a succession of financial upheavals and reorganisations, Diatto quit car production in 1927, though the reconstituted company continued with other forms of manufacturing. In 2007 CarrozzeriaZagato revived the name for a concept car displayed at the 2007 Geneva Motor: the Diatto Ottovù Zagato.This Diatto Tipo 20A was sold new in rolling chassis form to Australia and bodied by Coffey Brothers in Melbourne where, reputedly, it was first owned by the notorious gangster, Joseph ‘Squizzy’ Taylor. Restored in Australia in the 1980s, the car was purchased by the current vendor in 2013 and brought to the UK. Over the last ten months the Diatto has undergone a most thorough re-commissioning and is presented in generally very good condition, running well. Works carried out include overhauling the magneto (bill on file); rebuilding the water pump; overhauling the camshaft drive; fitting new valve springs and grinding in the valves; fitting a new solid copper cylinder head gasket; replacing and re-covering the floorboards; removing a dickey seat modification at the rear; fitting new rear wings; re-covering the running boards; nickel plating the brightwork; stripping and rebuilding the carburettor; making a new dashboard centre and sides; fitting correct Jaeger instruments; making new aluminium bonnet sills; and fitting discreet LED indicators. The vendor also rectified numerous minor mechanical defects (see detailed list on file). Spare parts with the car include a Magnetti Marelli magneto, half shaft, fuel gauge, clutch aligning tool, exhaust cut-out, ignition cable tube, head gaskets (x2), a box of miscellaneous magneto spares and a set of side screens, etc. The toolbox contains a hub extractor, spare spark plugs, carburettor float, universal joint components, shackles, a box of lightbulbs, and many and various small parts. Accompanying documentation consists of an old Australian logbook, sundry restoration invoices and a V5C registration document.