The book, the movie and the musical "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" were all inspired by a series of cars called Chitty Bang Bang, built and raced by the wealthy and colourful Count Zborowski (full name Count Louis Vorrow Zborowksi).
Count Zborowski's early life was blighted by tragedy. In 1903, his father was killed in a racing accident (it was said that his cufflinks became caught up in the hand throttle of his Mercedes during a hill climb). Shortly after this event, in an aim to provide a stable background and good education for her son, Louis' mother Margaret decided to move to Higham Park, near Canterbury. Within a year of the move however, she too had died leaving Louis an extremely wealthy sixteen year old with a burning desire to follow in his father's footsteps and become a racing car driver.
Higham Park consequently became the place where Count Zborowski, with the help of engineer friend Captain Clive Gallop, designed and built three aero-engined racing cars which became informally known as "Chitty Bang Bang". (The origin of this name is not certain however it is thought derive from a bawdy World War One soldier's song.)
The first Chitty was a chain driven customised Mercedes chassis with a twenty three litre, six cylinder Maybach engine. It was the first amateur machine to achieve celebrity at the Brooklands race track in 1921. Chitty 1 won two races in her debut appearance, reaching speeds of 100.75 miles an hour in the Brooklands Short Handicap.
By summer of the same year, Count Zborowski began building Chitty 2. This model was similar to the first Chitty but had a shorter wheelbase, an early Mercedes chassis and an 18.8 litre Benz BZ series aero-engine. This car was never as successful as its predecessor. It failed to make its mark at Brooklands but took part in several races and a Sahara Desert expedition in 1922.
This model lapped Brooklands at 112.68 miles per hour. It too, was based on a modified Mercedes chassis. It had a 160 horse power Mercedes single overhead camshaft six cylinder aero engine and was tuned to produce 180 horse power.
A fourth Chitty, more commonly known as the "Higham Special" was the largest capacity (27 litres) racing car ever to run at Brooklands. Its gearbox and chain-drive originated from a pre-war Blitzen Benz and it had a 450 horse power V12 Liberty aero engine. This car was later purchased by racing enthusiast J.G. Parry Thomas who christened it "Babs" and used it to win the land speed record in April 1926 with a speed of 171.02 miles per hour.
Count Zborowski was an eccentric character who loved all things mechanical, owned a great many cars and enjoyed racing in America and in Europe. In 1924 he joined the Mercedes team and was killed while participating in the Italian Grand Prix (He lost control of the 2 litre car he was driving and hit a tree at high speed).He was only twenty nine. It is rumoured that,at the time of the crash, he was wearing the same cufflinks that brought about his father's death in 1903.