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The Doctor's Coupe


Birkin's Alfa Romeo
George Daniels Master watchmaker
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So the Itala is added to my stable now, and then having sold the team Blower Bentley, I was looking for something lighter for racing, and what should happen but Gregor Fiskens dealers in London advertised for sale Birkin's 1932 Le Mans Alfa Romeo and I enquired about this and it was Birkin's car and is now in a coupe body. It had been given to Campari by the works in 1932 in lieu of wages. So they obviously hadn't any money, they'd race their cars and got no money to pay the wages so they gave him the car, and he had it converted into a coupe and sold it to Italo Balbo. Italo Balbo was the air marshal of Italy and a very famous man and a very powerful man, second only to Mussolini, and he bought the car and kept it for a few years. He drove it all round making speeches, political speeches sitting on the hood at the back and he was a most extraordinary man because he used to fly squadrons of seaplanes in 1930 from Italy to America. I mean you wouldn't think it was possible to do such a thing. I suppose he must have gone to Canada and fuelled up and then turned half left and come back down to America, but a most extraordinary thing to do. You would think twice doing it now. You know even now they're only just filling up planes with fuel, aren't they, and getting to the Falklands, and there Balbo was doing that all those years ago.

Anyhow Balbo was too popular with the people and too good for Mussolini and the upshot was that bringing back his squadron one evening, he always landed last, and he was shot out of the sky by his own gunners, upon Mussolini's orders. And so the car came to England and it's been in England ever since until I bought it in 1970, still with its coupe body on it... and the man that had it didn't know its history. So he put it up for auction and it was bought by Gregor Fisken, who did know its history, and he made me pay for it. I wanted that car, it was a Birkin car, and I got these Birkin cars and he was the greatest, so I wanted that car. Well, I finished up owning it... I had to buy it... and racing that, it was a wonderful car for racing. It's lightweight, very fast, 130 miles an hour and altogether a most charming and delightful motorcar and it fulfils all my current needs for a sports racing car.

George Daniels, CBE, DSc, FBHI, FSA (19 August 1926 - 21 October 2011) was an English watchmaker most famous for creating the co-axial escapement. Daniels was one of the few modern watchmakers who could create a complete watch by hand, including the case and dial. He was a former Master of the Clockmakers' Company of London and had been awarded their Gold Medal, a rare honour, as well as the Gold Medal of the British Horological Institute, the Gold Medal of the City of London and the Kullberg Medal of the Stockholm Watchmakers’ Guild.

Listeners: Roger Smith

Roger Smith was born in 1970 in Bolton, Lancashire. He began training as a watchmaker at the age of 16 at the Manchester School of Horology and in 1989 won the British Horological Institute Bronze Medal. His first hand made watch, made between 1991 and 1998, was inspired by George Daniels' book "Watchmaking" and was created while Smith was working as a self-employed watch repairer and maker. His second was made after he had shown Dr Daniels the first, and in 1998 Daniels invited him to work with him on the creation of the 'Millennium Watches', a series of hand made wrist watches using the Daniels co-axial escapement produced by Omega. Roger Smith now lives and works on the Isle of Man, and is considered the finest watchmaker of his generation.

Tags: Itala, Bentley Blower, Alfa Romeo, Le Mans, Tim Birkin, Henry Birkin, Italo Balbo, Gregor Fisken, Sir Henry Ralph Stanley "Tim" Birkin, Cavaliere Giuseppe Campari, Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini

Duration: 2 minutes, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008