Czech the steering
WHEN Adolph Hitler marched into Czechoslovakia in March of 1939 he changed the course of history in one very surprising way. He switched the country from right to left-hand drive. Just like Germany.
That move explains why a big bunch of very upscale Skodas in the company museum in Mlada Voleslav have their steering wheels on the right-hand side. They were built before the second great misunderstanding.
But it brings me no closer to unravelling the mystery of steering wheel location.
At the dawn of motoring, if you drove on the left you also sat on the left. And vice-versa for right-side driving.
So British drivers sat on the left and German drivers sat on the right, something I only discovered when I saw a 1908 Mercedes Simplex in a British museum this week. It had rightside steering so I assumed it was built for Britain but it was actually delivered in Germany.
Sitting close to the gutter was apparently quite normal before the 1920s, perhaps because it was easier for a chauffeur to step out and open the rear door over the kerb. Some rich Japanese still prefer things that way.
Or perhaps it was because it was safer for the driver to sit a little further from oncoming traffic.
I spent a day driving lefthand steering Benzes in Britain this week and, surprisingly, it feels quite good. It’s easier to get through small gaps and place the car in tight traffic.
But I’m still wondering why we’ve ended up with the setup we have, and who set the standards. Google helps — but not a lot.
And that’s without thinking about the McLaren F1 of the 1990s, which had a three-seater cockpit with the driver sitting in the middle.
1932 Skoda 860 limo: It’s right-hand drive