A RUGGED RIDE
There were few motorcycles in 1935 capable of withstanding the trial of endurance which Theresa Wallach and Florence Blenkiron undertook, from London to Cape Town, straight through the Sahara desert, towing a trailer and with a sidecar mounted alongside. Perhaps only a Panther Model 100 could have survived… The story is told in Wallach’s memoir,
‘The Rugged Road’, which details the women’s epic ordeal of 7500 miles on unpaved roads – or no road at all – through scorching landscapes to reach equatorial Africa. The Panther, generously provided by P&M, certainly took a hammering. Minor items broke all the time, including the tyre pump, so often was it needed to inflate the tubes after punctures.
But the most serious incident came as the explorers neared the far side of the Sahara. Short on water, steering towards an oasis and navigating by the stars, they reached the scrubby landscape which indicated that the desert would soon be transformed. ‘Hard bumpy ground clearly showed a track… and we were pleased now to travel in a higher gear and a little faster.’
Too fast, it appears. The heat was intense, and the engine oil was little thicker than water. ‘There was a change in the sound of the motor and a drop in power.’ The motor had eaten its big end bearing, stranding the two women in – quite literally – the middle of nowhere. A hundred miles or more from the next outpost.
SSo theyth did ththe onlyl thithing ththey could, ld and pushed. Pushed the bike and its sidecar and all their kit. ‘Fuel was of no use to us anymore. Water was more precious. We dare not fail.’
After two days, nomads observed the dust cloud they generated and sent riders to investigate. ‘Panting Arabian horses with flared nostrils circled us… the leader held out a goatskin water bag. One of the horses towed us to their settlement. If we hadhd not t pushed so far they would not have seen our dust rising.’
After that narrow escape, Blenk and Theresa were transported to Agadez, where they rebuilt the Panther’s motor in a workshop run by the French Foreign Legion. It took a month – an amazingly short period of time in these circumstances – for the replacement components to reach them from Cleckheaton. Of course, the women soon discovered that most of the tools in the French workshop didn’t fit – they were metric! – but they improvised. And set off once again…
You get the impression from Wallach’s writing that she was a no-nonsense, plain-speaking person. Later, she became the first woman to record a 100mph lap at Brooklands. But that wasn’t on a Panther!