A RUGGED RIDE

Real Classic - - Panther Model 100 -

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!

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