Alan Carlson took part in a historic international event 70 years ago today, even if he doesn’t quite remember it.
The lifetime Duke City resident was only a year old when the British-built Austin convertible sports car made a stop in Albuquerque along its journey around the world. Austin Motor Company publicity manager Alan Hess was the architect behind the scheme. Hess, an accomplished race-car driver, made a bet with company chairman Leonard Lord that he could circle the globe in a month.
The touring car stopped in Albuquerque at the local Austin dealership, Bradford Motor Co., on North Oak and Central. They were in the city for less than an hour before dashing off again.
A picture from that day shows a group of people posing in front of the car. Leaning against the door of the car is Carlson’s mom Dorothy, and to her right is her husband, Victor, holding the infant Carlson, who was too young to form a memory of that day. It wasn’t until he was older that he understood the significance of the photo. Carlson is a local historian who has done extensive research on the city’s racing history. He’s also a Route 66 enthusiast. In 2019, he wrote an article about the Austin’s global travels for Route 66 magazine. His father owned three Austin cars, so his family was pretty excited about the stop.
“That photo had been in my family collection for a while,” he said. “I always wondered ‘What is this?’ I got older and I started looking into it.”
Circling the Earth at the equator, one would travel about 24,900 miles. Of course that’s not possible without detours. The Austin ended up traveling approximately 30,000 miles. The team left England on June 1, 1951, and first drove through Europe and Asia, making a point to skip Russia.
While in North America, the car traveled from Los Angeles, where several hundred people greeted it on June 12, to Indianapolis in 52 hours, going an average speed of 42 mph before heading on to New York and finally Canada.
Planning the trip was quite the feat. The car was loaded onto a specially equipped DC-4 plane to cross oceans, and even a train to get across a river in India. Two mechanics hand-picked by Hess also traveled in the plane.
The drivers had to meticulously build an itinerary, planning for fuel stops, obstacles, both physical and administrative, and weather. The travelers removed the backseat to make room for two spare tires and added a double-capacity fuel tank. Those extra tires came in handy after the nail of an ox shoe punctured one of the tires, but that was the only issue they had with the car during the trip.
Along the way, they encountered snow, fog, heavy rain, dust storms, pot-hole ravaged roads, pedestrian-clogged streets and soaring temperatures. A “cloud of moths” near Logan, New Mexico startled the men.
“In an instant the windscreen and lamps were so thickly plastered with their corpses that we could not see the road, and we had to stop and scrape them off the glass,” Hess wrote in an essay about the trip. “This happened half-a-dozen times in just ten miles.”
Hess and his team completed the journey in 22 days, making him the winner of the bet with Lord. His reward? A half a crown, which was equal to 70 American cents.