Do you own a three-wheel Italian scooter, reside in Australia and suffer from a soul-destroying desire to drive to the capital of France? If you also have two small children and the nerve to actually suggest such a trip, surely you are both utterly bonkers and enjoy companionship from what must be the most devoted wife in the whole world. That’s how it was for Guy Montin.
Before revealing his far-fetched plan to his wife, he had put in a fair amount of work on his Lambretta scooter. In 1952 Lambretta had launched a three-wheeled model with a small driver’s cabin and the option of either having a flatbed or a small closed goods compartment behind it. This was the model which Guy was going to use as the family’s home while crossing three different continents.
Guy Montin, originally French but living in Australia with his British wife Beryl, had in secrecy (it simply MUST have been!) constructed a small camperhome on the back of their Lambretta using plywood with a canvas cover to keep out the elements. The changes made were to enable them to bring their two small children, Charles and Yvonne, and not least pack the necessary equipment for their travels. Beryl consequently spoke of the scooter as “the contraption”, while Guy was a bit more empathic naming the vehicle Le “PutPut” avec Grand Confort. Regardless, Beryl amazingly agreed when Guy shared his grand plan for a roadtrip from the Australian continent to Paris. Guy clearly felt generous as he even decided to sweeten the deal somewhat by suggesting a minor extension of the trip to Margate in the UK. This was Beryl’s birthtown, so she was obviously delighted. Whether Beryl was entirely aware that “the contraption” had a cruising speed of 40 km/h and the distance they needed to cover was approximately 22,000 km is another matter, but the date of departure was set for the 12thof March 1956.
The route would take them through India and thus required them (back then) to cross the Indian Ocean via Colombo in Sri Lanka, known at the time as Ceylon. They were to depart Australia from the port of Perth, but seeing as the Montin family lived in Sydney, they first had to undertake a trip which even in current modern times must be considered as overwhelming. I have visited Australia and I have driven a motorcycle there in the early nineties, so I know it’s not for the faint of heart. The trip from Sydney to Perth is a massive 3,945 km of which 2,500 km are through hot, harsh and relentless desert. The road surface during the 1950’s had very little to do with actual roads, and it was only in near vicinity of larger cities that you had the luxury of tarmac covered roads. In Guy’s tales from their trip, her refers to the tarmac as the silky-smooth bitumen, which is quite understandable considering the many tortuous miles they had to tackle on rough gravel roads.
The family struggled with the intense heat of the Australian outback, so when a group of road workers offered them cold Australian beer from their cooler, it was clearly an offer they couldn’t let down. Refreshing as the cold alcoholic drink would have no doubt been, Guy was also aware of the soothing effect and thus proceeded on their trip with the upmost care and not least his eyes wide open. Yet he still didn’t see a huge hole in the road – indecently dug by the very same road workers – and somehow managed to drive the complete scooter into the big hole. Luckily, no one was injured during this incident, but the rear suspension on both wheels was bent and broken. The family was found by some local hare hunters, who helped both the family and the scooter back out of the hole. The Lambretta factory proved very helpful too as they shipped new suspension parts to Australia, so the Montin family could continue their trip towards Perth without further issues. This is where they boarded the S/S Oronsay which was to transport them onto to Sri Lanka.
espite their destination in Europe still being very far away, the family make the decision to take their time to explore Sri Lanka. They end up staying on the island for a full month before sailing to Bombay in India, which is where the trip really starts to unfold. Ahead of them awaits miles and miles of hardship and challenges. With a top speed only vaguely in excess of 40 km/h, it is difficult in this day and age to imagine the required commitment and patience – not to mention the ability to continue believing that the whole project is at all doable.
The Montins had initially planned to spend six weeks in India. Guy had carefully studied the seasonal movement of the monsoon rain and come up with a way of avoiding it. Nonetheless, it was the monsoon which eventually brought their travels to a stop, at which point Guy, Beryl and the children had to rely on the hospitality of the Indian people to offer them shelter. Their stay ended up lasting more than four months. An Indian newspaper focused on the family’s daily baths in the Ganges River and their strict adherence to vegetarian food as the main reason for their good health.
Later, Guy Montin wrote a letter to the Lambretta company. He explains that he has constantly been told that he’s insane, and that no one has at any point believed that they would reach their goal. In Sydney, no one thought they would even reach Perth. In Colombo, people swore that they could not reach Lahore through the monsoon. In Lahore, that it would be impossible to reach Quetta. In Quetta, they were perceived as mad if they really thought that they would be able to drive through Persia. In the letter, Guy writes – triumphantly and with great pleasure: “Eppoi si muove we are in Teheran…“ Eppoi si muove translates to something along the lines of: Yet, we’re still moving… He continues the letter: “We have passed the worst. We now know for certain a family of four can eat, sleep and travel fifteen thousand kilometers on a Lambretta Furgoncino. We are not mad. In fact we are, the four of us, in splendid mental and physical shape. Just wait until you see us.
Meanwhile we must stress an important fact: it is through no fault on the part of our machine that we have taken over six months to cover this part of our trip. It is the people who will not let us go. The engine purrs like a cheetah in the crisp morning air, the children have been fed, clothed and “potted”. Mama has just retrieved Papa’s lost goggles. We are ready for the days three hundred kilometers…”
Eventually, they finally reach Paris and spend the night camping in their trusty Lambretta within the Bois de Boulogne park in the outskirts of the city. They have traveled through 11 different countries and have encountered everything from meter-high snow to heatwaves and monsoon rain. They’ve met primitive tribes, thick jungle and relentless desert. They’ve been plagued by dysentery and not least by the serious accident in the Australian outback. They sum up their spendings during their epic roadtrip: A total of 350 pounds – 80 for petrol, 200 for food and 5 for goatskin jackets and gloves. The rest was spent on repairs, visas and ferry tickets.
Back in England, The Sunday Express focuses more on a couple of remarks made by Beryl. Under the headline: “One lipstick – on a trip half around the world”Beryl confesses that it wasn’t even the lack of daily baths which bothered her the most. It was the long and tiring route from Quetta in Pakistan to Mashed in Persia. This stretch was almost 3,000 km long and took them several weeks to put behind them, during which they lived solely off dried goat cheese and fruit. Still, Beryl did admit that not having a warm bath since leaving Sydney did eventually affect her mood, and it brought great joy when they finally had warm baths again in Persia.
Guy got to visit his family in Cahors in south-western France, and Beryl received a very warm welcome from her family in her hometown of Margate in the UK.
It had been a true adventure for the Montin family and a colossal, life-defining experience for the children Charles and Yvonne. Guy took a few notes during their trip, but mostly about the conversations they had, and seemingly mostly for personal use. Short episodes were captured by newspaper articles published as the family made their way through the many countries. In a time devoid of social media and before the need for self-promotion, tales from their travels are sparse. Even so, it’s food for thought and will surely energise most people’s fantasies. Just imagine all the adventures and experiences encompassed by a family roadtrip around half the globe on a three-wheeled scooter with 2hp and a total load of maximum 500 kg.