Over fifty years ago, the Alps were a seemingly impregnable obstacle for any ordinary family car. There were no long tunnels bypassing the steep passes, people traveled by Auto Train instead.
Besides all the original material on our website, the CineCars Facebook page surprises time after time with unique footage from the rich automotive history. The gems of racing history, unique material from forgotten factory archives or every day street views of memory lane. CineCars follower Theo van Os embarked on a train of thoughts after watching one of these video’s and sent us the following moving childhood memory.
After watching the beautiful video on the Gotthard Auto Train on CineCars Facebook page memories of childhood vacations surface in my mind. Camping abroad for three weeks is not very common for a family of five in the early sixties. Still my parents managed to do so, a three week holiday, how cool is that? And all the way down south too, crossing the Alps and all. With our car on the Auto Train, what an unbelievable experience for a five year old!
In 1961 our destination is Carinthia. It’s the same year the Russians put up the Berlin wall thus finalising the existence of the cold war. A lot of political and military ado that doesn’t touch a kid my age very much, although I clearly remember the never ending military convoys on the Autobahn. All these imposing American trucks and the waving soldiers were quite impressing, as, so I was told, driving between the military vehicles was strictly forbidden.
Through Western Germany, crossing the Fern pass, driving all the way across Austria, stopping for the night at a ‘Zimmer Frei’ before reaching the Tauern train tunnel connecting Böckstein and Mallnitz. There weren’t any road tunnels in these days and alternate routes like the pass route or crossing the Grossglockner, just were to far fetched for a Skoda Octavia with five inhabitants and full camping gear. Even with the optional load adjusters (Tiger Balls!). So we took the train. You had to stay in the car during the ride. Nowadays passengers need to transfer to a regular passenger car for safety reasons, but back then that didn’t exist. It was a bit like the shuttle underneath The English Channel today. Exiting it was! You just sat in the car and it felt as if you were driving in a traffic jam. My dad would turn around in his seat, my mother grabbing the steering wheel falsely crying ‘watch out, you nearly ran into that car!’ Me and my two brothers had a great time on the back seat of the car.
Strangely enough I’ve only been on an Auto Train once since. In 1979, on a business trip for my former employee, the ANWB (Dutch roadside assistance organisation). Of course, all these modern motorway tunnels made the Auto Train largely abundant, largely being used by trucks only, but what an unforgettable impression this way of traveling has made on me!
text and pictures: Theo van Os