Speed camera

Speedman invents speed camera

Maurits Gatsonides (Gombong, Java, February 14, 1911 – Heemstede, November 29, 1998)

How the son of the assistant resident of Surakarta, with a Greek name and Javanese, Chinese and Dutch blood in his veins, was not allowed to become an airplane pilot because of a missing phalanx of the right index finger and then chose the automobile, with which he flew more than 350 competitions drove and covered more than two million kilometres, after which he converted his comprehensive knowledge of cars and speed into developing speedometers, traffic cameras and finally the speed camera, of which he himself became a victim into old age.

To his friends he was called Maus or Gatso or Gatje, but his full name was Maurits Gatsonides (an exclusively Dutch surname). In four decades he drove more than 350 international and national rallies and races.

In retrospect, he could say that he had covered about two million kilometers – including test drives and reconnaissance.

And precisely this expert in speed, the man who liked to talk about 'the noble art of tearing', developed the speedometer, the gatsometer, the speed camera at a later age. Maus Gatsonides was a fine example of a poacher turned constable.

A journalist described him around 1990 as follows: 'Maus is a tall, thin man with oriental features, whose appearance seems rather influenced by all the royalties he met in his life. His movements have the grandeur of an excellence.

Words come out of his mouth carefully and carefully. The dark eyes blaze.'

Gatsonides was born in Gombong on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies, the son of the assistant resident of the principality of Surakarta. (Remember Multatuli, assistant resident of Lebak.) As a child, he toured with his father in an open Fiat on high spokes on control trips all over Surakarta.

black and gray camera on tripod on road during daytimeHe also lost a phalanx of his right index finger at the age of eight when a nephew twisted the wheel of his bicycle while cleaning. This created a defect with far-reaching consequences. In 1923, after five years of service, his father was allowed to go on leave with his family to the Netherlands. After five months he returned, but he left the twelve-year-old Maurits behind, because secondary education in the Dutch East Indies was not of a standard. Two years later, father Gatsonides died during a medical procedure on Java. Although Maus' mother and his sisters returned to the Netherlands, he himself grew up in five foster families.

At the end of the twenties he wanted to continue studying to become a doctor or engineer after high school. But because his father had messed up his studies at Delft University of Technology through some debauchery, his family didn't want to hear about it. So he opted for military training as a pilot.

He had finished his studies with high marks and his health was excellent, so there was no problem. But when he wanted to sign the necessary documents, the instructor noticed that his index finger was missing a phalanx. And he was rejected.

He didn't get any further in aviation than KLM, where he worked from 1931 to 1935 to become a flight engineer. But in July 1935, three KLM aircraft crashed in one week, each with his friends on board. Then he quit. Maus: 'I did learn to work at KLM.

Also old skills like grinding valves by hand. That was meticulous work. If you made a mistake, it could have fatal consequences.' From 1931 he had also started racing, first with a steam motorcycle.
With the considerable inheritance of his grandfather – a sugar planter in the Dutch East Indies – he opened a garage in Heemstede in 1935 with the car brands Skoda, Hillman and Humber. His company quickly became a center for all Dutch motorsport enthusiasts.

He lasted four years. The main problem was that Maus was never in his garage. He employed a very skilled mechanic, who was willing to tell anyone looking for Maus that he had 'just left for a while'.

Maus appeared in those four years at the start of about 45 major national and international competitions. With your own cars! That cost a fortune. He drove, among other things, the very tough Liège-Rome-Liège of 1937: 5000 kilometers in one go. Of the 39 cars that started, seven saw Liège back.

Maus was in one of them. In 1938 he came second. He drove that rally nine times. From 1936 he ventured into the Rallye Monte Carlo, the mother of all rallies. Unlikely heavy too. He drove that rally 23 times, a record.

In 1937 he won the prize for the best placed British car. At that time, car brands still carried exotic brand names such as Hillman Minx or Riley Kestrel Sprite. In any case, the British car manufacturers caught his eye.


On May 10, 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. The occupier confiscated cars and monopolized the distribution of petrol. The Dutch had no fuel for their remaining vehicles. Gatsonides: 'I started working with an old school book from the HBS.

After three weeks it was: Eureka!' Less than five weeks after the German invasion, Maus Gatsonides did a test with a coal gasifier that worked with anthracite from the Limburg mines. The Gatsonides Gas Generator or GGG was a rolling coal furnace.

Maus did not own a cent: 'Good relations in the sports riding industry ensured that production started quickly.' He installed his generator on small and large trailers that could be attached behind passenger cars and trucks.

The GGG was mainly used for transport companies, but also on cargo ships.

Gatsonides employed about twenty men throughout the war. He used his success as a cover for a wide range of resistance activities. Huize 'Chez Nous' in Bentveld, where he had settled with Ciska, who married in 1941, offered shelter to people in hiding.

He stole an army car, forged signatures of the German military government and stole their stamps.

Maus brought clandestine children to the rich and 'free'-looking Friesland and showed himself to be a genius in obtaining scarce food for his wide entourage, starting with his employees. He himself would remain discreet about that for the rest of his life.

The interior of his house offered a glimpse into his inventive mind: 'Through a warnet of copper pipes, home-fired old claret steadily dripped into bottles and pitchers.' Or he generated his own electricity with a propeller on the roof.

And even after the war, he was able to 'get the hell out of it' with French cognac and Limburg anthracite in the penniless Netherlands.

The toughest rally years

Because of the GGG success, he had some money again after the 'five years of quartering our Eastern neighbors' and he opened an 'all-round service garage' in Heemstede. Starting with fixing up the cars he and his friends had hidden during the war.

Like a BMW sedan and an NSU motorcycle that he had to dig deep from the ground in his garden. Afterwards he sold Studebakers and cars from the Rootes Group.

In 1946 he proudly presented a car of his own making: the Gatford (Gatsonides-Ford), a V8 four-litre roadster, followed by a number of elegant sports cars simply called Gatso's.

Not without success he also competed with it, by way of advertising. But Ford parts were scarce and he was operating on too little capital to sustain such an ambitious project for long. He was unable to fulfill an American order of 200 units.

He quickly fell to the ground again. In 1951, Gatsonides went bankrupt for the second time.
By then he was a 'professional driver', professional rally and test driver, for a whole range of British car manufacturers: Aston Martin, Ford-Dagenham, Jaguar and Triumph for example.

He embarked on a frenzied program spanning hundreds of thousands of miles of races and rallies across the globe.

He drove eleven Alpine races, six RACs (Royal Automobile Club Rally – Britain's most important), the East African safari; four times the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the spectacular Italian Mille Miglia.

The most important victory of his life was the 1953 Monte Carlo Rally, in a Ford Zephyr. He had trained for months on the 74-kilometer local circuit until he knew it like the back of his hand and was able to ride the various routes to the second.

404 cars took part in the winter adventure from seven starting places. The special thing about its success was that the Ford Zephyr Six was an ordinary passenger car: its sales doubled that year.

Even the daily newspaper Le Monde wrote lyrically about the Dutch driver: 'Gatsonidès avec son fin visage de prince javanais.' Gatsonides: 'All night long my wife and I were dividing the prize pool among the creditors.'

At crucial points on the Monte Carlo circuit, he had lined up 'accidental' spectators to throw cold buckets of water at his tires to cool the brakes. Although third-party assistance was prohibited. That also characterized Gatsonides.

Controllable and agile, yes, but also cunning and inventive.

Because putting on and taking off snow chains in winter rallies was a waste of time, he came up with string: 'I used string eight millimeters thick and two meters long, the ends of which I had dipped in a pot of paint to hold things together.

I put those strings through the spokes and tied them with a thick, traditional Dutch square knot on the tread. This guaranteed good traction and they would rub off on their own when it was no longer needed.'

He drove the Alpine Rally in the French Alps eleven times, three times without penalty, an unusual record for which he received a special award. Towards the end of the 1950s a young generation of rally drivers emerged and Gatsonides gradually withdrew.

He focused on the popular Mobil Economy Runs, economy competitions, rallies that combined speed with the low fuel consumption of 'a light foot'. He won in 1958 and scored a hat-trick between 1964 and 1966.

Gatsonides' motto was 'Anything is possible', 'It can be done.' Also driving with a light foot.

Tubes, cameras and speed cameras

The speed camera was born in Balkbrug, an Overijssel village of a few thousand inhabitants that already had some fame as a 'police milk cow' in the 1950s.

A police officer used to measure the speed of passing motorists with the help of a stopwatch and a post one hundred meters from the bridge that gives the town its name. The legal limit was 50 kilometers per hour. The fines were legion.

Until the day Maus Gatsonides passed there.

Biographer Wiedenhoff: 'With his eagle eye, [Maus] had observed the officer from afar and passed the measuring point with a restrained, extremely law-friendly pace. But that didn't stop the officer from stopping Gatso; he too was driving too fast.

He thought this was impossible and set to work measuring the distance between the pole and the bridge. The hundred meters from the agent turned out to be only 88 meters in reality. A deviation of 12 percent!'

Maus spent 300 days abroad as a racer in 1957. He was 46 and couldn't keep chasing alpine passes forever. How could he earn his living after motorsport?

Driving a prescribed route with a painfully accurately maintained average speed has been one of the most important tasks for rally drivers for decades.

As a result, they tinkered with chronometers, alarm clocks and wall clocks in their garages to install on board their competition cars.

Gatso had won Monte Carlo in 1953 thanks to a 'shelf with three stopwatches'. One of his maxims was: you have to eliminate the human being as assessor. He had always been annoyed by the poor time registration at rallies and races.

Traffic increased, more drivers were driving too fast, the number of fines increased. It didn't match his sense of justice measured with the wet finger.

Maus started with a system of two tubes placed at a distance over the road and connected to two stopwatches in the hands of an officer. The most modern stopwatches were no more accurate than to a tenth of a second.

Maus wanted precision down to a hundredth or a thousandth of a second. He started registering the top speeds on the Zandvoort circuit. His friends thought he was chasing a dream.

Day and night he sat tinkering in the attic of his house in Bentveld, putting the not so generous income from his professional competitions into his experiments with measuring equipment. Gatsonides: 'The trick was the clever use of an ordinary electric razor.

A Braun whose blades moved back and forth on the 50 hertz of the mains. With some tinkering I was able to control the counter with that. The material initially came from the flea market on the Waterlooplein in Amsterdam.'

The mains provided 50 periods per second: 50 plus, 50 min. The best mechanical pulse meters got 25 pulses. Together with a technician, he converted an existing pulse meter until it could register 100 pulses. A measuring distance of ten meters was now sufficient.

He could now register the time to the nearest hundredths of a second with a pulse counter connected to the light. First he tried to stretch it over the road surface by stretching two nylon threads.

Until a intoxicated Gatsonides neighbor almost broke his neck during one of the early gatsometer tests on the Zandvoort circuit.

Then followed two rubber hoses (rubber from the tire manufacturer Vredestein) stretched flat over the road surface with membrane switches: the motorists started the time measurement themselves due to the air displacement in the hoses.

In 1958 he gave the first demonstration for the police forces in the Zandvoort area.

Inspector Wijnstroom of the Velsen municipal police bought the first 'Gatsometer'. The early gatsometers also provoked vandalism. Drivers learned to brake hard on the hoses, so that they broke. Vredestein, for example, had to manufacture sturdier versions.

Maus soon replaced the connection to the mains with electronic equipment powered by batteries.

In March 1961, at the request of the manager of the swimming pools in Utrecht, he supplied electronic tapping boards for swimming pools. The beginning of a success parallel to the speedometer.

With a mini BMW

Gatsonides was a famous sales machine. He provoked trial trials by working with his son - himself with the car, his
son Tom on the moped – deliberately breaking the speed at certain points. The conviction they received immediately underlined the legal validity of his devices and the Gatsometer brand became nationally known.

He bought himself a striking BMW 600 – one of those post-war tiny cars whose fronts formed a kind of front door – and visited police forces all over the country to demonstrate the trick with the two hoses.

With that car – 600 cc, 34 hp – he even drove a well-known French rally race. So he was always in the news.

The hoses were a bit of a hassle: they had to be unwound with a reel and the street dirt made hands and uniform dirty, although the company Gatsometer could also provide a butcher's apron for that purpose - Gatsonides provided everything.

Until Gatsonides picked up the radar in 1968). He quickly delivered one improved version after another. Equipment for registering the speed of a passing car from a moving car. With automatic cameras (1980). Speed camera (1988).

Memory card (6000 images, 1988). Digital red light camera (1997). All applications that Gatsonides devised as a result of his own experiences; inventions, each with its own story of experience, with place and date of occurrence.

He also experienced how the word 'gatsometer' appeared as a generic name in the fat Van Dale. Gatsometer BV in Haarlem, led by two of his grandsons, is the world leader in speedometers and speed cameras to this day.

'After his life was first dominated by speed, Maus later used speed to make a living,' says his biographer. The world-renowned rally driver who flouted all limits became the fright of the fast motorist.

In a short portrait he wrote about himself in the third person in 1990, he summarizes his life as: 'Twelve Crafts – Ten Misfortunes – Two Successes.' 'He started as a Rich Amateur and ended up as a Destitute Professional.

Through Gatsometer BV, the Destitute Professional will go down in history as a Successful Manufacturer.'

Until old age, every interview with Gatsonides ended with a story about the last ticket he had received with his Citroën XM. Defeated by his own weapons.

And in a conversation with Elsevier in 2006, his grandsons Timo and Niki also appear to be familiar with this phenomenon. "Just last week," Niki replies, "and I don't want to talk about it."

Huguenots in Friesland

The ancestors of Maus Gatsonides were Huguenots who settled in Friesland. One of them changed his last name to Gaston plus 'ides' (Greek for son of) and swapped the s and the t.

One of his descendants ran away from home when he was sixteen, left as a 'kettle binkie' on a ship to the Dutch East Indies. Thirty years later, the Frisian distiller returned as the wealthy owner of a sugar plantation on Java.

He had a Dutch wife and three children, but the three children came from a previous relationship, with the cook on his remote plantation, Siem Njo. She was a quarter Javanese, a quarter Chinese and half Dutch.

One of those children, also called Maurits but called Karel, was an assistant resident of the susuhunan (prince) of Surakarta in Java in the early twentieth century.

After five years, Karel Gatsonides was allowed to go on leave to the Netherlands for six months in 1923, in the company of his wife, his son Maurits, known as Maus, and two daughters. The trip back and forth took two months of that leave.

Because secondary education in Java was of no standard, father Gatsonides left his son and eldest daughter with foster parents on his return. Two years later, father Gatsonides died during a surgery.

Maus never saw him again. This is how Maus, Maurits Jr., inherited the fortune of his grandfather, the plantation owner, in slices from the age of 21.

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