Excited? you bet, a group of us, 18 in number, the dirty dozen and a half, booked ages ago leaving on Sept 3rd and returning on the 15th. Some of us had done a few Euroclassics before, some had done many and some had never done one before. The great John Collins is an old hand but he hadn`t done one before. Mind you, he`s an old foot, old arms and legs, old...you get the picture. No-one one knows how old he is, I must ask his younger brother, Methusula. John is an expert at the buffet table, he wanders in the wrong way round smiling benignly and with supreme charm bulldozes even older biddies away from the good stuff while he helps himself. He`s my hero. Initially we thought 18 people, all mates, would be a cumbersome number (a numbersome) but it was perfect, always a pal in the bar or in the car park or in the bath, wherever, very sociable.
As we`re all a bit sad we decided we needed a team name, preferably one that reflected a philosophy for life, living for today. I quite liked car pe diem, or, less sophisticated; snog her while she`s still got teeth. There was Equipe on running, Team orders (topical) and 2 others too numerous to mention. We eventually settled, I say we but actually Rodger, whose (who`s ?) idea it was, decreed that we would be called "Drink it while it`s fizzy" with stickers on the 9 cars and matching, embroidered polo sheets. I told you we were sad.
We all, but one car who was meeting us at the start, met in the time honoured spot; the last Little Chef before Hull ready to catch the Zeebrugge ferry. The trouble with meeting at the last before is that you don`t know that it is until you aren`t there, but, hey, we all did. The next morning we left Zeebrugge for the start at the Nurburgring. All went well, flying down the motorway at 80, or 160 m.p.2h. as I prefer to call it, when we hit traffic on the Antwerp ring road. Just as well as the great Rodger Vickers chose this moment to detonate his differential, punching a hole in the casing and spreading a surprisingly large amount of oil about 20 feet in front of our car. Oh ! and in the outside lane of 3 lanes of traffic. We stopped and tried to push the Healey to no avail. If it had been the Elan we could have carried it. Rodger rang the RAC and as we were causing even more traffic problems with unhelpful An twerps beeping their horns, what`s the point? who do think you are? Italians? we had to leave them to it. To cut a long story short; so they went to bed. Oh! alright, I`ll tell you. Rodger had had his diff. rebuilt at Dennis Welch`s the previous year so once the police, fire brigade, RAC, etc. had sorted out the mess he was punching the buttons on his phone as if it was Jeremy Welch`s face. Welch was fantastic, we`d all gone so knew nothing but he put Rodger in touch with the president of the Belgian Austin Healey club who just happened to have a rebuilt diff. in his garage at home in Brussells. The Rac transported the car and occupants to his house where Rodger and the great Tony Darwent drank coffee and the really great president welded up the casing, fitted the diff, and sent them on their way. At 2am they arrived at our hotel at the Nurburgring, I say "our" hotel, it was no longer "their" hotel as someone else had taken their room. How we laughed. The night before at documentation and scrutineering Aston Martin had laid on a reception at their test centre. It was great to meet up with people from previous years and different events. There are people whose names you can`t remember but you`re still delighted to see again. There`s always one "wit" who asks "you know what Lotus stands for don`t you", how amusing. I take a line from the Jimmy Jackson School of Charm; "yeah, it stands for how would you like a poke in the eye".
Day one was a short loop up by Bonn with nice lunch and coffee stops at unpronouncable (but it got worse) places and back to the Nurburgring where we were regaled with horror stories about the Nordschliefe which we were tackling the following morning....early....with dew on the track under the trees, sharp bends over brows, and, I was told, 50 deaths a year. If we didn`t skid on yesterday`s blood we might crash into a giant scab from last week. I was quite keen that my co-driver, the great Carole Jackson, should experience the Nurburgring so I agreed to travel with great circumspection, plus, I was flippin` frightened anyway by all these stories. So the next day, I`m ashamed to say, we were overtaken by quite a few cars, even by an accountant in an MG!! In the Nurburgring shop you can buy those little outline stickers of the circuit to attach to your car. They were 9 Euros as opposed to 99p on ebay. You see `em on Vauxhall Novas with dustbins for exhausts and Tupperware spoilers on their bootlids, driven by young Turks around Buxton. I`m pretty sure they`ve not actually been anywhere near the Nurburgring. They`d probably suffer culture shock if they travelled from Buxton to Bakewell. The night before we 18 had pre-booked dinner at the Blauecke Hotel in Adenau where all the racing greats used to stay. I didn`t want to go to Adenau with my adenoids, I wanted to go to Haemorrau. We cadged a lift there in the back of the great John Jackson (no relation) `s lovely `83 Aston Thingyish. There`s not too much room in the back which is why my co-driver and I were selected as we don`t suffer from that dreadful excessive tallness that some do. It was lovely. I think it was the next day, we travelled on some cracking roads with little traffic in the company of a gorgeous red Dino at a "brisk" pace, fabulous. I complimented the navigator at the overnight in Erfurt on her lovely bottom. On overrun the Dino was crackling, popping and banging like Rice Crispies on nitro. Even better, it was refreshing to find that the car had a proper registration, not one of those vanity plate things so often favoured by ...................you know. Just like before having a sex change you have to live for so long as the opposite gender, I think that potential vanity plate owners should be forced to use the registration 7WAT for a period just to prove that they`re good sorts really. In fairness I have a couple of good friends who suffer from this personality disorder and they`re actually quite nice really. My brother, Glynn, changed his name by deed poll to Gufourin when he bought G4YNN. My disdain knew no bounds........and cut no ice. He only got rid of it when it was pointed out that in the strange dyslexic world that these MNB3R plate owners inhabit, his plate was less likely to be read as GLYNN, more likely GAY IN. Don`t you just love natural justice?
The next day we were driving into the Czech republic to Prague for a 2 night stay. We stopped off, and had lunch at Colditz which was, like many of our stops, fascinating. Strangely, I noticed that my navigator`s top developed 2 little lumps. In the afternoon we had a great time at the Ceska Gobbledook circuit. The Elan, of course, has it`s own personality and always when approaching racing circuits starts to get a little frisky. This is in stark contrast to my co-driver who has this bizzarre aversion to potential death. The Elan, as you can imagine, is just great on circuits especially tight, twisty ones. This one was right up Elan Street, really tight, just 2nd and 3rd gears, brake, turn, point and squirt. The car was absolutely dancing. On the one hand I was trying REALLY hard but on the other hand the car was doing all the work and just flying on it`s own. Just enough oversteer on every bend but not so much to need correction, it was brilliant. The great Alan Beardshaw was there and struggling around this tight circuit in his ?127 million, ground up restoration, rally prepared, 385 b.h.p. lightened, balanced, stiffened, thirst quenchin`, lip smackin` all singin` DB5. Now, I have a considerable respect for the driving ability of all the drivers in our group and there isn`t one who I wouldn`t be happy to entrust our Elan to on a circuit but I`m sure none will be offended when I say that Alan is particularly handy behind the wheel. Seeing him sruggle in Roland the Rally Car ( now that IS sad) on the tight bends, I offered him the keys to the Elan. He decided not to take up the offer on this occasion for fear of damaging the car and himself on such a tight circuit. I think it was because, frankly, he didn`t want to get back in Roland, probably one of the 2 or 3 most desirable cars out of 97 on the rally, and find it a disappointment. Either that or because he was wearing new trousers !
A day off from driving and culture overload in Prague, another fabulous day and well worth a trip. The trouble was that we`d run out of liquorice all sorts and having left Bertie Bassett behind met up with Hari Bo ready for the next day. These fruity juicy lurid confections represented "fruit" flavours impossible to identify, instead we tried to recognise all the E numbers.
The following day we had, potentially, terrible news. 2 of the cars on the rally had been in a road accident with an enormous tractor and one of the cars was from our group. Despite the carnage, thankfully, no-one was hospitalised though our mate Phil, the great Phillip Haslam, was already suffering from the after effects of a small operation on his shoulder and this was wrenched terribly in the impact. The other couple`s post Pagoda Mercedes SL thing, you know, will, I imagine, be a write off as they are not very valuable. Phil and Yvonne`s gorgeous XK120 was probably the other most desirable car on the rally and it was terribly sad to see it so misshapen and there`s no question that it will be up and running by spring. The Euroclassic, like the Scottish Malts and other rallies, has mechanical support from Brittassist who are, in the words of the great Tina Turner " simply".......you know. Three trucks, 2 trailers, 10 very knowledgable and enthusiastic mechanics and a will do attitude. I had a word with them and asked if they could make me irresistable to women. They said, well, let`s have another look at the XK. Incredibly, with hawsers, muscles, jacks and jills, they dragged P&Y`s bodywork into something like a sort of car shape. They straightened up ......ish the steering and suspension and fastened the bonnet down with a big hammer and cable ties. They then investigated the "collateral" damage. The petrol tank, though not actually hit with anything, had split, bizzarely the clutch slave cylinder had ovalised, weird, and there other bits and (broken) pieces. When they started the engine they realised the heater hoses had blown off and so on. Amazingly, and all credit to Norman and his great team of blokes, by mid-morning the next day the XK, no longer quite so desirable and not very aerodynamic, was up, running, and Phillip and Yvonne were back in the rally, chasing after us with a bit (!) of wheel wobble and their usual, incomparable determination.
I`ve just re-read my ramblings and realised that I`m going on a bit. Hang in there, only 1500 miles to go.
A bit about the great diversity of cars in our not so little group. There`s the prettiest car, the Elan of course, and another Lotus; a "proper" Elite, recently bought and with little time for a shakedown, (some would believe their fragile reputation) perhaps a brave choice. In fact, though they had trifling minor issues, the car behaved perfectly. As did the 356, the 912, Roland, the token old bloke and his smashing wife in the TR4, Rodg and Tony had no more problems with the Healey, a very smart, perfectly behaved (unlike his navigator) `83 Aston somethin`ish and of course the Cadbury`s mis-shape, the XK. All completed the 2,762 miles home and we never had the hood up. It actually rained one morning for half an hour and I did hear some plaintive request from the passenger seat but I don`t know what. For a moment I thought I heard those 2 unmentionably rude words: hood and up. Surely not. In fact about 10 minutes from home the heavens opened but with so little distance to cover even Carole agreed that there was no way we were putting the hood up. Roger and Barbara did have their hood up a couple of times but I love Barbara so much I`ll let them off. There were a few times when the Elan and 356 were parked next to each other. I`m sure when we returned to them they`d cuddled up a bit.
Where were we? Prague and me and the Elan were getting excited at the prospect of a visit to the circuit at Brno. I was looking forward to the Elan giving the Healey a good drubbing. With it`s road/race Dennis Welch?????????? engine upgrades which cost more than my car, and it`s stiffened, lowered suspension and sticky tyres, so what ! here we come. Tony was at the wheel with me close behind as we left the pits................at the end of the first lap Tony was at the wheel with me close behind and at the end of the second lap Tony was at the wheel with me close behind.........you get the picture? yes we see (in the words of the great Shangrilas). I used to think of Tony as one of my closest friends, now I hate him. Like Tony I`d disgorged my co-driver to reduce the weight and avoid the sqealing from the nearside, too bloomin` near side. I`d have been better disgorging some of her luggage. I don`t think that even a centipede takes so many shoes on holiday. Maybe if I`d emptied the ashtray? To be technical for a moment, the Lotus recommended tyre pressures for an Elan are very low. Whether it`s modern tyre construction or my imagination but I feel the car is much better balanced with higher pressures. When we do competitive rallies with tests and stuff I put 30 p.s.i. for neat, sharp, changes of direction. For this event I was running 27p.s.i for, I thought, better grip. The great Peter Fletcher in the 912 used to run an Elan and thought this too high, more of this anon. Incidentally Peter and his mate Barry ( a most amusing bloke) have recently bought another Elan but a basket case and are restoring it. Good to welcome them back. One evening at dinner I, pompously, offered to say grace. "Tempus est ut concinamus quiquid Edwardensium", impressive or what? It`s actually the first line in the pretentious school song from grammar school several aeons ago. So, Barry chips in with the next line, it turns out we were at school together. More remarkably, Rodger, who I`ve known for the last 10 years or so, was at the same infants and junior school as me. I don`t remember him either, it`s funny how the mind blots out the memory of traumatic experiences. Name dropping for a moment, a few years ago on the Scottish Malts I was chatting to this bloke in the car park who, after a while, recognising my dulcet accent, asked where I was from, and then, which school was I at. It turned out to be someone I do remember, that kid who did his homework on the bus, never revised, paid no attention in class...........and did brilliantly well. Martin Smith, head of design at Ford Europe and the bloke who designed and masterminded the Audi Quattro. Now he IS the GREAT Martin Smith. We saw him again on the 3 Castles in Wales and chatting with Phil (you know, in the XK) it turned out that his dad and Martin`s dad used to go cycling together. There`s a saying in the Czech republic " Ee it`s a small world". Lunch stop was at Telc, the place where American indians by their um powder. It was here that I realised that I haven`t actually got this in the right order as I seem to remember the XK being on a trailer in Telc, or was that in Alzheimer? Was it a coffee stop? who cares? Anyway I spotted Tina on her hands and knees (looking very alluring) peering under their car. Now in my book a co-driver of the non-masculine gender who gets down on her hands and knees in a car park to peer under a car deserves the utmost respect. Tina is a good Yorkshire lass, a T.B.T.K. as they say in Barnsley. A Top Bird Tha` Knows.
Our Elan is a 1967 S/E but with a sprint engine, CV driveshafts, and more particularly, the Voight 5 speed gearbox conversion. Though 1st is a bit low and the change is not quite as good as the clickety original 2000E box, having the 5th gear for high speed cruising is a real boon. Inevitably to cover the large distances involved, some days we had an hour or so of motorway. With 80 on the speedo, a little over 3000 rpm on the rev. counter, and my brain on tickover, thoughts turn to esoteric matters of philosophy, the meaning of life and, well, boll**ks really. I mused on how the introduction of Google Earth had met with so little resistance. It really is an intrusion into personal privacy, cameras peering through householder`s windows and so on. Yet we all just accept big business riding roughshod over our personal space. It was then that I had my GREATEST EVER idea. Equip the pavements of busy streets with upward facing cameras and launch the most successful web-site in history; Google Pants. You could scour the ether for an attractive lady in a summery dress, zoom in, and have a peek at her pants. I can see there might be problems with this, copyright from Microsoft and such, so I may need to change the name to Go Ogle Pants. Imagine the benefits, half the population are aesthetes who take delight in a glimpse of crisp, white lace. The only downside I can think of is that it might, just might, attract some perverts ( I hate `em, don`t you?) but think of the benefits: Mindful of not wishing to upset the sensibilities of sensitive souls like myself, ladies, bless `em patronisingly, will ditch any tatty, unattractive underwear.Trashy, cheap, vulgar ladies underwear would only be worn by tarts and people called Tracy, we`d see a resurgence in the Broderie Anglais industry, and maybe, just maybe, we`d see an overdue upsurge in the popularity of pink gingham. From there it`s only a small step to the relaunch of the Doris Day Appreciation Society which would provide untold benefits to societies throughout the world. Brilliant, don`t you think?
We continued on our way calling at various wonderful places, World Heritage Sites, lovely villages, delicious coffee, not necessarilly in the order I` recollect. We called at the world famous Bibliotek Thingy bob where innumerable ancient books are stored on shelves in the most magnificent rooms. As you are not allowed to read or even touch the books it seemed just a bit pointless. They didn`t even have a workshop manual for a Lotus Elan S3 and some of the books on the higher shelves were over my head. The trip was about to get even better as we headed into the alps, Austria, Italy and Switzerland but first the Saltzburgring circuit.........YAHOO !! Am I going on a bit? you must think I like the sound of my own keyboard.............yeah, well, so?
We arrived at the circuit and immediately blew up...............................the tyres to 30 p.s.i. all round. What a difference, the car was transformed. It had been sort of "squirmy" at the Brno on the high speed bends and even under heavy braking. Having the back step out a bit and having to come off the brakes when slowing from warp factor 11 for a hairpin is more frightening than arguing with a woman with PMT. Most disconcerting, but with a little more air and less weight in the car it was......err, concerting (?) Carole and her luggage were left on the chicane grandstand with the video camera. We`ve got some great shots of floor and sky, and the occasional one of cars too. Isn`t it strange how cars, from the outside look to be going at half the speed they feel to be going from the inside. Discussing the circuit with Phillip later, despite the XKs damage he was still giving it some on the circuits, what a guy, he opined that I was not just enjoying experiencing the Elan driven to it`s ( or my) limits, I also seemed hell bent on overtaking anything that moved. Yeah, well, so? Maybe, in the accident he banged his head too and lost all sense of reason.
From there we drove to the overnight at the Kitzbuhel something hotel in Jochberg, which was fabulous, but not actually in Kitzbuhel. This is a shame as our daughter lived there for 3 years and the old town is just gorgeous. We`d have liked to spend time there but I had trouble persuading the Elan to leave the circuit so we didn`t get to the hotel until 8.30 p.m. tired, hungry, and exhilerated.
The next day was billed as the day of a thousand hairpins, call me soppy but the spectacular views, view after view, were just lump in your throat, tear in your eye, how lucky are we? once in a lifetime experiences, even better than the fabulous driving. We left Jochberg through Pas Turn then over the Grossglockner pass. I got out of the car for a breath of fresh air and the air was so thin that I couldn`t get a good drag on me fag. Unfortunately going up towards the pass we were following a `68 Mustang, it would have been quicker following a London Routemaster. They`re a smashing couple who we know from previous events and they did let us past as soon as they could but really, a Mustang? If the Elan is God then the Mustang is the anti-Christ. I did ask the question; I know some cars are a pile of sh*t but why would anyone want such a big pile of sh*t. Imagine stepping out of it, it wouldn`t be just carbon on your footprint. How he laughed, just before he gave me a good smack in the gob (not really). I actually know someone who has a modern day Mustang and he, and his lovely wife, seem really nice and quite normal. I blame his parents.
Over other passes, fabulous, fabulous views so breathtaking that I still couldn`t get a good drag on me fag, we dropped into Italy and the overnight at Merano, a terrific spot in a bowl between 4 alps. Merano is well known as the production centre for dyslexic Meccano. We did sometimes hit traffic on the mountain passes and clearly the plague of Nissan Micras that affects the Peak District whenever the sun shines is pandemic. There`s something to be said for mounting highly trained marksmen at key points in the mountains who could shoot out the tyres of anyone driving too slowly, driving a Toyota, or anyone who is called Kevin. They could also be equipped with a shoulder mounted missile capable of vapourising anyone with that most unacceptable of traits, intolerance.
Next day, the mighty Stelvio. If you haven`t been then you must, superlatives aren`t super enough. Carole and I felt very at home at the top of the Stelvio. Not many people know this but it`s named after St.Elfio who is, of course, the patron saint of people who aren`t very tall. The drop into Italy, through Davos, by Klosters, just stunning, mile after mile of fabulous roads and, in a soft top car, 180 degree views, it was so beautiful it reminded me of my co-driver. The bucket is on the left.
We nipped back into Austria then just over the German border to the event finish at Lindau, another terrific spot, our hotel balcony overlooking the Bodensee. Event completed, the car running perfectly, navigation almost faultless, I gave my co-driver such a big snog in the hotel lift that when the lift door opened I had to walk out backwards.
We were faced with a bit of a marathon drive back to Zeebrugge, over 500 miles (some classic owners don`t drive that far in a year, shame on them). Peter had booked us all into a hotel in Koblenz so we blasted up the motorway then deviated from the route, at Phil`s suggestion, for the last 50 miles or so, driving up the left bank of the Rhine, or was it down the right bank? Whatever. We pulled over for a coffee on a lovely terrace overlooking the river and after about 10 minutes the delightful Barbara and (quite delightful too) Roger in the 356 spotted the parked Elan and joined us. Another warm memory to treasure. The 356 and Elan were cuddled up again I noticed as we left. Peter had a made a great choice of hotel, again overlooking the river though the beds were rather small. Every time I became aroused my co-driver fell out of bed. Below our hotel room window was the old tow path, now a jogging track. I`m not very keen on jogging as I find the ash from me fag blows back into my eyes.
The last day dawned and we left the very attractive city of Koblenz...........but by the wrong road. Now my co-driver/navigator is excellent at navigating by tulips or directions and has many fine qualities, and is pretty damn sexy too, which is the main thing, but maps? no. I`m thinking of enrolling our dog in the Carole Jackson School of Map Reading...................as head tutor. Glancing at the maps at junctions I noted that if we kept the Rhine on our right we could pick up the motorway further north. That is, if we were on the west side of the river, we realised MUCH later. Tony and Rodger in the Healey joined us in our mirrors on our trip south, on the east side of the river, towards Africa. Much later they flashed us down as Tony (Anthony to his posh friends) asked if we`d noticed that the Rhine was flowing the wrong way. After 1hr 25mins. we passed within 200 yds of the previous night`s hotel. We still had enough time before catching the ferry to nip into Knokke Heist for a crepe and coffee. It`s only a few minutes from Zeebrugge and like a different world, quite delightful.
An hour and a half from Hull to home and, as ever, I gave the Elan a big kiss on it`s bonnet badge, cars do have feelings y`know.
Much thanks are due to the MSA and it`s staff, and especially to Norman and his staff at Briittassist for helping Phillip and Yvonne so comprehensively. Thanks also to High Peak Classic Autos in Buxton who look after our Elan so well (and also John and Maggie`s TR4), Riverside Engineering in Whaley Bridge who checked out and adjusted the Elan`s geometry to perfection and gave the car a visual check over the week before we left. But particularly, enormous thanks are due to such a great bunch of pals, you were a rite laff (as they say in Prague), the car for being brilliant, and OF COURSE my co-driver and navigator for being so.............well...........Carole.
P.S. Apologies if some (!) of the chronology is inaccurate and, of course, if any of the facts or places bear any similarity to real events, this is purely coincidental.
The Great Jim Jackson.
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