They`re doing the Safari Rally in Southern Africa next May. It`s evidently quite arduous with some longish distances and sometimes rough roads. The organisers recommend, for example, steel wheels that can be bashed straight when buckled and 6 ply van tyres, so that gives an idea of what to expect. Rather than take a treasured car they already own they decided to buy a car specifically for this event and prepare it accordingly. Something sporty with an easily raised or lowered soft top, a good sized boot, space behind the seats, easy access and comfy , decent ground clearance and so on. I went with Eric to look at a couple of options and there in a corner was just the ticket and only recently restored to better than new. With the addition of a roll cage, sump guard and other bits and, most importantly, attention to the notoriously inadequate cooling, it was ready.
What is it, have you guessed? Well, I`ll offer a ray of light, it`s named after an animal indigenous to India not Africa. No, a cobra isn`t an animal but you`re sort of on the right track. Like all just completed restorations, there`s always some niggles to sort out and there were quite a few, then some more, but a plan was hatched to drive to Portugal and back for a pre-Africa shakedown. Would we like to join them on the trip in our Elan? Leaving on the 29th November and flying back a couple of weeks later then flying back out in the New Year to drive back, given the ?24.33 cost of the flight I didn`t need any persuading. Strangely, weirdly, downright bizarrely, my wife, did. I`ll call her Carole to maximise her embarrassment . A seemingly endless procession of rainy days in October, innumerable brownie points expended by me, and years of good behaviour promised, she finally capitulated to the offer of a free glass of Champagne from Eric on the ferry. How fickle. Some people say, not me of course, that there`s a word for people who frequently change their minds; ?women?.
Last May, we, Eric & Erica, and some other pals, did the London to Lisbon Rally with HERO (Histrionic Elan Reputation Odious) on the most fabulous route which we all said we must revisit at some time. On the rally, chasing tight timing, there was little opportunity to appreciate the stunning scenery. So revisit it we did; The Jaffa Cake Run. Off the Santander ferry from Portsmouth we`d planned a route of around 1200 miles over 4 days with only the last hour or so on a motorway. We picked up the London to Lisbon route at various points, missing out some of the bigger loops and regularity sections and enjoying leisurely coffee, lunch and overnight stops at ?characterful? locations.
Leaving the ferry at 5p.m. we travelled half an hour to the Parador in Santilla del Mar which we can highly recommend. It was really cold that evening and, clearly, the locals don`t put heating on in bars and restaurants, just more clothes, so we enjoyed a drink or two and a nice meal dressed in thick coats, like everyone else.
Next day in Northern Spain it was cold and damp, it`s grim up north you know, and we picked up last May`s route as we headed into the Picos Europa climbing steadily to a famous viewing point where we parked in 4? of snow, stood in cloud, and admired the grey. The roads had been cleared and over the summit with snow fields all around the sun came out. It was a bloomin` winter wonderland but so cold. The bikini stayed in the suitcase and the roof stayed up. There was quite some warmth in the sunshine and the roads began to dry but, even mid afternoon there were icy patches on the roads in shady places, surprisingly. Very surprisingly! the first time we came across a stretch of maybe 100 metres where melt water had run across and stopped melting. In the lead, on a mountain road, I just kept the wheels straight and clenched my buttocks which worked quite well in keeping the car on the road, and containing the contents of my lower intestines.
We`d planned to stay overnight in Ponferrada where I hoped to buy some of those little round Ponferrada cakes. I love liquorice but maybe it`s the wrong place, I couldn`t find any, or the hotel, so my birthday Tom Tom took us within sight of the hotel??.on a one way system the other side of a large pedestrianized square. Erica had described our trip as a little adventure and though I doubt Rannulph Fiennes would have been too troubled, things became a little more challenging. To what may become my eternal shame (if Eric has his way) the Elan developed a slight electrical problem.
Every now and then the engine would hiccough and the rev counter needle would dip. Eric and I pooled our collective automotive-electrical knowledge, mainly gleaned from watching Torchy, Torchy, the Battery Boy in our formative years. Our analysis of the symptoms pointed to a fair to good prognosis given that I carry a spare coil. Not one with the correct terminals, nor, as it turned out, one compatible with electronic ignition. I`m talking about an ignition coil here, not a contraceptive coil but my spare would have been more useful as the latter and more effective, I reckon, if used in that application. Suffice to say that Google Translation was put to good use and the day was wasted loitering about visiting 3 different garages and waiting for Spanish lunch=siestas to finish. And it was really cold and another thing: I`d had some cured ham for breakfast and within a minute I realised that whatever the ham had been cured of, it was still contagious. I had a ceramic adventure.
We needed to make up time and head south so, still sticking to what we, in the civilised world, call B roads we missed out our intended stop at a previously visited Vintage House Hotel in Pinhao (fabulous darling) and cracked on lunching, not expensively, at the stunning Vidago Palace Hotel where we`d previously stayed with HERO and other heroes. Things warmed up, the sun came out, and the roof came down, hurrah! I love driving with the roof down but now I`m grown up I have a comfort formula; If it`s too cold to drive without gloves, that`s because it is just that; too cold. From then on the roof came down and stayed down for 10 days, in December, marvellous.
Overnight in Serta, that little, as in unknown, town at a hotel recently converted from an old nunnery. A lovely town and hotel and the staff were just the most obliging ever, very eager for feedback which was forthcoming as overnight temperatures dipped to minus 2 and the bathrooms had no heating. You had to shuffle about barefoot on the bath mat just to maintain a blood supply to your toes. Well, you know how annoying hiccoughs can be and how you never remember when they stop, the Elan still had an occasional one. The ever obliging hotel owner took me in her car to a perfect auto electrical place for another coil. I`ve heard how new coils can just fail. I fitted it to no avail so hiccoughed round there the next morning. The bilingual owner ushered the Elan in parked next to a huge bench where they were rebuilding starter motors, dynamos and other stuff. Obviously just the right place. They fell about the car discovering a poor connection below the coil, replaced it, refunded the coil cost and the Elan was back to full health. Even my digestive system was on the mend.
Hood down, we blasted down to the Algarve to enjoy Eric and Erica`s outstanding and generous hospitality in their lovely holiday shack. We had a week there eating foreign food; Italian, French, and a Chinese with a load of their pals that night on the marina at Vilamoura. How glamorous? Such a nice group of people, so welcoming and friendly, and so polite. They even told Eric that they preferred his car to ours. We had a lovely time and on the 2 days our hosts were golfing we swanned about the Algarve in the Elan in shorts and short sleeves. It`s bloomin` December and we`re not dreaming we kept reminding ourselves. Most of their pals are keen golfers and the men like to play 2 or 3 times a week, the women not so often as they used to. That sounds familiar.
So, yesterday, we left our baby behind, tucked up for the winter and Carole seems to think that the space in our garage can be occupied by her car. It`s sad not to see the Elan there, but, next spring, we get to eat Erica`s delicious homemade marmalade a la Algarve again and drive the Elan back.
If there is reincarnation and we get another life, I can`t imagine it could get any better.
So many thanks to Eric and Erica????.. whoever they are!
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