knowledge hold a negative opinion on the reliability of Lotus Elans. It could be that they haven`t much upstairs and maybe, the more cynical have not too much downstairs either.
There`s a cachet to the title "London to Lisbon" yet living in Derbyshire a start in Greenwich is hardly convenient. What`s wrong with "Foolow to Faro"?
There were 52 cars entered ranging from a 1930 Austin 7 to a `78 Martini Porche and "our" group of 7 cars comprised Lotus Elan, XKs 120 and 150, Porche 356,
MGCGT, Healey 100/4 and Alan`s DB5, Roland the Rally Car. Rock`n` Roland. Around 20 entries were Swiss, who must be keen, and the rest were peppered with regular successful hot shots. A top 30 result was our target. Our group, too, included regular top 5 finishers, hot shots, hot shoes, and one or two hot
chicks. Richard and Nicola won last year`s Trans America, New York to Alaska, outright. Niclola is stunningly attractive and if I were Richard I wouldn`t come on all these rallies, I`d just stay at home and make lurrrrrv! Classes were based on age and engine size and it happened that we were in a pre `68 up to 2500cc class, up against 2 Porche 911s with seriously successful crews and a Swiss couple in a lovely drop head Peugot. Pavell and Marianna became firm friends but it turned out that they weren`t a couple, Marianna was the wife of Pavell`s best friend. The friend, back in Basle, must have wondered why the dirty dishes and ironing were piling up. The Porche boys, well, middle-aged men, are great company too but in the driving tests against the clock we knew we had no chance (excuse number 97). I was driving my pants off, and Carole`s too, but we just weren`t competitive.
So, Greenwich, we drove through London seeing signs for everywhere we`ve ever heard of apart from Community Chest and Chance. We kept getting in the wrong lane and were greeted by the friendly Londoners with affectionate blaring of horns. My protestations of "sorry, we`re not from around here" seemed ironic given the lack of Anglo Saxon features amongst the locals.
Saturday lunchtime and we were waved off by the Portuguese ambassador. I didn`t catch his name but it may have been Matthias Rose. The last time we met an ambassador was driving an up(?)dated Morris Oxford in India, a Hindustan Ambassador. On this rally Octane magazine were represented by Geoff Love driving a green Porche with 2 DB5 exhaust-sized holes in the front (??) On the Indian one, as on any any very sociable event, like minded people gravitate towards one another and we became very friendly then with Octane`s Mark Dixon, probably through a joint appreciation, like you, dear reader, of fine prose. We had a stretch on the monotoway to clear London and apart from a few miles near Lisbon the rest of the absolutely fabulous route was just the best driving roads in the wurrrrld. A trial regularity and a couple of real ones, a test or two, and we were on the ferry to St. Malo.
Now, I`ve never been, nor met, anyone who`s ever heard of anyone who`s luggage has been first off the carousel in an airport. It`s one of life`s mysteries, but this day we were first off the ferry, hoorah. Hero, the Historic Endurance Rally Organisation, had arranged for breakfast 20 miles or so away, a great example of the excellent organisation, so we had a lie in until 7.30 a.m. This was the latest we ever had. Only one day was our start time just after 8 a.m. and only one day did we finish before 6 p.m. All day, every day, we were chasing time. Imagine going out for a real blast for half an hour in the car, then going faster, all day, every day. It was relentless just keeping the schedule at time controls. The competitive sections came as a relief. Being mechanically sympathetic rattling over cobbled village streets, too fast, sent shudders through my nylocs. It`s amazing that more cars didn`t have bits just falling off. There was an excellent team of mechanics supporting the event but we ran trouble free throughout....tempting fate, touching wood, well, tropical rain forest, actually. We finished the day in Poitiers having driven, like every day, a fabulous route, the best ever. We were in 12th place and delighted.
Day 3, was it? it`s all a blur, to a stay at a hotel overlooking the street circuit at Pau. The French pronounce it Po but Carole kept calling it Pore or Pow. By the time we got there she was Po trained. We`d had a test at the Nogaro circuit, bloomin` marvellous, lunch at Chateau de Mirambeau, everything about the rally was very stylish and much appreciated. All the coffee stops and lunches were excellent at fabulous places along the best driving roads we`ve ever experienced. I`m putting Peter Nedin`s name forward in the Jimmy Jackson`s birthday honours list. The trouble was that sometimes we only had time to check in at the time control, slurp an espresso, replace the matchsticks supporting our eyelids, and fly. That day it was almost 8 p.m. by the time we got to the hotel, so no drink in the bar, no shower, just dump the stuff and off for dinner. I think it was this day that we`d driven through a place called Lasi. After 39 years of marriage it came as a revelation to find that Carole can do an excellent impersonation of a Border Collie which, disturbingly, I found quite exciting. Pressed further that day her repertoire included various farmyard animals. Unfortunately, around this time, Tony and Judy`s Healey began making farmyard noises of the Massey Ferguson kind. Be gend the French call it, which I translated to big end. They soldiered on gently for another few days but failing oil pressure eventually summoned a breakdown truck for repatriation. What a shame. Wait a minute, we`re in 10th and six of "our" seven cars are in the top ten. "It won`t last" I said. It didn`t.
At some point, maybe day 4, we may have been in the Pyranees. I never knew where we were just following instructions from the navigator. Alan calls his navigator the Ayatollah. I do know it was still cold and wet, even on the regularities maintaining, say, 30 mph around mountain hairpins was dicey. On one I deliberately dropped 6 seconds rather than risk kissing a rock face. Fresh snow overnight and sleet on the windscreen we were following the stunning DB4 GT Zagato belonging to Lord Laidlaw. He and his wife had joined the rally in Pau and I`d heard rumour of saucy News of the World headlines so, obviously, he was a likeable bloke. At the coffee stop my right hand window was sticking a bit so he pulled on the glass while I operated the switch which fixed it. I thanked the Lord.
Maybe it was day 5 or 105, I can`t remember which, or much these days. Also, increasingly, the people we hang around with are going deaf. It`s annoying having to repeat yourself when what you had to say wasn`t worth saying in the first place. If we`re all born with just so much hearing that you use up during your lifetime, I can think of a few people that I don`t want to waste any of my hearing listening to.Anyway, one day, my excellent navigator, who may read this, became confused as we approached lunch so we followed another rally car unaware that they were lost too. Then we came across the FIA delegate in his Corvette, also lost, who seemed to understand the local lingo. I should have saved my hearing then. He ended up following us to lunch, 3 minutes outside our 30 minute lateness allowance, 900 penalty points, and just a sandwich grabbed and eaten en route as we chased on. Carole was in tears and we were in around 30th place. Bear in mind the eventual winner accrued only 35 penalty points in 8 days. The route in northern Spain was as ever, just amazing. We never travelled directly, I think that local motor clubs had provided sensational twisty mountain routes even in places where I didn`t know they had mountains. Even the route into Leon was calculated to be easy and almost traffic free. The stay at Leon Paradour was, like all the overnight stops, terrific. We`d been chasing around the Picos Europa at speeds well beyond my comfort zone but strangely and uncharacteristically, Carole was forever urging me to drive faster. On one sweeping, tightening, downhill bend when she found herslf looking forwards through my side window, she quietened down as I blessed the Elan`s fabulous handling.
Day 6, it`s go, go, go, as ever. Another hard, relentless, drive. Each day we had a couple of driving tests. A straight race against the watch, often on tight twisty circuits with cones to navigate around, usually placed to put the car off line for the following, often blind, bend. Fun with a capital expletive. Interspersed were regularities where a route must be followed at specific, changing, average speeds and secret check points timed to the second. Carole complains that I keep asking for information already given. "what speed? what am I looking for? at what distance? what time should I have? where are the liquorice allsorts?" She doesn`t realise that it`s difficult to keep all this in your head whilst driving, looking out for stray dogs, taking corners, keeping an eye on the speedo, another eye on the tripmeter, yet another eye on the stopwatch, and maybe calculating in a time difference from a previous mistake. All this while smoking a king size John Player Special is not that easy, even for a rally legend like Paddy McGinty. Speaking of which, on one mountain road a goat jumped out in front of the Aston. Silly Billy. We had no idea there were so many mountain roads, one day, no idea which, a really lovely warm day, we climbed and climbed to Torres the highest mountain in Portugal at 1900 metres. People were sledging and we were in shirt sleeves. I knew it was cold as Carole has 2 temperature sensors, one in each bra cup.
After an overnight at another stunning Paradour, then on to Villa Real. then, next day, Caramulo as I run out of things to type, with an amazing race up the hill climb there, the roads specially closed by the police, it was all just as exhillerating as exhausting. The final day, the best, to Lisbon. We convened outside the city then with police escort drove 7 miles through Lisbon line astern to the finish Crowds were cheering as the traffic was stopped and we drove through every red light on a glorious day. Tony and Judy were, sadly, in a hire car but Tony joined the procession hooting madly and Judy jumped in the back of the Elan, sitting on the back with her feet down behind the seats. Conjure a 60`s image of a mini-skirted dolly bird perched on an Elan, long hair teased by the breeze. When we got to the dual carriageway substitute a picture of a half-crazed middle-aged woman clinging on in abject terror. We were met by huge crowds in a fabulous plaza overlooking Lisbon bay and greeted by the British ambassador who said, politely, that she was very pleased to meet us. I`m not entirely convinced by such platitiudes. Better that she`d said; " I prefer your car to all the others", or "where do you get your haicut, I`d like to have mine done there". you know, something more believable.
At the awards dinner 5 of our 7 were still in the top ten, In our class of just 4 one came second overall so wasn`t elligible for class awards, the Swiss couple limped to the finish sounding like a 2 stroke so we won 2nd in class and 20th overall. Would we do it again? no chance. Was it the best rally we`ve ever done? Yes indeed.
Some of us drove on, after, to the Algarve, for a few days R&R at Alan and Tina`s house. It`s always awkward judging how long to stay and accept someone`s hospitality without staying too long. Musing and bronzing my physique laid by the pool I came up with a precise formula for calculating the warmth of your welcome and the length of your stay. It`s simple; when you`ve eaten the last McVitie`s Jaffa Cake, it`s time to go. We spent a couple of days driving north in the company of Roland the Rally Car to Santander for the ferry to Portsmouth then home. Roland had broken a damper bracket on day 6 and the other rear damper had given up. On the bumpy roads we re-christened Roland, we called him Bob. Home sweet home in miserable weather with just over 4100 miles covered and a litre and half of oill used, the Elan was running as sweetly as ever and, as ever, received a big kiss on the bonnet badge.
Jim & Carole (the navigating legend)
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Great write up, as ever and thank you for taking the time to do so. Good to see that you were not the only Elan on the rally, though you clearly caught the eye of the photographers judging by the number of shots of your car on the HERO site.
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Cheered me up no end after a knackering workday !!
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