One week last month I had what must be a unique motoring experience. Tuesday and Wednesday I had rides in two contemporary but completely different vehicles, I am pretty certain that no one else on the planet did anything similar (at least on those days). It all started as it so often does with a email landing in my account. Peter Stevens, car designer and all round good egg, was inquiring as to whether I was going along to Salon Privé as he was one of the Concours judges. If so, did I fancy going on the Tour organised the day before?
I readily accepted as time spent with Peter is always amusing and thought provoking. Then I found out what the transport would be, a 1929 Model A Ford Pickup Truck... well that would be different.
I arrived early at Peter's hotel, instantly recognising the noble beast in the car park. The Model A is powered by a 3.3 litre 4 cylinder engine, with a 3 speed manual transmission and on our way to the event we got over 50mph, at least according to the satnav (mine, not the Ford's of course). The same satnav gave a longer route, utilizing the M25 rather than chug through rush hour traffic in the overcrowded roads of South West London. We seemed quite popular with the hordes of foreign registered trucks that passed us, for the most part waving and hooting their approval. One thing I learned quickly was wearing a short sleeved shirt was not a smart move, the Ford did not have side windows...as for a seat belt, forget it. The Model A was the first car to fit a Safety Glass Windscreen, a start I suppose.
Our initial destination was the RAC Club in Epsom. Here we found the rest of those participating in the Tour, nearly all of whom were a bit more up market than us two. This pair of Ferraris on the lawn are a good example, the 166 Spyder Corsa is one of eight built in 1948, one of its brothers won Le Mans in 1950. The Ferrari 250 GT is pure late 50s Gran Turismo elegance it was on cars such as these that Ferrari's reputation was conceived.
And there were contrasts too, what I assumed at a distance to be a Pink Cadillac was, of course a '59 Chrysler New Yorker Convertible. It was sharing the lawn with a beautiful Roller from the 20s, cosmopolitan or what?
And why does this Bentley have an altimeter in its cluster of instruments? The last Le Mans racer that needed such a device was surely the Mercedes-Benz CLR...
The RAC Club was extremely hospitable, full English breakfast was served - bacon, sausage, mushrooms, egg, fried bread and baked beans washed down with strong coffee, so we were all fortified for the day ahead. It was time to get on the move.
The organizers had provided us all with route maps, using golf clubs and public houses as additional reference points (I wonder why in the world these places were chosen?).
So we made our way towards Mercedes-Benz World and the Brooklands Museum, a strange convoy of cars, some worth more than the GDP of some sovereign nations and then there was the likes of this cheeky Fiat 500.
We were part of a pretty select bunch, this Ferrari 365 GTB4 raced in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1972 and 1973, though it failed to finish either time.
Even more historically important is this Jaguar C-type, it was the first car to win a major race utilising disc brakes. All the way back to 1952, it also ran in the Monaco Grand Prix that year.
For the most part the gang behaved themselves along the way, we certainly did given the age of our vehicle. It was great to see the smiles and positive reaction as we passed through the lanes and villages of Surrey, everyone enjoyed the cavalcade of rare and interesting vehicles.
Next we lined up at Mercedes-Benz World, where, once again, we were looked after. More refreshments, more coffee, I could get used to this life.
We had dressed up for the day - with outfits befitting our ride's era.
Then some of the cars had a quick run around the test track and it was time for us to cross the road and head for Brooklands and the famous banking.
Another photo op, another set of cars to be seen with. The gorgeous Porsche 356 1600 Super was one of my favourites.
One last task remained for us before heading on to the Concours site at Syon Park. Peter's uncle was the famous motoring journalist Dennis Jenkinson - who passed into legend as navigator to Stirling Moss during the 1955 Mille Miglia. Racing in the above factory Mercedes Benz 300 SLR, they set a time that was the fastest ever, the event being closed down two years later after multiple fatalities. The Mille Miglia was run on public roads from Brescia to Rome and back, a distance of 992 miles and the average speed recorded in 1955 was 97.96 mph... it was a wild event.
"Jenks", as Mr. Jenkinson was nicknamed, donated a car to the Brooklands Museum and there is a life sized cutout of him in the collection. Peter wanted to get a shot with it, and despite poor light there it is.
We were almost the last to leave, our Ford looking a tad forlorn on the concrete.
Up early the next day and on to Syon House and the Concours. Wondering around admiring the cars and snapping away I bumped into my old friend and colleague, Dirk de Jäger. Dirk was looking after a special car in the absence of the owner who would arrive the following day.
It was an Alfa Romeo 8C Le Mans, one of the greatest racing cars of all time. Its record of four wins in row at the Le Mans 24 Hours would guarantee that accolade but other notable achievements that it listed are three wins in the Mille Miglia, three in the Targa Florio and a Grand Prix victory at Monza.
All the cars in the Concours were required to complete a lap of the event after presenting themselves in front of the panel of judges. Dirk very kindly asked me would I be his passenger, so here was my next ride, a 30s supercar.
Of course I accepted the ride though it did feel odd to be on the wrong of the cameras, I am normally the one taking the pictures.
This particular car is something of a mystery, it is genuine, that has been proved beyond doubt.
But despite extensive enquiries its history between built in 1933 and it importation into the UK in 1937 remains hidden.
One thing is certain, it was built to Le Mans specification and now is back in that state.
The Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 was the creation of legendary Italian designer Vittorio Jano and was the first of a trio of great competition cars from his drawing board.
It was followed by the Tipo B Monoposto Grand Prix car and the 8C 2900 sports racer, Alfa Romeo was at the top of the pile in the 30s. And that was that for the ride in this fabulous car. It was a special couple of days for me, I know how lucky I am to get to do this sort of thing. And of course I owe a big thank you to Peter and Dirk...
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