The end of summer and the beginning of Autumn is marked by more than just the change of seasons; in the automotive world there is a rush to stage events before the inclement weather arrives heralding winter. This explosion of activity after the relative torpor of August is welcome for the most part though it does create a few issues of trying to be in two places at once. The prologue to this movement has personally, for the past three years, been the Salon Privé Tour.
Those with long memories may recall my previous adventures in a 1929 Model A Ford Pickup Truck. Last year saw a complete contrast to that utilitarian transport, my ride was in a Bentley 8-Liter, no less, the final flourish of W.O. Bentley before he was forced to close the doors and the company was then acquired by Rolls-Royce.
So that led a quandary: how could I get a ride to match those two noble vehicles? Would I get an invite from anyone? That perhaps should have been the first question. Luckily I got a mail in from my old mate, Dirk de Jäger, commanding that I accompany him as navigator on this year's Tour. Sorted!
The ride would be as special as the two that I was lucky enough to get previously. It would be a complete contrast to the luxury saloon and the pickup truck, it was a pure built racing car.
Dating from 1947 this Cisitalia 202 SMM was the actual car that finished fourth in the 1947 Mille Miglia. Indeed the great Tazio Nuvolari nearly won outright in a sister car. This was definitely history on wheels. Not just history, art is in the house too. I attended the Bremen Classic Show in January and one of the stars was a Cisitalia 202 Gran Sport, the coupé version that is now displayed in New York's Museum of Modern Art.
OK, I can hear the question: why is everything in black and white? Has the old boy had an "art attack", become hipster? The answer is much more simple. I acquired a new Fuji camera the day before the Tour and got a little confused with some of the settings, so to my astonishment half the shoot came out in monochrome. Making a virtue out of a necessity I have decided to tell the story in period, 1947 was, photographically, a black and white world.
The Tour started out early from the RAC Club at Epsom, a perfect venue for such an occasion. Armed with our navigational instruction books we headed out across the golf course, our target was ultimately Blenheim Palace sometime in the afternoon.
Before then we would traverse Surrey, into Berkshire and then on to Oxfordshire.
I had one brainwave before the trip, that is to get us both suitable headgear, the flying helmet and goggles did provoke the odd comment before setting off but once on the road these items were essential. They did not enhance my navigation skills as my driver pointed out from time to time, but they did keep us both warm even in the slipstream.
We had to make a pit stop to refuel as did our fellow Tourist in the lovely Aston Martin DB5. The fuel tank is up front on the Cisitalia.
Esher, Weybridge, Chertsey, Ascot came and went, all familiar ground to me having lived almost all my life in the area.
Soon we were crossing the Thames for the final time at Henley.
Our target was the Old Swan & Minster Mill at Minster Lovell where lunch was awaiting our arrival.
The first part of the Tour had been completed successfully by everyone, no casualties to report. So suitably refreshed we set off for the slightly shorter journey to the final destination where the Concours cars would be parked up in anticipation of the following day's event.
We were dodging the ominous rain clouds, that would have been disastrous in such an unprotected environment, neither of us fancied getting soaked. Dirk was handling the lightweight speedster with great skill and confidence. We were in a pretty exclusive convoy of Ferraris, Porsches, Aston Martins, Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and a single Cisitalia.
Despite only having a 1089cc Fiat straight four engine, pushing out 55hp, we were able to keep up with the more powerful elements in the Tour, the Traffic Rules worked in our favor but this little car was genuinely quick in the right hands.
Soon we were at the gates of the Palace, the day had gone too quickly, could we do it again tomorrow? Well, no...the Show must go on.
Blenheim Palace is the home of the Duke of Marlborough, originally a gift from the Nation to one of its greatest soldiers, John Churchill, whose military prowess had led to the defeat of the French in the War of the Spanish Succession.
Blenheim Palace was also the birthplace of another great Briton, Sir Winston Churchill, there must be something in the water.
Soon enough we had traversed the grounds and joined an exclusive traffic jam trying gain access to the Concours lawn, all Ferraris of course; a 275 GTB with an F40 and an Enzo for good measure, the Cisitalia looked entirely in keeping with that exclusive company. It had been a great day and a privilege to share the miles with Dirk, so salut!
(Photography by the author and additional material courtesy and copyright of Max Earey)