On this page some of the members describe their motoring experiences
It has always been a pleasure to see John Bishop’s E-type and Bernard Kerin’s Spitfire at our classic car shows (photos to the left show the cars at the 2016 Barnet Classic Car Show). In the following, John describes an epic trip that he undertook with Bernard and their eldest sons. A real boys’ trip!
After this description, please carry on scrolling down to read about Rod Chilcot battling the snow in Norway with his Rover 90 and Howard Pryor’s experiences both before and during the London to Brighton run in his 1904 Cadillac.
Since buying my E-Type in 2016, I have been determined to use it as much as possible. The purchase was triggered by my friend Bernard’s purchase of a Triumph Spitfire, replicating one he had owned 40+ years ago. I never thought that I would end up spending the kind of money I did, but who needs savings anyway? We always take the cars for an annual summer short break each year with our wives, and Bernard was my co-pilot on some stages that we did on the two E-Type Round Britain runs. Having just recovered from a heart attack, I decided to tick a few boxes off the list that had been in my head for many years. I outlined my idea to him over a pint or two and he immediately decided to join me. We then upgraded it to a boys trip, taking taking the chance to bond with our eldest sons, both second year uni students.
Over a number of months, the plan was gradually refined with places added. It eventually turned into an eight- day trip, taking in nine countries in all. Finally, on a sunny Monday morning in June 2019 we set off. The plan was to drive some really interesting roads, mixing it with the occasional motorway stretch when there was nothing interesting to see.
Monday morning in North London – ready to go.
The first stage was the lovely Monday morning rush hour on the North Circular, over the Dartford Crossing and down to the Eurotunnel. Swiftly onto the train we whizzed under the channel and got ready to explore Europe! We had no time to dawdle, as the first target was Dusseldorf Station, where we would get the night car train to Innsbruck. The train waits for no-one, as they say, so we pushed on, stopping only for refreshments and fuel. I usually let Bernard lead on the motorways as there was a slight power difference between the Jag and the Spitfires 64hp! Whatever speed he gets to, I follow. It also has the advantage that we didn’t break any speed limits – most of the time anyway. There was a payoff for Bernard though, of which more later. After a bad traffic jam on the Antwerp ring road, we eventually reached Dusseldorf just before the boarding start time of 7pm. Finding the loading area was not too difficult. Upon arrival the boys were sent to find a local shop to buy cold beers, which went down very well after driving all day in the sunshine. We were the only classic cars there, as well as a few modern cars but many British and Dutch bikes. They loaded us first and we retired to the station bar to wait until the 9pm departure.
We had booked a four-berth couchette, which worked well. Every coach has an attendant, who can serve food and drinks all night. The food and wine were ok and reasonably priced, but the shared toilets and washing facilities leave a bit to be desired. If you are on a budget, you can just sleep in a seat or they also have compartments with en-suites. The compartments are for two or three people only but if I went again I would book two of those. The cost of £472 for two cars and the four of us was not unreasonable if you consider we travelled around 750km overnight. The hassle of driving, cost of fuel, plus hotel rooms would have been at least as much. After a bit of partying, the two drivers slept around midnight, but I got reports from my son that the bikers each side carried on way beyond us, until one by one he heard them drop.
Day two started well. The train stopped around 7am at Munich East station, where the German engine was changed for an Austrian one and we got a chance to have a walk. The journey from there was really nice, the railway following the gaps between the mountains, along the sides of lakes, and giving us a foretaste of what was to come.
Train ride from Munich to Innsbruck
We finally arrived at Innsbruck station at 9am, and walked across to the unloading ramps. After a short while they shunted the car carriers over to the ramps and we drove the cars off. After the usual ritual of checking the oil/water, etc., we headed off east into a glorious sunny morning. Tick off the first item on my list – going on a car train. There appear to be only three car trains left in Europe, so make the most if you want to do it.
The next two days were full of places that I used to hear on Ski Sunday as a kid, with some more current ones. Our first waypoint was Kitzbuhel, about 45 mins drive east on the Autobahn. Soon we ran into a traffic jam and experienced something we could learn from, where each lane pulls off to the side and leaves the centre of the road clear for emergency vehicles. It works well and inconveniences no-one, but I cannot see it working in the UK where there’s always someone who will take advantage.
Near to the end of the jam, Bernard called us on the walkie-talkie and said he needed to pull into the next services. When we got there, he told us that his brakes pedal was going to the floor. I had visions of the trip ending before we even got started! We lifted the bonnet and I suggested maybe a servo problem – until we discovered it didn’t have one! We couldn’t find anything obvious so, after a lot of head scratching, went and got coffee and breakfast. The car park was almost empty, so while the rest of us had another coffee Bernard decided to drive up and down doing emergency stops! Eventually some pedal pressure started to return and he felt it safe enough to carry on. He used the gearbox a lot more after that, rather than the brakes where possible.
We pushed on and passed Kitzbuhel, Zell am Zee, and then on to our first day’s target of the Grossglockner Pass. This was recommended by a member of the E-type forum, and I am mighty glad that they did. Although you have to pay to use it, what a stunning drive. I had to admit to telling Bernard that he was on his own, we would see them at the top! We then proceeded to thrash our way up a lovely winding route to the summit. On the way we did stop for photo-shoots, and where the melt water was coming off the hills we were able to have a snowball fight in June. The others caught up us with for that before we zoomed off again. The power of the XK engine is great, but never more so when you are thrashing up a mountain in second or third, balancing it on the throttle through bends.
Our next stage was south into Italy, then routing west on back roads and crossing over the autoroute to the Brenner Pass, before heading south on winding roads into Merano. Over lunch we had noted dark clouds in the distance to the south, but within minutes of starting our descent the heavens opened. I have MX5 seats in my car, which are much more comfortable. The other benefit is that you can pull over and just pull the hood up over them. Compare this to the roughly ten minutes Bernard and Sam spent getting their roof up and getting soaked in the process. We really shouldn’t have looked so smug from behind our windscreen wipers! We had heavy rain on and off for the next hour or so before the weather finally improved as we headed to Merano.
Merano was a nice town. Our hotel, the Pension Sankt Urban, was in the hills at the top of the town. It had a pool, which was very welcome after a long day driving. After a beer and a swim we walked down into the town for dinner. It was very lively evening as Italy were playing in the World Cup and crowds of people were watching in the open air.
The next morning started in the same way as many others. I carried out the bags to the car only to find three men standing around my car. One was the chef and he was trying to look through the bonnet louvres to see the engine! They were very happy when I opened up the bonnet to show them and, as always, it cost nothing to do so why not.
Our schedule today was to drive up the Stelvio Pass. I had heard that it was the favourite road of Messrs Clarkson and friends, so assumed it would be good. A bit of Youtube viewing helped form a view, although they always seem to have the roads to themselves. On the day, I don’t think we were at all ready for the assault on our senses, with cars, motorbikes and cyclists everywhere. At times it reminded me of central London. The scenery was stunning, we even had time for another quick snowball fight on the way up. As we climbed higher the corners got sharper and the Spitfire had the advantage of a turning circle like a black cab, getting easily around hairpin bends. There was nearly always someone coming the other way and the E had to do three point turns quite often. Makes you glad to have some serious grunt under your right foot doing hill starts on corners. The number of cyclists going to the top was incredible, they must be mad! We had a nice rest with obligatory pizza at the top and walked around a bit before heading down the other side and out of Italy. Three days in and we were already leaving our sixth country, with two more on the agenda before bedtime. Although hectic, it didn’t feel like it due to the glorious scenery, and the great roads. The weather was also very much on our side.
We had planned to stay in Feldkirch in Austria, just north of the border with Lichtenstein. To get there we descended down towards Zernez. The road route from here was via Davos and Klosters on a 28km winding mountain road that had roadworks. In the summer the roads are clear but clearly winters were a different matter as they built a railway line to take you underneath instead. Just for the fun of it we caught the Vereina tunnel train to Klosters. This train must be essential in winter and is a bit like a smaller version of the Eurotunnel, where you sit in your car on open’ish wagons for the 19km journey, taking approx. 20 minutes. They made us put the roofs up in case of falling debris.
Having disembarked we headed north towards Liechtenstein, which didn’t take long to pass through, and back into Austria. We reached our hotel in Feldkirch, which is without staff. We eventually worked out how to check-in, but the rooms were hot with no ventilation in the now hot and humid weather. We went looking for a bar to watch England play but were unsuccessful so had dinner, a few beers and went to bed.
Day 4 started with a short drive across to Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance, where the Zeppelin airships were made. We toured the museum, which also had a part recreation of a section on an airship to give you an idea of scale. It must have been a glamorous way to travel, on the scale of the ocean liners but giving point to point travel from central Europe. The weather was now a bit rainy so we had a quick lunch before boarding the car ferry for the 40 minute hop across to Romanshorn in Switzerland. The rest of the afternoon was a boring drive on the Swiss motorways to our evening’s destination of Interlaken. That evening we found a good hostelry to have dinner, with a knowledgeable Aussie waiter. Switzerland is not a cheap country, but Interlaken takes it into an art form! Didn’t stop the hundreds of Chinese tourists that filled most restaurants though.
The next morning there was low cloud on the mountains, which didn’t bode well for our planned trip to Piz Gloria, immortalised in the James Bond film “OHMSS”.
We set off for the 45 minute drive to the cable car station, and boarded the first of four cable cars to the top. We went from 24 degrees to freezing, but fortunately the cloud-base just about lifted and we got good views. They have totally rebranded the whole place to capitalise on the James Bond connection, but it provided a nice break from the driving. Health and safety seems rather relaxed there as some of the paths at the top were quite dangerous (as I discovered) and safety rails and rules were not very evident. The revolving restaurant takes 45 mins to go around, and if you buy the whole package you get two revolutions with the all you can eat buffet. We had originally planned to take the train up into the Eiger mountain (another of my bucket list items) but Piz Gloria was another forum suggestion and I think it was a better idea on the day because of the cloud base. The Eiger is 1000m higher and we were already skirting the clouds at the lower height. I’ll save the Eiger for the next trip.
We were now beginning the return leg and our afternoon was spent exiting Switzerland, heading to Mulhouse in France, where we would spend the night. It was midsummers night and Oliver told me that it was National Music Day in France. The town was buzzing, with bands and shows everywhere. We had a very lively evening, which culminated in two sixty-year old dads showing their twenty-year old sons how to get the crowd moving at an outside disco. This resulted in Bernard losing his phone in the crowd but unbelievably I spotted it between all the moving bodies and, using my best schoolboy French, I dived in and retrieved it. One debit card lost but soon cancelled and partying continued into the early hours.
The next day started a bit more slowly due to thick heads! We decided not to visit the Cité de l’automobile car museum as it would take up a whole day. We will go back, and also plan to visit the Large Hadron Collider nearby at CERN. The route we took home was a lesson in having the right tools for the trip. I had originally bought Michelin maps for the trip, including a 1:1,000,000 scale one for the whole of France. I soon realised it showed no detail, so bought 1:200,000 maps covering the areas we would visit. Suddenly, a short piece of virtually straight road around 3cms long on the original map revealed itself as an 80km feast known as the “Rue Des Crêtes”. It runs through the Ardennes Forest and in English it’s the “Road of the Ridges”. I always figure that if they name a road it must be interesting. It was constructed by the French in WW1 to allow them to re-supply along their side of the ridge, without the Germans on the other side seeing them. It winds up through the forest, reaching over 1300m. We were working our way up it when we decided to stop at the next layby for a break. As we rounded the corner there was a large parking area with the first car in line being a yellow V12 E-type it was parked next to a lovely Mercedes, an XJ6 and a Mustang. We had a chat and found out that it was an outing of a Swiss car club from Geneva. We went looking around and realised the parking area was the Hartsmannwillerkopf memorial to the fallen soldiers of WW1, There is a large underground area, together with a graveyard beyond. If you walk down past this, you come to the actual trenches where the battles were fought. A very moving experience.
When we came out the Swiss cars had moved on but we caught up with them again at a nearby restaurant. By this time, we were in the cloud-base and doing about 20mph with headlights on. The place was heaving and served local specialities. I have travelled widely and will try anything, but that lunch was one of the weirdest I’ve ever had and my schoolboy French failed to find anything normal sounding. During lunch, the fog lifted and the afternoon run was in good weather. Our destination that evening was Reims and we took advantage of clear winding mountain roads to have a nice run. At one point we started to see rally cars coming the other way, an eclectic selection of French cars, lots of Audis and even a couple of Ferraris. It didn’t seem like an organised rally but provided interesting views for the afternoon. Our hotel for the evening was the F1 hotel in Reims, which I chose partly because it had a Renault F1 car in the lobby!
We got a taxi into town and found a pub with interesting local beers. Strange thing was behind the bar the TV was showing the Rally that we had seen that afternoon, although we never saw any cameras!
The next morning, we firstly headed for the old Reims race-track. We were lucky to get parked in front of the Jaguar pit and there were a few old classics there, plus about a hundred bikers. After a bit of chatting we decided to copy a few of the others and head down to the roundabout and hurtle back past the pits. I won’t say what speed we reached but it was quite fast and lucky there were no police around on a Sunday morning.
We then headed to Arras. We planned to visit first the Wellington trenches. During WW1, the French had suffered massive losses trying to push back the Germans. Eventually they had discovered some ancient tunnels under the town and brought in Canadian regiments specialised in tunnelling. Over four months they dug 20km of tunnels in two main spurs, which went right under the German lines. At strategic points they had built paths up and weakened the rock face. They then moved 24,000 troops into the tunnels where they lived for a week. On the chosen day, they used explosives to open the rock faces and poured out right into the German lines. They succeeded in one day what the previous four years hadn’t.
I also was happy to go there as two of my grandfathers brothers were lost at Arras and are recorded there. After this we moved onto the Canadian trenches and the Canadian war memorial. The trenches were amazing and a sobering reminder of how war was fought in those days. Clearly the Canadians must have some genes from moles as their tunnelling skills are amazing.
The journey was sadly coming to an end, but we had one last night. We stayed in St Omer, which we had been to before. It’s close to Calais and a good stopping off point. We had a lively evening, embarrassing the boys with our support for France in a world cup match, before retiring in a tired and emotional state. The next morning, we made one final stop to show the boys “Le Blockhaus”. This huge building was built in a forest as an assembly and launching site for the V2 rockets. Built by prisoners and locals, the allies heard about it but didn’t know what it was for. They decided to pay a visit anyway and on 27th August 1944 dropped 350 bombs on it. We were there two years previously on that date and the local people make a procession up to the site to remember their dead. Despite the massive bombing, large parts still are completely intact, which shows you how strongly it was constructed and how dangerous it would have been for us if it had been operational. It’s only 20 miles from Calais and well worth a visit.
Finally, we had done it all and it was time to head back to London. We arrived home having travelled approx. 1500 miles in the cars, probably another 600 miles in three trains and another 30 miles on a ferry. What did we learn from this? One, plan it very carefully. I used lots of real maps to find landmarks, routings, etc. I then used Google maps to look at bottlenecks, roadworks and timings to ensure we didn’t drive too long each day. Secondly research where you are going. We found discount vouchers online, which came in very handy in Switzerland. We also learned that I might laugh at Bernards’ lack of horsepower, but he had usually filled up his car, paid and was sitting back in it before I finished filling. Typically €30 compared to my €70 a time. Other than the brake problem we had no mechanical issues at all and the cars were great fun. I am writing this now in lockdown, so this years’ planned trip in the UK is on hold, but I’ll start planning next years’ two-week road trip in Italy. There’s a car train from Dusseldorf to Verona, so maybe time to start getting the maps out? Lake Garda, then Maranello, Pisa and Florence before another run back through France?
Rod Chilcot sent this marvellous photograph of his 1959 Rover P4 “90” in Norway. What would happen if we had snow like this in Britain?!
I attach a photo of my 1959 Rover P4 “90” taken in late May 1975 when Ann and I had a camping tour around western Norway. We had taken the Bergen Line ferry from Newcastle to Bergen . The location is north of Voss. Total mileage over 2 weeks was 1900.
Many mountain roads in Norway are closed during wintertime and in late spring they are cleared by snow plough. This road had recently been cleared of 20ft snow drifts and with care was passable.
In 1976 we returned to Norway via Sweden, with the Rover. We used the DFDS Harwich to Gothenburg crossing. Again we camped. We motored north via Oslo, Trondheim, Mo I Rana, Narvik, then over to the Vesteralen and Lofoton Islands. Total mileage over 3 weeks was 3124. No problems were experienced with this 17 year old car which ran faultlessly during my 12 years of regular use. I sold it on in 1990 replacing it with a 1979 Volvo 244.
Howard Pryor tells of his experiences relating to 2019 London to Brighton run in ‘Clementine’, his magnificent 1904 Type B Cadillac (seen here at the 2017 BCCC Classic Car Show).
Another successful run in Clementine, our 1904 Type B Cadillac, making it our third, a record time this year, getting into Brighton at 1.30 pm (5 1/2 hours for 60 miles). It even surprised Bob and Carol Grou as they waved to us from inside Harry Ramsden’s restaurant while waiting for their fish and chip lunch by the sea front where we enter the last stretch of the run on Madeira Drive, just before the finish.
We left Hyde Park about 8 am after a well-earned Fat Boys breakfast (it was 6.30 am and you need to keep the cold out). The car ran beautifully all the way to our first stop at Purley Church for a comfort stop, fully loaded with myself and Loretta, daughter Lauren and son Albie. Also, Son ray and his daughter Berri. A bacon roll and a cup of tea later, we were on our way to Gatwick Honda, another comfort stop including a pastry. Oil check, chuck in a gallon of fuel for the big hills and then a short hop to Crawley to get stamped up and receive free sweets and cushions. Then, all the way to Brighton for the finishers’ medal, chilli, rice, mulled wine and more coffee. I know it’s tough, but someone has to do it! Wow, this is our fastest run to date, getting in at 1.30 pm. We flew and had a fantastic run.
On the way, we did make a brief stop to say hello to our friends in the Triumph Roadster Club, waved enthusiastically to Jerry Vincent at the side of the road and said hello, sorry we could not stop, but very much appreciate you coming out and hope you had a great day.
Thanks also to Bob and Carol and everyone else for their good wishes. Loretta says her arms ached from waving, my face was frozen into a smile and my right hand had cramp from squeezing the hooter bulb so much.
I cannot wait until next year and, after reports of rain for this weekend, we had such beautiful weather and it was the best yet. What’s more, it’s the first time that I wasn’t cold the next day.
The weekend starts with seminars on the Thursday in the RAC Club, Pall Mall, and six of us went. What a beautiful building the RAC Club is and for £20 we had lots of laughs, refreshments on arrival and a spectacular buffet lunch with ample left over. I am not sure what the topics will be for next year’s seminar, but let me know if you would like to come.
On Friday, we went to the Bonhams auction viewing and then across town to see the film, “The Fast Lady”, which unfortunately started an hour before we managed to get there thanks to a mix up in our timings. So, we made our way to Chinatown for lunch as a customer of mine has a restaurant there and we thought we would pop in. On the way to Chinatown, in the middle of the road, we saw a 1904 Packard with a broken main bearing, which was terminal. What a shame, shipped all the way across the pond only to break down before the run. This was marginally better than his friend’s luck whose cars could not be unloaded at Southampton and ended up in Amsterdam, not even making it to England. Shipping problems, I guess, are somewhat like airport problems.
Being helpful, or trying to be helpful, to the American in London unfortunately did not work out well for him, but he did stand us all for a Chinese lunch at my aforesaid customer’s restaurant. During lunch, his phone went off to the theme of Star Wars. Well, he must have Bose speakers in his phone by the volume. Or was it in his vocal chords when he spoke? Both were extremely loud (Alistair, you come somewhere near!) and our table received more than enough glares from the surrounding tables, something the nice American was oblivious of. The Parkard was eventually recovered back to the container, ready for shipping home.
Saturday, we drove back early to Hyde Park with the trailer in tow, unloaded the Cadillac, then drove it to the Regent Street Councours. We walked back to Hyde Park to drive to Brighton to get a train back – it’s never simple! Track works on the railway meant that we had to get a bus to Three Rivers, to catch the train to Victoria, and then back to Oxford Street. Quite a journey! We just about got back in time for the exit parade in Regents Street at about 3 pm, and then to the hotel.
On Saturday night, the champagne and canopies were fantastic and, slightly inebriated we spent a very pleasant evening with Bill Piggot and friends and … wait for it … Mike and Barbara Dedman (no relation?).
The London to Brighton Run started in 1896, first known as the Emancipation Run because the red flag carrying person in front of mechanically-propelled vehicles was no longer needed. Also, the speed limit was raised from 4 mph to a heady 14 mph and to celebrate a number of enthusiastic drivers drove to Brighton in recognition of the change. When you think of this achievement all those pioneering years ago, and what the participants achieved, it is just fantastic. There were no tarmac roads, no petrol stations (petrol was sold at the chemists!) and no trailers to make the return journey, so they had to drive back.
The London to Brighton Run is the oldest, still running, motoring event in the world and has run almost every year since its revival in 1927, except for 1947 because of fuel rationing. In 1930, the RAC took control and are still running it to this day. Only a handful of cars made the first run compared with nearly 450 in 2018, such is its popularity. Thousands of well-wishers, spectators, classic car owners and passengers, volunteer marshals and breakdown drivers come along each year to participate in this fantastic event. Bookings start in April and I shall be the first to book as I cannot wait because it is, beyond doubt, the best event I have ever been to in my life. Try to come along, to cannot fail to like it. Travel safe, have fun and see you there.