We’ve read the stories a million times before – pampered journo flies to Modena, picks up a supercar, wafts it across the Alps and on to Blighty. Gushing, worshipping prose follows and we all feel like we’ve lived the dream.
We like to do things differently here at AROnline and, in a fond tongue-in-cheek homage to Mel Nichols’ brilliant Convoy! story in February 1977’s CAR magazine, we do a 600-mile day driving from AROnline Towers in the East Midlands to collect a Rover 827SLi fastback in Whitley Bay and deliver it to its new owner in Blackpool.
Words: Keith Adams Pictures: Matthew Hayward
Convoy! Well, sort of…
MY clock radio wakes me from a troubled slumber – as per usual, my life’s measured in music. Much of yesterday had felt like a exciting prologue to what lay ahead and that had led to fitful sleep, only after a relaxing session with my Enya CDs. Ahead of me now lies a day of motoring nirvana, thanks to the promise of a trans-Pennine examination of exotic multi-cylinder action provided by the best engineers from Ingolstadt and Tokyo. Now, the morning’s here, and my senses are instantly alerted by the summer’s watery sun fighting its way through the curtains. Today, I’ll be driving a 1987 Audi 100 and a 1994 Rover 800. Today, my life will become whole.
Rewind a couple of months, and the plan was germinated. I’d been given a Rover 827SLi fastback by long time AROnline contributor, Achim Küpper, and, with a number of technical issues ably sorted by Steven Ward’s Village Lane Garage in Washington, the car now awaited my collection. However, a change in circumstances meant that there’d be little room at the inn for the magnificent car – and that meant offering out to the website’s loyal readership. After being literally overwhelmed by two offers, I decided that the new owner of the car should be my mate in Blackpool, Peter Lyle, who’d done me so many favours in the past – it only seemed right to return them by offering him the V6 powered wonder.
First, though, I need to get to Blackpool – a mere 200 miles from my place and, thanks to a stroke of utter good fortune, I’ll be undertaking the trip in a design icon that I’ve admired for many years. When launched in 1982, the C3 generation Audi 100 took the aerodynamic rulebook and skillfully threw it so far from the chasing pack that it took the rest of the industry years to catch up. We’re talking about a car that featured fully-flush glazing and a body so smooth that, even today, over 25 years on, there are plenty of new cars you can buy that are less slippery through the air.
My car, kindly lent to me by Octane colleague, Mark Dixon, is the top-of-the-range CD version and that means that, not only will I be travelling first class, but the fruity 2.2-litre five-pot puts out a full-fat 136bhp at 5700rpm. If that doesn’t sound much by today’s standards, remember that this car, which harks from what many consider to be Audi’s watershed era in terms of efficiency, weighs just over 1200kg. If you’re in any doubt about its efficacy, then consider this – the car I’m driving will keep up with a Rover 3500SD1 – easily – and then outrun it by 5mph on the Autobahn. Lord only knows how effective the turbocharged 200 is.
And so it proves…
The expansive azure sky and the cool crispness of the day are perfect – and, even though it’s before 7.00am and it’s Bank Holiday Monday, I’m alert and looking forward to the drive north. First thing’s first, I need to head to Blackpool, and that means the dreaded A14/M16 crawl. However, the Audi’s the perfect companion for the trip and, even before I’m up to full speed, I’m quietly impressed – that five-cylinder engine delivers almost elastic torque and high speed cruising is quiet and composed. Time after time I find myself wondering why anyone needs a modern car, when 20-year olds are just as effective.
Sitting at the legal limit for mile after mile, 3500rpm dialled-in on that large rev counter, it’s hard not planting the throttle letting the Audi surge forwards but resist I must – our speed limit seems like a pathetic anachronism on a sunny holiday morning riding the deserted roller coaster. The A14 becomes the M6 and the miles roll effortlessly onwards – except I’ve managed to play once. The name Catthorpe Interchange might strike fear into the hearts of regular commuters but, when empty and with the lights in your favour, the East-West sweep becomes a challenging switchback, and it’s my playground.
The name Catthorpe Interchange might strike fear into the hearts of regular commuters, but when empty and with the lights in your favour, the East-West sweep becomes a challenging switchback, and it’s my playground…
I’d not seen the 1991 Ford Escort LX approaching from behind, such was his closing speed – as I approached the challenging left-hander that marked the start of Catthorpe, the Escort – already braking – drew alongside me, taking the natural racing line for the corner. Entering the braking zone for the corner, the Escort driver’s nerve held out longer than mine, going for his middle pedal when he was more than a clear car-length ahead of me.
With the mouth of the corner now almost upon us, and me adopting something resembling a sane speed for the corner, he sweeps across the front of me and takes the bend. We’re both fighting the bucking bronco – and, amazingly, it’s the Audi that looks more secure, despite the understeer and less-than-precise steering.
We’re now through the first phase of this challenging corner, and it’s time to negotiate the chicane that is supposed to calm traffic before it hits the long right-hander that loops onto the M6. Escort man hits it first and, with a huge shove on the brakes followed by some ham-fisted steering (or does the soggy Ford make all drivers look incompetent?) he’s through. Now it’s my turn and I forego the brakes, choosing to balance the car through the flick-flack. Holding third, the five-pot bellowing its sweet song, I feel like car and man are operating as a single entity. A mere half-turn of lock to the left, followed by a quick flick to centre, before a counter sweep to the right are all it takes to deftly clear the bend – and although the body roll unsettles us both, corrective lock and sensitivity are all that are needed to get the Audi back on the tail of the Escort.
Another flick to the right, full on in third, and we’re really moving now. I draw alongside the Escort – its yowling CVH now issuing a full battle cry – and I look across. Its owner looks across at me, smiles, and knows he’s beaten. As he backs off, I give him a full demonstration of the Audi’s mighty power, wringing its neck in fourth just so he can hear the hardened full-fat warble the stainless steel exhaust pipe’s issuing. I tell you, getting up to 70mph has never been so exciting…
Playtime over – and it’s back to 70mph cruising. I pass the two once-mighty automotive behemoths of Coventry and Birmingham, catching the odd glimpse of those tell-tale signs that industry used to reside there, and can’t help but feel a little mournful. No longer are there chimneys belching smoke into the atmosphere, proudly displaying their factories’ industriousness – they’ve been replaced by retail parks, office complexes and pinky-brown new-age conurbations. The West Midlands will never look the same again. Heading north and beyond, the Audi continues its relaxed cruise towards the mountains and, if it’s like its driver, it’ll be relishing the challenge.
the uphill twin-lane blacktop shines before us, like two arrow straight streams wending their way on a parallel course down the side of yet another Pennine undulation…
By the time we hit Blackpool, the weather’s starting to brood and even seeing the iconic Tower come into view fails to lift my disappointment at the greyness that’s spoiled what was once a very big sky. Still, it’s good to be in Blackpool – and to meet up with Pete. He stops short when he sees the car I’ve turned up in, obviously impressed. Despite coming across as all dour, you can see that he’s dying to get in and head across the A66 to the North East.
The uphill twin-lane blacktop shines before us, like two arrow straight streams wending their way on a parallel course down the side of yet another Pennine undulation…
We hit the M55 and aim for the M6 northbound and the rain starts to kick in. I knew it was coming and expected it sooner than it happened – any trip in the UK during any month between January and December will be punctuated by rain’s playful patter, and it’s a part of life us Brits are most used to, but love discussing nonetheless. Pete’s not bothered though – he’s relishing the comfort the long-legged Audi gives him but can’t wait to get into his new Rover 800 and allow his fingers to playfully caress the padded safety steering wheel in front of him. He’ll have to wait, though. The A66 beckons.
The rain’s heavier now and, as we turn onto the A66, the uphill twin-lane blacktop shines before us, like two arrow straight streams wending their way on a parallel course down the side of yet another Pennine undulation. Powering up the slip road, the Audi scrabbling for grip, it’s soon clear that this is going to be an interesting section of the adventure – but excellent directional stability and a four-planted feel means that we can power on in confidence. Barrelling along at almost 70mph, we once again enter a happy place – and wonder if life can really get any better than this.
In what seems like no time at all, Scotch Corner looms ahead and we realise that both the Audi and ourselves are in need of re-fuelling. At the service station, we pause to gather our thoughts on what has been an inspirational day so far – the highlights were to come of course, as the glittering prize of our Rover 800 lay ahead but, so far, cast in its supporting role, the Audi has so far done all that’s been asked of it– and plenty more besides. As Pete and drink our Costa Coffees and WHS issue chocolate delights, we look through the window at the Audi – knowing that its engine is still ticking intermittently as it cools down after such a hard session of sustained 60-65mph cruising.
Before things get too comfortable at the delightfully compact and friendly rest stop, we’re off again, hitting the A1 north, knowing that Whitley Bay is now well within our sights.
Within another hour, we’ve made it, and are getting ready to turn around again. Pete’s the first one to clap eyes on the 800 and, even from a couple of hundred metres, it’s easy to see that he’s impressed. We stop, and before I call Achim to let him know we’ve arrived, Pete’s jumping out and poring over his new car: “Is it a V6?” he asks before doing the full walk-around drinking every swage line, wrinkle and battle scar. Although it’s seen some action, there’s no disguising the heritage and class – and,in metallic grey, it not only looks grown-up in a way the Audi never could, but it broods a quiet malevolence that shouts ‘don’t mess’ to other road users.
Achim comes out to greet us, his smiling face always welcoming. He’s German but has lived in the UK for a few years now and is as much of an Anglophile as you could imagine – it’s clear that the thoroughbred Rover’s attacks of various forms of recalcitrance are not lost on him at all. He fully understands the concept of British heritage and knows that, even though the central locking, alarm, ABS and windows only work intermittently, there’s a very good reason for this. The Audi, on the other hand, has a fully stocked inventory of working equipment – and, boy, is that boring. And Achim tells us this, time and time again…
Due to Achim’s schedule, we’ve only time for the briefest of catch-ups – and, before you know it, we’re on the road again, this time, heading South. What would you know, but the sun’s come out especially for us. Within five minutes of leaving, we’re in for the main event of the entire adventure – and that’s something I’ve been looking forward to since leaving Northamptonshire all those hours ago.
In a matter of seconds, we’re closing up on 40mph, and I’ve already realised that Honda’s V6 really is more than a match for the Audi five-pot…
The Tyne Tunnel could be described coldly as a two-lane toll vehicular tunnel under the River Tyne – but that would completely downplay what was to become our very own audio amplification chamber. Opened in 1967, and connecting North Shields with Howdon, the mile-long tunnel costs a mere £1.20 to travel through (a bargain at twice the price) – and,for drivers of Audi 100s and Rover 800s with blowing exhausts, it’s a rare treat in today’s sanitised world.
We go through in convoy – me leading the way, deliberately holding the Audi in a lower gear, sunroof and windows open just so I could hear that five-pot’s unique song. Pete’s got the message – he’s behind, keeps dropping back, then powering up behind me, just so I can hear the V6 wail it’s unique banshee cry. Boy, does it sound good. Time after time, he drops back, accelerates, and gives me a lesson in how engines should sound. Suddenly, my five-pot seems just a little duller. For the full effect, once we’re into clear daylight again, we make a return journey – it’s just as good the second time around…. and the third! However, before the lasting effects of carbon monoxide and petrol vapour get the better of us, we’re sprinting for the A1 again, and the glorious South.
Joining the Great North Road, it’s clear that both of us want to play, but Pete flashes us to pull over at the next services. He’s no fool and knows that on a long, high speed, run where 70mph may be neared at times, there’s no margin for error. He wants to make sure his steed is safe. We pull in and head for the lorry park, so we’ve all got room – and the bonnet of the Rover’s up. I’m hoping it’s not for the first time, as I know just how boring journeys are without breakdowns.
However, as I saunter over to Pete, he’s smiling. ‘There’s nothing wrong with the car – it’s pulling like a train,’ he shouts over the nicely ticking tappets and droning exhaust manifold. ‘Just checking the levels, that’s all.’ True to form, the windows aren’t working and the ABS light’s glowering angrily, but we both smile, as we know this’d not be a Rover 800 without those tell-tale character traits.
In a matter of seconds, we’re closing up on 40mph, and I’ve already realised that Honda’s V6 really is more than a match for the Audi five-pot…
Time to press on.
Leaving the services, with Pete ahead and me following, he finally opens the floodgates and floors the Rover. I know he’s done it instantly – the tail drops and the twin pipes chuff some smoke. Game on. I floor the Audi, almost in unison, and sweep through the gears in a fruitless attempt to keep up. First gear, second gear – I’m really motoring now and, as I flash past 30mph, already the Rover’s starting to declare itself as boss.
In a matter of seconds, we’re closing up on 40mph, and I’ve already realised that Honda’s V6 really is more than a match for the Audi five-pot – my keeping things floored is merely a lesson in academia. By the time we’ve dialled up the big numbers and 50mph’s come and gone, the Rover’s sprinting away, and I’m impressed…
After such excitement, getting back into the 65mph sprint-cruise almost seems like an anti-climax but pounding down the A1 in formation is a fun way to pass the time – we’recovering ground together and it’s interesting trying to imagine what other drivers in their family runabouts are thinking as these two highly strung Euro-Fighters hunt them down at such a rate of knots. The Rover, certainly, has plenty of road presence and, whenever we get embroiled with traffic, it carves through more effectively than a Harley Street surgeon on a time and motion study.
The 827 attacked and conquered the A66and mullered the M6 in a way that few similarly priced cars could have done. The Audi’s left trailing in its wake of unburned V-Power and, although both cars are accomplished long distance cruisers, it’s the Rover that comes across as more convincing at the job. The long day’s turning to dusk as we hit the Rover 800’s home stretch, the M55 to Blackpool and, as we drive for the coast, the red sky almost stops us in our tracks – it’s both beautiful and on a scale that humbles us. It seems fitting that. as the Rover’s finish line is in sight, it’s grey metallic paintwork takes on an almost luminous quality as the light plays tricks and dances across its finely sculpted flanks.
I finally pop a cassette into the Audi’s Blaupunkt tape deck – the song that comes on is almost prophetic. It’s The Eagles and Take It To The Limit. The lyrics are right on for the moment: “All alone at the end of the evening, And the bright lights have faded to blue… So put me on a highway, And show me a sign, And take it to the limit one more time.” For Pete, the journey’s over; for me, another 200-mile motorway squirt – but really the adventure ends now and it’s time for a dull return to reality. Time to play The Eagles just one more time…
We loved both cars – the Audi was a calm and efficient executive car and, with 170,000 miles on the clock, it still feels solid and capable of swallowing up continents whole. Given that these are now getting rare, and cheap examples are likely to be dog-rough, it’s wise to spend around £800-plus on a good example. Considering it’s 20 years old now, 30mpg, 125mph and a soundtrack to die for, are something to be praised…
There’s still, though, a lot to be said about the 827. It sounds great, goes well, and has an unusually well-judged automatic gearbox. Electrical problems are legion, of course, but can nearly always be traced to the fusebox so are generally nice and easy to fix. Good ones are starting to go up in value after a long run in the doldrums, but don’t expect values to rise quickly – not now fuel prices are doing what they’re doing.
And if you’re interested, the Audi’s now for sale. Drop us a line, but be quick, as it’s bound to go quickly!