FOR the first time ever, for me, I was sitting in a themed car with zero chance of returning to the UK – and, when Team Chaos pulled up into that Calais car park to join the fun, it was with a great big grin on my face. Dave had already mislaid his passport once – but, unlike me in 2006, managed to retrieve it – and all three of us were wearing our capes and masks as we screeched into view of the rest of the competitors/adventurers/feckless (delete as you will).
Although not as big as Staples2Naples, there was still a healthy turn out of cars, with one or two real gems (see the gallery for the best). When we rolled up, blasting the boat horn, playing the theme from Cannonball Run and adding a much needed splash of orange to the proceedings, we were cheered on – and we knew the event was going to be fun.
Initially, we didn’t see too many in the way of interesting motors (how wrong that would prove to be) and, in terms of cars that would fit in on this website, there was a nice D-reg 1-litre Metro City called Beryl, an A-reg Maestro decked out like a Shaguar and called Austin Powerless and a couple of Jaguar XJ40s, which looked perfect for the long day of motorway slog ahead of us.
In previous years, we’d ended up taking the scenic route via Strasbourg but, this time, Andrew made the sensible decision to head down the autoroute and aim for Reims. When Justin waved us off, the challenge (aside from doing 500 miles in an old heap) was to snap as many foreign registration plates as possible. With Andrew behind the wheel, we headed South, with the TPB Audi in tow. The miles rolled on and boredom with Dave’s Salsa music soon kicked in – we got a few plates on the move but, when Andrew suggested carpet bombing the service areas, I figured he was on to something.
Nearly as much as I was – I sent an SMS message home requesting pictures of registration plates from the ‘net to be SMS’d back to me. That might explain why we ended up with Moroccan and Chinese ‘plates amongst our final tally of 17. That was, of course, way off the winning total but we’d all been enjoying driving too much, especially when we peeled off the motorway and soaked up the atmosphere at the former Reims road racing circuit. Since my last visit to the historic venue, the stands have received a lick of paint – and it’s probably for this event.
Our Skoda, meanwhile, was running as well as could be expected. Sold to us at a loss by Village Lane Garage, fitted with new brake pads, and fluid serviced, the 100K Felicity was still not as it should have been. The top end of the engine was rattling like a 60-a-day-man and its power was some way short of the 75bhp originally claimed for it. Andrew described it as: “half of the horses had escaped the corale, while the rest were taken to a field and shot.” Despite that, once wound up to an 80mph cruise in France, it seemed well settled and the miles slipped by easily enough.
That was, until Dave took the helm. Not one to be afraid of pushing a car to its limits, Dave soon had us tailgating trucks (for photographic purposes, of course), slipstreaming faster cars and generally pushing us along at a more exciting pace. During the long run, we only saw the TPB Audi – which tired of our route and peeled off towards Switzerland along the A-roads after trying fruitlessly to keep up with us on a beautiful cut-through somewhere near Dijon. By this time, we’d left the murky British weather long behind and all that lay ahead of us was beautiful blacktop with an azure blue horizon.
The next time we saw rally cars was at the Swiss border – and then once we arrived at Interlaken.
The day had been good; the evening’s socialising better – but, in reality, we were really looking forward to our run across the passes in Switzerland the following day.