Events : AR Champagne Tour, 2007

On a quiet weekend in october, France was bathed in beautiful sunshine, radiating off the assembled polished class of Austin Rover’s finest… The inaugural AR Tour proved to be a fascinating weekend’s playtime for some of the website’s most ardent fans.

Tour organizer, Andy Elphick recalls some of the best moments, and is already planning an exciting follow-up for next year…

Photos and words by Andy Elphick

Champagne dreams…

A Champagne Metro Vanden Plas – where else would you take one?

A LITTLE while back, the idea of an AR meet with a difference came up in the website blogs – instead of parking, show ‘n’ shining, and going to a pub, we decided the right thing to do was take our cars on a tour – the idea was met with enthusiasm, and the obvious solution was the Champagne region of France!

A couple of short months late, and we’d take a gentle cruise through the back roads of rural northen France to talk shop and visit the automotive delights on offer. Meeting up in Dover, the assembled selection of on offer ranged from AR’s mighty Metro to Phoneix-era 25s and ZSs via the 1990s slippery Rover 200 coupe. Once on the ferry it seemed fair to tell Pete Melville, owner of a previous Car of the Month, that because he was the most distinctive (slowest…) the sat-nav was his, and he could lead the way.

We glossed over the fact Pete’s never driven on the continent before, and he was too polite to argue…

Our destination was the ancient northen French market town of Arras, with its beautiful square, and plentful paved side bars and brasseries. We enjoyed a few hours’ drive through the mosty quiet, smooth and sweeping Routes Nationale intersected by the peeling painted advetisements for products long forgotten and garigistes whose final oil change had long since passed. Well worth a Sunday afternoon day trip to stretch your pride and joy’s legs.

A sobering sight that frequently came in to focus were the many cemetaries honouring those who will never be forgotton.

The guys that made a fantastic trip…

On arrival in Arras later that afternoon, we were met by two likey lads, the infamous “Morecambe & Wise” of Rover forums ‘Seamaster’ and ‘Lord Sward’, famously playing down the fact they had arrived in a Mercedes-Benz!

A short while later, the PK (product knowledge) and beer was flowing, the tales getting taller, prior to the highlight of the day the AR last supper… Don’t ask why out of a dozen fantastic-smelling restaraunts, we sat down to dinner in a Kebab shop – but it was good! Now the Rugby World Cup is quite major object of pride in France (even the TGV trains bearing its emblem), but come the national victory saturday night, you may well have presumed every French citizen in Arras had come up trumps on the lottery!

Cheering, clapping, waving, dancing an amazing atmosphere only toppeed by the two lads in the 954cc Citroen AX circulating the square at 6000 revs, valve gear bouncing a kango hammer! Did the police mind – not really, this is France after all…

A homage to Gaydon…

A bright short-sleeved sunny morning greeted us come sunday morning, but a few black coffees were still required prior to the off! Again in convoy but today tailing the beautiful coupe of Steve and Dave, even if it did have some stick-on chav coupe badges! Leaving Arras we headed for Reims today with hand held radios – ostensibly for directions, but actually for north/south banter in the event. Following Jon and Andy in the ZS, getting a little more used than its normal three mile trip to work!

Stopping on route at the deceased MG Rover dealer, we were asked to leave the forecourt, but once Glenn swiftly explained we after a quick photo and not four head gasket changes and a hydragas pump up he smiled and left us to it – the international language of class!

After a superb steak luncheon, it was PK and test drive time in the resteraunts car park, where it transpired Pete had a fuel leak (quickly fixed of sorts) and I had a 25 with streetwise springs… Heritage, eh?

We took a straw poll and decided to visit the car Musee in Reims before closing time, and what a treat it was – a mainly Gallic collection, but as Robin pointed out there was a ‘Gaydon-by-the-bins’ section out back. It harboured a white SD1, prototype Renault 16 saloon, a franco Sbarro austere 25 saloon, a Citroen BX Group B prototype among many others. A well reccomended day out if your in the area, enjoyed by all.

The boys talk shop around this Cooper-badged, but City-trimmed, Innocenti-wheeled Mini with an identity crisis.

Next stop was THE reason we came – proud remains of the Reims triangular Grand Prix circuit, in Gueux. Imagine Goodwood Festival before it became a social event, and you’re there. As with Le Mans, there’s unhindered access, total respect to the past (it’s almost graffitti-free), and its even recently whitewashed in places. The eerie evocativeness of the place was everywhere – we all spread everywhere absorbed in what once was….

Bliss, just take a look for yourselves…

Reluctantly leaving the track behind, we retired to Reims for the evening, unfortunately following on foot the Steven Ward patented ‘Sward Nav’, which was about a effective as Longbridge rustproofing! The night was rounded off as usual… hic… before finishing with Liberace style piano medley from Glenn – luckily it was over swiftly!

The next morning having lost the two ‘Bonny Lads’, due to having to catch a rescheduled crossing, the assembled rest headed for the Champagne house of Jean Moutardier. On the short run from the centre of Reims, vine upon vine were spied on the rolling hillsides as we headed west. This roads for me were the best of the trip, sweeping and cresting and somewhat selfishly I wished there was no convoy, so I could, ahem, experience them just a little quicker.

On arrival at Jean-Moutardier we were met by the most accomodating Jonathan Saxby – manager and son-in-law of the house. An extremely helpful insight into the creation of Champagne from the hand-picked grape, to the final squeeze of the cork and the taste on the tongue. Fine champagne highly recommended – a connoisseur choice, for sure. While tasting, Ed frequently reminded Ben he wouldn’t be driving home – I’m sure the case Ben bought will be getting an airing soon though.

For Mrs Elphick, the reason she came!

Andrew Elphick thanks Jonathan Saxby for the enlightenment

All in all, a pleasant weekend that was easy on the machinery, and could be duplicated by any enthusiasts wanting a club gathering – highly reccomended and thanks to all concerned, especially Keith for letting me collar all these great enthusiasts via the AR website. Go on treat yourself next year…


Keith Adams

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