As you probably all know, an intrepid team of three austin-rover.co.uk correspondents entered in the world famous Staples2Naples challenge last year – and nearly won it…
In 2005, we did it again… We didn’t win anything this time, but it was an enjoyable occasion, and we proved once and for all that the term ‘All Aggro’ is misplaced…
Day One, Calais to Sarnen
BECAUSE the organisers think that 100 cars converging on Staples Corner on a Friday morning could pose some problems, the event starts at the giant CitieEurope shopping complex in Calais. Arriving there in our beige Allegro was a real eye-opener.
As we pulled in to the car park, some seemed amazed we made it at all. For day one, the organisers gave us an interesting challenge – to keep us from getting bored on our 600-mile journey to the first stop over in Switzerland, they had us play car snooker. We had to spot cars in the correct sequence. Not as easy as you would think, when pink is in the equation… Still, we managed to get a pretty high break (no pink cars spotted when or where we needed them though), thanks to Declan’s quick photography, and my sometimes reckless ‘traffic management’.
With that in mind, we headed towards Luxembourg. With the clonking suspension drowned out by engine noise over about 50mph, we put that out of our minds, and limited ourselves to the speed Molly was at her least shaky – 68mph (except for fearless Alexander, who quite calmly took Molly to over 90mph without breaking a sweat). Noticing other drivers’ reactions to our car was continually amusing – as they overtook, many smiled, and more than a few would slow down and let us overtake again for a closer look. As we concentrated on playing snooker, looking after Molly’s fluid intake took a back seat.
By the time we arrived at Luxembourg, Molly was starting to get thirsty. We got out to fill up, walked around to the front, and were dismayed by the sight of a watery foaming mess, spewing out from the engine bay. Was it disaster? It probably should have been – especially as a mix-up in communications meant we had brought no tools along with us! This was going to be even more of an adventure – a 30-year old car, no tools, and no breakdown cover…
It soon became apparent that we’d had a stroke of good luck – half of the coolant had been lost – and more miles would have seen us cooking the engine. Not that we would have known from the temperature gauge – according to that wonderful device, all was good in that department. Checking the engine bay, Alexander found no leaks…
Like all good BL cars, the Allegro’s coolant expansion tank is lower than the top of the engine, so to correctly top-up, one needs to unscrew the thermostat housing and pour in there. However, you need tools to get it off, and we didn’t have any. Alexander was calm under pressure, though and got us through the potential disaster. He had already proved to be a rock earlier in the day, having diagnosed our clonking as nothing too serious (a dry joint) and not to worry about it, and now he managed to press the Molly’s jack into service as a very effective large screwdriver…
By the time we arrived at our first stop-off in Sarnen, Switzerland, the place was dark, and the event party was in full swing. As we drove through Sarnen town centre, we were spotted by some of the other teams, who cheerily waved us on.
Molly and us had made it as far as the Alps.
Day Two, Sarnen to Tirano
WE may have been downtrodden the day before, but nothing recharges you more than waking up in a hotel room, stepping on to the balcony, breathing in clean air, and taking in spectacular Swiss scenery. It made the second day’s challenge of crossing four Swiss passes while taking photographs to match ones we were given seem all the more pleasant. Talking to the other teams, we heard a couple of cars hadn’t made it as far as us.
Driving into the Alps is always an amazing experience, but this time, it was all the more sweet because I took a back seat and Alexander indulged himself. Molly may not have been particularly capable, but because she’s slow, you can enjoy the scenery – and admire the driving skills of Alexander, who managed to hustle Molly up the passes, both quickly and smoothly.
We chose to pair up with a Montego estate driven by Tony Hague and Richard Smith of the Maestro and Montego Owners Club. They decided to look out for us, in case we struck further mechanical problems on the way up. It must have been frustrating for them to keep stopping while we topped up Molly with water, but they were a cheery pair, and reassuring company at a time when our confidence was shaky. However, they were also slowed by mechanical maladies – this time, a failing wheel bearing. Our Allegro and Montego must have looked funny – one crippled product of the British motor industry supporting another.
We weren’t that good at the photo challenges – Declan and I struggled to match the landscape with our photos, and Alexander, who was driving, spent most of his time watching the temperature gauge for signs of odd behaviour. In the end, Tony and Richard missed the last couple of passes – to spare their shrieking wheel bearing – and Alexander ended up tackling our last pass in the dark. In the cooler conditions, Molly behaved well, and Alexander found himself enjoying himself on the curves… so much so, that he actually managed to overtake another team’s car. Austin, 1, Ford, 0…
The Swiss section had been fun – although Molly’s quartic wheel proved a hindrance for Alexander…
Day Three, Tirano to Viterbo
DAY three provided comedy relief. All the teams were required to dress like Clint Eastwood as he appeared in ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’, and that meant ponchos, hats and spurs. Instead of the man with no name’s Colt 45, we were all asked to bring along water pistols – big water pistols. The mood of the day was set right from the beginning, thanks to the huge display of team cars in Tirano’s piazza, and the waterfight that soon ensued.
Alexander, Declan and me sat that one out – mainly. Declan proved an effective shot, whereas I didn’t even manage the art of pressurising my Super Soaker (all I managed to get out of it was a pathetic dribble – until I decided to take a drink from it). I managed to get another soaking from a member of one of the other teams – he’d brought along a water-filled fire extinguisher instead of a water pistol, and I had invited him to aim it at me me. Oh what a good shot he was…
The challenge for the day: to get the team photographed in front of pump number three at every Esso station along a 300 mile stretch of Autostrada. We managed the task – finding ourselves partaking in a number of impromptu water fights along the way.
The further south we travelled, the hotter the weather became – and the more I feared for Molly’s cooling system. As always, Alexander was calm and composed and hat the situation comfortably in hand. I sat out most of this day’s driving, and rested in the rear. Molly’s rear bench is a comical place – well, it is if you’re watching the bemused and good-natured reactions of other drivers keen to take a closer look. Whenever we stopped at service stations, people would stare (we shed our cowboy outfits pretty sharp, so they clearly weren’t admiring Alexander, Declan and me).
Molly had settled into a routine by this time – two hours on the road at 60-70mph, followed by a top-up of coolant. It was slow progress, but rather relaxing for the passengers, and I continued to admire Alexander’s knack of getting the most out of Molly. Clearly he is a much more patient man than me, as by this time, I had decided I really didn’t want to bring her home with me.
Along the way, Declan and Alexander both had a crack at driving Molly, and both seemed happy with her progress – perhaps it was me, but having decided I didn’t want to drive her home, I started to think about bringing someone else’s car home instead. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t consider a Volkswagen Polo, but thanks to our being short of cars at home, and Sue needing something to drive around in, I spotted the 1985 example owned by Team Foggy Performance during our lunch break – and a deal was struck. I’d take this home, and Alexander would drive Molly home – from there he would try and sell her on eBay Germany.
After another long day on the road, our overnight stop was a very welcome relief. When we pulled in to Viterbo, north of Rome, we arrived in the ancient walled city’s piazza and found our competitors’ cars hard to miss.
Yet again, Molly had made it…
Day Four, Viterbo to Pinetomare
DAY four was the one Alexander was looking forward to the most. We were told it would be a treasure hunt – and little more. On the morning of the event, we congregated in the square at Viterbo, and as we waiting for the organisers to hand out our tasks for the day, we had a great opportunity to look around the competitors’ cars.
Sadly, by this time, we had lost one or two – including Les Hedaux’ wonderful Toyota-Celica based ‘Back to The Future’ car had succumbed to mechanical problems. On the other hand, we were going very well indeed… Molly was responding well to Alexander’s sympathetic touch – and continued to behave in a consistent way.
Good thing too. We were given our challenge packs – and our job for the day was a treasure hunt in the Lazio region of Italy. We needed to find five locations, then solve a puzzle based on these locations. With the answer, we would then be able to open the correct one of four envelopes, giving us the solution to the treasure hunt. Where to find Celeste. Last year, Alexander worked out our route for this day and we did pretty well. This time round, we relied on our Sat Nav – and probably did just as well. If only it wasn’t so easy to use…
We could have had a disaster though… and it would have been self-inflicted.
Thinking I would save some time in the morning, I decided to check Molly’s oil and water levels before we got going. However, I had not tightened the oil filler cap correctly, and about ten miles out of Viterbo, Alexander commented on an oily smell. We stopped – and sure enough, the oil cap had popped off, smothering the engine bay in an oily mess. Once again, Alexander had saved the day.
Funnily enough, it was a mistake I had made last year. What is it with me and car maintenance?
As we travelled across Lazio, and picked up our clues, it soon became apparent we were in some of the most stunning scenery imaginable. These small Italian towns we were directed to were painfully beautiful to look at, and were gifted with amazing weather. The more time I spend in Italy, the more I find myself wanting to be there…
We managed the challenge, and completed it fully, enjoying ourselves massively as we did so. It was by now, very hot and sultry, so every opportunity to get out and explore the scenery was a very welcome one. And, boy, did we see some sights.
It is an amazing place – and as we found ourselves driving along the Mediterranean, each corner in the road would deliver further delights. The most pleasant surprise was that Molly was really behaving herself now. The day proved a fitting end to S2N – and following a second application of a German gunky potion, which was supposed to do the same job as Radweld, Molly behaved herself impeccably. Her temperature remained resolutely cool, and following a dousing in a severe rainstorm, we found the suspension’s clonking disappeared completely (for a while) – a dry joint in the suspension, then. Excellent news!
With me having decided not to keep Molly, it was down to Alexander to save her. During the four-day event he slowly fell for Molly’s charms, telling me: “Molly’s relaxing, and drives very well indeed. If only she wasn’t so ugly.” He decided to take her home and have her (temporarily) join his large fleet of BMC front-drivers.
As for me – I had my 40bhp Volkswagen Polo to look forward to driving home in…
We enjoyed S2N. If you love driving, and appreciate breathtaking scenery, there is little to top it. Yes, it’s demanding, but it’s also a great deal of fun – and the spirit of camaraderie between the teams is wonderful. You really feel as though you’re on a great adventure. Also, the effort put in to decorating the cars was very impressive – with many teams choosing to go with movie-related themes.
Would I do it again? Probably not – I love car-based adventures, but have a hankering to travel much further next year.
My own feelings were mixed – I found Molly charming, and couldn’t help but love her wackiness (when I wasn’t driving her), but following Alexander’s decision to save her, I decided she should go to this most deserving of homes. He’ll not be keeping Molly permanently, but it’s nice to know someone who really cares will be selling her on…
As for me – my 1984 Volkswagen Polo 1.0C with 33,000 miles on the clock, and mint condition, would serve as a second car at home. I suspect its owners, David Louis-Webb and Charlie Fogg, were happy to see the reliable beast go to a good home. How little they know – I feel a trip to Russia or Africa coming on…
Day five, Pinetomare to Pisa
AFTER a late night in Pinetomare with some of the other teams, it seemed we had earned a lie-in after several days’ worth of hard graft at the Molly’s wheel. After some initial worries, she had decided to settle down to a consistent, if rather slow pace – and proved that if you care enough abut how you drive it, a 30-year old Allegro could travel huge distances.
I have to say that my own feelings about Molly had not really softened, and I was relieved to be driving something else home. It’s not as though I hated her – far from it; I just found that she’s not my cup of tea.
Actually, we did almost cut a deal with another team to pick up their chipped Saab 9000 T16 (as well as the Polo), but in the cold light of day, the following morning, and a whacking great dent in the rear door, I gracefully withdrew, with a number of regrets. Several times during the trip back, I wondered whether I’d chosen the correct car.
After leaving late, and dropping Team Foggy at Rome airport, we settled down to the task of travelling North – Declan and me in the Polo following Alexander in Molly. It was from this vantage point that my feelings towards Molly did warm a little bit. She may not be beautiful, but she looks distinctive on the road, and one can’t help but find her brown-ness enjoyable to look at among the silver and greys of all the modern cars around her.
After a brief stop to fill up and synchronise our fuel stops, we decided to press north, avoiding the Autostrada, and see where we’d end up.
As it was, a drive through beautiful Tuscany convinced us that sticking to the A-Roads was the correct thing to do. The scenery and weather was wonderful, and as we drove along with out windows open, we soaked in the autumn sights and smells. On one of these A-Roads, we came pretty close to motoring nirvana, and it had seemed that even though we were travelling pretty gently, we had arrived somewhere pretty special – open ended bends, long undulating straights, and rolling hills slightly browned by the autumn sun, allowed us to appreciate once again that the Italians are a very lucky race.
We pressed on towards Pisa – and by 10.00pm, we had arrived. The ancient quarter of the city was a very special place, and although we could have spent hours taking it all in, time was passing us by, and we had nowhere to sleep.It didn’t stop us checking out the leaning tower and the cathederal, all the same. Very soon, it became apparent that there were no rooms in the Inn – in fact there were no rooms anywhere at all in Pisa, and some decisions needed making – as it was now nearly 1.00am.
In the end, we decided to drive on. Alexander continuing to lead, with me following. After telling our Mio Sat Nav (by now, Molly was known as ‘Molly Mio’) to avoid the Autostradas, we ended following some very interesting roads indeed.
As we pressed North into the night, the undulations became mountainous, and the curves became bends – and we ended up driving one of those truly great roads. We may have lucked in to finding this baby mountain pass, but that didn’t temper our enjoyment of it one bit. In fact, as we began to climb, fatigue was lifted as the adrenaline kicked in… Alexander may have been at the wheel of Molly, but he was clearly enjoying himself, covering ground quickly, throwing Molly through the lacets, and braking very late indeed. He may have been going quickly, but he was never rough or ragged – bend after bend Alexander hustled Molly, and never once, did she put a wheel wrong. Impressive. In fact, as I followed in the VW Polo, I was glad it had been fitted with wide tyres. Otherwise I would never have kept up.
The action continued for what seemed to be hours, although in reality, it was all over within 30 minutes. And in that time, my respect and admiration for Molly and her driver certainly increased a great deal. It would seem I had misjudged her abilities…
Day six and seven, Pisa to Aachen via Andermatt
FOLLOWING a couple of hours sleep in a lay-by (yes, I know…), we pressed on Northwards. A brief stop off just North of Milan was followed by a dash into Switzerland. Alexander, Declan and I decided we’d return to the St Gottardo pass in convoy, and thankfully, Declan took the wheel of the Polo. Why thankfully? I’d have probably ripped off the steering wheel in frustration at its lack of power!
As Declan followed Alexander, I filmed Molly strutting her stuff. Yet again, I admired how planted Molly looked on the road – and although Alexander wasn’t trying too hard at the wheel, he gave us something interesting to film. For one, the way Molly squats in bends looks frightfully amusing, and is a sight that’ll live with me for a very long time!
After the brief fun we had in the Alps, we stopped in Andermatt. Alexander pressed on to his home in Germany, and we stayed over an extra evening. As it was the rest of the journey took place on the motorway, and proved a long slog. Most of my time spent there, I was wishing I had a little more than 40bhp to play with.
Perhaps I should have taken the Saab after all!