Staples2Naples, 2006

The rally

Day Two, Saint-Louis to Aprica

Cook Pass Babtridge takes a breather on the banks of Reschensee in Italy.

OKAY, so things weren’t going brilliantly for us, having lost a team member, our car, and my passport – but we were still in high spirits when we set off from the town of Saint-Louis on the French/Swiss border – knowing that we would be missing out on what is regarded by many as being the event’s best day.

Still, the route Alexander had planned looked pretty interesting, and we’d still end up doing the fabled Stevio Pass. All we had to do was get into Austria, then into Italy – and see how we got on from there. Of course I was still stressed about losing my passport, and wondering whether I’d be checked crossing any other borders, but at the end of the day, Europe (Switzerland aside) is one big, happy, entity, and I wouldn’t be asked to show my document again…

Once underway, we chose the relaxed approach to Continental driving – as in, Alexander piloted in the car. It has to be said, though, that the best place to appreciate Austria is from the back seat of an 800. Although we could have thrashed round and made it to Aprica before anyone else, taking it easy, enjoying the scenery, and stopping for lunch on the bank of the Bodensee seemed like the perfect thing to do. Sadly, there were no other teams with us to enjoy the experience, but it did give us a chance to get to know our car a little better.

Although I’ve owned plenty of Rover 800s before, I’ve never had a T-Series normally aspirated version before, and found myself quietly impressed with it – misfiring aside. The steering is excellent, and the brakes stronger than I remember them – all that really lets it down is the rather incompetent chassis. Soft suspension settings and short travel never really go hand in hand, and there were few places off the motorway where the 800 found itself at home.

Cook Pass Babtridge overheated on the way up Stelvio Pass – Brian, though, wouldn’t let something like that hold us back… Yes, that really is Cherryade.

Getting to the Stelvio Pass was no great shakes, and by the time, we’d made it to the Italian Alpine foothills, we were all exceptionally relaxed. Alexander drove the car up the pass, and it soon became clear to me from the back seat at least, that the 800 was all at sea here. Ample body roll, pitching, a wide turning circle and sloppy responses meant that I was starting to suffer from something close to sea sickness in the back.

The car wasn’t enjoying itself either – and a radiator missing many of its cooling elements merely served to assist the 800’s temperature gauge’s swift ascent into the red sector. About halfway up Stelvio, we could clearly hear percolating noises coming from beneath the bonnet – despite Brian wiring up the cooling fans to come on permanently.

We pulled into a hotel halfway up the ‘hill’ and surveyed the situation. Well, it was now taking time getting the 800’s bonnet open thanks to its bonnet catch snapping, and one of the stays under the bonnet being particularly sticky. Ah well. The expansion bottle was spurting coolant, and the fan was roaring its disapproval. As I walked off for a visit to the hotel’s little boy’s room, Brian was busy telling Alexander that you can put Cherryade into the cooling system without any harmful side effects.

Alexander might have been concerned about the fruit acids on the waterways of the engine, but as the T-Series isn’t exactly cutting edge, Brian clearly won the argument – especially as we had no more cooling issues during the event.

by the time we had reached the top, the 800 had enjoyed a major workout – as had we. I was feeling seasick, and Brian had neckache. We couldn’t see anything from the top either – but on the positive side, it had been a hell of a drive and we were going to enjoy a great journey down the other side.

At the top of Stevio there wasn’t much to see thanks to the low cloud… The grey sky behind us clearly matches the car’s paintwork…

While we were up the top, we bumped into fellow S2N’ers, Team Norfolk ‘n’ Chance, and their VW Golf GTi. As we’d decided to run with other teams whenever we had the opportunity, we decided to tag along, when they headed downhill. They decided not to hang around, though – and Alexander was forced to work quite hard keeping up with them.

As it happened, it wasn’t that difficult, and it was obvious that their car car wasn’t quite in as good shape as ours – you might be able to get a mint Rover 820 for £100, but you certainly can’t go for that standard of GTi.

Once again, Stelvio passed all too quickly – but we were now back on the rally, and as we rolled into Aprica, we were looking forwards to what lay ahead of us in Italy…

Chasing Team Norfolk ‘n’ Chance’s Golf GTi Mk2 down Stelvio. We could hear their knocking CV joint from where we were sat…

Day Three, Aprica to Viterbo

It might have looked like a Cosa Nostra conference was being held in downtown Miami, but this is Northern Italy – and ahead lay a great challenge in blagging…

FOR all those who felt a little uncomfortable at the thought of wearing ponchos and cowboy boots last year, this year’s themed day would come as a blessed relief. Yes, that’s right, it was Reservoir Dogs day – and that meant 110 teams all came to the party in black suits, packing heat in the form of their Super Soakers. Brian and I didn’t get that part of the challenge sorted, but Alexander did, and that meant we could hold our heads up high…

Because everyone was tooled up with Super Soakers, plenty of us became wet as we congregated in a small piazza in the small village of Aprica. Again, just like Calais, the police were there to ensure the cars left the place in one piece – but they were clever enough to stay away from the waterfight that kicked off as we all waited for our instructions.

Poor old Brian discovered we had a knackered front tyre, and ended up changing it amidst the watery mayhem…

Our challenge was simple – like last year, we’d be covering plenty of miles, and would also be getting fuel pump shots along the way. For those unitiated with this concept – every team needed to go to at least five filling stations along the way and get themselves photographed with Pump 3. This year we also needed to get as many locals as possible in the pictures to score the maximum points possible.

As we were already completely out of the running, we weren’t too serious about this one, and ended up tagging along with other teams. There were water fights at every filling station, and the laughs that we were getting from the locals meant they obviously loved what we were doing. Italians also love posing for pictures, and plenty of them were more than keen to appear in our pictures – even the local police.

Same shot, different year… yep, more Pump Three photos, but this time we needed to rope in the locals to score our points.

Just like last year, the drive down was long – but it was enjoyable. This time around, the organisers had provided us with two-way radios, and if you left them on, you’d know you were getting close to another competitor’s car when you started hearing conversations. We used the radio ourselves plenty of times – excellent for arranging other teams’ cars for photos while on the move…

Cook Pass Babtridge remained well behaved through the day, and even though it was pushed along the motorway at higher speeds than it has probably ever enjoyed, it never missed a beat. In fact, it was getting sweeter and more powerful with every turn of the wheel. At one point, we caught Justin Clements’ H-reg Rover 827 (which he steadfastly refuses to sell to me) – and he radioed us to say that his speedo had packed up, and could we peg him at 90mph – done and dusted, we motored on.

One thing is for sure – the Italians really know how to drive. On the motorway, they are quick and observant, and when you catch someone up quickly, they simply move out of the way for you. They flash each other, but it’s a case of telling you they’re there and want to come through – and is no way seen as being aggressive. If only that were the case back in the UK.

Ooops – Brian checked the offside front tyre – only to notice canvas showing on it. A couple of days earlier and we were doing 130mph. Thankfully, a quick change to the spare, meant we were able to carry on unabated. Note the dent and missing indicator trim – not through bumping and boring, I hasten to add.

As the day wore on, it was increasingly difficult to resist going exploring – and seeing road signs that read FIRENZE or MARANELLO were very tempting. But we carried on – and continued to enjoy the day. How could you not..?

We got all our challenge photos, and ended up following another team into Viterbo. The strangely beautiful walled city near Rome was a particularly interesting backdrop for our convoy of clapped out heaps. This time, the organization was sharp – and the police cordoned off our own car park to use – our heaps would be safe from Italian envy crime.

As the cars rolled in to the piazza – a devious plan had been hatched by some of the teams. A lone photographer would stand in the middle of the road and get the unsuspecting car to stop – only for about a dozen people to jump out from behind a nearby car, and drench the posing team in their stationary car. Shame we missed out on that one, by being one of the of the first home.

That night, during our regular post-rally meet-up, we met up with ‘Big’ Dave Smart from – a regular on Staples2Naples, and builder of some fantastic Mini-based specials. He had been telling us how he’d managed to get 98.6mph out of Colin Gilchrist’s standard Mini 1000 and how he’d wanted to crack the ton. Would we be able to give him a ‘tow’ tomorrow?

Of course we would…

The Skudmen, John and Steve, were enjoying themselves on the long motorway drive down to Viterbo.

Day Four, Viterbo to Pinetamare

We had a car park to ourselves this year – much to the relief of the locals…

LIKE last year, day four would be all about orienteering. However, we’d already made a deal with Big Dave to follow him and Colin’s Mini, and when the opportunity presented itself, offer them a slipstream opportunity in order to get them over 100mph. Leaving Viterbo, I’d already come to the conclusion that I am in love with Italy – beautiful women as far as the eye can see, a great social life, and fantastic architecture when you need a little culture in your life.

Although it should have, over 100 British registered bangers rolling into town and monopolising a car park didn’t cause any resentment with the locals. In fact, they loved us being there – and cheered us on at all opportunities. Either that, or it was admiration because we’d drunk dry two bars in the town the night before.

As we rolled out of the town, we got in convoy with a number of other teams, and although our Sat/Nav – and Alexander – were barking directions, we followed the crowd round and round this wonderful place. When we finally hit the motorway, we had the Mini in tow. At the first opportunity to press on, Dave radioed us, and he hunkered up behind, using the large hole we were punching in the air.

However, we didn’t quite do it – and a couple of times we got to breaching the ton barrier (in fact my speedo ‘confirmed’ that we were over it), but the cold, analytical display of Alexander’s Sat/Nav told a different, sadder, story.

Still, we headed for one of the challenges – following Dave, and admiring his ability to carve through traffic in a way that I thought only dispatch riders understood. He overtook on the left, the right – anywhere there was the slightest gap. Brian and I were laughing uncontrollably at the absurdity of this motoring dance, and every time Dave made another place we cheered. And although this sort of behaviour wouldn’t have been tolerated in the UK, the Italians seemed to lap it up – waving and cheering wherever possible. We couldn’t keep up, of course, and Dave had to keep slowing down in order for us to catch up.

Dave Smart was driving Colin Gilchrist’s Mini, and the combination seemed to attract attention wherever they went. Can’t think why…

Of course in all of this, our Rover (which we variously called ‘John Major’ or ‘Cook Pass Babtridge’ depending on our moods) was running reliably and efficiently.

As we headed for the first challenge, we hooked up with another team, and headed for the hills. The task as always was to find some specific objects and photograph them. The more you get, the more points you get. Unlike last year, we were given a start point, then simply given a set of directions to follow. This was a clever move and negated the advantage of having a Sat/Nav.

The further we climbed, the wetter it came – and before long, the incessant rainfall had become a monsoon. The mountain roads had quickly become fast-flowing rivers of brown water – and debris was being strewn across the roads. We pushed on, though, and even though the water seemed to be up to our doorhandles in places, neither us, the Volvo or – remarkably – the Mini stopped. We heard Dave on the radio saying, “we’re going down, we’re sinking,” as his footwell filled up with water though…

Once we reached the top, and entered the tiny mountain top village – the sort often glimpsed from the comfort of your car on the Autostrada – we battled our way through the traffic and around the hairpin bends (our Rover needed to take them in a series of three-point turns), and set-up for the challenge photo. Finding helpful Italians to take our picture was never going to be hard with Dave and the Mini on board!

I’ve not seen rain as heavy as this for quite some time – and the mountainside we drove up resembled a waterfall in many places. Wonderful stuff…

With the weather getting worse, we de-camped and decided to head straight for the finish location in Pinetamare – poor old Dave and Colin were waterlogged in their Mini – and in order to stop it filling with more water, Brian punched out a couple of waterplugs in the Mini’s floorpan…

A few miles down the road, the Mini slowed down, and we pulled into a petrol station. Problems? Not really – Dave pulled the distributor cap off, and dried it out. He then popped it back on, and the little car was on its way again. We’d already advised him about the rocker gasket leak – but trust us, that didn’t slow down the team one little bit.

The torrential rain continued all the way to Pinetamare – and the only way many of the teams could stay with each other was by constant communication on the radio…

It had been a hard day – and when we rolled in, many of the teams were already busy socialising…

In conclusion

Once again, we enjoyed S2N – we reckon the teams had made so much effort and the organisation had been lifted a level over previous years. I’ve come to the conclusion that I am deeply in love with Italy, and if there were a way, I’d move there tomorrow… If you love driving, you’ll love S2N – and given the amount of quality petrolheads on the event, it seems the word is most definitely out now.

I said I’d not do it again last year – and went on to do it. In that, I am glad… Would I like to go again? Yes… After all, I still have that Jag in my garage…

The Rover 820i proved a very capable vehicle for the event, although both Brian and I were getting pangs for another 216GTi. If we go back next year, don’t be surprised to see us in a very hot R8…

On the way back, we popped into Munich and took the picture I think we all needed to see…

Keith Adams

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