Busy times

After a couple of quiet months, March roared in with lots of activities.  It started with an outing in the Flying Sofa (aka Citroen DS21) with John Ball on the Tour of Cheshire.  9th o/all on regularity times means that I have now probably got the hang of average speed timing (eventually!…..)

Then, a last minute call saw me trailering VHC’s 30-98 to Geneva, for the launch of Vauxhall’s new luxury 4 seater convertible, the Cascada.  The relevance of a 1926 Vintage car at a new model launch centres on the fact that the 87 year old model was the last instance of a factory-built 4 seat open topper.  Journos got the chance to drive the car down to the French Riviera, culminating in a night in Monaco.  Lifestyle scribes came in for the last day to experience everything Monagesque.  The only trouble was that the wonderful sunny weather deserted us for squally rain.  However, I did get the opportunity to drive the 30-98 around the GP course.  Something to tell the Grandchildren……….

Lake Geneva with the Cascada

Casino Square, Monte Carlo

Back home for a couple of days, we then found ourselves (Jim Smith and ADD) back down to Dover and another trip across the water to Flanders for the Poppy Rally in the trusty Astra Challenge car.  The car is now old enough to be eligible for classic/historic rallies.  However, with our car being one on its own (in terms of age)  and capacity (1297cc) we were lumped in a class with much more powerful cars.  As the tests section of the event are scored on class performances, we were on a hiding to nothing against RS2000s and Avenger Tigers, but we still managed a 16th o/all from 70+ entries.  Slightly galling as a top ten finish could have happened but for two silly mistakes by me.  Oh well……

At the time of writing, with snow falling, I’m off to look for some chains to fit the Flying Sofa as the North Yorkshire Classic rally beckons this weekend (if it happens, as Helmsley and the surrounding area has been getting a drop of the white stuff for most of the week).  More to follow….


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A new event for 2013

The Welland Valley Wander is a new event that I have devised for 2013.  It is a scenic tour for classic cars, starting from Foxton Locks and the route meanders across Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Rutland following the Welland River as it heads east before finishing at Rockingham Castle.  The event will be held on Sunday 18 August and is being held to raise funds for the LOROS charity, the Leicestershire hospice that helped make Linda’s final weeks as comfortable as they could be.

Full details are on a separate website at: www.wellandvalleywander.co.uk

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Steady on the Bends (and on the straights!)

Vauxhall press releases that include my name always seem to be accompanied by the phrase “resident eco-driving expert”.  I’ve earned this moniker from my regular (successful) outings on the Fleetworld MPG Marathon; a modern day version of the old Mobil Economy run.  (Remember the old press adverts of the sixties: “45 mpg in a car like mine?” – “Yes, on the Mobil Economy Run…..”)

I got the call to attend the 2012 event and I have to admit that my heart sank a wee bit when I was told that I would be driving a van in the commercial category but I suppose that it did contrast with last year’s outing in a 6.2 litre, V8 engined Vauxhall VXR8.

This year it was a Vauxhall 2.0CDTi-powered Vivaro ecoFLEX van and it was up against some strong opposition.  A similar Renault Trafic (actually built in the same plant at Luton), the Bluemotion VW Transporter and a Cologne registered new design Ford Transit, hot off the press launch and piloted by two Ford engineers.

The event, based at the Four Pillars Hotel at the Cotswold Water Park near Cirencester, takes in a 380-mile route over two days.  Vehicles are brimmed before the start, and at the finish, and are equipped with a tracking device to verify the definitive mileage covered during the run.

The method of brimming the vehicles has improved over the years.  In the early days, the final filling involved fuel cans and weighing devices, then copious calculations involving specific gravity.   Nowadays, some keen engineers from the AA arrive with their specialist vehicles that are normally occupied at filling stations, sucking out diesel from petrol engined cars and vice versa with diesel motors.  However, here they blow instead of suck (if you get my meaning) and with the aid of a thin proboscis push fuel into the tanks until they really are fully brimmed.

The first day of the event saw myself driving with co-driver, Neil McIntee, the editor of Vans A2Z website, going West on B, A, Trunk roads and motorways over the Severn bridge and onto the Forest of Dean.  Then, after a lunch stop, we continued out into the Welsh Marches and the first big climb of the day over the Black Mountains to Talgarth.  Back via the Golden Valley and Ross on Wye saw us hit Gloucester at rush hour, but the big concern of the day – the  ‘Category 1’ climb up Air Balloon Hill at Birdlip – passed without problems as traffic was flowing freely and relatively quickly.

Second day had us contending with the ups and downs of the Fosse Way to Stow and then (luckily!) down Broadway Hill to Evesham, Tewkesbury before stops at Ledbury and Stratford on Avon.  We returned down the Fosse where a route blockage at Stow saw us take to the lanes following the map instead of tulips to get to Burford.  Here we met our biggest problem of the event as inconsiderate tourists were deciding to cross at both the Zebra Crossings on the severe ascent up the hill through the town.  How dare they!

At past finishes of the event there have been lots of anxious participants pacing up and down doing very good impressions of expectant fathers outside the maternity ward.  This year, the organizers told us to go home as the AA bods needed to do things at their pace and results would be issued the following day.  Vehicles were filled to the second pump click at a filling station before the final brimming was done at the finish from the AA vans.  Our tank clicked off after just 10 litres were added.  At 378 miles on the trip, the figures didn’t make much sense.  How much would the AA engineers add from their vans?…..We had expected around 50 mpg, but all we could do was go home and fret for 24 hours until the results were released.

It turned out that the AA managed to add another 15 litres at the brimming, so with the other 10 litres, our stats were a very creditable 65.16mpg with a 59.3% improvement over the manufacturer’s figures.  This made us clear winners over the other comparative vans, the Trafic coming nearest with 57mpg and the VW and New Transit both achieving 56mpg.  Most importantly, our improvement was the best of all participants in car or van.

Our efforts were well received within the commercial vehicle world.  However, the headlines from the event will probably go to Mick Linford and Andy Dawson (remember him?) who in their respective Kia Rio Diesel and Ford Fiesta Econetic both managed to record over 100mpg, the first time any passenger car has achieved this figure.

So, another good year result-wise for the ‘resident eco-driving expert’.  Now, however, I can get back to driving with a ‘normal’ right foot on the accelerator!

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Light right foot again

For the second year running, it’s off to the RAC Club in Pall Mall to receive another trophy from the FleetWorld MPG Marathon.  The economy event, held over two days and 380 miles in the Cotswolds saw a quality field, all vying for honours in both the overall consumption category and the best improvement over manufacturer’s figures.  It was in the latter that I once again beat the opposition.  The Vivaro Ecoflex, which I shared with Vans A2Z website editor, Neil McIntee recorded a creditable 65.16 mpg, well clear of the 56mpg recorded by the direct competitors in the VW Transporter and the brand new Ford Transit.  the 59.31% improvement was the best figure recorded by any car or van.  So, I’m a happy bunny, but boy! – is it nice to drive with an ordinary right foot again!

Not quite believing the figures when we tanked up prior to the calibrated fill at the finish. However, they were right!

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Job Done

Another sunny day in Sweden.  And a big problem for me as I cannot afford to let the sun’s rays do their worst to my skin, combined with the fact that at 50 – 60 mph in a windscreenless car, one needs protection from the wind and bugs.  Kay provided a WWII leather flying helmet, I rummaged in the bottom of my bag for an open face helemet mask and the goggles completed the ensemble.  And it worked.  Mind you I looked a bit sinister.

This wasn’t enough to worry the Swedish constabulary.  We stopped for coffee at a raod house where the Police were doing random breath, drug and licence checks.  These two came over to give us a push start and posed for the picture, but only after the prettier one opened her loser jacket to show off her impressive armoury.

It was not easy to follow the original route today as a lot has been remodelled to suit modern traffic needs.  So it was a case of battling down the main Stockholm – Gothenburg link road.  In a 100 year old design, it is amazing that we cruised along at a steady 55 – 60 mph.  Concentration is a must however, as there are only rear brakes on the car (front brakes are for girlies…..) and they only operate by hand lever.  I feel  immensely priviliged that I have been allowed to drive Alisadiare’s pride and joy today.  The very thought of me having the opportunity to drive a 100 year old car for well over 150 miles would never have been a possibility not so long ago.

We caught up with Owe, another VSCC member in Sweden.  He met us en route and notes were compared between his very nice Lancia Aprilia and the Henry.

A pleasant drive through wooded countryside brought us back to the Mordza residence.  The final approach is along a public dirt track which is snow covered in winter and gravel in the summer.

At this point we realised that whilst this relatively short 6 mile section of gravel gave us an added challneg to our driving, Percy Kidner in 1912 drove the entire route on this kind of surface.  What an achievement.

Our own statistics are 620 miles covered (just short of 1000kms) with no stoppages, no brakages and and no problems mechanically or physically.  After the Wembley Scrapbook picture, the British contingent (Alisdaire and me!) offered to provide tonight’s meal, so after a visit to the local shops, a lovely barbecue was taken in a wonderfully peaceful and deserted location with a few libations to add digestion.

The team: Alisdaire, Henry, ADD and Kay at the finish.

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Phew what a scorcher!

As bright a day in Sweden as it appears there may be in the UK.  A leisurely start this morning saw the Prince Henry collected from its overnight storage and driven to the Royal Swedish Automobile Club (the KAK), where it was dipslayed in prime position. along with the trophies from the 1912 event.

We were photographed along with representatives from the KAK

Our new friend from the VSCC, Magnus, who entertained us so regally the previous evening, joined us with his 1924 Bentley and the head of the Old Car Movement in Sweden also turned up with his V16 Cadillac.  Cue more pictures.

After luncheon, speeches and presentations, items were stored and Henry was kicked into life and we started on the return journey to Gothenburg, which will take another two days and 300 miles.  I was promoted to riding mechanic after having taken more photographs that one can shake a stick at.  Unfortunately, 25 deg C + blazing sunshine+50 mph cruising +the open road + a hat that wouldn’t stay on – factor 50 sunscreen protection doesn’t compute and I was a bit red around the gills by the time we made our overnight stop at Orebro.

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We’re Here!

Well, we’ve made it to Stockholm!  First part of the trek accomplished.

The day started with the sound of thunder and we feared the worst.  But, the old adage of rain by seven, fine by eleven seemed to work, and we set out in good weather which then got better and better and we hoved up in the Capital City in a veritable heatwave.  Magnus, a local VSCC member was waiting at the hotel to greet us and after a short trip to store the vehicle overnight, we headed off to be tourists for the afternoon.

We went to visit the Vassa, a warship from the 16th century which sunk in Stokholm as it departed on its maiden journey.  It was too top heavy and fell over as it left the docks in front of everyone including the King.  Some years ago it was brought up from the bottom and is now displayed in a purpose built exhibition centre

Afterwards, we felt it only right that we should treat ourselves to a small libation on the quayside.

Magnus met us in the evening and took us to his house for a drink and an opportunity to see the very impressive restoration/construction that he is doing on a 1928 4.5 litre Bentley.  Then he showed hospitality over and above the call of duty with a meal in the city and a walk through the old part of town.

Adter the lunchtime reception at the KAK motor Club HQ tomorrow,

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Then and Now

The event started properly this morning.  Recreating the 1000km Swedish Reliability Trial of 1912, Alasdaire Lockhart’s Vauxhall Prince Henry Vauxhall with the owner at the wheel and host, Kay Mordza as riding mechanic, started from the Mordza house at Oxaback and set out along the public dirt road towards Stockholm.  I followed on in the Discovery as rear gunner and chief photographer.

On quiet and flowing Swedish secondary roads, the first hour saw 40 miles covered with ease, the 1912 Vauxhall cruising along at an easy 45 – 50 mph.  After a coffee stop at Jonkoping, we veered off the busy roads onto the scenic waterside road on the east side of Lake Wettern.  The only drama of the day occurred when with a bang, the chain driving the Dynastart from the clutch shaft, made an attempt at freedom.  I collected the item from the roadside and after a peremptory check we decided it would be best to leave it off the car as the Dynastart wasn’t doing its job anyway and that either a bump start or kick starting the handle seemed to work just as well as the electric device.

A lovely run up to Mjolby before we joined the motorway saw more miles covered with ease, whilst a steady 50mph on the motorway didn’t appear to hold up the traffic too much.

Upon arrival at Norrkoping we found our hotel and to great delight we discovered that the Standard Hotel building used 100 years ago was not only next door to our hotel, but still very much the same building as it was then, give or take some modernisation.  Photographs were taken and then the Henry was parked up for the night and libations were taken to celebrate.

I reckon that Sweden must have the equivalent of our April Fools Day on May 20th as there was absolutely no chance of snow today as forecast on the web and in the press.  Their forecasts of -2 to 0 deg C and therefore snow were, to say the least, a bit wide of the mark.  Not only have the forecasters got red faces so have our driver and travelling mechanic.  (I was OK as I was in the Disco with the aircon on full……)

Finally for today, fascinating facts about Sweden:

Do you know that it is virtually impossible to buy a map anywhere in Sweden?  We do, as we have struggled to replace the ones left on the dining table of the Mordza household……

Secondly, Sweden don’t use sink and bath plugs as they like to have the flow of running water.  How on earth do you have a bath then?……

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Show Time

Tjoloholm Slott is a beautifully placed Victorian mansion, overlooking the sea and the flood plains, south of Gothenburg.  The House was designed for Scottish industrialists, the Dickson family.  Their company had become a big player in Sweden in the mid nineteenth century.  The family employed local architects to design their new summer house in the English Arts and Crafts style and employed Liberty of London to equip the interior.  Two of the Regent Street Shop’s employees worked at the house for two years.  Misfortune befell both the master and the mistress of the house when they both died early in life in separate incidents, but the house and estate stands as a testament to their efforts and philanthropy, particular to their workers.

The Tjoloholm Classic is a major show in the Swedish classic vehicle movement and over 1500 vehicles gathered for the 2012 event. One of the stars this year was the Prince Henry, being exhibited jointly on the Svenska Vauxhall Registret (Swedish Vauxhall Club) stand and the KAK  stand.  This involved moving the car between the two stands with a big crowd gathering to watch the complicated and lengthy starting procedure culminating in a kick start to the starting handle which I am beginning to perfect.

Local and national press wanted lots of photographs, so grins were firmly fixed for the afternoon.

Fantastic weather was the order of the day and plenty of slap was needed to protect from the fierce Sun’s rays.  A good time was had by all and the Prince Henry team felt that there was no option but to recover with some cold beers once the equipe was safely back at Vauxhall Towers (aka Kay Mordza’s house).

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An even bigger anorak?………….

Arrived today at our host, Kay Mordza’s house in deepest Sweden after dropping the Henry at Tjoloholm ready for the classic event tomorrow.  And boy!, when it comes to matters Vauxhall, he makes me look like a rank amateur.  The Vauxhall signs strike you as you approach the lovely house from the public  dirt road.

The double garage contains the pre war Vauxhall I type and ’62 Cresta whilst above is my abode for a couple of nights – Kay’s office and shrine to all things Vauxhall.  From here he runs the Swedish Vauxhall Owners Club, and the shelves are stacked with brochures, manuals and Vauxhall paraphanalia throughout the ages.  Even key rings are displayed on the walls.

But the fun really starts when you get into the house, with a room containing display cabinets showing virtually every Vauxhall scale model ever produced and some special ones too.  Kay has a workshop where one-offs are constructed to the highest standard.  Such things as Carlton stretch limos, and models that are not available commercially are all produced to the highest detail.  What a collection!


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