This year’s major event for the MCR was a touring assembly to Marseille, taking in some of the best roads that could be found in France. A total of 17 cars attended the event, which although was slightly down in comparison with previous years, turned out to be a perfect size.
With the starting point being just south of Lyon, it was left to all entrants to pick and choose their own way to Automobiles BMC for 3pm on the Sunday. The plan was for everyone to meet there, have a poke about, and then drive to the first hotel of the week where the welcoming meal would take place and everyone could have a well-earned rest.
The majority of people chose to drive over on the Saturday, stay in a hotel that night in France and then commence the final drive down to the starting point. For those that were (and still are) on Facebook, it was apparent that one Mini wasn’t going to be there though. Robert and Annette (Clayson) had a car that just wasn’t going to behave itself, twice dying on them within 10 miles from home. It was soon decided that they would swap over to something a bit more modern and reliable. Live updates via Facebook allowed us to see that they were indeed making their way over however…so no reduction in numbers.
At the same time, another Mini was pulled out. Peter and Jillie (Moss) were originally bringing over DJB 92B, however due to unforeseen circumstances they had to also swap cars. This resulted in a Porsche appearing on the scene!!! It was noted by Peter that he seemed to have received a lot of hassle by certain female Cooper S drivers during the course of the week. We assume that this is due to the lack of a Mini and that his car needed to be put in place! However, a Porsche does have its advantages, both in comfort and maintenance. Peter summed it up with ‘put a pint of oil before leaving, check tyre pressures’.
One other car thought about ruining the week. This belonged to Ken Taylor (with Robert Young in attendance) and it started to develop a noisy suspension on the way to the start. With the noise ever increasing by the mile, they eventually discovered that the top shocker mounting bracket had become loose. A quick tighten and a couple of new bolts saw that fixed.
Some others (the Scottish contingent) decided that it would be far more entertaining to do this in one big hit and get as far as possible in one day! Being that we were part of that group, we can safely say that perhaps next time we might do things slightly differently! An early start (at the request of Simon Drew) on the Saturday in a Tesco’s car park resulted in some last minute checks before driving down to Hull. Spare parts were equally distributed between the cars, a loose wire on a solenoid was fixed and a top up of petrol, plus the mandatory coffee. The drive to Hull was pretty straightforward and it seemed that the 7am start was slightly unwarranted as we started to calculate that our arrival time at the ferry was going to be about 3 hours too early! Unfortunately by the time we got to the outskirts of York (for a last minute decision to have lunch) we were caught up in traffic jams. Every road, no matter how big or small, was jammed solid. It seemed that the floods that had happened during the previous week were causing mayhem and we had no choice but to turn around. Eventually we did manage to get to the port (after having lunch), pick up our last passenger and proceed to checking the cars in. One car was pulled over by customs because they didn’t like the suspicious look on the driver’s face (Simon), but for the rest of us it was straightforward.
17.5 hours later we were in Zeebrugge….the time…9.30 a.m. local time. The goal…get to the hotel as quickly as possible. There was a free meal to have, we can’t miss it!! Distance to go (according to the sat nav) 533 miles, 8 hours 44 minutes and that is if we don’t stop for fuel, food etc.. We had strict instructions to keep the organisers updated on our progress, so if there was any chance that we could make the hotel at a reasonable time, they would delay proceedings.
We were offloaded from the ferry in a very quick time, so much so, that we found ourselves driving on the other side of the road before we had really thought about doing so! After that harsh reality check, we were heading south as quickly as we could. Belgium was straightforward (too easy in fact), France started well, but before too long we had to pull over. A strange vibration suddenly started on Simon’s works replica, so we all pulled over at the next rest stop. It seemed that his car had suddenly developed a case of square tyres on the front. This was rectified after about an hour and on we went. Time check…way too late for what we wanted. Numerous fuel stops and food stops later we found ourselves just north of Lyon at about 5 pm local time. Text messages started to be sent out with arrival times, and that we would be pretty much arriving around 6.15….perfect!!!!
About 10 minutes later, we found ourselves heading into Lyon….this wasn’t the plan. In fact, it was the last thing we wanted and we had all discussed it earlier. “Avoid Lyon”. So…off we went. Traffic everywhere and crawling along at such a slow speed that it was quicker to walk. We couldn’t turnaround, and the next exit was miles away. Water temps were starting to go up and with the knowledge that one car was a bit susceptible to the odd temperature rise, we needed to bail out. Maps and sat navs were deployed, and we managed to find an exit (not an obvious one) which was sufficient enough to get us away from the chaos, reduce water temp and head us relatively in the right direction. Text update…7pm arrival. The last hour, the last 60 miles then saw one car with headlight issues (it just got dark) and misfiring on another. We ended up having to have one car drive right up behind another, because all he had was full beam. The other car we lost because they pulled over and had a spark plug change. Eventually we all arrived at the hotel just after 8pm. A job well done to be honest and one that received a round of applause as we walked in, which was a great welcome.
The welcoming dinner was a lively affair. Over the course of the next few hours, there was plenty of great food, wine and chat to be had. A lot of people were catching up with old friends; there were introductions of new faces and also an overview of the week ahead given by Robert and Peter. After the dinner, everyone retreated to their rooms, which were very pleasant, quiet and comfortable. Reports came in the following morning of one entry ending up in what seemed to be the honeymoon suite! Jacuzzis, twin sinks (not carbs), televisions everything you could wish for.
The following morning (day 2 as per the road book) saw everyone packing up and heading out onto the roads with a final destination of Saint Nectaire. A total distance of 190 miles was the order of the day, taking in some lovely roads around the Haute-Loire and Puy de Dome regions. The main objective of the day was for everyone to arrive at a racing circuit (Circuit de Charade) for 2 pm where a photo shoot and a couple of laps had been organised.
As usual, everyone disappeared pretty quickly from the hotel. Some roared off, never to be seen again, some didn’t roar off and drove at a speed where they might actually see the scenery, and others organised traveling in a group. With various villages providing excellent stopping off points for lunch, Minis were parked up everywhere en-route, allowing for quick catch ups before driving off again to meet at the circuit.
Circuit de Charade has previously hosted international events, including the French Grand Prix (late 1960s and early 70s). It was originally 8 kms in length, but is now reduced to approximately 4 kms, with varying types of corners and terrain!
On arrival, we were given instructions on how the afternoon would play out. We would drive to the circuit proper, following the pace car. A couple of laps at a slow pace would take place and then a photo shoot. The result turned out to be slightly different….by the time we got to the circuit, the driver of the pace car had decided that a few more laps might be required…stop for a photo shoot and then do a few more laps. I think it was safe to say that everyone was pretty happy with that and duly obliged. The pace car however soon ended up getting faster and faster, which resulted in some fun encounters between certain cars behind! Overall, a great experience for everyone, and big smiles all round.
The following day was a slightly lengthier drive, with a destination of Millau. Again, the route took in some fantastic scenery with cars driving up to the top of some Cols. The highest one of the day was Col du Pas de Peyrol which was at 1589m. At the top was a delightful café where perfect timing (somehow) resulted in a large numbers of Minis converging at the same time for a coffee stop. Those that arrived first were treated to the sound of some Cooper Ss roaring up the steep inclines and watching them along the narrow roads. At one point we had two Eurofighters flying past at a lower level than the cars! Missed photo opportunity!
The end of the route that day saw us driving over the Millau bridge and down into Millau itself to the hotel. As this was a lengthy day, it saw cars arriving over a couple of hours to the hotel. Unfortunately, one car had to be rescued by Paul (Wilson) and Peter which resulted in a very late night for some.
From Millau to Avignon, the route took in some breath-taking scenery. Some of us departed quite early and for the patient people, there was a photo shoot (at the hotel manager’s insistence). The route took in the Gorges du Tarn, with roads, tunnels, arches, rivers, houses and everything in between that was stunning. This was one of the highlights of the week and truly appreciated by all.
With the day’s mileage at 188 miles we started arriving at Avignon from about 4pm with the town of Avignon being more difficult to navigate than the whole of the week’s routes put together. For those that arrived early, they soon headed out to a bar for some truly deserved refreshment. Before too long, they witnessed various Minis driving around in circles, throughout the centre of the town, and themselves giving frantic hand signals to where they should aim for! Not the most driver friendly town and it was more luck than anything else to actually find the car park. Avignon was where we would all have to fend for ourselves during the two nights there and so various groups were formed and off we all went to find somewhere to eat. It proved a very easy location to find some truly lovely places to eat, and with very friendly locals. A perfect example of this was seen after a meal that we all had. After stumbling out of the restaurant we saw a 1968 vélomoteur parked up outside. The owner of the restaurant, noticing our interest in this, decided that we needed to test drive it around the streets. After a quick demonstration, our expert motorcyclist in the group (James Palmer) took it for a spin…and survived (even on the cobblestones). Definitely a fun evening and an example of how accommodating the residents of Avignon can be.
The two days around Avignon allowed everyone to drive on some Monte Carlo Rally stages, numerous Cols and the ascent up to Mont Ventoux (highest point of the week). The early starters managed to get to the top just before the tourists arrived (which we were of course) and then headed down to the café not far from the summit. The way the café was positioned meant that we were perfectly placed to see other cars roaring around the corner and heading up the road to the top. The plan was to have a photo shoot there before commencing with the rest of the trip to Marseille.
The route to Marseille was a lengthy one (the day’s total being about 230 miles) and necessitated taking in a short ferry trip as well! Due to the timing of arrival at Marseille, the rush hour had commenced and several cars experienced some overheating issues. It seems that on arrival at the hotel, people were happy to have made it (in one piece) and needed to head to the bar as quickly as possible! This was another evening where we all had to fend for ourselves so, as previously, various groups were formed and off we all went in search for a nice restaurant.
The next day was an early start as this was the day to start the return home. The destination was Beaune and although the road book listed some routes, it was left up to individuals to find their own way. For the Scottish contingent (plus James and Sadie Palmer) we had organised to visit Automobiles-BMC in Vienne as it wasn’t possible on Day 1. Vienne was on the way to Beaune and therefore it seemed an ideal opportunity to do pop in. The way to Vienne was mostly across country, as we wanted to avoid the Autoroute for as long as possible. On arrival at Automobiles-BMC we found that they were closed, which was a shame. We had no option but to continue on a journey back up to Beaune.
After leaving Vienne it seemed that the French road network had imploded. All the major routes were gridlocked and we were right in the middle of it. With nowhere to turn around and three out of the four cars about to overheat, we had to take to the hard shoulder. This became our personal road for the next 10 kilometres until we could find an exit. Although not the most legal route, it did avoid disaster. The exit we took did point us in another direction (anti clockwise around Lyon) which wasn’t the shortest, but it was relatively free of traffic. Content with the situation we were in now, we continued merrily along up to Beaune.
Most cars arrived at Beaune within a very small timeframe. The hotel was located right in the middle of wine country and we were able to park our cars up outside our rooms. Initial comparisons to the type of motel you would find in the U.S soon evaporated though, and everyone was content.
Being that this was the last evening, a dinner was held. Again, a lot of food and wine was being consumed throughout the evening. It seemed that without doubt, the trip to Marseille was a fantastic success. The size of group probably introduced a greater sense of camaraderie, which was reflected on at the meal.
Peter and Lynn (Barratt) set the example of absolute patience and courage. Lynn, who made the trip against all odds, kept smiling and enjoying herself throughout. It should be noted that that this truly sets an example to all those members who think they cannot manage such an adventure.
Prizes were given out to the clever ones (Richard and Katherine Siddle, Ken Taylor and Robert Young) who completed all the photo clues correctly. Paul and Linda (Wilson) were given a gift for their hard work in following us all around during the week, ready to pick up the pieces. Robert Clayson and Peter Moss were duly thanked for all their help in organising the event and received a gift from us all as well.
The final morning (Sunday) was another early start…but for good reason. For everyone, it was the trip home. Ferries and trains needed to be caught and yet again for the Scottish contingent, it was straight back up to Zeebrugge. Although the distance wasn’t quite as great as the outbound trip to Tain L’Hermitage, it seemed to take forever. A combination of tiredness and all the fun now being over, it was always going to be a long trip home.
As far as reliability during the week, Paul reported that he was relatively quiet. The one car with David Sumner and Carl Evans, which was determined to ruin their week, even made it!
For all those that took part, reports came in that all the cars survived the return trip (more or less). Ken’s car decided to try it on again and developed a fault within the last few miles into Beaune, with fumes in the car – this proved to be the carbs banjo bolts working loose and also the timing chain oil seal failing. The fuel leak was soon fixed but the oil seal would have to wait and so engine fumes were eradicated by keeping the windows shut on the dash back to Calais. The Scottish contingent only experienced a bad earth on one car and a faulty thermostat on another, so not too bad of a result!
One thing that was certainly unanimous across all the crews, everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. We are already looking forward to Minis to Ireland next year!
Ben and Patricia Webb