I'm running a little behind with these, so I'm going to try to keep it brief...
Day 4 saw us waking up in Annecy to clear blue skies and getting on the road right on schedule. Toll motorways were the first item of the day and other than the usual confusion at how to pay (stick a credit card in seems to be the easiest) they allowed us to get to miles done before we reached the main attraction of the day - Route Napoleon.
Lunch was served in the usual fashion in a layby at the top of the Col du Bayard, just north of Gap and after just half an hour we pressed on again. The scenery all day was purely stunning, mountains in every direction.
As we got near to Digne, where I'm sure the route should have taken us, the TomTom wanted me to turn a right. A large white sign on this turning was written in French but I could understand the words 'dangeroux' and 'difficile' so it sounded like a good idea to me! What came next was the equivalent of a rally stage, all single track complete with some lovely uphill hairpins. Whilst the Polo and Clio crawled along and the 306 went off roading through the field, I gave the Honda a pasting and had five minutes at the top to remove my hoodie, it was now getting warm.
We rejoined the N85 and continued towards our second stop of the day in Castellane but first were given a gem of a road. Overtaken at first by a crazy local in a Yaris, we did our best to keep up as the S2000 and 306 did battle through the twisties, only stopping on the descent to cool both car's brakes (the 306's more so!) whilst everything we'd overtaken went past again.
In Castellane we had free parking so took an hour to wander round and get ice cream before getting on the road for the final stint down to the coast. Near to Antibes we hit the rush hour traffic and as I went in search of the Total garage I had planned to stop at, we lost two of the cars. After filling up it seemed that they had got onto the toll motorway, so we headed off to the hotel alone, only to sit doing the last five miles in an hour, reaching the final stop over an hour after the others. Never mind...
For the evening, we walked along the beach into Villeneuve Loubet harbour and found a decent bar to sit outside for the rest of the evening, with it eventually shutting up while we were still outside. 411 Euros later we were walking back, we thought at that price the glasses must come included, so most of them came back with us ;-)
The sign convinced me to take this road...
Time to cool the brakes above Castellane
Riding in the 306 as we neared the coast
Leaving our mark on Villeneuve Loubet beach
Waking up in Fribourg the weather looked more promising. It had rained overnight but there were patches of blue in the sky that were looking unusual to us. Another supermarket trip was first on the agenda. Lee decided not to take us straight into the one in view of the hotel but to take a short tour of the outskirts of the town instead before pulling into the Coop carpark. With more bread, cheese and salami bought we then decided to have a ‘quick’ stop at the golden arches for breakfast. Turns out Swiss Maccies don’t do breakfast and they don’t do quick as the food comes hot enough to melt the inside of your mouth. The barbeque fries were good though and the cup of tea tasted more like tea than the English version and was enough to make me feel more awake.
Finally at nearly 11am and two hours behind schedule we hit the motorway following the signs to Grand St Bernhard and seemingly always heading towards the clear blue patch in between the clouds. This was looking promising!
After a quick ‘play’ with a GT3RS on the motorway (which the 306 cab completely annihilated) it was time for the daily fuel stop. The garage was meant to be a shell, but a BP selling 98 RON was good enough and after an attempt as rocker cover toast we got on our way again.
Once off the motorway we started to climb the Grand St Bernhard Pass. Not steeply but when you looked back you could see we were getting higher. And fuel shouldn’t have been an issue, the next 15 miles must have had over 30 petrol stations before we parted with the main traffic (including the 458 Italia that had joined the convoy) that went for the tunnel. We went straight up, everything showing green open signs and the sun now strong enough to make even the cold alpine air seem appealing.
I’d heard the Swiss side was the less interesting and with that in mind I was confused, considering that this road was pretty breathtaking. We ended up following a bus most of the way to the summit and once there had a break and took some photos and then when it began to snow, with the roofs still down we started on the Italian side.
And the reviews I’d read were right. I donned my sunglasses, put Matt Munro on repeat and grinned all the way down the amazing bit of road that I’d watched that Lamborghini drive so many times. This was like heaven. Nearer to the bottom I spotted a familiar sight and we pulled in for the some photos of the bridge from the Italian Job’s opening scene, while the 306 carried on further down… I’m sure we’d find them later on.
Sure enough, once we were done we found the cab with Steff laid across the bootlid and once they’d sorted themselves out we were going down again and on to our next pass. But before that I had one more diversion in mind. Blatantly ignoring the woman on the sat nav I found another location of another scene from the film that I’d researched and we pulled in for some photos.
From here it was back through the last village and now up the next pass, the Petite St Bernhard. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one, as it wasn’t as high as the previous pass but once it started with hairpin after hairpin I was quickly enjoying myself. We even passed through the famous tunnel without encountering any bulldozers… I passed an Aygo, then slowed for the others to catch up at which point it past me again. Once together and moving again I passed it a second time and from this point I decided to carry on. I was simply having too much fun!
At the top we parked up and waited for the others, taking the opportunity to sticker up the pass sign. Once they arrived it was time for sandwiches another break and driver change and watching some classic BMWs coming up from the opposite (French) side.
After the very long descent from the pass and now on our final leg, I decided on something different. Given that we were about to hit the main roads at 5pm and I had no desire to be sat in rush hour traffic, I plugged an extra point in the sat nav and we soon on our way up a third pass, the Cormet de Roselend, adding only 20 minutes to the journey time. And what a good decision it was! A real tight and twisty road making a steep ascent, yet we had it all to ourselves and were all having a lot of fun! That is until we reached the top where we drove into yet another cloud and more general dampness. Bugger!
We carried on until it got too bad and after getting a massive soaking had to pull over, ditch the tonneau cover that we’d fitted earlier in the day and get the roof up as quickly as possible. And soon after we did that, it dried up again. So of course, the roof went back down. Ah, I’m so glad I pulled that speed sensor wire out of the switch now!
We found ourselves back on the normal roads and then following the shoreline around Lake Annecy until we reached our hotel, a very pleasant Ibis Budget just outside the town centre. And once checked in it was meal time again.
Today, Davo was our driver and yet again, the £400 Peugeot provided the entertainment, fully loaded with the roof down of course! He only took the wrong exit twice and proceeded to get us as lost as possible. Eventually we found a car park within walking distance from the very picturesque town centre where we settled on the first restaurant with a menu in English. Steaks and burgers were the main orders of the day and Jez even included a pudding.
With that done, we took in some more sights, spent 10 minutes in a childs play area and then promptly left before the locals threw us out. And eventually we found our hotel, not that Davo’s TomTom was a lot of help. That done, we’re finished for the day and settled down for a big drive tomorrow. The mediterranean awaits...
Convoy on the Grand St Bernard
Mont Blanc from the Italian Job filming point
Gorgeous weather at last at the top of the Grand St Bernard
Crossing into Italy at 2473m
Another border crossing at the Petit St Bernard
The air pressure up here is pretty low!
Day 2 started as per the rest of the trip with the view out of the hotel window being foggy and particularly damp. Not a good omen indeed. So yet again we hit the road and headed off in the general direction of the low clouds.
It didn’t take long for a card to be shown from the window of the Polo needing another stop for a technical problem, this time being the tyre pressure sensors causing a light on the dash. We had a short stop whilst Ed sorted it out and checked everything was OK and then carried on down the motorway to our first location in search of breakfast / lunch.
In the town of St Die des Vosges we parked up, scavenged a Euro from a friendly Dacia driver to pay for our parking (since the machine wouldn’t take our 2 Euro coin!) and wandered down into the town to the nearest patisserie. The vanilla eclairs there are very good!
Once fed, we wasted no time and got back on the road, now away from the motorways and upwards into the Vosges mountains. Very briefly it dried up and the gaps in the cloud gave us wonderful views up and down our ascent onto the ‘Route des Cretes’ - the road along the summits.
However, once we reached our first summit at the Col du Bonhomme at ‘only’ 949m we hit the cloud and visibility went down to nearly zero. The chance of any scenery was off. We continued onwards anyway, soon catching up a bus that served a good purpose being something to follow so we didn’t drive off the side of a mountain. Once it pulled in we were on our own again until we happened across the tail lights of a Volvo which we followed for a couple of miles before realising we couldn’t actually match his pace as he disappeared into the mist.
After an age of unspectacular roads (which should have been everything but) we arrived at our next point for a driver change - the Col du Grand Ballon. I’d seen this one previously though only managed to do one half due to snow at the top, about six years ago in my first 106. So at least I could now tick it off as fully done, even if it was nothing to write home about.
At this point both me and Steff decided the foggy cloud we were driving through was the best opportunity to drop the roofs. Well, if they were being stupid enough, I was going to be to… After they’d hidden under my tonneau cover (which they are carrying as it doesn’t fit in my boot…) we cracked on and made our descent. And to our surprise, it actually dried up a little. We even had our first bit of sun come out. Hooray!
We soon hit the motorway again, back on covering the mileage to get us further south again. As we crossed into Switzerland we had flashing blue lights from the Gendarmerie behind us, who luckily passed us by and pulled in the Mini that we were following. Preparation being key, we all had our vignettes stuck to the windscreens to allow us to use the Swiss motorways and we were waved through into the maze that is the Basel ring road. We somehow managed to make it through all together and pulled into the services on the other side to refuel, make more car sandwiches and contemplate whether a 4.5kg 119 Franc Toblerone would fit in the boot of the S2000. Erm, no.
After getting back on the road we arrived at our hotel in the daylight where we found little in the way of parking until we realised it had a hidden underground car park. Nevertheless, Steff made his own space on the grass…
The Ibis was by far the nicest hotel we’d stayed in so far, especially the lovely comfy beds. Though the view of the building site wasn’t quite ideal. Never mind, we only wanted it to sleep in.
A short drive down the road and after a few laps of Fribourg town centre guided by Ed in the Polo we all managed to get parked at opposite ends of the town and after finding the other group we then had to find a suitable restaurant that wasn’t going to cost a fortune. We eventually settled on a posh looking Italian which as it happened served a beautiful pizza, even if the extreme temperature inside nearly made me keel over and faint.
From there it was back to our hotel and some more shut eye ready for a day in the mountains, this time hopefully not as wet as the week had started...
Top of the Col du Bonhomme
Corvette making the S2000 look a little small
Follow that bus... because we can't see anything else!
The car sandwich chef at work
Evening again (or early morning)! Tonight's episode of the Italian Job Tour comes from Luxembourg where we've reached the end of our first day of European driving. And what a day it's been.
What was intended as five hours driving with a couple of hours of breaks to simply get us down the motorway to the interesting parts of the continent ended up being a long hard slog.
A WhatsApp message at 8am told us that we had our first car problem. Not the £400 306, not the 13 year old S2000 and not Lee's incident prone Clio, but the nice reliable VW which had a nail stuck in the tyre.
But first things first, shopping. We're now seasoned veterans at this and as a way round paying stupid motorway services prices we now have fridges. Well except in the S2000 of course. No chance of that fitting in the boot... So we did the cheap thing and bought rolls, butter and jambon et fromage to make our own. I'd even bought a knife to cut the rolls, which I'd been brandishing in front of the hotel CCTV the night before. Oops.
With our food now in Lee's fridge and the tonneau cover in the 306 the next mission was to find a garage to fix the tyre. First one had no idea and directed us in a way down the road to another. Another we'd found on the sat nav also couldn't do repairs. Eventually we found one we'd driven past about half an hour previously and the Polo was sat being fixed whilst the rest of us were busy trying not to be run over by crazy locals.
Now two hours behind schedule we made for the rather boring E42 to make some progress in the direction of Liege and were almost immediately held up for 15 minutes by a lorry that had hit a dear and presumably it's driver sweeping the entrails off the road. Nice. The weather was 'changeable' resulting in my first attempt to raise the roof on a motorway (at around 30 mph) and the entire interior of the Honda getting a thorough drenching. You know things are bad when the wipers are on but they're not clearing the screen because the water's on the inside...
The visibility was almost zero at some points and then eventually we hit serious traffic around Mons with only 13 miles to our planned stop. The next hour of crawling, which included some pretty good order shuffling through the traffic and at one point three lanes being made into four left us now three hours behind the plan but we were still on track to reach the hotel at 8pm so we stuck with it.
The stop eventually came outside a small town calld Thieu, where rather than simply pulling into a layby for a driver change we paid a visit to the world's second highest boat lift - an ingenius contraption designed to carry canal boats from one level to another about 100m higher. It also gave us a quick opportunity to make the now patented 'car sandwiches' and for Jez to take the wheel for the next stint to Spa.
We did a little more roof up driving until we were sure the weather had made up it's mind, at which point we did a drive through a services to put it down, at which point the 306 also did likewise. We carried on without anything more of note as I took many photos of my head and the other cars, until we reached our turn off for Francorchamps.
We were greeted with what appeared to be people leaving an Aston Martin track day, with several V12 Vantages and a Rapide heading the other way, also followed by a McLaren 12C. The planned petrol stop was closed so we parked up and did the usual wander into the always open grandstands and took the usual photos of Eau Rouge.
Three miles down the road following a trip down the old Spa circuit to Stavelot we found another petrol station, and it was also closed. Luckily they had a pay at pump system and the 306 that had spent the last half hour on the fuel light was refilled. Meanwhile, I hedged my bets on my quarter of a tank as we carried on into Luxembourg, looking to get the maximum range possible for the more uneconomical car for the next day.
And 300 miles after filling up in Kent, I found the Shell I'd planned to visit, open and serving up 98 RON V Power for just 1.42 Euros, cheaper than it would be in pounds in the UK. Now that's why I came to Luxembourg!
Now half an hour from the hotel everything was going well until we had a road closed and with a quick manouvre to take in a diversion we spent the final 15 minutes of driving taking in a windy hilltop road with a gorgeous red sunset. We rejoined the motorway and quickly found ourselves at our final destination. The Ibis Budget.
It's pleasant. It does have a shower more or less in the middle of the room, but it's pleasant. And the wifi 'sort of' works.
After unpacking and checking out the menu for the restaurant in the lobby we decided to pay Luxembourg city centre a visit and piled into the Polo and cab for the short trip in. Ed first took us on a few cruising laps before deciding on an underground car park. Evening meal was served in a Mexican restaurant and was decent and reasonably priced. It even included free nachos. Lots of free nachos!
Finally we did a little sight seeing before returning to the car park, breaking the ticket machine and then lapping the town and driving back to the hotel four up with the roof down. Epic :-D
We'll aim for another 9am start in the morning, hopefully nobody's got nails in their tyres tomorrow...
Unscheduled pit stop in Dunkerque
Gulf elephant in Luxembourg City
The colossal boat lift at Thieu
Cruising the city in style
Bonjour! You are receiving this communication from the Colditz-like fortress that is the F1 hotel in Dunkerque centre. And this means only one thing, it's the start of another roadtrip.
So first things first, let's get a blog on the go. I would say this is so we can share our adventures from each day, but it's really only so my mum will know I'm still alive once every 24 hours (hello Mum!)
After over two year of planning, the day finally came today and for day zero (as I like to call it) we set off from the dry and almost sunny Somerset headed for the far south east and a big boat over to the continent. Once we'd spent an hour raiding Asda for a hard drive and sweets and filled ourselves with McDonalds that is, already leaving us on the back foot about 15 minutes behind schedule. And I'm supposed to be the organised one...
We carried on down the A303 with little traffic to cause any trouble and had an uneventful but pleasant trip down through Wiltshire and Hampshire. The end of the A303 saw a very quick driver change and Jez took the wheel for the next stint. At which point the sky darkened and we headed into a monsoon along the M3. Fleet services came just in time with a quick drive through to raise the lid (yes, I know, but trust me, this was heavy!)
As we reached the M25 nothing changed, the heavy rain affecting the visibility badly, combined with the usual slow M25 pace eventually putting us nearly half an hour behind our deadline and at 2:30 we eventually met the others at Maidstone services, Zoe and Ed in the Polo, Lee and Sean in the Clio and Steff and Davo in the 306 Cabrio with a soaked roof that blatantly hadn't been down all day. Poor show boys...
After already holding everyone up and quickly running out of time to get the ferry, we pressed on. No sooner had we got onto the M20 than we found a pretty bad accident which we later learned had closed the motorway, in the opposite direction at least. Four Ariel Atoms parked on the hard shoulder, followed by two parked in the main carriageway, and finally a rather mangled one stuck to a generic hatchback of some sort. Not good :-(
Still incredibly damp (although with the roof back down now) we calmed our pace for the conditions and only minutes later, a second casualty, this time in our direction and this time a new Maserati which had taken an expensive excursion into the central reservation. Also not good.
Nevertheless, we got to Dover problem free. The (obviously suspicious looking) Polo was pulled in for a customs check and as is always the way we were bundled onto the ferry in a completely random order.
There was nothing to see on the ferry. My wifi decided to work as we pulled into the port (#winning), the fog and drizzle meant there was no chance to even see the coast. The highlight was probably five minutes in the wind and general murkyness of the outside deck.
Once docked, the roof was lowered again, the rain having mostly dried up and it as time for the usual trip around the Total oil refinery and into Dunkerque centre to find our home for the night. The ferry shuffle had left the cab in front with the Clio close behind. I was last off and shortly found the Polo for a short mini convoy. On reaching the hotel we were glad to see the others had already made it there. It was time to unpack quickly and meet in the lobby to get some food.
A ten minute journey to the beach front found us outside a favourite pizzeria, usually the source of much fun ordering from a man who speaks not a word of english... Yet today the shutters were down so we settled for a wander along the beach for five minutes before returning on the route we came looking for somewhere to serve us food of some description.
Success! Head towards the lights (especially the Brasserie sign that was only illuminated as 'BRAS') and you're sure to find something. In this case, an empty looking shopping mall and a decent Italian style restaurant.
Suitably fed, final effort of the day was the make our way back to the hotel, agree on a plan of action for the morning and settle in for the night. And in my case, write the blog out. With that done, I'm about to get to bed, just hoping for a little more blue sky tomorrow as we're bound for Spa and Luxembourg. Til then, au revoir!
Jez and Steff reenact Titanic
Lovely English weather
Dunkerque sea front. Dead on a Monday evening it seems
“When was the last time you just got up and went for a drive? Not to anywhere, not for anything.”
If you watch Top Gear regularly you’ll know this as a famous quote from Jeremy Clarkson. It’s a quote that’s been rolling around in my head for some time now. Since moving into town, the S2000 only tends to get used at weekends. It's covered a paltry 80 miles since I filled it up a month ago. The attendant at the local Shell probably thinks I'm dead. I'm mainly using it for picking up the shopping. And that’s really not what it’s meant for.
So cue a warm July evening, nothing worth watching on the TV, too muggy to sit around indoors. The main heat outside is dying down and I can lift the lid and get a good breeze as I drive off towards the hills. While the world is watching the soaps, I’ve got the roads to myself. As I cross the busy flow of the M5, I’m in solitude up on the bridge. And I’ve got a smile on my face. Now I see what it’s all about.
I don’t even know where I’m heading, I’m just driving and I’m just enjoying it too much to care. The pace is casual, I’m not in a rush. There’s no need for 9000rpm gear changes today and I’m not attempting to break the sound barrier. Even the VTEC only gets used to overtake an odd car that’s also taken the scenic route.
My usual stomping ground of Exmoor is now the wrong side of town, even the Brendons aren’t on my doorstep any more, and I’ve opted for unknown territory and chosen by chance a cracking route up the Blackdowns. The low sun is shimmering through the trees as the tarmac twists upwards, lots of sharp tightening bends that really make the Honda’s diff work for it’s money. In places it’s reminiscent of the Eifel mountains around Adenau, though if I’m honest, it’d probably benefit from the German’s road laying skills.
I soon cross the Devon border and at the next opportunity make a turn back towards Somerset and see where the next road will lead me. In the distance, more hills, on top of which I can see a local landmark, the Wellington Monument. I make it my next destination and pay a quick stop for a photo or two, seen as I’ve never been before.
With that done, I descend the hill as the sun sets over the horizon and the light starts to fade. I think about turning to home but decide I’ve got nothing to get back for. I’m good for another run up the hill through a different route and a cruise along the tree-lined arrow straight road that runs along the top. Before long I find my way back onto the stretch that I came up, something I just couldn’t resist a second look at. It still doesn’t disappoint even in the dark and before long I’m back in the glow of the street lights.
As I return the town is eerily quiet. Everyone’s still inside, watching the world through a screen as I’ve been out making the most of it. All that breaks the silence is Brian Eno’s ‘An Ending’ playing on my stereo and sounding ‘just right’. Thanks, Mr Clarkson, it's been a great evening well spent. I just want to do it all again.
So is it time you asked yourself: “When was the last time you just got up and went for a drive?”
Out for a top down cruise through the trees
Watching the sun set from the Blackdown Hills
Wellington Monument in the low light
All things red at Ford Street
Better late than never... I finally decided to upload some photos and videos from last Sunday's meet in Cheddar Gorge.
It was the usual early start to get to the gorge before the Sunday afternoon drivers. And as usual, the tonneau cover came out too. The trip up from the new #topalwaysdown secret lair was quicker, now only taking about half an hour. So I found my self in the gorge alone waiting for the others to arrive. First, Russ, in his RNBP facelift, shortly followed by the convoy of Royce in the MCB, Tom in the 'other blue' facelift and Gabor in the MX-5, along to get a taste of top down VTEC with a view to buying an S2000.
After a bit of a chat, we headed off for a drive, only for me to spend too long fussing with the camera and actually completely lose the convoy. See comedy video below...
I could still hear 36000rpm of VTEC echoing off the cliff faces but I could catch up with the group, so instead headed straight over to the viewpoint that we were driving to, to rejoin them.
From here we headed back down the gorge, and this time I managed to stay with the convoy and get a bit of film. There's a bit of wind noise in this one, but once we get down into the gorge, you can at least clearly hear Tom's Buddy Club exhaust over everything else!
Russ left to 'pleasure his girlfriend' (his words) for the rest of the day, Gabor went off to get some air in his tyre while the rest of us now had a run over to Burrington Combe for a drink and a bite to eat, before heading back ourselves.
It's all change at #topalwaysdown HQ. So much so at least that #topalwaysdown has a new secret lair. And in the meantime, there's also been some additions to the S2000.
We'll start with the wheels. It's no secret that I'm a little bit obsessive over wheels. It's also no secret that I've grown to love the early S2000 16"s. So I bought my third set over Christmas. I’d already bought a set last year that were in good condition, but when I found a set in Bristol that were recently painted and immaculate, I had to have them. The decision was made easier by the fact that the same seller was selling the JDM bumper that I’ve already fitted to the car.
I finally got my tyres swapped onto them a couple of weeks ago and they’re now fitted to the car and making a much bigger difference than I expected. Amazing what some glossy paint does! Now all that’s left to do is to sell set #2 to pay for some new rubber on the rear. I’ve done well to eke out a year (or about 13k miles) from the RE002s and enjoyed them on the car, so another pair will soon be on their way to me. The fronts meanwhile are barely worn in. Very impressed for such a soft tyre.
Next up, I have a new roof. It’s always been on the cards as when I bought the car it came with rips in vinyl to the rear of the side windows. Given that it was mainly folded down and that the plastic rear window was relatively new, I had put it off until now. My attempt to repair it was more to prevent it getting any worse, but it didn't look too great. Roofs can be anything up to £1000 including the fitting, so I followed the crowd that had been taking their S2000s down to a small trimmers in Swansea with pleasing results. Jack Smith’s Trimmers have earned a great reputation on many forums, initially catering mainly for MX-5s, though the recent influx of tired S2000 roofs has the booking schedule full well into June. This is clearly a sign of a good product, at very good value.
I had been told exactly what to expect when I reached ‘the rear of’ St Helen’s Avenue, but it still surprised me. I found a guy very much like Uncle Bryn from Gavin & Stacey sat in a small lock up shed on a sewing machine, surrounded by offcuts of cloth covering every inch of the floor. Nevertheless, he got on with the job, which involved removal of a surprising amount of interior plastics. It didn’t take him too long before the roof was nothing but a frame. I left him to carry on at this point and took a wander into Swansea city centre for some lunch before a walk along the beach in the sun.
Four hours after my arrival, the cracked vinyl and scratched plastic was gone and in its place was a beautifully well made cloth roof with a glass windscreen, ready for me to hand over just £260 and make my way back. I had been advised to leave the roof up while it stretched, but come on, I wasn’t going to listen to that, was I? And as such, I found my downfall when I attempted to raise the top, which resulted in a 20 minute struggle. I've given it a week now without using the car, so will see if it's stretched a bit tomorrow.
A small repair was all that stopped the problem worsening
Roof was soon stripped back to a frame and I left Uncle Bryn to it
Much blacker, much tidier, no rips!
It was never as tidy on the other side and the vinyl had faded very grey
Perhaps the nicest part of Swansea was the view out towards Somerset...
And the bonus of glass in the back, making the rear window actually usable!
Finally, if you're wondering why I've not used the car all week, that's because it's role has now changed. It's no longer a daily doing 20 miles each way on the commute and has become a weekend plaything. I’ve rented a very small house within walking distance from Taunton town centre, so while I complete the 3 mile round trip on foot or bike, the S2000 now sits at home, locked up behind two big wooden gates under a car port. Not only is it more secure, it also give me somewhere to work on and clean the car under cover and sheltered from the wind. The extra good news is that the 120k mileage isn’t likely to increase at such a huge rate any more, and also that fuel cost and tyre wear are now going to drop substantially. I’ll no longer be spending 75% of my time in the car crawling through rush hour traffic and will actually get the chance to use it purely for enjoyment. Here’s to a summer of #topalwaysdown driving, just for the sheer hell of it!
I didn't want a garden anyway, but this little gated driveway was a blessing
And it's perfect as somewhere to give the car a good clean up
It's all been a bit quiet on the S2000 front with the need to get the 106 on the road and running and eventually sold. However, it's time for a long overdue update.
Since I bought the car it's always been in my mind some of the changes I wanted to make. One in particular was to sort out my front bumper. The faded pink paint was letting the rest of the car down and I was never a fan of the headlight washers, looking like warts on the car's face. The plan was always to get it smoothed off, removing the number plate plinth in the process, and repainted.
And then come December I found something I couldn't resist. A freshly painted JDM spec bumper, without the washer jets, with an easily removable square plinth. What's more, it was fairly local up in Bristol. Ideal! The downside? It had a big scuff at the bottom from scraping a speed bump. No problem, I thought... I have a splitter that will cover that up!
Having no chance of getting such an item in the S2000, it was a dark evening drive up in the X Trail to pick it up, along with a mint set of wheels (my third set, more on that later!) for a reasonable £350.
Naturally, these items sat in the newly cleared out garage for a few weeks, but over the Christmas break I braved the weather and set about taking the car apart, in the knowledge that I didn't need to use it for a few days at least. Once stuck in, and having been helped to remove two rounded off screws from the top edge of the bumper, it all came off fairly easily. Unfortunately, the splitter came off quite badly, and was left hanging precariously almost in two pieces. Superglue (and almost superglueing said splitter to the living room floor - oops!) came to the rescue. Finished off with some touch up paint over the crack it was much less noticeable.
Refitting the new bumper wasn't quite so straightforward, but with a bit of a wrestle and some help at the garage it was able to be fitted, tidying up the front end nicely. I decided not to refit the black grills, as much as I loved them on the old bumper, I didn't think they looked right on the JDM one. For now they are in my garage waiting for me to decide what to do with them. The only thing that was left was to give it it's first wash of the year, something which waited until just last week before I could take some nice photos for a blog post.
For now, the plate has taken residence in the windscreen, though I have plans for an offset vinyl plate below the passenger side headlight, as soon as I can remember to take some measurements...
Before: With UKDM plate plinth, washers and pink paint
So that's why it's called a splitter!
After: The clean lines of the front end compliment the S2000's shape
During: Bumper removed, the washer jets turned out to be a messy job
Old vs. New: A clear difference
Apart from a few minor appearances of a red Renault Clio, I don’t usually use this blog to write about anything other than cars with removable roofs, but today I’m going to break with this tradition. You see, today is an important day in my car history. As R489 ACK drove off yesterday afternoon, it marks the first day in over six years that I’ve been without a French-made hatchback of some kind with the iconic Peugeot Sport decals on its flanks.
For those that are still unaware, it means that since buying S128 MKV in September 2006, it’s the first time I’ve not had a Rallye registered in my name.
I don’t know what it was back then, but something made me buy that car, a Bianca White 106 Rallye on a fairly rare S plate, quite spontaneously. I’d vowed never to buy a French car, but as I was driving a Clio at the time that was already negated. And so I handed over £2700 for a car that would kick start a lot of the things that interest me today.
Although MKV, under it’s new alias of S11 TLO, would later turn out to be completely rotten, it was the car that got me into car clubs, road trips and track days. As much as it was a dog, I will always thank it for that. It slowly progressed over a couple of years from chav chariot to something much more suitable. It will hold memories of my first ever track session at Zandvoort in Holland and laps of the Nurburgring in the snow to snapping the clutch cable near the Scottish border and bouncing around uncontrollably over Dartmoor with the rear suspension sat on the bumpstops. All in all, with a Lands End to John O’Groats trip and a return to it’s spiritual home in Sochaux under it’s belt, it was good times all round.
MKV wasn't the purist's choice when I got hold of it...
Didn't take long to break it, just chose to happen around 600 miles from home!
The steels lasted a while with a refurb to freshen up the look
I had the car looking as I wanted it, which meant more money for trips abroad
Before we hit the Nurburgring, there was time for some messing about in the snow in the Eifel forest
The blingy wheels' days were numbered
...but it was worth the struggle up to the top of Scotland
...but it was always Cyclones and a rear end lift that I wanted
My first track time came with a visit to Zandvoort in Holland
With damp conditions, the track was all ours for formation photography
Pretty much how MKV ended up
Though a set of multicolour Speedlines were an extra bit of fun
When it came to replacing such a car, there was one logical answer which I was unable to overlook. Intent on finding a 306 GTi6, as soon as I came across a 306 Rallye, in the Bianca White shade that I knew and loved, and with a special history, I knew it was the car for me. Now, I knew S891 OAC had covered a lot of miles, and with a Revs magazine front cover in it’s early days showing it two feet in the air, I knew it had been worked hard! But it was a fastidiously maintained piece of Peugeot heritage, the original press car from the 306 Rallye launch. It had even appeared on Channel 4 at the hands of Penny Mallory, yet I have never been able to trace any footage of that. The car stayed with me for a year, was given one opportunity on my favourite track in the Eifel mountains and after attempting to shed it’s rear suspension and ultimately being a slight disappointment over the 106, had to go. It’s since passed through another owner, though I’m still kept up to date by it’s current owner and it’s still just as looked after and cherished, just what I’d wanted.
Nothing says cool like your car on a magazine cover
It was put through it's paces at the only place suitable
The 306 stayed standard and clean for a short time
I always liked the 'white on white' look
Meanwhile, there was a brief fling with a S1 106 Rallye, N682 TNV was borrowed at any point I could make an excuse to use it whilst my brother was using it to learn to drive. A tidy little N reg model, bought fairly locally and still in the south west to date. Fitted with a standard 1.3 TU2J2, the car was a laugh a minute, strapped into the Sabelt harnesses with it’s perfectly precise feel, it really did feel like a rally car for the road. Ultimately, the non motorway friendly gear ratios and the more dated looks meant there was only really one option for the 306’s replacement.
TNV was something a bit different, but again, nothing but fun
OZ alloys gave it a dark sinister look
And it didn’t take me long to find it either. In fact, on the ferry home from that trip I was already emailing the seller of a car I knew I had to have. So only two weeks after my return I found myself on a one way Easyjet flight to Newcastle to pick up a well known car in the 106 Rallye world, commonly known as RACK. It was, until now, the only S2 Rallye in Onyx Black with the original engine in the UK and I was buying it ‘unseen’ as such.
This wasn’t my first encounter with RACK though. I had seen the car a few times before with previous owners and my desire to own it had come from not being quick enough the first time round, two years before, even before the 306 came on the scene.
RACK, having formerly been known as M TJ2599 before it was imported from Bavaria, is naturally left hand drive, which called for not only many comedy moments in the McDonalds drive thru, but made the car perfectly suitable for my growing obsession with driving abroad. And that’s just what I did. In between various UK shows and a couple of days thrashing the tread off donated budget tyres at Llandow, RACK ended up in Rheinland Pfalz no fewer than five times. With it’s trusted Bilstein suspension and a 266mm brake setup squeezed behind the steels it soon started to give me my best lap times to date and in the meantime started it’s well known party piece... it became a ‘Ring tradition to go out on the Nordschleife four-up, and even eventually, a full car of five!
Further afield, the car ended up completing one of my long time goals, driving a lap of the Monaco GP circuit and along the way racked up miles on some of the best roads through the Alps and over the tallest road bridge in the world at Millau. I even drove it through the coastal areas of Holland all in the quest of picking up a LHD carpet for free. It was well worth it! Later on that year I splashed out on some brand new wheels, something I had to have to complete the perfect Rallye for me, £600 worth of shiny anthracite Speedline SL434s, almost the holy grail of Peugeot wheels. All that was left to do was to enjoy the car and have as much fun as I possibly could in it.
Now right up to date, it was time to say goodbye to a car I’ve really loved. Sure, the S2000 is my all time dream car and is a much better all rounder, but RACK set the bar very high. It may rattle and squeak and drone along the motorways, but it’s the most fun I’ve ever had in a car, it was pretty much reliable, despite the stick that Peugeots usually get and it was cheap to run. 35mpg round the Green Hell and a new set of discs for £24 is not to be sniffed at!
RACK is now set to lose a part of it’s identity, the number plate that gave rise to it’s name. It’ll always still be RACK, but it’s about to get it’s third logbook in it’s third different country as it’s new owner takes it back to the Pyrenees and with that the Onyx Black S2 count will drop to just two in the UK.
You see, MKV had met RACK before...
Bringing RACK home over Woodhead Pass
The four-up laps became stuff of legends
Many comedy moments occured...
Prescott Hill Climb was a once a year venture
The Speedlines really transformed the stance of the car, money well spent
Yet more four-up fun!
A final trip to Nurburg signalled the end in sight
And Llandow was an opportunity to really have a thrash, not worrying about the tyres!
Only the finest Italian alloy would do
The Col de Turini was a spectacular sight
...and a chance to prove that a Rallye could be an off roader too!
So there you go, six years worth of memories, it’s been fun, but it had to end somewhere and I’m glad it’s ended with owning the Rallye I always wanted and now owning the S2000 I always wanted.
Indigo Blue one next to complete the collection then...?