By Rob Mullner; photography by Tim Suddard, Andy Tyacke and the author
I just lived the car adventure of a lifetime.
Via Moss Motors, Classic Motorsports Magazine and a fine tour company called England Specials, I just experienced the ultimate summer vacation; part classic British road trip, part world-whirlwind and all new and strange. From California, Colorado and as far as Texas and Florida, six teams of spouses and friends chose to plunge headlong into this adventure alongside me.
None of this would have happened without the passion and expertise of two special people. I must give much credit to our renaissance man of a tour organizer and guide Andy Tyacke of England Specials. Andy orchestrated a bunch of Americans across hundreds of miles and three hotels without one mishap or misplaced make-up bag. The other person to acknowledge is Tim Suddard, the publisher of Classic Motorsports Magazine. Without his vision and ninja-like sales skills Moss Motors wouldn’t have been roped in as a sponsor and I wouldn’t have experienced this exciting journey. As if that’s not enough incentive to book passage to the UK, Andy also arranged a private tour of the Morgan car factory and two days at the Goodwood Festival of Speed!
To ensure a truly memorable drive you should have the opportunity to choose your favorite English classic car to pilot, so Andy arranged for multiple classics to be available, such as Triumphs and Jaguars as well as an Austin Healey, Alvis, Mercedes and a lone Ferrari. Britannia prevailed and our group was made up of mostly British car owners and enthusiasts
So allow me to start at the beginning. I arrived at Heathrow Sunday night, checked-into the first of three hotels arranged by Andy and rested. We were scheduled to pick up our cars late Monday morning.
Monday morning arrived and we loaded up in a van for a drive through congested London enroute to Lamberhurst to pick up our cars. I had discussed my car choice with Andy previously and I chose the Jag for two reasons; I have always lusted after one and it makes business sense as Moss doesn’t sell Ferrari parts.
Each touring team received a briefing on their car and any intricacies or idiosyncrasies to its operation. Various tops were folded and stowed and warm up procedures were discussed in detail.
As most of our group had not driven on the other side of the road before, there was a fair amount of talk about roundabouts, rights of way and just how much a new Jaguar bonnet would cost (both in USD and Pounds Sterling).
Fortunately, Andy imparted a few words of wisdom and arranged for a pub lunch just a few miles away from our car pick up location. Later I would understand the reason for this short jaunt.
Regarding the Jaguar, my instructions included a cursory review of the gauges, sliders and switches layed out across its expansive cabin, with particular attention paid to the choke and boot latch. The long sleek bonnet has a twist/pull latch on each side of the bulkhead that allows access to the engine compartment and I was instructed to top the cooling system with water each morning before starting. That’s it. I was expecting a longer list for a 41-year-old classic car, but I was cleared for departure.
Upon firing the engine I snicked the gear change into first and let out the heavy but surprisingly progressive clutch. I was amazed at the responsiveness of the Jaguar and how rapidly it collected speed. I also was reminded why most professional racers have small feet—my size 12 boats were crammed into the pedal box and I learned to twist my right foot at just the right angle to fit my shoe onto the accelerator right up against the bulkhead.
With a complete book of our events and a comprehensive UK road atlas (both provided by the ultra-organized Andy), I was prepared to tackle the route from Lamberhurst to the first of many pubs we would frequent for tasty lunches and refreshing beverages. But a funny thing happened on the way—as I cruised down the one lane road from the car rental barn onto the “B road,” I encountered my first roundabout and all of my instincts and training went flying out the window! A panic set in as I tried to steer the shapely, expansive and expensive nose of the E-Type onto the second “spoke” of the traffic circle. With other traffic yielding and flowing in an orderly fashion I was completely thrown for a loop and took the next spoke, taking me in the wrong direction. The second time around was much easier and I approached, yielded and turned like a good tourist and found our first pub stop, The Swan.
As I joined my group of fellow adventurers already seated, I realized I wasn’t alone in my misguided ways as most of the teams had erred in a similar manner. Andy let everyone know then that the timing of the car pick-up and the nearby pub lunch was no accident. From touring experience he found that once we got over the initial shock of driving on the opposite side of the car/road we would be more comfortable and in tune with the traffic flow. You have to love a tour master who knows how you are feeling (stressed) and how to help calm you down via a nice relaxing lunch in a quaint old pub.
Departing The Swan with calmed nerves and a full belly, I prepared to mount the big door sill of the Jag and get into my seat behind the huge yet spindly wooden steering wheel, feeling much better about what lay ahead. Our next stop would come nearly 100 miles away at a very significant historical site, the Battle Abbey site of the epic combat of 1066.
Space doesn’t permit a complete explanation of the significance of the Battle site; the most important war in English history occurred on these grounds. If you are a history buff, you will be pleased with the sites that Andy selected for inclusion in the tour and with his background in education. He is truly a renaissance man who can discuss an impressive range of English history with a neophyte or Anglophile.
From the Battle Abbey we motored on towards Guilford and our new hotel, the Hillside. We had a great dinner and the Hillside staff was friendly and attentive. Turns out that the “English food is terrible” thing is a misunderstanding, as every meal on this journey was delicious, and the majority of beverages that were supposed to be cold where in fact chilled.
DAY TWO- from Guildford to Stow on the Wold, via Stonehenge
On the second day of the journey I’m feeling much more comfortable with the E-Type, having tilted open its enormous bonnet to top off the water tank and check oil. I noticed that somebody had cleaned my windshield and it turned out that Tom from Waco became everyone’s hero on the trip when he would clean windshields each morning–thanks again Tom!
Once the Jag had warmed up for a few minutes I was ready to hit the road. As our group snaked out of the Hillside parking lot I reviewed my route book and map confident in my direction. While that feeling would be short-lived, it did feel good at the time.
Our first scheduled stop was at Stonehenge, about 30 miles away, and after a brief bit of two-lane we wound up on the first real Motorway of the trek.
Andy’s route book directed me onto the M3, and when I pointed the Jag and mashed the accelerator the E-Type came alive. This 41-year-old car doesn’t know it’s old! The Motorway was wide and smooth and the Jag was eating it up, in top gear the tach indicates 3,000RPM and there’s plenty more if needed. The windows were down, the weather was balmy and I felt like Steve freakin’ McQueen. Enjoying prodigious amounts of classic British straight six with triple SU power I understood what it must have been like to race or drive an E-Type when it was unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Tim Suddard would tell me later on the drive that he considers the E-Type to be one of the first Supercars and after experiencing this Jag at highway velocity I must agree with him.
While motoring to Stonehenge I passed a few of my fellow adventurers and realized that I got ahead of the group, so I eased off the throttle to take in more of the beautiful countryside. Everywhere I looked green rolling hills, trees and assorted cows and sheep decorate the vista. The next road sign got my attention proclaiming “Thruxton Circuit, next left.”
I decided to take a side trip to what I thought would be an old, quiet racing circuit. As I rolled up to the gate it resembles most other tracks I have been to, a small outbuilding or two and a tunnel to the infield. Emerging from the tunnel I entered a bustling, busy world of modern sports cars circulating the historic track. I wanted to get the Jag on the track for a “victory lap” but that wasn’t in the cards.
It turns out Thruxton is busy with cars on the track, and they offer multiple track experiences, including driving schools and hot laps in your choice of Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Ferrari and Porsche among others. On the way out I staged my own impromptu photoshoot.
Heading back onto the M3, I caught up with my fellow adventurers at Stonehenge. The images that you have seen of this ancient landmark don’t prepare you for the size and scale of this monument.
As you close in you begin to get a sense of the enormity of the place and just what an undertaking this project must have been some 4,000 years ago. Departing Stonehenge our next stop was to be lunch at Avebury via Devizes, just 26 miles away.
This is the part of the trek where I got much too comfortable and took my eye off the ball. I missed my turn and compounded my problem by continuing on thinking that I could pick up the route. Stopping at a pub for food and directions to Stow on the Wold the proprietor shook his head and laughed at me. Then he told me that while I was eating lunch he would “get on the broadband” and run a Mapquest for me. I was very grateful for his help, the food was excellent (again) and I thought it would be easy to get back on track. When the owner returned with five pages of directions I understood just how lost I was, about 50 miles off course! After paying for lunch and profuse thanks to the owner I was back on the road.
It was easy to get lost on these roads since they were such a pleasure to drive fast or slow, beautiful asphalt ribbons with lush green canopies draped over them.
Finally three hours after my post-lunch adventure began, fatigue mixed with frustration set in and I was ready for my hotel, a pint, dinner and bed, in that order. Fortunately signs for Stow appeared and I was able to meet up with my fellow adventurers at the Unicorn Inn to complete my long, lost day.
After a good nights’ sleep I felt prepared to take on the English countryside all over again, and to ensure that I didn’t get terribly misplaced on this day’s trek Tim and his son Tommy volunteered to navigate for me.
One of the highlights of the tour was the Morgan Car Factory and I was looking forward to seeing the oldest continually operating hand-builder of bespoke sports cars in the World. So we piled into the Jag with Tommy folded into the coupes’ vestigial back seat for a very entertaining ride from Stow to Malvern, where Morgan has been headquartered since 1919.
With the Jag’s prehistoric 8-track tape player on the fritz, the father-son team was like in-car entertainment as they debated our route. It made me think about what kinds of British car adventures I might have with my two daughters when they are old enough for this kind of fun.
After a few wrong yet very scenic turns through beautiful undulating countryside we landed in Malvern and with the gracious help of a few pedestrians we found the Morgan factory and the rest of our group, and began our trip back through history when cars were built by hand of wood—ash, to be precise.
As we departed the Morgan factory and headed to our next delicious pub lunch Tim and I discussed a quick side trip to the Heritage Motor Museum and Center in Gaydon, about an hour from Malvern. After a quick consult with our road atlas we found a part highway part B road route to the Center. Arriving at the Center my anticipation was growing; I have read many stories about the Center and its eclectic mix of cars.
To put it simply, if you are a fan of the cars that Moss Motors caters to you are going to love this place. It’s chock full of cars that you instantly recognize, like the Monte Carlo Rally winning Minis or Group B rally MG Metro.
As Tim, Tommy and I exited the museum and ambled over to the Jag I suggested that Tim take the wheel of the Jag so I could experience being a passenger on the other side of the car. As we motored along the lanes on the way back to Stow I had an opportunity to take in the broad vistas of green and all manner of livestock roaming the hills.
The conversation on the way back to The Unicorn in Stow revolved around the strange and great cars we saw. You could say that we saw the best, worst and most long-lived British sports cars all in one day. Tim had mentioned nearby Cotswold Motoring Museum as a potential destination for Thursday, our last day in the classic cars. I was sold and told him that I was up for the visit. John and Jill in the Big Healey were interested as well so we agreed that we would break away from the group first thing in the morning and take in the Cotswold Museum. We settled in for another night of great food and excellent service at the Unicorn. After a full day of motoring rest came easily and I slept soundly, dreaming of British cars.
With the Suddard Family in the Alvis, Tim and Margie led John, Jill and I to the nearby Cotswold Motoring Museum. Tim was spot-on about this place; the gift shop alone was intriguing and full of cool cars and memorabilia. I would suggest saving your souvenir money for this place. Entering the museum a unique combination of old car smell, visual clutter, and cars as the center pieces of dioramas greet you.
Think of the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles on a budget and you will have a sense of what makes the Cotswold Motoring Museum so interesting. By arranging seminal British cars in the periods they lived the evolution of the industry becomes clear, for example using the 1929 Austin 7 Swallow to demonstrate how the principals of the Swallow Sidecar Company went on to launch Jaguar cars. As a Triumph owner for over 20 years I was surprised to learn that the genesis of the brand was in bicycles and the Triumph name first appeared in 1890, then Triumph motorcycles debuted in 1902 with the leap to three-wheelers coming a year later. Four wheeled Triumph cars, the first called the Triumph Light would follow in 1923 and the example here is a 1932 Super Seven. Wow—I’m even learning stuff on summer vacation!
Before leaving the Cotswold Museum we decided to visit the Bodiam Castle before reluctantly returning our rented mounts. With Team Suddard and navigator extraordinaire Margie leading the way, we journeyed onto the motorway toward Robertsbridge to see the castle. Our goal was to get through before rush hour traffic, grab a quick pub lunch and visit the castle near our drop-off point in Lamberhurst.
Our three car convoy motored along like a rolling symphony with all of my favorite car sounds including engine echo, deceleration brap and skinny tire squeal blending into a tasty car noise goulash. We negotiated our way through the traffic like three zebras running through the biggest lion pride ever.
In one power-mad move I passed a dawdling Porsche Carrera trundling along in the third lane just for the sheer joy of passing with the knowledge that the Jag could pull it off. I had become one with the E-Type. We exited the motorway for fuel, and as we loaded back into the cars we all agreed it was time for lunch and decided the next pub was where lunch would be. After a few miles of sinewy B-roads with our sounds reverberating off the trees and hedgerows we happened upon a nice looking pub called the Prince of Wales. As we made our way in with visions of fish and chips dancing in our heads we recognize the scent of curry thick in the air. We took a look at the menu and virtually all of the offerings are Indian, (now called the National food of England) which is fine with me and my fellow hungry adventurers.
After another wonderful lunch we were back at it. The ride from lunch to Bodiam Castle was beautiful and brief with more of the scenic lanes and light traffic that made driving the classics here so enjoyable.
We arrived at the castle with just enough time for a brisk walk around rather than the full tour. It’s a very impressive structure rising up out of a carp-packed moat. With time running out we hiked around the perimeter and hit the road.
At the drop-off I learned of one small catastrophe that had befallen our group. Somewhere between their last fuel stop and Lamberhurst the spare tire cover had liberated itself from Larry and Judy’s TR3A and they were trying to retrace steps and see if they could find it on the side of the road somewhere. I suggested that we call Moss Motors (since we are the largest supplier of British spares in the world and everything). As it was after hours at our London headquarters, I called Mike Chaput, Corporate Marketing Manager in Goleta, California, and asked him to help me track down the part number and availability of the spare tire cover. Mike confirmed that our London warehouse had stock and sent an email to Russell Scott with the shipping address. In the spirit of the rally Mike suggested that we supply the panel free of charge.
At dinner that evening toasts went up to Andy and his well-organized tour. Whether you fancy antiques, history, cars or castles, Andy had it covered. With Tim’s help and experience, the British Heritage Motor center and the Cotswold Motoring Museum was icing on an already delicious cake. It had been an awesome summer vacation with plenty of adventures for a years worth of stories and a lifetime of memories.
Then Andy passed out our tickets for the Goodwood Festival of Speed–can you have two summer vacations in one summer? You will have to read the Goodwood Festival of Speed story in this issue to find out.