Gari Jones account, with his wife Do, and their
Liege 'Mr Toad' on the LIEGE-CORSE 2001
Or the lewd adventures of our dear friend Toad.
Sorry, Toad dear chap; the amazing, wonderful, marvellous
MISTER Toad I should say.
Last minute. Again. But at least I now understand why.
Did anyone else see Jeremy Clarkson subjecting his poor Mum to an overdose of
seratonin on TV? I did and at least I now know why, I need a dopamine rush to
get my butt shifted. And I think Toad’s the same too.
So on the day before setting off for Corsica Do was in bed with flu and I was
scouring scrapyards for a diff. Anyway I found a diff without too much trouble
and inserted it very gently into Toad’s rear end. Then off to the map shop for
the few Michelin maps of France I still haven’t got and they hadn’t either and
when I asked for Corsica their processor blew and I knew I was in trouble.
Once again we’d be relying on the dead homing pigeon instinct and the world map
in the back of Do’s pocket diary. A quick run up the road confirmed the diff was
OK but Toad’s engine just wouldn’t pull over 4000 revs. A seized vacuum advance
thing in the distributor was diagnosed and replaced. An infusion of fresh engine
oil was voted for as generally a good thing and at last Mr Toad was ready!
Early Friday morning and after throwing what would turn out to be too many socks
and too few underpants into my bag and with Do looking dreadful, aching all over
and pumped up with drugs, we were off.
At the Oxford Services on the M40 I had an overwhelming urge to buy a bottle of
Slick 50 but instead of giving it to Do (it helps with high mileages) I gave it
Toad as a sort of peace offering. Toad’s engine was actually doing its stuff very
well but consuming its equivalent of real ale in impressive quantities for an
eight year old. I didn’t want to spoil the fun but I did need to get to the start
without breaking the bank. Maybe I thought, just maybe the automotive equivalent
of a short would set him up nicely.
I’d set off once again intending to stick rigidly to my self imposed 4500 rev
limit in top but Toad always has this bizarre effect on me and for an accountant
I’m hopeless with figures anyway so we arrived at Dover a good hour before the
hour before we’d planned and then found the ferry would be an hour and a half
late. This is sod’s law. It continually plagues my life but to cut a very boring
bit short we overnighted at Calais and got to the start at Liege well within time
for scrutineering early Saturday afternoon.
It’s wonderful to meet up with old faces again and meet new ones. On the way to
Liege we bumped into a new one in the form of young James Binham at a petrol station.
He is some lad and we’d spend some time in his company later. James is 79 and
his girlfriend Jo is 83. He’d flown a full tour in Halifaxes way back in WWII
and was entered in one of Roger Williams’ beautiful and very faithful SS100 replicas.
This was just one of eleven delectable cars in his stable. Although he planned
to cut out some of the route and was there just for the fun of it all I couldn’t
get over the big kid hiding inside there. What a delightful character. He made
me feel as young as he is.
At the start we found we had the added pleasure of a TVR Cerbera Speed Six among
the entries. Now I am totally smitten by TVR styling but share the view these
are fragile things and we’d already heard it had suffered trouble with its management
system before arriving at Liege. Some special gadgetry had been flown out to get
it going again. Sad. It wouldn’t get far. Worse, some of the more serious bits
in the Alps are really not the place for such a big car and certainly no place
to be stranded. Nice couple too, Steve and Mary. More of this later.
Nice for Toad to be in the company of other Lieges on this event as well. David
and Mathew Bate were to have a stonking time in their new Liege; Howard’s Liege
looked so good on its wire wheels and Mike Oakins car, well. This is Mike’s labour
of love and really is a cracker. If it were mine I’d keep it on the mantelpiece.
Anyway, having cast judgement on everyone else we stuck our competition numbers
and a new Miserable Old Buggers Club ‘Rally Team’ sticker on Toad and then went
through scrutineering. A quick look under Toad’s rear end to check his axle was
still there revealed problems of our own in the form of some oil seepage but it
wasn’t hurting and considering the hurried way we’d thrown our ‘new’ Rascal axle
together Toad was happy it wasn’t worse.
The first car was away at 8.01pm and running at number 7 we were off at 8.07.
We kept to the route for nearly three hundred yards before we got lost. Our first
initiative test was around a road works detour and we failed this badly. But we
weren’t alone and tagged on behind Robert and Judith Porter (they had maps!) in
their G21 until we were back on route. So the organisers were out to catch us
The evening run to Control 2 wasn’t very eventful apart from another deviation
off route and we arrived just a couple of minutes late. It was dark now and Do
was aching worse all over so everything was an effort. She was really knackered
and her voice was all but gone. I’d catch parts of her directions over the engine
noise like ‘….ty ya . . fi . . ri. . trounda. . . t’. I’d then repeat what I thought
she was saying so she’d shout it all in a broken whisper again and we’d keep this
up over and over again and I was still no wiser. I’d take the wrong exit, she’d
go mad in a louder whisper and back we’d go. Then about 70 miles further on we
had our first bit of drama. I did what I thought she’d said and indicated to take
a left. There was muffled screetching and banging and then she hit me. Maybe she
swore as well. Visions of the Mir space station fragmenting itself half way round
the world shot into my mind so I stopped.
I was getting fed up with all this anyway and now she was thumping the dashboard
and really getting uptight in an ill sort of way. I really hadn’t a clue what
was wrong but after a few minutes it turned out the last tulip on the route book
had failed to materialise some kilometres back and the Brantz (a tripmeter that
reads down to about 10 yards and records average speed) had suddenly gone off
and come back on again displaying zero’s everywhere she didn’t want them. We were
lost. It was raining, dark and around midnight. At least we knew we were in France
but the village names in the route book didn’t appear on Do’s world map. Bugger.
I switched on and looked down at the instruments for inspiration. Although we
hadn’t much fuel the gauge was reading full. Oh dear. Toad was bored. The volt
meter showed the battery was flat. Now Toad was being childishly disingenuous
because the engine had just started. And then the temperature gauge was right
over on hot. Well, that’s Toad and his damn lies. Thank goodness we didn’t have
an oil gauge.
We pushed on a bit quicker (only to please Toad) and thankfully picked up a tulip,
reset the Brantz and got into the next control about on time so the drama was
over for now. Back home after the event a loose earth was found to be the cause
of Toad’s tomfoolery but for now we hadn’t a clue and were learning that with
the headlamps on the Brantz would die whenever the indicators were used and that
we couldn’t trust our instruments. At least we had a spare can of fuel. Hah!
Leaving this control we had to queue for fuel. And we carried on queuing. Why
oh why did that Frenchman have a young kid like that out in the early hours. What
was on earth was he doing all this time in the shop? After what seemed like an
eternity we eventually got to the pump and filled up. We always like to run as
early as we can to give a bit of comfort if anything should go wrong and then
we’ll slow if necessary just before the next control.
So we were late pulling off and then after a couple of clicks we came to a toll
station. It was cash only, no cards. We hadn’t brought any cash apart from a few
Francs buried somewhere, cards have always seen us through. I found a couple of
useless 10p’s in my pocket. Do wasn’t in a fit state to do anything. I couldn’t
find her purse and when I did she had no Francs in it. Slowly it seemed to me
she started rooting at the bottom of her bag and in desperation I started unloading
the luggage. I was starting to lose it I suppose and shouted at her to get a move
on but she was done for. We were getting nowhere and time was ticking by. Eventually
she found a few Francs and we were off. Not very far down the road we arrived
at another cash only toll and repeated the whole performance only this time it
seemed to take even longer. Do was really hanging on well considering her state
but this was getting on for two in the morning and she wanted to be in bed with
a hot water bottle. In reality we were both getting tired now but this is what
endurance is supposed to be about. What jolly fun.
It certainly would be in a few minutes. We got into control 4 at 2.14am, twenty
three minutes late and just seven minutes within the permitted half hour window.
Worse, our scheduled time to arrive at control 5 was 2.15. To be back on schedule
we had one minute to cover 20 kilometres. We hadn’t realised we’d dropped so far
behind and knew we’d have to start pulling this time back or we’d be running late
right down the line with no margin for getting lost or for any problems.
We were on a mission! That lovely dopamine stuff was kicking in and the adrenalin
flowing. And it was getting better: the roads were getting worse.
We were heading into the Foret Saverne which is as good a special stage as your
going to get thereabouts. Mr Toad was cock-a-hoop at the sight of this and with
snow lying here and there he was flying past car after car in the rough slippery
conditions. Even Do was starting to come to at this pace and eventually we got
up behind the Cerbera. For a few minutes we were treated to a brilliant display
as Steve threw his monster from lock to lock. Maybe I was wrong about that car
after all. Then he too moved over and we charged on, pulling back 8 minutes over
Then it was on to Lusse and we were starting to get a bit more comfortable on
time. At the Lusse control we had the chance to refuel but it was card only and
with some stations not accepting Visa we decided not to waste time finding out
and pushed on. This was stupid. A golden rule on endurance is always take on fuel
when you can, especially at night. For sure, had we known what awaited us we’d
have refuelled but the next fuel stop was only about 100 kilometres further on
at the Le Markstein control. We’d be low but still with a spare can.
Anyway both Toad and I were enjoying ourselves and we just wanted to go play.
The next section was to include a fabulous charge up the 7 kilometre European
Hillclimb Championship course at Turkheim and we couldn’t wait to get there.
The hill climb course at Turkheim was superb stuff with Toad whipping up the tarmac
in lovely lock to lock drifts. Toad was in ecstasy as ever when he’s being thrashed.
We first noticed this strange little quirk of nature after leaving him for a few
nights at the Liege factory but he’d never drunk as much with it. At a guess he
was consuming somewhere around eight pints of his special brew every 35 miles
instead of his usual 45 to 50. And then we had a part time fuel gauge to contend
And so on to the Le Markstein control where Toad could be replenished. It was
around 5.30 and nearly starting to get light. As we got higher and higher the
snow was getting thicker and when the route hairpinned off steeply upwards at
a junction there was just one set of tyre tracks in the virgin snow. A few hundred
yards further we passed Ian White’s Marlin which was responsible for them. He
was digging himself out. We were on our own.
The Liege’s offroad abilities are just superb in this sort of thing and steep
and slippery as it was Mr Toad just sailed on up until we arrived at a barrier
across the road marked ‘Route Barree’ with a lot of funny language written beneath.
Do reckoned it said they’d place Mr Toad in bondage if we went beyond the barrier
and unfortunately he overheard this although my interpretation was that if you
were stuck you’re on your own mate. Our fuel gauge was now on empty most of the
time (reading half full at other times) so we desperately needed to get up this
mountain to the control. We waited a few minutes to see if any other cars were
following so we could have another interpretation but nothing came so to Toad’s
disappointment we went back down to the hairpin to wait for others.
On the way down we passed Lieut. Colonel Dudley Gordon de Chair blasting his way
up with Lord Crofton in their big V8 Dragoon followed some yards behind by Robert
and Judith in their G21. Thinking they’d turn back at the barrier we carried on
down to the hairpin junction where a few cars were starting to congregate. Most
had already decided to give this section a miss but neither the Dragoon nor the
G21 had come back down. Toad was really switched on to this bondage idea (goodness
knows just what exactly goes on at that Liege factory because this was something
about him I’d not come across before) and he shot back up the mountain at a fair
rate of knots, never hesitating as we followed the tyre tracks around the side
of the barrier and up and up ever higher.
The route was marked here and there by snow poles but other than this it was a
complete white-out in the semi dark with no discernable roads at all save the
tyre tracks of the cars ahead. How Dudley had stayed off the deep snow in the
verges I’ve no idea. At 3500 feet we reached the summit post and with some relief
started to come down again. Then we started climbing again and at 4000 feet we
reached the next summit.
Over this last peak and then the marvellous Mr Toad bob-sleighed down in tremendous
style until we stopped by the other two cars in deep conversation. According to
their maps we were within a few hundred yards laterally and vertically of the
control but there was no sign of the junction we needed to take. It was white
everywhere. A few hundred feet straight on we could make out the top ski station
just a bit below us.
Lieut. Colonel Dudley carried out a full recce of the ski station but there was
no way on from there except a road back down to the hairpin junction we’d left
way back. The top of a road marker caught my eye and thinking this might be the
junction I got out to have a look but I must have gone off the track because the
next thing I was nearly up to my waist in snow. There was no sign of hard ground
where the road might be. So that was it. Stuffed.
In best military style the Lord Crofton folded his map and announced ‘Right chaps.
We will now recover - step by step’. And back we went hoping now we’d enough fuel
and grip to get back over the two summits from this side. It was getting a little
lighter all the time and after the first summit a mist started closing in. It
was with some relief that Toad got us over the second summit and started the slippery
descent down where he very nearly bumped into a very determined David and Mathew
Bate on their way up.
Do was now cold, tired, coughing, still aching and very close to having had enough
of this silly game. We’d wasted about 45 minutes on Le Markstein so we ruled out
going around the mountain to reach the control from the other side feeling fairly
confident this section would have to be cancelled and by cutting out this control
we reckoned we could make up enough time to reach the one after within the half
Hindsight is so easy but foresight wins events. The cars behind us who had sensibly
decided Le Markstein wasn’t on saved valuable time. It’s getting these decisions
right that leads to success or failure on any endurance event and dealing with
the unexpected is exactly what endurance is about. It’s an adventure. But on the
other hand if you’ve got a Liege and there’s all that lovely snow it’s hard not
to go and play - time, fuel or not.
Do now plotted a route off her world map via a main road where we’d pick up time
and find fuel for sure. Only we didn’t. We put the can in when the tank ran out
and still didn’t. And we still didn’t near Belfort when Toad finally staggered
to a halt in the gutter. He’d drunk far too much.
Stuck on a quiet roundabout at 8 on Sunday morning with a paralytic Toad languishing
by the side of the road we knew had problems. After 45 minutes a Renault Espace
stopped and took us to the garage . . . . . about half a mile further on. Sod’s
law again. After a bit of coughing and spluttering, a little hair of the dog soon
had Toad revived.
Back on the move we were the best part of two hours behind our schedule time.
Reworking the timings for the following controls we decided we’d better cut out
the next one and push straight on for the Sbarro museum control at Pontarlier
where we were due at 10.23. For missing out a control we’d loose any hope of a
Gold award but we were still on for a Silver. It would be very tight though. So
another dopermin and adrenalin job but it was hopeless and we didn’t arrive until
11.30. We’d gone out of time at two controls and so out went our hopes of a Silver
award too. Now we’d try to make sure of a Bronze but one more cock-up like Le
Markstein and we wouldn’t deserve any award at all.
At the Sbarro museum we took our first break since starting the previous night
and after a quick wee and a coffee we had to push on. By the time we reached the
overnight halt at Aix les Baines that evening we were both fading fast. After
giving Toad a quick medical down below and topping up his axle we had a quick
bath then enjoyed a good meal before crashing out.
Unknown to us while we were snoring away, young James was still out there pushing
on and didn’t arrive at the hotel until 3am. Full credit to him, he got there
reasonably sober (or so he claimed next morning) and made a real impression by
parking the SS100 right in the front lobby! Well it really was raining very hard.
Surprising how women never let go somehow. Despite her miserable condition Do
wanted to do her hair for dinner after her bath and rooted out the continental
adaptor she’d bought back in Wales for her hairdryer. Only the shop had sold her
an adaptor to use a French plug in UK sockets. Dudley fixed her up with the loan
of his anyway, but why would an English person use a hairdryer fitted with a French
plug in the middle of Wales? Not even the shop can answer that.
The rain never stopped in Aix les Bains and although the hotel was superb we were
glad to get moving on Monday morning. Now we’d recovered from our slumbers and
were travelling in daylight we could take in some of the incredible Alpine scenery.
Do was starting to recover a bit and even had a drive although it would be another
couple of days before she was anywhere near right. For thirty years now I’ve had
to put up living with this hero and it is very tiring.
The first section that day was cancelled because of snow (wimps) and when we got
to the old Mont Ventoux hillclimb course I kicked her out.
It was my turn to drive. The historic Mont Ventoux is now a 15 km rally and Tour
de France stage and the road surface and crash barriers are daubed with names
which makes the place very atmospheric. It is also very sinuous and very steep
and Toad was begging for another thrashing (which it was my very real pleasure
to give him) but to get the best out of the course, real grunt was called for
- either a fair sized sheep or the Liege supercharger. Unfortunately we had neither
to hand so the course record which stands at 93 mph in a Formula 2 March is still
intact. I could well understand why Paul, Charles Sterling’s co-driver, insisted
he returned to the bottom so he too could scream up in their rotary engined Striker.
Well worth incurring the displeasure of the organisers.
By the time we got to the top (around 6000 feet) there was a thick mist down and
the next section was cancelled because of snow again. There had been lots of it
around on Mont Ventoux so I suppose the route must have been completely blocked
but it is a shame to miss out on so much fun. To make up for it we drove some
fantastic mountain passes that day, Toad screaming his nuts off as he enjoyed
yet another thrashing down hairpin after hairpin. There is no sating his desire
when he’s in these moods and he seems totally unashamed of his depravations. Suits
The hood came down as we got nearer Marseilles and with warm blue skies and Toad
not getting up to any more mischief after so much flogging, we had a very pleasant
finish to the French part of the event. That evening we boarded the Napoleon Bonaparte,
a really superb luxury ferry-cum-cruise boat. We ate well, went to the disco and
drank well and finally returned to our cabin just before midnight.
Deep down below decks Toad was enjoying some rare moments of reflection before
embarking on the next part of this adventure in Corsica. To be back on the water
was simply marvellous. This boat had all the luxury of a giant lily pad and he
lay there quietly savouring the remnants of those very acceptable French flies
stuck around his mouth. He pondered for a while on what old Ratty would make of
all this and then he fell gently asleep.
Meanwhile, far above in her cabin Do was tired and feeling ratty. But he simply
wasn’t in the mood.
Very early next morning we were on deck enjoying a beautiful dawn cruise under
the blue skies of the Mediterranean along the coast of Corsica. Then as Murray
Walker says ‘Action! Action!’
We docked, disembarked and were straight in to the start of the event proper all
in one fluid motion. This was quite evident as we moved forward and noticed a
rather nasty deposit on the deck from under Toad’s rear. Probably just those rich
French flies but we topped up the diff again to be on the safe side.
We had a new route book for the Corsica part. This was to be a regularity event.
I thought a regularity event was a regularity event was a regularity event. But
it was far better than that. Sure the co-drivers would have to master everything
about stop watches and have a full time job learning to juggle their paperwork
between the route card, the route book, the regularity schedule and the regularity
timing sheet with its constantly changing average speeds. And this part of the
event was timed down to the second. None of that silly half hour lateness here!
But either some of those timings were out or we got it all wrong. I think we got
it wonderfully, marvellously wrong. And we weren’t alone.
For four days we tore round Corsica like mentally challenged lemmings. It was
magnificent. The roads there aren’t bad at all for a bit of Toad style fun although
some little roads high in the hills have vertical drops straight off the edge
of the tarmac and even Toad found these a bit unnerving on sudden hairpins. But
it’s all character forming stuff.
I doubt if Toad was ever in top gear for more than 30 seconds on that enormous
volcano. It’s basically second and third gear, up change downhill-left-right brake
change left accelerate-right change steady-left brake change brake change slow-
right change up over crest brake change hairpin left mind the pigs change brake
change 90 left at junction accelerate no I said left I mean right brake change
turn accelerate tightening flat right woops car coming brake change full left
lock accelerate change brake change slow right shudder don’t look left steep uphill
right over brow miss the goat brake change flat-downwards-left brake change hairpin
accelerate right all in a never ending series for hour after hour, day after day
with rock on one side of the road and eternity on the other. Toad revelled in
it and the light responsive Liege chassis, revvy Reliant engine and slick gearbox
is a superb combination but the concentration had to be absolute and really I
don’t remember that much of Corsica itself apart from that windy ribbon in front
of us and the endless gear changing, arm twirling and fancy footwork. Toad and
I thought we were in heaven.
As if the roads weren’t demanding enough, the special tests in Corsica included
some twiddling around pylons and tearing round go-kart circuits. Toad had great
satisfaction from the hiding he got on these, if you get my drift. So much so
that the steering wheel broke in half with all the excitement.
All this charging around a volcano took some getting used to and at the end of
the first day we both had blurred treble vision and aches and pains and shattered
nerves from the wild roller coaster ride. But Toad was happy. That evening he
sat in the hotel car park wearing a very silly grin.
The scenery was fantastic too and we had some epic dices, one in particular at
very close quarters with Robert in his G21 which went on for 60 kilometres as
we caned our cars hard to make up time. Starting just ahead of us at number 6,
we saw a lot of Robert and Judith on the event and thoroughly enjoyed pacing against
each other. And it didn’t surprise me by now to find that Toad was into this group
stuff as well.
But events like this are a battle of wits between the competitors and the organisers,
not a motor race. On the way down through France Toad had far too often been irritated
by some slower competitors who just didn’t like being overtaken. Toad was at play.
Why should anyone interfere with his enjoyment of the event? Now in Corsica the
problem was exacerbated and he could contain himself no more. Finally maddened
and frustrated by this daft behaviour he resolved to overtake whenever the smallest
opportunity arose. Not convivial behaviour perhaps but deep down we could only
endorse his sentiments. And Toad will be Toad I suppose.
Really, the Liege was the perfect foil in Corsica. Arriving at the mid day control
high in the mountains on Wednesday, Peter was the marshall who stamped our card.
‘You’ll enjoy this next bit’ he said with a grin. What on earth could he mean?
But we certainly did. It was fast, snaking in every direction and with quite a
lot of downhill, with big coaches getting stuck against each other here and there
(but room for a Liege to fly through with tourists clapping and cheering), Toad
got in to the final control that evening nearly twenty minutes ahead of the rest
of the field. Not that this did us any good at all but it had been exhilarating
stuff. A good night at the bar followed.
We saw a fair bit of the Cerbera and it continued to impress with its reliability
and speed. Catching up with Steve on the first day (Tuesday) we were glad to have
him as a battering ram ahead of us while we got used to those lanes. The locals
don’t move over much and the cows don’t either. Nor the wild pigs, the goats or
the horses. The Liege’s ability to climb in and out of ditches was tested more
than once. One vivid memory from that first day has us about 20 yards behind Steve
as he slid downwards into a sharpish right. The cows just round the corner obviously
weren’t expecting a sideways Cerbera and how he got through I’ll never know but
when we arrived there were five of them spinning round in a cloud of dust. There
would be no milk that night for Pierre.
Like the Italians the Corsicans love foreigners coming over and tearing everywhere
around their island. The Police just do their job (and that’s not persecuting
motorists) and no-one gets upset in the villages. The very opposite in fact. But
we’d also heard tales of Corsican bandits and later that day we were ambushed.
Coming down a narrow street towards the centre of one village we were enjoying
Toad’s exhaust burping off the walls as we went down through the box into second
for a 90 left. Ten yards past the corner there was a little girl standing motionless
bang in the middle of the road with her dog blocking one side and her whiz wheels
scooter the other. As we stopped we were uncomfortably aware of a crowd of people
silently watching. There were some big lads among them too. Just on our left a
wrinkly old fat face was sat on a chair roadside. The head honcho.
Very slowly his mean slit eyes looked Toad up and down. We started to get nervous.
Maybe we could squeeze past the dog on the right. But what if the crowd closed
in on us? Then, very slowly, a smile broke out on his face and a sudden cheer
went up from the crowd. ‘Ah, tres jolie’ and he nodded the girl to let us through.
We were so glad he approved but the experience left Toad dreadfully puffed up
with conceit and he started singing one of his outrageous songs to the tune of
Three German Officers crossed the Rhine:
‘The village maidens they were there
sitting by the road
And when one cried ‘Who is that handsome man?’
they answered ‘Mr Toad’ . . .
As you can imagine, the rest was far too rude to be written down here.
And so to the last morning. Toad was getting bored again.The route had gone up
North towards the east coast but well up in the hills when it started to get rougher.
And then it got worse. Then we got a Route Barree barrier which we ignored. Then
another. Then we stopped behind a couple of other competitors. The route was totally
blocked with boulders far bigger than Toad even. The workmen said they’d be an
hour but looking at the mess on the road it would take a day or maybe a week but
definitely not an hour to sort. We pored over other people’s maps. To get to the
control we’d have to go back down south almost to where we’d started and then
north again via the main highway. Robert reckoned we should go over the side in
the Liege, just as you would on any classic trial section . . . . . . but we chose
the long trek and were pushing on hard when cresting a hill we got a noise from
Toad’s rear end which was bad enough to stop.
I couldn’t see anything fouling the wheels so we jumped back in but it started
up again straight away. Underneath, it was a bit messy around Toad’s rear and
I could feel the heat from the diff. Somewhere further back he must have evacuated
another large deposit. Luckily we were carrying a can of oil so in some went and
we started off down the hill. Thirty seconds later there was a most incredible
screeching noise. It was almost deafening. Everything, even the air, seemed to
vibrate. We looked at each other in total dismay. We both knew Toad, having given
all he could, must be in mortal agony. But then Do saw them and gave me a sharp
Scorching down into the valley on our right, two jet fighters had suddenly broken
cover over the ridge only some 100 feet above us. What relief! Vive le CAF! (or
whatever it’s called).
At the awards ceremony on the boat back to France we were delighted Howard had
preserved Liege honours with a well-earned silver, only missing a gold by one
control. David Bate was a sound finisher "running in" his very new car.
With son Mathew this was a bold effort. Sadly for Mike Oakins one of the many
motor caravans which curse the roads of Corsica had veered into his path and done
its best to climb inside his beautiful car. Although his Liege was more than strong
enough to repel boarders it left him with suspension damage (but driveable) and
no brakes (not so driveable). A great shame because Mike had been going well and
was really enjoying the event.
And as for us. Well, I’ve only just started. The excuses are still going round
in Toad’s little head. We’d been hoping our timing in Corsica was good enough
to preserve our hopes of a bronze but on that last day we had that detour if you
remember. Well, we only made the control up north because Francie Clarkson was
kind enough to show us the way after yet another detour (maps again). And can
that one go in her Caterham! Must have been deprived of seratonin as a child.
Still , we made it but heading back to the final control Toad started acting up
with that axle noise again. It was 3.45 and we were still some way north of Ajaccio.
We had to be in at the finish before the control closed at 4.15 so this was not
the time for messing but Toad has this weird sense of humour. I stopped and with
the can of oil and a spanner for the diff plug, did my thing around Toad’s rear
end. While I was squeezing the oil in I felt around the diff. Every single nut
holding the diff into the axle casing was loose. With these tightened we’ve never
had any trouble since and that Suzuki Rascal axle is still going strong.
Anyway, once back on the road we got into Ajaccio around 4. That’s rush hour.
The seconds were ticking away and there was no alternative. Headlamps on and we
charged down the middle and through the lights which were on stop. Not one car
hooted or tried to block us. Wonderful those Corsicans. And we scraped into the
control when it was closing at 4.15, or so we thought.
And we did too! Our reward (thanks now to Francie Clarkson and Emma’s map reading)
was a bronze, a class win in the 1 litre class and the team runner-up prize with
Alex and Gillian (GTM Rossa) and Cornelius and Arne (Buckland) – this was the
same Cornelius, who on the Liege-Targa-Liege, having retired his Buckland after
three days returned to Germany for his Motorbike, and still managed to catch up
in Sicily and finish the event.
And Gold? Up there with the aces was that no hoper TVR Cerbera! There were one
or two marks on the car (which may take some explaining because this is actually
Steve’s company car which he had taken on a touring holiday) but I’ve totally
revised my views on these machines. They can certainly take some hammer the way
Steve was throwing it around. And they go too. Nearly as good as a Liege. But
not quite. I’d like to see one survive the rigour of the Lands End Trial before
I’m a convert.
Many others were not so fortunate. Jeffrey Julier had a very lucky escape. After
donating 600 frances to the Gendarmerie for speeding on a French Autoroute he
had a massive off in Corsica which destroyed his lovely Nissan 2.6 engined GCS
Hawke. Julian was thrown out but escaped with a broken shoulder. Having seen a
photo of the accident scene it could have been so much worse.
Robert Bousfield’s SS100 had a serious inversion on the way down through France.
Falling off the road the car had landed upside down in the river below with Robert
on top of his co-driver and the car on top of Robert. He couldn’t move. The problem
was that his co-driver couldn’t move either with both Robert and the car on top
of him and he was trapped underwater. This was making breathing a bit difficult.
Fortunately two competing cars were just behind. They stopped, scrambled down
into the river and somehow managed to lift the huge SS100 onto its side. Lucky
escape, even with a broken collar bone.
Hardest luck, perhaps, befell Ian Hyne (editor of Kit Car) / Guy Meisl (Ginetta
G20) which was on for a certain gold until the last morning. A rear shocker unit
collapsed and they had to trade the gold in for a bronze (it was only after they
had retired that on investigation that the oil on their rear tyre was not from
a broken damper unit but an oil container in the boot falling into the wheel arch
and the oil emptying over the tyre, the resulting handling was enough for anyone
to call it a day). After all that effort and to get so far without losing points
this must have been very hard to swallow.
And young James? He was still full of youthful vigour on the boat back. Both he
and Jo had a wonderful time in their SS100. How many more memories can you collect
when you’re only 79?
On a serious note, the ability of the small team of organisers to repeatedly pull
off these events with such success deserves special mention. The marshals, volunteer
petrolheads to a man, must drive harder and stay awake longer than any of the
competitors if they are to man controls at some of the more remote locations from
before the first car arrives to the last and also manage the inevitable crises
on the way. It is only through the generous enthusiasm of the whole organising
team that these events can be brought within our reach at grass roots budget levels.
Peter and Carol’s absolute dedication is amazing and the work involved in organising
every aspect of the event from booking circuits to booking hotels, preparing route
books, carrying out recces and running the event itself is formidable. The opportunity
to drive the many celebrated places visited on Guild of Motor Endurance events
is one not to be missed by anyone with half an interest in motorsport.
‘Glorious, stirring sight’ murmured Toad (of the first Liege he’d ever seen).
‘The poetry of motion! The real way to travel! The only way to travel!
Here today – in next week tomorrow! Villages skipped, towns and cities jumped
– always somebody else’s horizon! O bliss! O poop-poop. O my! O my!
And to think I never knew! All those wasted years that lie behind me, I never
knew, never even dreamt! But now – but now that I know, now that I fully realise!
O what a flowery track lies spread before me henceforth!
What dust clouds shall spring up behind me as I speed on my reckless way!’ (From
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.)
Poop-poop till the next event.