Yours truly enjoying the experience
One of the advantages of being freelance or perhaps itinerant (!) is having the chance to take pleasant opportunities when they arise.
A friend of mine, another English ex-pat., has a business based near Toulouse in south-west France. The company is called The Classic Route; it rents Morgan cars to holiday-makers who wish to experience the pleasure of motoring in some really lovely countryside. Here
is a link to the website.
My friend contacted me to say that he had two new Morgan Plus 4s awaiting collection in England and would I like to join him in driving one of them to Toulouse? You can imagine that I had to think long and hard about this chance...
My friend explained that such a trip made economic sense: first it actually costs less than having the cars delivered - despite the fact we took our time and stayed in decent hotels with secure parking. Second, the cars are run in properly by the time of arrival and any minor niggles can be identified. And third, there is also the pleasure of driving an open car in France.
So I flew from Geneva to Gatwick on 17th May, a happy date because it coincided with the monthly meeting of the Lancia Motor Club which takes place at the Abinger Hatch pub near Dorking. An excellent chance to meet some friends after two years away, and enjoy a glass or two of good real ale. My friend (a former Fulvia owner) and another and I travelled in a hired FIAT Punto 1400. This model must have the slimmest horses ever found in a motor-car.
The best-laid plans of mice and men etc... On the Friday, various business matters delayed our arrival at Richard Thorne's establishment near Reading and we didn't set off until nearly 8:00 in the evening.
Two nearly ready to go
Initially I found the Morgan Plus 4 rather strange. It is many years since I sat so far back in a car, with a rather nice long louvred bonnet stretching out in front of me. However I did find straight away that Morgan has improved the damping considerably (compared with my previous experiences of the marque) and the ride except on extreme bumps is very good. It took me a few miles (conscious of the responsibility) to adjust to everything.
En route to catch the last shuttle to Calais just after 11:00 p.m., we were passed on the motorway by a chap in a Ferrari 360. In our open cars, we were able to appreciate the splendid noise it made. We met him again at the terminal and he told us he removed the cats - hence the noise! Naughty but nice...
Our first stop was Rouen, we finally went to bed at about 5:30, so Saturday was a rather late start - about midday.
Saturday treated us to lovely weather, during the day at least, so despite having to observe a self-imposed rev limit of 3500 the driving was most enjoyable. We stopped for lunch at Le Mans where the cars attracted (as in fact they did everywhere we went) a lot of interest. We had to answer quite a lot of questions e.g. "Is it a replica?" "How fast does it go?" etc. My friend answered all these with great patience and a smile (a born PR man I think).
I didn't expect to see this at Le Mans!
Our evening stop was at Angouleme where we relaxed over a good dinner and a nightcap in a very lively bar.
Sunday was perhaps the best day. We were able to move to the Routes Nationales et Departmentales and with the cars having covered nearly 1000 miles, we were able to start enjoying the Morgans as they are meant to be enjoyed - and believe me they are enjoyable, especially on sweeping curves... Our trip took us through the famous wine-producing areas around Bordeaux, where we stopped for lunch in lovely St Emilion. Continuing south we drove through the valley of the Dordogne with its excellent scenary, chateaux and pretty towns and villages.
Soon after Sarlat, it was time to take the Autoroute once again for the last leg to Toulouse, where we garaged the undamaged (thank God!) but rather fly-speckled cars and settled down for a fine dinner, in my case including excellent Magret de canard for which the area is so famous. Toulouse itself is a very attractive city, with an active cultural life - well worth visiting.
There will not be any more Morgan trips this year, but there are plans to expand the fleet to include a couple of classic Triumphs or MGs. I sincerely hope to be asked for those!
And if the above appeals, you can meet The Classic Route at its stand to be shared with Richard Thorne (Morgan and classic Lancia dealer) at the Goodwood Festival of Speed at the end of June.