Legendary drives – 6
In a change to the intended feature, with full intentions of repeating his previous year’s victory in a Mazda6, Iain Robertson was entered in a Jaguar S-Type for the 2004 Cape-to-Cape Rally, however, he was determined to change the event’s character…
Despite the tight, legal controls over long-distance rallies, competitors are not required normally to comply with Motor Sports Association (MSA) driver, or navigator, licensing arrangements. As I had discovered in the previous year, apart from a negotiated fee with the car manufacturer and professionally-biased aspirations, such events are open to rank amateurs, if they feel up to the challenge.
As a result, rather than engage the services of a professional rally co-driver/navigator, I determined that leading a three-person team (to allow us to drive around-the-clock) consisting of a 65 years old grandmother and a 20 years old student on his gap year could not only turn the event on its head but might even lead to generating fresh interest in a wonderful event that could generate copious attention, of a positive nature. Diana Philo and Peter Mason, both of whom were enthusiastic motorists, would be able to share duties, with me carrying out the bulk of the driving.
Our car was the latest 2.7-litre turbo-diesel version of the Jaguar S-Type. A comfortable, easy cruising machine, powered by a good PSA Group diesel engine that should return in excess of 40mpg, thereby extending our range between time-consuming refuelling exercises on the strictly speed-limited 5,600km, pan-European, north-south trek. A training exercise for the novices helped me to ascertain their strengths and Diana would carry out most of the navigation. Peter’s duties (from the back seat, alongside the in-car cooler unit that carried food, snacks and drinks) were in support of both of us.
Our start venue was at the Coventry Motor Museum and, on the evening prior to departure, Mr Andrew Didlick, Head of Communications for Peugeot (at the time), hosted a ‘Welcome’ soiree for all competitors. The Museum is well worth a visit if you happen to be in Coventry, if only to appreciate what the vehicle industry means to the city and the region. Next morning, we were flagged off at one-minute intervals from the apron in front of the Museum and we all headed towards Newcastle and the ferry terminal, to catch our overnight boat to Kristiansand, on the Norwegian coast. As you might imagine, the on-board entertainment was excellent, from the swimming-pool, to the cinema and even the dinner-dance. However, I spent some time plotting our non-competitive driving route to our hotel at Honingsvag.
Inadvertently, we found ourselves teaming-up with a Mitsubishi Shogun crew of three former soldiers, who were enjoying their ex-services freedom. We stopped for coffees and snacks at various locations en-route through Norway to Sweden, including catching ferries (from Borre to Moss, across the Oslofjorden) and taking innumerable photographs. Peter played kick-around (footie) with them in car parks and the sense of adventure that I had experienced a year earlier was still more than evident, as we enjoyed the magnificent and constantly changing scenery on the drive.
Perhaps some of the best moments included watching a sunset and subsequent sunrise (just a few moments later), as we drove northwards towards the Arctic Circle. One of the more shocking sights was of a completely oblivious and elderly Swedish gentleman mowing his property’s lawn on what could have been a busy intersection (it was not, which was fortunate). He was stark naked and Diana did not take a photograph out of a sense of decency!
Sadly, the car suffered one of several electro-mechanical issues related to the inability of the PSA engine electronics to relate with the (Ford-owned) Jaguar architecture. Without warning and (twice!) on roundabouts, the engine would cut power completely and allow us to manoeuvre in ‘get-you-home’ mode…at a rough 28mph! The only solution was to allow the system to ‘reboot’, after a 15 minutes, engine-off delay, at which point the Jaguar continued as though nothing was wrong…until the next unscheduled stop, which occurred eight times on the event. While slightly unnerving the first time, it became increasingly annoying.
You may recall from the Top Gear TV series, when Jeremy Clarkson first introduced us to Sabine Schmitz, the Nürburgring-based lady racing driver. Both she and he drove a Jaguar S-Type 2.7TDi around the amazing, hilly, German parkland racetrack. Sadly, the car suffered an in-vision limp-home breakdown. That car was the car we had been using on the Cape-to-Cape event…I did warn Jaguar.
When the car was running well, it provided a tremendously engaging driving experience, being delightfully quick and handling faultlessly, which meant that I was able to excel in its capabilities on Swedish and Norwegian roads, with some of which I had become familiar from the previous year. While there are strict speed limits on those northern routes, there is no economic means of policing them, which means that, as long as you are respectful of limits around towns and villages, the rest is wonderfully wild and woolly and taken advantage of by all and sundry.
Naturally, the daytime temperature in mid-summer hovered around 18-degreesC in glorious sunshine, although it dipped towards freezing at night-time, enhanced by wind chill. Yet, we spent an evening in a Honingsvag pub watching World Cup Football and celebrating Diana’s 65th birthday (I had packed the boot with presents, hidden by our luggage and Jaguar promotional items, which she opened with undisguised glee at around midnight, in the full glare of the nocturnal sun). Apart from carrying out a number of typical touristy things, such as visiting a Sami tribal village, the local shops and the port, we also spent half a day at Nordkapp, our official start point for the 2004 event.
As our competitive route south from Norway to Cape Tarifa in Spain had been successful in 2003, I decided to repeat it and, if you click back through the files on this site, you will obtain most of the details of it in ‘Legendary Drives – 5’. We commenced the trek at 6.00am, having planned to catch the ferry to northern Germany at lunchtime the next day. Those 18 hours were eventful, not least when I was resting and Peter was driving rather carelessly on a streaming wet main road in Sweden. A lecture proved necessary!
Worse arose after the air-con radiator had been holed by a passing truck flinging a sliver of flint at the front of the car, on a graded gravel road. The nearer we drove south, the more unbearable became the cabin temperature, at times reaching in excess of 40-degreesC, without working air-con. On another occasion, driving along the main illuminated autoroute south of Lyons (I was resting), Diana’s vision became compromised by a combination of fatigue, her spectacles, more rain, windscreen condensation and the external lighting. We decided that I should drive again, even though I had only managed around two hours break.
Unable to drive safely, because of tiredness, we were very close to the Franco-Spanish border, while Peter was at the helm. I was awoken by a remote foreign accent highlighting that the car was wafting gently across the lanes of the motorway. Fortunately, the English-speaking gendarmes (they recognised the British number-plates) did not stop us but we were given some form of verbal admonishment over the loudspeaker and allowed to continue to the next services, where I took over the reins again.
Diana, now awake once more, resumed her navigational duties but misdirected us at a motorway intersection, where we should have headed for central Spain but ended up in the spectacular countryside of Murcia. Personally fuelled by my first-ever taste of Red Bull (which I am happy never to drink again!), it would be fair to say that I was wide awake and ready to party! Sadly, the navigational error cost us the event, as, when we reached Cape Tarifa, we had been beaten by another Team (in a Lexus iS300 Touring) by a full 40 minutes. Of course, I was disappointed that we had not won the rally but second place was still a great result.
Having made our way to the very fine Sherry Park Hotel, for the final party, I had already been in contact with Jaguar’s technical department in the UK, which booked the S-Type into the Jerez Jaguar dealership to have its air-con radiator replaced. Awaiting the component and having to leave the car at the garage meant that we were able to enjoy three days in the deserted swimming-pool at the hotel, the other competitors having headed home earlier. When I collected the car, its full chill restored, I looked forwards to the drive home. However, our trek was far from over…
In blistering Spanish temperatures, I left the car running, with the climate control working on full chat, as both Peter and me loaded the luggage and reorganised the cockpit. Unfortunately, as we were bidding farewell to the management and staff at the hotel, the still running car had now centrally-locked us out…I made an emergency telephone call to the Jaguar dealership and, despite being ‘siesta-time’, the same non-English speaking mechanic arrived at the hotel to resolve our issues.
Firstly, he wanted to smash a rear quarterlight glass to gain entry. I was not in favour. His second solution was to jack-up the front nearside corner of the car and, by dropping it suddenly, a security feature would automatically unlock the doors. After the third attempt, it failed to work. Then he tried to gain access beneath the securely locked bonnet, which resulted in a buckled corner to the panel. All the time, the car was still idling sweetly. I was sweating cobs. Finally, we agreed that he would gain entry by removing the rubber surround of the offside rear quarterlight. It worked. It had taken over ninety minutes but we were relieved to commence our homeward journey, after topping-up the fuel tank.
We stopped at a lovely Parador, Alcala de Henares, on the first night, a property that is 26kms east of Madrid and has recently been renovated to an exceptionally high standard. Our second day took us through the beautiful Pyrenees to St Jean-de-Luz, where we obtained rooms in a beautiful castle in French Basque country. We continued our drive to a lovely private hotel that I know at Crecy-en-Ponthieu, just north of the lovely medieval town of Abbeville, before crossing next morning by Chunnel-train from Pas-de-Calais to Folkestone.
It had been an eventful journey. The car was wounded but repairable and, to be honest, I enjoyed a week’s holiday in Spain as an inadvertent bonus. Sadly, the Cape-to-Cape event was never held officially again, although Mazda Cars UK did organise a media event that replicated it just a couple of years ago.
I apologise for having access to only one original photo from the Jaguar drive, following a catastrophic PC hard drive failure. Having promised a Suzuki driving exercise in my previous report, it will now constitute ‘Legendary Drives – 7’, and is due soon.