To Reims and Back

Ferrari 365GTB/4 Daytona
At Reims Gueux circuit

How did the Daytona get on during the road trip to Reims with Octane Magazine?

Turn the key to position 2, wait for the ticking sound from the fuel pumps to slow, give the throttle pedals a couple of pumps, turn the key and lightly feather the throttle. The Daytona catches and fires up first time. After a couple of minutes of idling to let the car warm up and ensure it is firing on all twelve cylinders, it was time to set off. It was 6:30am on Saturday 28th July.

As the rest of the country slept in after the late finish to the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, the Daytona and I were heading for the port of Dover for two days in Northern France with Octane Magazine. I was feeling a mix of excitement and more than a little trepidation as the dull miles of the M25 and M20 passed. The Daytona is a very reliable car for something that was built the best part of thirty-nine years ago, but I expected that this would be the toughest test that it had faced in many years. Previously, I've done a couple extended road trips with the Daytona, each time to attend the Le Mans Classic, but in each of those cases the driving demands on the car were relatively mild. This time the trip was on tight deadlines coupled with the not small matter of frequent stops and low speed manoeuvring to get the car in exactly the right spot for photographer Paul Harmer's lens. Additionally, for the first time in perhaps twenty years, someone other than myself, my Dad or our mechanic Vince, would get to drive the car. Journalist Keith Adams would be getting behind the wheel to form his driving impressions for Octane's article.

Fears that the traffic on the M25 might be heavy because of the Olympic cycling road race proved unfounded and I was a little early arriving at Maidstone services. The Daytona attracted quite a lot of attention from fellow early morning travellers, all of it positive, with a biker on his way to the Nurburgring asking jokingly if he could lick the car!  Keith and Paul arrived shortly after me, in a Vauxhall Astra estate, which would serve as the photography car for the trip.  After we had made acquaintances it was time to head for Dover to catch the P & O Ferry to Calais. It was while waiting in the holding area for the ferry that a small problem with the car manifested itself. As we would be doing some night driving I needed to affix some beam defectors to the headlights so as not to dazzle the oncoming French traffic. As I twisted the stalk to raise the light pods only the one on the driver’s side popped up. Damn. A couple more tries and nothing happened. Fortunately with the sun out it was a problem that could be dealt with later in the day, and once on the ferry a phone call to Vince confirmed that it is possible to raise the light pods manually using a lever under the bonnet. Weirdly, as I drove off the ferry I tried the lights again and both popped up normally allowing me to affix the deflectors. The problem reoccurred briefly during a photography session later but resolved itself after a few tries with the column stalk.

Now that we were in France it was time to give Keith his first taste of the Daytona. For his detailed impressions you'll need to read his article in Octane, but it was clear from the get go he was taken with the car. He particularly praised the power steering setup and the lack of hesitation from the six Weber carbs, even at low speeds. Over the next two days Keith and I would share the driving, giving him experience of the car and me a chance to drive my beloved Daytona on some of the excellent roads of Northern France.

The route, a combination of Route Nationals and autoroute, took us first to the historic town of Laon. It is a beautiful town set on the top of a hillside and dominated by a massive cathedral, which can be seen for miles around.  The town centre also features cobbled streets, which were a fairly stern test of the Daytona’s suspension, but nothing fell off and although the car needed a bit of a cool down (more to let some of the heat of cabin than worries of rising engine temperatures) the car dealt with the first piece of static photography outside the cathedral fine.

Glamorous fuel stop in Laon

From Laon it was onto Reims in the heart of the champagne region (although somehow we never managed to see a vineyard the whole trip) and the historic Reims Gueux Grand-Prix circuit. Used throughout the fifties and sixties, the circuit used was made up of closed public roads but did include permanent grandstands and pit complex, the remains of which still stand today. With its ghostly reminders of the past, it is a great photo location. The road is also clearly a popular location with local car and bike enthusiasts, some giving their cars their head down the long 'pit' straight. The sight of the Daytona attracted quite a lot of attention with people coming and asking what the car was and how old it was. Fortunately Keith's French is rather better than mine and between us we could answer most questions about the car. Everyone seemed impressed with the condition of the car.  It took some three hours to get through all the photography, which included quite a number of tracking shots with Paul Harmer hanging out of the rear window of the Astra to get the best shots. All this was at fairly low speed but it was enough to send both the water and the oil temperature gauges up.  A few short breaks to let everything cool down and all was fine.  With the light fading, it was time to call it a day. We headed for our hotel in Reims and enjoyed a meal and a well-deserved couple of beers.

The next day started at a more civilised time of 9:00, and we headed for the picturesque village of Gueux. The village was largely deserted except for some keen anglers at the large artificial pond in the centre of the village. A few of these put their rods down and came over to inspect the classic Italian GT. Throughout the trip, the French seemed universally positive about the classic Italian GT invading their country and being used as it was intended. I'm a firm believer that cars suit the roads of certain countries better than others and the Daytona is certainly far more suited to France than modern day Britain. The long sweeping Route Nationals are the ideal place for the powerful (for its era) GT to stretch its legs and the wonderful scenery serves as a perfect backdrop to the flowing Pininfarina lines. One thing that is disappearing from the French countryside though is the classic tree lined road, but as we headed away from Gueux we managed to find a perfect example to use for photography. Both Keith and I took some turns to do runs down this road as Paul shot the car from several angles. For Keith's runs it was a slightly unusual experience for me to hear my car from the outside -- the V12 actually sounds more melodic from outside the car than within.

From there we took a circular route up towards the coastal town of Le Touquet Paris Plage. As we headed north, the weather took a turn for the worse and overcast skies and then the inevitable rain slowly replaced the bright sunshine we had in the morning. Throughout the weekend Keith had been pleasantly surprised about how easy the Daytona was to drive and even the clichéd word 'pussycat' was mentioned. The thing is even the most docile tabby cat will bite back if it is provoked and the Daytona did just that.  Coming off of a wet roundabout as I applied the power, the back end suddenly broke away from me. I probably should say that I expertly applied a touch of opposite lock and brought the car back under control. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what I did but after a slightly inelegant slide, I managed to keep to keep the car on the tarmac. With my heart racing at an alarming rate, I drove very gingerly for the next twenty minutes. I've driven in the rain in the Daytona a number of times before but this was the first time the car had stepped out on me like this, and as we continued on it did feel like I had very little grip from the rear tyres on the slick roads. I was due to let Keith have another stint behind the wheel, but I preferred to keep driving until the roads dried out. Although I never had any concerns about Keith driving the car during the trip (in fact he drove it exceptionally well with a lot of mechanical sympathy), but I did feel it was better that I retained control of my pride and joy in difficult conditions.

Le Touquet Paris Plage was the destination for the conclusion of the article. In the past, it was a glamorous destination for wealthy Parisians heading for the coast and Ian Fleming's original James Bond novel, “Casino Royale,” was set therein a town inspired by it. The town centre retains much of that glory but the sea front has been rather wrecked by the construction of an aqua park and some very unattractive apartment buildings. This ruined Keith's plans for a picture of the Daytona overlooking the sea so instead we headed for the Hotel Westminster which was very accommodating allowing us to take photographs outside their entrance.

From Le Touquet it was back to Calais to catch the ferry back home. Arriving at the Port, the queues to clear the UK Border Force security checks were long and very slow moving (I'm not sure if it was extra checks because of the Olympics or if they are always like that now). Keith was driving and asked me if I was worried about temperatures as we sat in the queue. As it always seems (and hopefully not tempting fate for the future) the car was fine and the cooling fans kicked in at exactly the right moment. After clearing the queue, we proceeded to the waiting area for the P & O Ferry and with the priority lane, we were the first car on board. For continental trips, I normally prefer the convenience and speed of the Channel Tunnel shuttle services but after two days of driving, I was grateful for the opportunity to relax in the comfortable Club Lounge for the eighty minute ferry crossing.

The Daytona and I parted ways with Paul and Keith at Dover and I headed for home. It was now night time and the Daytona's headlights made for a not-exactly-fun journey up the M20 and round the M25. Arriving home, I reflected on the trip. Including the runs to and from the ferry in the UK, we covered probably just under 1,000 miles. I didn't measure the exact MPG, mainly as one of the two stops we didn't completely fill the tank (the automated pump only let us put €60 worth of fuel in), but I left home with a full tank and we added around 40 litres at the first stop and 68 litres at the second stop, a full tank is 127 litres!  Driving the sparsely trafficked French roads was an absolute joy in the Daytona and while I've always loved with the car, the trip did serve as a timely reminder of just what a great car it is. In actual fact, the thing that most impressed me was how trouble free the whole trip was from a mechanic point of view. The recalcitrant headlamp pod aside, the car never missed a beat in either of the two days and even though engine temperatures needles did rise at certain times they never remotely approached danger levels. The concerns I had before the trip began never remotely materialised. Keith said that he could not imagine any of the Daytona's similarly aged peers would have coped quite so well in the same situation. Whether he’s right who knows, what is certain is that the trip with not be the last time the Daytona gets to play on those French roads.

All pictures by the author (using my trusty iPhone)