It all started April 1989, Autocar and Motor had an Alfa on the front cover with the tag line “Would you spend £35000 on the world’s ugliest car? After driving it we would”
My initial impression was it would have to be very special for me to buy one. 16 months later Performance Car August 1990 took an SZ for a 1000 mile trip around the Highlands of Scotland and I was hooked, owning an Alfa SZ was top of my to do list.
2003 an offer of voluntary redundancy put a chunk of cash in my pocket and somehow I ended up owning an SZ. It was then the plan started, wouldn’t it be nice to take my SZ to the same Highlands that Performance Car took their car in 1990 and that thought never went away.
2011 was one on those significant birthdays, half a century sounds like a lifetime and in my case it was, what to do? I thought Alfa SZ and the Highlands, I thought I could do it over a long weekend but when Sarah suggested she would like to come and the in laws offered to take the children for a week the plan grew. Lands End to John O Groats in an SZ I wonder if that has ever been done.
A bit of up front planning, how many days, how many hotels, identifying suitable roads and then we had a roadtrip. The internet a few phone calls and Sarah had all the hotels booked. A chat with a few of the lads from Scotland on 155org forum helped finalise the route and then it was time to go.
Day 1 Silverstone – Taunton A gentle drive via A34 and A420 to Swindon then a quick blast down the M4 and M5 nothing out of the ordinary as over the years the SZ has often been my only form of transport, it has always been the last fall back when everything else fails. As always we soon got accustomed to the driving position and the constant attention the SZ get from other road users.
Day 2 Taunton – Lands End – Padstow The plan was to blast down to Penzance and then to spend the day touring the hidden coves that make up the South West tip of England. Sennen Cove was first which was bathed in sunshine with a stiff breeze encouraging the breakers to smash against the rocks, Cornwall at its best, followed by Cornwall at its worst! £5 to park at Lands End for a 10 minute photo shoot. After that it was Porthcurno, Lamorna, Mousehole & Newlyn before heading across to Padstow. The SZ is not renowned for riding bumps well it does have a tendency sometimes to throw itself in to pot holes but despite the narrowness of the lanes, the tight bends and the poor maintenance at no time did we hear the sound of the front bumper chewing tarmac. Padstow overnight stop was for Steins Seafood Restaurant, all I can say is Turbot Hollandaise, sublime.
Day 3 Padstow – Northwich This was always planned to be the boring day and the weather in the morning just confirmed that. A30, M5, M6 nothing more nothing less just drive. As I hail from Cheshire this was a must stop, drop in on family and friends who fortunately saved us a hotel by putting us up for the night.
Day 4 Northwich – Melrose On the first 3 days we had been playing Stobart spotting and we were hoping for those rarities as we headed up through the lakes to Carlisle. As true anoraks we thought maybe an Eddie Tanker or one of those the ultra rare blue Eddies? Unfortunately we were to be disappointed but we had one little jewel at the end of the day. The A7 from Carlisle to Galashiels is one of those roads that was designed for the SZ. I have driven this road many times however never in a car as sure footed as the SZ. Every corner flows into the next, whether up or down the road just runs like a ribbon in front of you and the SZ was more than up to the task. Finding the apex feeling the front turn in tight then open the throttle and let the V6 scream as the redline approaches how could it get any better – I was soon to find out. Day 5 Melrose – Nairn We woke up to another day of bright sunshine. A68 to Edinburgh over the Forth road bridge and then head over to Glenshee. If the A7 was good the blast across Glenshee was something else. The road was relatively clear, the sky was blue and the SZ was on song. Another day of clipping apex’s, V6 wail and at one point a bit of air. I don’t think I have ever had the SZ airborne before but rushing up the Glen we did. Sarah took this opportunity to get the video camera out which really captured the feeling on that day.
Day 6 Nairn – John O Groats – Kylesku Sarah decided to take the drive to John O Groats. From the passenger seat it seemed a tedious dual carriageway until that ran out and then being constantly stuck behind slow moving mobile homes. Once we arrived at John O Groats for the other obligatory photo shoot we were surprised. No extortionate parking charges and a lovely view over to the Orkney Isles. I took over for what turned out to be a breath taking run. Following the road across the top of Scotland we had panoramic view after panoramic view. Lochs, coves, mountains towering around us and another ribbon of grey stuff. The scenery even put the SZ in it’s place, for once we were enjoying what was around us rather than the driving experience and it was all the better for it. We stopped at the Kylesku hotel and of all the places we stayed this was the best. Perched on the edge of a loch where the old ferry use to cross before the bridge was built we settled in for a few beers, a fantastic meal with some lovely wine. It was all a bit more surreal to watch the odd boat pootle down the loch with freshly hunted stag.
Day 7 Kylesku – Fort William Back to the fun, blasting down from the peaks to the Western coast the SZ was back doing its job, finding that tight little bend which gave you opportunity to push the front to see if you could encourage any feeling of understeer which after years of trying I know is almost impossible anywhere other than a track but it never stops me. If Scotland was good the A9 from Inverness to Aviemore was a nightmare. Never have I driven a road so bad. Pot holes and a surface that looked as pock marked as the moon left the SZ shaking and rattling for mile after mile. Only when we pulled off on to a little side road back to Fort William did peace return. Another top tip, the sea food restaurant at Fort William, the Cranloch, top notch but you might want to book in advance as we have never seen so many people turned away.
Day 8 Fort William – Bellingham A trip round Loch Lomond on a road that would have been great apart from the tourist coaches followed by a trip through Glasgow were not the best experiences in the world but as on every other day the SZ performed faultlessly. We made a stop at Housestairs and realised why we have so many Scottish friends in the England. Emperor he may have been but Hadrian didn’t build his wall any where big enough to keep them out.
Day 9 Bellingham – Silverstone Only we could pick the day of the Great North run to try and negotiate the North East, Sarah played a blinder on the maps and kept us well out of trouble. The final blast down the M1 with a quick lunch with friends in Yorkshire saw us home. 2160 miles end to end, the SZ was the perfect fast tourer, over 30 mpg and despite being pushed quite hard she never missed a beat. We saw more of the country than either of us had ever done before which left us planning the next trip, thoughts of which were dashed as soon as the in laws informed us never again would they have our 2,3 and 5 year olds for more than a day or so. We can only dream !