Here's what driving 1,000km in a car from 1934 feels like
It's 9am, slightly south of Paris. It's about 4°C outside, and it won't stop raining until the afternoon. We have to drive 500km across France today, which normally wouldn't be much of an issue. But our car is a 1934 Rolls-Royce 20/25, it has no heater, and a cruise speed of 80kph. Today is going to be a long day.
Take that, Waze
But it's all worth it, because on the other end of our glacial journey is a group of crazy people. They all, like us, have pre-war cars or bikes. Most of them don't have a roof or even windows, and of course still no heater. So of course, they picked November to meet for a weekend of driving...
"Le Grand Naufrage" ("The Great Shipwreck"), as it's appropriately called, isn't much of an official, large-scale event. About 50 people are entered, and most of them know each other. More importantly, they share a taste for frankly horrendous driving conditions in cars that most would consider museum pieces, to be polite.
That hand is probably about to fall off
There are bikes too, which frankly takes the cake. The next morning, before we leave for our day-long rally, it is still about 4°C, and still pissing it down. These guys are riding pre-war bikes, with very little in the way of suspension, dampers, or indeed any creature comforts.
Pictured: bravery and/or lunacy
It's fair to say that the Rolls is the most comfortable vehicle around. It has comfy leather seats, a roof, water doesn't leak inside of the cabin, and it can seat 5. Nevermind that the temperature inside is pretty much the same as it is out, or that a nasty shimmy is trying to shake us to death whenever we look at a bump the wrong way. In this company, it might as well be the latest Phantom.
So it's no surprise that the pair of us is pretty much immediately joined by other comrades, mostly wives or girlfriends of braver people than we are.
But as we drive around some lovely country roads, the weather starts to clear up a bit. There's a stop at a lovely village for some much needed hot coffee. And the 50 smiles are a good way to replace the missing sun!
It all starts to make sense. Nothing will give you a sense of camaraderie quite like facing horrendous conditions in inadequate machinery. Because it's miserable outside, we have the lovely roads all to ourselves. And because this event sounds justifiably insane, everyone who signed up truly does love these cars. Call it natural selection, if you want. The result is that I've never enjoyed spending time with strangers quite as much as I did that weekend.
The day goes on in much the same spirit. The drive is lovely. A biker lost his wife in the woods. The Rolls is crammed to capacity, and condensation means it's hard to see where the road goes. But we have to be careful, because the group follows us, and most aren't in a position to ponder over the roadbook.
We all make it safe and sound to base. Just in time for a warm evening dinner, with warmer people still. Don't forget to get some sleep, we hit the road big-time tomorrow.
The next morning, it seems conditions have worsened. The cars are covered in frost. A dense fog envelops the countryside. Poetic as it may be, cold and damp aren't friends with cars that old. So it takes a while to get everyone running, but everyone helps. And laughs at the ones who are hitting trouble, as you do.
Now it gets interesting. A lot of us don't have headlights. Visibility is reduced to a minimum, and it's colder than ever. In front of us, a 1913 Renault EK, and its 87-year-old driver. He has headlights, because this is pretty much his daily, so he's rigged up some LEDs inside the original housings. We overtake him, only to find a mid-engined three-wheeler. He doesn't have any (working) lights. Thankfully, the coffee stop isn't far.
A cup of warm stuff, a tour of the local church, and the fog starts to lift up. Time to snap some pictures of the vehicles around. It seems all have made it, including the Renault. There are some more exotic stuff, like a Salmson, a couple of Fords including a mean-looking Model T Roadster, or a pre-war Renault van ferrying around some more people. And of course, our two-wheeled friends, still alive. Somehow.
Now that everyone has joined up, we can get back on the road. Still cold, still damp, but the lunch break is pretty close. An old family house, with a log fire burning and great food waiting for us. Heaven on earth.
But after this great meal, it's time to leave this great company. It's 2pm, we still have to drive 500km back home, and the Rolls hasn't suddenly gained 300hp. But that's okay. We all had an amazing time together, against all climate-related odds. Natural selection worked. The only people who made it truly meant to be there, and were hell-bent on having a great adventure.
The drive home went without much drama, and felt less cold than when we drove down from Paris. Maybe because it didn't rain. I even managed to watch the incredible F1 race. What more could you ask for?
Half opened radiator grille means temps reached about 65°C. Inside the engine bay, not the cabin...
All I can ask for, is for every car event to be filled with people like these. Deeply passionate about their machines, but more importantly happy to spend some time with some other lunatics, around an 80 year-old engine that won't start on a dreadful Sunday morning. With electric and autonomous cars coming round, maybe this is the future of proper motoring. And if it is, well, it ain't bad.
If you liked this article and the pictures that came with it, feel free to follow me on Instagram! Next stop is the Traversée de Paris in January, which should be a right laugh (and probably at least as cold). Don't miss it!
In the meantime, I'll be posting a lot of pictures I took at the Grand Naufrage over there: