Friday the 13th is unlucky for some, but for me this year meant the start of the Journées d’Automne event in France’s champagne region. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the event, Journées d'Automne is a classic car gathering over a weekend in and around France’s Champagne region. The Saturday features a track day at the Circuit des Ecuyers while the Sunday is a road trip through the picturesque local countryside. Being that it is a French event all the driving is accompanied by gourmet three course meals and, for the non drivers at least, copious amounts of event sponsor Veuve Cliquot’s champagne.
The event has been running for fifteen years and this was my forth trip to the event with the Daytona, my previous trips being in 2013, 14, and 15. Last year we were scheduled to go as well but mechanical issues with the Daytona in the run up to the event meant I had to cancel.
Back in 2013 there were only two British cars on the event, the Daytona and my friend Jonny Shear’s Alfa Romeo GTV, however interest in the event from this side of the channel has grown considerably in the last few years and there were six or seven cars scheduled to make the trip from the U.K.
For me the channel crossing is one of the hardest parts of the event. The queuing to get on and off the channel shuttle trains is hard on the Daytona and we had the misfortune to breakdown whilst trying to exit the tunnel back in 2014 (starter motor problem). To ease the strain this year I spent the extra money on a Flexiplus ticket, which enabled us to pretty much jump the queues and get straight on the train. It was something of a relief for once to get on the train without the engine fans furiously trying to cool the big V12 engine. We were also the second car on the train which meant there was virtually no wait to get off at the other end too.
Once into France we rendezvoused with part of the British contingent at the nearest petrol station. Again Jonny brought along his Alfa in which classic car logistics expert (and Jonny’s girlfriend) Kat Hughes and ace mechanic Karim Demynn had squeezed inside. Another Journées d’Automne regular Paul Thompson was in his road / rally prepared Triumph TR4 accompanied by his wife Mo. Event debutant Michael Friedman was in his modern Porsche 996 Targa along with his friend Jim. As usual my wife Danielle would be my navigator for the weekend.
Normally at this stage we would make a run down the dull but efficient A26 Autoroute, but this year event organiser Etienne Reynaud and Kat had got together to organise us a lunch stop at La Cour De Remi restaurant in the French village of Bermicourt. With Google maps set to avoid motorways we had a great drive through the French back roads to our lunch destination. It was a struggle to keep up with Jonny in the Alfa through the twistier sections but on the more open parts the extra two engines (as Jonny describes the Daytona’s V12) allowed me to easily reel him in.
The restaurant served fantastic locally sourced food and was also very reasonably priced. The only downside being that a long French lunch left us a little short of time to get to our final destination as we were all preferring to get there before dark. This meant the original plan to get there on back roads was dropped and we cut across to pick up the A26 for the rest of the drive down. The Daytona was running well but the spirited back road drive did take it’s toll on the fuel consumption meaning I had to make an additional unscheduled stop for fuel on the way down (the massive 127 litre tank usually enables me to make it from home to the Champagne region on one tank).
It was around six when Jonny and I got to the farm house we had rented with the rest of the British contingent (Paul and Michael had arranged alternative accommodations). Staying with us were Jonny’s mother and father Mark and Jane Shears who had trailered their Morgan ‘flat-rad’ down. Also trailering where Richard and Mandy Plant who had brought his very rare Austin Healey 100S ‘The green car’. The final car was perhaps the star car of the weekend as Mihai Negrescu and his girlfriend Nanw had brought along Mihai’s incredible 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 with Le Mans bodywork by Carrozzeria Touring. They too had trailered this mighty machine .
Friday evening and the event holds in informal barbeque at the Chateau de Fère for those that had already made the trip down (many of the entrants drive up from Paris on the Saturday morning). The chateau is about 20 minutes drive from the farm house and I was really tired after a long drive, plus I had only returned from a work trip to India a couple of days before. This made for the perfect excuse to leave the Daytona at the farmhouse and grab a ride in the 8C. I’ve ridden in pre-war cars before (and even a veteran 1897 Panhard et Levassor) but very little can prepare you for the incredible sound the 2.3 litre supercharged straight eight makes. It is nothing like a V8 or even a straight six. If anything it sounds more like a world war two fighter plane than a car!
Being Le Mans bodied it is a four seater (as required by the regulations at the time) and surprisingly commodious too. Still the rear passengers are sitting proud of the windscreen being buffeted by the wind and at the same time being nicely warmed by the heat from the exhaust. It’s an exhilarating experience and as we barrelled through the French countryside it brought out thoughts of what it must have been like to race these cars back in the day (8C 2300’s won Le Mans for four consecutive years between 1931 and 1934).
We woke up on Saturday morning to a remarkably warm day for October in Northern France together with clear skies. The others headed to the track early but Danielle and I stayed behind a little before running into town to pick up a couple of supplies and then joining the others at the Circuit Des Ecuyers. The Daytona is not really suited to this tight and twisty circuit and would probably need some attention to the brakes and limited slip differential before venturing out. With this in mind we parked up in a quiet corner of the paddock next to a gorgeous Lancia Aurelia Spyder America and spectated the action on the circuit and took a few pictures.
In typical French style the track action stopped at 12:00 to facilitate a long lunch at the nearby Chateau de Nesles, so we headed off in a large convoy of classics, which certainly drew the attention of many of the locals who turned out to wave and take pictures. The Chateau de Nesles is a medieval chateau, which is accessed through a drawbridge across a moat. The cars line up in the central courtyard that makes for a great photo opportunity.
After lunch we headed back to the circuit. As so happened I dropped into the convoy just behind Mihai in the 8C. The 8C and the Daytona both sound fantastic on their own but when both are running together the noise is out of this world (and way beyond the capabilities of an iPhone microphone to capture)!
Chasing the 8C in the Daytona
The rest of the day was taken up with spectating the event catching up with friends and making some new ones too, before returning back to the farmhouse to get ready for the dinner and party In the evening (I know it is a hard life). Arriving back at the farmhouse the sun was setting and I took the opportunity to snap a couple of pictures in this very pretty location.
The next morning was equally as warm and sunny and the cars collected in the local town of Fère en Tardenois for my favourite part of the event the Sunday drive. Each entrant is given a road book with a set of tulip instructions to follow. With it being our forth time on this event Danielle has really got the hang of reading these now. We set off in a loose peloton of other classics and made our way along the route. French country roads are often fairly deserted on a Sunday and it was very much true this time. The roads themselves were a little tight in some places for the relatively big Daytona, but there were also plenty of opportunities to stretch the mighty V12 too. At one point the road on the route was closed for a local village market, however a quick check of google maps and we were back on our way via a slight detour.
At the mid point we stopped in the French town of Jouarre before heading to a mystery stop. This turned out to be a visit to the incredible workshops of Equipe Europe in Ozouer-Le-Vouglis. Their large facilities held a veritable treasure trove of historic racing cars from Alpine A310’s to fearsome Porsche 935's and historic F1 cars.
After the stop we headed for the final destination and conclusion of the event lunch at the impressive Chateau de Ferrières the former home of Baron James de Rothschild and now a luxury hotel. The cars were lined up on the manicured lawns and we headed for another fantastic lunch.
With the event over it was time to head home except Danielle realised she had left some important items back at the farmhouse necessitating an 80km detour to go back and get them. Fortunately the long legs of the Daytona make it an ideal car for the extended blast down the autoroute but it was perhaps more surprising to see the Bugatti Brescia from the event also taking this most modern of roads. The near 100 year old racer seemed to be handling it with aplomb.
With the detour we ended up getting a slightly later shuttle train than planned and it was dark when we got back to the U.K. As seems to happen every year the left hand light pod would not deploy as we left the tunnel necessitating a stop to manually raise the light. I’m not sure why this happens at this point as normally the lights raise without issue and can only assume heat build up from the long drive has something to do with it. It was certainly toasty under the bonnet as I turned the handle to raise the light!
The light pod turned out to be the only real issue we had with the Daytona on the approaching 800 miles of the trip although the brakes were showing signs of being a little worn after all the spirited driving, something I will get looked at as we approach the winter hibernation. With the Daytona having a reputation of being a bit troublesome on previous Journées d’Automne this was a great relief and my confidence in the car after a slightly difficult summer has been restored. As to the event itself, with its mix of location, great cars, and friendly participants it remains my favourite classic car event and I look forward to attending the event for many years.
Biggest thanks of all go to the Etienne Reynaud, Guillame Le Metayer and the entire team at Journées d’Automne for putting together such a special event. The event would also not be possible without the support of sponsors, Veuve Cliquot, Chapal 1832, Baltic Watches, Maison Cadot, Joseph Bonnie, Rezin Wood Eyeware and Pro First.
Also a big shout out to Kat Hughes of Undercover Agent (www.undercovercaragent.com) for organising the logistics for the UK team.
More details on the event can be found on it's Facebook page www.facebook.com/JourneesDautomne/ It also has a drive tribe (search Journées d'Automne)
La Cour de Remi www.lacourderemi.com
Chateau de Nesles www.chateaudenesles.com
Ecurie Europe www.equipeeurope.com
Chateau de Ferrières www.ferrieres-paris.com
All pictures and film by either me or Danielle