If you are on Instagram and you like to look at feeds with classic cars from the era when cars had lashings of chrome and styling was more concerned with aesthetics than aerodynamics, then the chances are you follow the slightly mysterious account called Journées d’Automne. There is little detail in the bio other than the slogan ‘The art of fast motoring’ and the feed is full of beautiful cars usually, but not always, in France.
In fact the Instagram, and accompanying Facebook account, are the sole online presence of perhaps the best classic car event you have never heard of. Every year on the 2nd or 3rd weekend on October pre-1974 classic cars, from all over western Europe descend upon the small town of Fere en Tardenois, about 30km west of Reims, to enjoy a weekend of motoring as it should be. The Saturday features an open track day at the nearby Circuit des Ecuyers whilst the Sunday is reserved for a scenic road rally around the champagne region. As this is a French event the breaks in driving feature three course meals and fine wine (for the non-drivers at least).
I’ve been going to Journées d’Automne since 2013 and this was my sixth time at event with the Daytona, I missed the 2016 event due to mechanical issues with the Daytona and until about two weeks before this year’s event I thought I may have to miss it again for the same reason.
Rewind to the August Bank holiday and the southern part UK was basking in a heatwave with temperatures well above 30c and I was out and about in the Daytona going to the Classics and Cake meet as Duke of London in Brentford, West London.
I had driven up to Brentford early on the Sunday with no problems and parked the car outside in the display area and spent the next couple of hours admiring the cars and catching up with friends. However by the time it came to leave both the ambient temperatures and the traffic had increased considerably.
As we made our way down the A316 in heavy traffic all of a sudden the Daytona began to run rough and then cut out. I coasted to the side of the road, tried the ignition again and the car fired back up. A few miles down the road and the same thing happened again. This time it happened next to a petrol station and I was able to pull in there and stopped for a more detailed inspection of the car. Looking under the bonnet nothing obvious seemed untoward so I gave it five minutes before starting up and this time the Daytona fired up without issue allowing us to continue on our way home. A few miles from home and the same thing happened, this time next to a pub. While I was not sure if this was temperature related my wife suggested we stop for a quick soft drink in the pub and give the car (and my stress levels) twenty minutes or so to cool down, especially as the pub car park had plenty of shade.
Drinks finished the car fired back up and we got home without further incident. A made a call to my mechanic Vince and he suggested I bring the car round the next day and he would have a look. It was equally hot the next day when I headed round to his expecting the car to do what all faulty cars do in the presence of the mechanic and run perfectly. Indeed Vince’s first checks showed nothing untoward and the car was running sweetly on twelve cylinders.
We went out for a test run and still nothing appeared to be wrong, however Vince then suggested we pull over into a car park and let the car idle for a few minutes to simulate being in traffic. After a minute or two with the engine idling the fans came on as they should do but as they began to do their work, the engine began to run rough and then cut out. Vince immediately realised the fuel pumps had stopped working. After a further five minutes or so of allowing the car to cool down we were able to fire the car up and get back to Vince’s, where I left the car with him to carry out a more detailed inspection. He called a few days later with the slightly concerning news that there was no obvious reason for the fuel pumps to stop working. The pumps themselves were fine (they are only three or four years old), the fuel filters were clear and there were no other blockages in the fuel lines.
This seemed to indicate the problem was probably electrical, and suspicion turned to the immobiliser fitted to the car. As you might guess Daytonas were not originally fitted with immobilisers but during the height of the car theft epidemic in the 1990’s the insurance company had insisted the car was fitted with one. It is one of those horrible ones for the era where a small chip is fitted into a slot to disarm it. When armed it disconnects the ignition and the fuel pumps and was the only obvious place where there was break in the circuit to the pumps.
We figured that the very high ambient temperatures over the bank holiday weekend had caused something in the immobiliser system to overheat so the decision was made to replace it with a much more modern system, which took a few weeks to organise. With this done, and a few confirmatory test drives (including one with a fuel pressure guage rigged up) completed, the Daytona was ready for Journées d’Automne.
Unfortunately whilst the car was ready my usual co-driver, my lovely wife Danielle, was not. A medical issue meant that she was not able to join me this time, much to her chagrin as it is one of her favourite events, so my friend - and fellow petrolhead - Richard Jarvis stepped in as my passenger and navigator for the weekend.
For the ever growing number of British entrants the format is the same; gather at the Eurotunnel terminal on Friday morning to cross the channel and then head down to Fere en Tardenois in the afternoon. The meet up at the channel tunnel showed the incredible diversity of cars on the event with both the oldest and newest cars taking part coming from the UK. The oldest was the incredible 1912 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost ‘Nellie’ driven by Katie Forrest. Nellie is a frequent entrant in many UK events but this was her first trip across the channel. The newest car on the event was an Alfa Romeo SZ (ES30) which technically is much too new to take part but because it is such a rare and unusual car it was given a dispensation.
Now long time followers of my adventures with the Daytona will recall the car is not a big fan of the channel tunnel crossing. I’m not exactly sure why (although it maybe something to do with the pressure inside the train carriages) but it is never that keen to start when it is time to exist the train. The same was the case this year and it took copious amounts of throttle to get the car going, which also meant showering Sam and Will behind me in a completely open - aero-screen equipped -Jaguar XK120 in fuel vapours. Sorry chaps. Once underway the car was misfiring probably as a result of slightly fouled plugs, but after a quick ‘Italian tune up’ all was fine again and we headed south. Most of the British contingent stopped for a lunch but Richard and I needed to check into the Gite we had booked by 4:00pm so we exercised the Daytona’s excellent GT credentials with a run down the nice and clear autoroute to Fere.
We actually made really good time and checked in with enough time to relax and freshen up before heading for the first engagement of the event, the BBQ at Chateau de Fere on Friday evening. We got to the BBQ just as the sun was going down and this gave us the opportunity to check out some of the other early arriving cars from the event including the amazing Vignale bodied Ferrari 225S Berlinetta chassis number 0168ED and a couple of Alfa Romeo TZ1’s.
After the sun had set we headed to the BBQ and finally got to say hello to Etienne Reynaud and Guillame Le Metayer, the two guys behind the event. They have been running this event for many years and make sure that everything is just right. With 100 plus cars taking part in the event this requires a lot of support which is provided by events company Profirst, and also the event sponsors, watch manufacturer A. Lange & Soehne (no relation to me unfortunately) and new sponsor for 2019, Champagne Comtes de Dampierre. A feature throughout the weekend was Dampierre’s one off 1937 Bentley 4 ¼ litre 'Woody' Shooting Brake, the perfect champagne delivery vehicle!
The next morning Richard and I were up bright and early (partly as we didn’t have anything for breakfast in the Gite) to get to the circuit which was a short 15 minute drive away along some really lovely roads, featuring some amazing scenery. Once there I parked up the Daytona in the 70’s parking area and we helped ourselves to the complimentary (fantastic) coffee and brioche. It was not long before the Daytona was joined by another French registered Daytona resplendent in Giallo Fly yellow. The GT theme in the area was further enhanced by the arrival of a beautiful metallic green German registered Maserati Khamsin. It turned out the Khamsin had travelled the furthest distance of any of the entrants, having made it all the way from Berlin a distance of some 1,000km.
The paddock began to fill up with a huge variety of rare and unusual classics. All the cars were amazing but some of the other stand out cars included my friend Mihai’s incredible blower Bentley which had also driven down from the UK, a bright orange Iso Grifo A3C, and the legion of Bugatti Type 35’s. With the Bentley lined up in the same section of the paddock as the Bugattis it looked like it could be the late 1920’s at Le Mans.
The event is by no means just for high end classics as fitting into the spirit of the event is more important the size of your wallet, and that meant the likes of a Triumph Herald Estate and a Datsun Fairlady looked just as good as some of the more expensive offerings.
As with most classic track events early Porsche 911’s and Alfa Romeo GTV’s were the most numerous cars there. One of the GTV’s stood out though as newly married Jonny and Kat Shears were proudly displaying their recent betrothal with just married sign writing on their back window, although no cans were tied behind the car!
Most of the cars ventured out onto the circuit but the track is a bit too tight and twisty to suit the Daytona (and my driving ability) so I settled for enjoying the event from the sidelines and catching up with the many friends I've made at the event over the previous years. At 12:00pm the track closed for lunch and the entrants formed a loose peloton for the short drive to the medieval Chateau de Nesles for lunch. At the chateau and having successfully negotiated the narrow entrance the cars parked up in the courtyard, everyone sat down for a three course lunch.
Most people returned to the circuit around 2:00 for the afternoon session which ran through until about 6:00pm. With the session over Etienne asked if I would take the Daytona around the circuit for a low speed parade with some of the other stand out cars. At the front of parade ace photographers Remi Dargargen and Mathieu Bonnevie were hanging out of a Range Rover camera car snapping some shots. One of the other cars in the parade was the aforementioned Ferrari 225s from which my friend Pedro San Martin shot this film below.
On board the Ferrari 225s (turn the speakers up)
With the track day done we returned to the Gite to change before heading back to the Chateau de Nesles for the awards dinner, which was another three course affair. The awards are not really for the best car but for people who have most represented the spirit of the event. Mihai and Katie both took prizes for having driven their pre war cars such long distances to the event as did the German Khamsin.
The next morning we reconvened in the square in the centre of Fere en Tardenois in preparation for the Sunday rally. The route changes every year but this year was a long loop which ultimately took the entrants back to the Chateau de Fere. Some of the entrants would go one way and some the other way around. Our route initially took us south towards Chateau Thierry before heading a clockwise route up to Soissons and a coffee stop before continuing clockwise back to Fere. It was an excellent drive along some fantastic roads. Unfortunately a lengthy stop at a petrol station trying to negotiate the credit card machine, which did not give us an English option, and a few wrong turns put us quite a bit behind the majority of the entrants. With this in mind we ended up skipping a large part of the second section and headed back to Fere for the finishing lunch. Even though we skipped the organised route and reverted to Google maps all the roads in the area are great for classic cars and we had a really enjoyable drive the whole morning.
With the event now over we pointed the Daytona north and headed for the tunnel. For nearly the whole event we had basked in Autumn sunshine but as we neared Calais the weather changed and the heavens opened. The rain was brief but probably the heaviest I had ever driven the Daytona in and we were forced to slow right down. This was clearly the right thing to do as we passed a British registered car which had unfortunately lost control and crashed into the autoroute barriers (fortunately without injury to the occupants).
Through the tunnel and this time the Daytona decided to start up without issue although as it always seems to at this point of the trip the left hand light pod decided it didn’t want to deploy necessitating a quick stop at the petrol station as the chunnel terminal exit to manually raise the light.
Having enjoyed three days on nearly empty and smooth French roads the congested and pot hole strewn M20 was an unwelcome return to the UK, but fortunately the M25 was surprisingly clear and we got home in good time.
Journées D’Automne is the perfect event for classic owners who like to use their cars rather than display them on the concours lawn. It is open to cars where the model was launched before 1974 (occasionally something a few years newer is allowed if it is rare and interesting). Etienne and Guillame don’t advertise the event but even so it is almost always oversubscribed. If you would like to take part in 2020 and have a suitable car I would suggest dropping them a DM through with their Instagram or Facebook account sooner rather than later.