It was April 2015, and I took a trip to Scotland to join in a family birthday party. I decided to rent a car to get me around while I was there, so at the same time as booking my budget air travel, I reserved a “Fiat 500 or similar” on the website of a popular vehicular rental agency.
Upon arriving at Edinburgh Airport, I headed out to the rental pick-up point. The lady there was very nice, although deeply confused when I asked her if she accepted this type of driving licence:
It's a licence issued in the UK, but apparently not good enough to hire a car with...
She checked with her colleague, who seemed as confused by her question as he was with my “licence”. I had to explain that I was joking (I’d already handed over my real licence). Awkward.
After failing to rent me a BMW X3 for only £90 for the day (my Fiat 500 or similar was going to be £24), she released me into the car park with the keys to a cherry red small car. I got in, started it up and was immediately accosted by an unpleasant noise. Must be a diesel, I thought. However, as soon as I got out on the road I realised something was wrong with this assumption. There appeared to be no torque at all, and the car would only pick up speed if I wound the revs beyond 4000rpm. No way was this a diesel, it must be the 0.9 litre 3 cylinder engine. It’s seriously underwhelming in a 5 door car.
I may have learnt things in this building. All forgotten now, sadly.
On top of the dynamic disappointment, I observed that the stitching on the gearknob appeared to be designed specifically to abrade the skin on the driver’s palm, and the gearchange was so vague and imprecise that it seemed that the cables had been wound around the exhaust a couple of times before reaching the transmission.
Having said that, I did like the colour.
I headed into the City of Edinburgh to wander around aimlessly and try to retrace the routes I took as a student 20 years ago. I stopped by my former University campus, and also stopped a few streets away in a humble little street called Merchiston Mews.
The Ecurie Ecosse Scions admire their cars for the 1956 season, in which they would triumph at Le Mans
During the 1950’s, Merchiston Mews became famous around the world as the base of the Ecurie Ecosse Motor Racing team. They were a small privateer outfit run out of an assortment of garages in this very street, but they certainly punched above their weight. In 1956, they beat all the works teams to triumph at the Le Mans 24 hours. In 1957, they finished 1st and 2nd.
I had been through the Mews a few times as a student, trying to work out where the garages had been, but I didn’t have enough information to work it out and it certainly wasn’t clear from staring at the buildings (no remaining signage or blue plaques). Recently, thanks to old photos on the internet which I compared to Google Streetview images, I had a better idea. I parked the Fiat 500 or similar outside number 8 and took a look around.
Merchiston Mews, featuring a hire car
After taking a few photos and having a poke around under the bonnet of the rental car to see where the missing horses were, I got in and spent a couple of minutes pairing my phone to the ICE system before continuing my journey. I’d just finished this when a Land Rover Freelander appeared and stopped right in front of me. Out jumped an older gent with an Ecurie Ecosse badge sewn onto his bodywarmer/gilet. I wondered if he was the current owner of the garage I was parked in front of, but before I could signal my intention to move he had turned and started waving to someone out of sight down the street. There was a loud rumbling sound, and a very familiar shape came bouncing up the cobbles and swung in to park behind me. I was more than a little surprised.
A hire car, and a higher car, XKD603
Yes, that’s a 1956 Ex-Ecurie Ecosse long-nose D Type racing car.
Several photographers (one of them still in his school uniform) suddenly appeared out of nowhere, together with various other members of the Ecurie Ecosse club. I thought I might as well join in.
The man in the bodywarmer explained that this car is XKD 603, the very car that came second at Le Mans in 1957. The previous year it was a works entry driven by Mike Hawthorn which failed to finish. Ecurie Ecosse took it on, changed the numberplate and went back to finish the job.
The team take car when transporting the cars they would race to victory in 1957. XKD603 is on the right.
The current owner was driving it, and he had no idea that his little tour would include a visit to the Mews. He seemed pleased to be there, although he was having a little car trouble. The race-tuned engine was slightly overheating due to a malfunctioning fan, and petrol was dripping rather alarmingly out of the carbs.
One gent went off to get some fuses, while another fetched a cloth to try to mop up the petrol. I wandered around in a bit of a daze.
It's definitely the right place...
My new knowledgeable friend informed us that Ecurie Ecosse had a number of garages, and team owner David Murray had his office above the blue-painted former shopfront that the car was currently in front of. After the car was fixed, I helped to shut the bonnet. However, it wouldn’t latch, and I wasn’t about to apply brute force to someone else’s multi-million pound aluminium monocoque racing car, so I left it to the professionals.
Another random car turned up to join in the fun:
Types D and E together again. Blocking the traffic.
There was a brief discussion about the best place to photograph the car, and they came to the same conclusion as I had, so I moved the Fiat 500 or similar so that the D type could be placed in front of the same doors it had passed through on the way to Le Mans glory 58 years before. As the signage had long since disappeared, an enterprising Ecurie Ecosse chap brought out a large sticker to place on the door. I took one more cheeky snap:
The former garage liveried up one more time.
Before making way for a far more impressive vehicle:
Home again at last.
The number of the beast
Spartan, no tartan.
In a couple more minutes, they were gone in a haze of petrol and Castrol R fumes, and I was left to get back in the Fiat 500 or similar and take more normal visitor photos...
One more thing, if anyone is interested. This is what a D-Type sounds and looks like while being driven slowly down a cobbled backstreet: