Claret and Classics 2000

Colin and Susan Mills
Geneva (Luins) , Switzerland
1 – 7 July 2000


A delightful romp through some of the most beautiful countryside in France. This is a splendid description of a historic car tour, and should be read for the pure enjoyment of our TigersUnited.com correspondents experiences. He is headquartered outside Geneva.


A rally for classic cars which is more about having fun, meeting people, enjoying the French countryside and savouring the delights of French food and drink.

The organiser, from Somerset in south west England, has been variously described as an artist, historian and journalist. His astute sense of humour pervades all his documentation and discussions. For the most part, participants in his events treat a rally as a holiday and social event from which they may be lucky enough to take home a prize. Admittedly, though, there are some who take it more seriously than others. The following extract from the general rules sums up his approach:

    "There are always snags taking nearly forty old cars around France, and if people are all over the shop with their timing, it helps us not at all. So if you are running, say, at no. 15 with the first car due away at 9.01, then you should be there at the start by 9.15, ready, eager and panting to be off, unless I know a damned good reason why not. If you aren't, penalties may well be exacted, possibly in the form of penalty points, or perhaps, if I'm feeling in a particularly obnoxious mood, in the form of pulling out your nostril hairs one by one with red-hot tweezers. Ladies may imagine a chillingly apt equivalent."

Having made the decision to participate, we made sure the Tiger was properly prepared. For us, this was basically selecting a few spare parts and checking oil, water and tyres. Like ours, most cars are used on a daily basis rather than coddled concours entrants, and preparation is more about roadworthiness for a thousand mile trip than anything else.

Day 1, Saturday, July 1,2000
La Rochelle

Tiger and navigator at our hotel en route to La Rochelle
The start point for the rally was La Rochelle – a tourist centre and fishing port on the Bay of Biscay, north of Bordeaux in western France. As well as two nights in La Rochelle, the route included stops for one night in three-star hotels in each of AngoulÍme, Chateauroux and Bourges. The final two nights were spent in Beaune, a picturesque medieval town in the centre of the Bourgogne wine region in eastern France – less than three hours from our home near Geneva.

Signing on was scheduled for the Saturday afternoon, 1 July, in La Rochelle. We decided to take it easy and left home on the afternoon of the previous Thursday, staying overnight en route, and visiting friends about an hour north of La Rochelle on the Friday night.

On our approach to the town, we spotted a few other participants – all in British-registered classic cars – milling around. Arriving at the Novotel, we greeted both familiar and unfamiliar people, bought our event sweat shirts, collected our rally plaques and windscreen stickers. We also picked up our copy of the 67-page book of rules, information, town plans, entry list, knockout competition details, a couple of pages of humorously written and illustrated history on each of the towns we were to visit and lots of other generally useful advice, including where to buy petrol near each place we stayed. The book also contained the route details, in the form of "tulip" diagrams (illustrations of road junctions with a written description for each), with directions on how to get to each days timed start, and from the finishing point each day to our hotels.

We were also presented with a calibration route – a precisely measured, 5.005 kilometre stretch of road against which you can check your own trip counter in order to ensure accurate distance measurement. A couple of runs around this route was enough for us; others had up to ten goes at it!

The knockout competition runs in parallel with the main event. Cars are paired off and compete against each other, the car and crew of each pair getting the fewer total penalty points on each day proceeding to the next round on the following day.

The was a reception that evening at the town hall for all participants, where we enjoyed a welcome apÈritif, offered by the mayor. We then progressed (on foot) to the quayside for oysters and champagne, courtesy of a local restaurant (and Jaguar XK 150) owner, Jacques Bourdin. This was followed by a slap-up fish dinner (also included in the rally cost) in Jacques’ restaurant, "AndrÈ’s", a few steps away. After driving from the UK that day, most competitors were bushed and staggered off to bed around midnight.

Day 2, Sunday, July 2, 2000
La Rochelle

At the timed start for the first stage on Day 1. Frogeye Sprite (the eventual winner), Series I Alpine and Buick Roadmaster. Tiger in background at left.
Sunday had been arranged as a practice day, just like real thing, so we could get the feel of the event. We followed the tulips to the timed start and, having been presented with the day's road book a minute before, released onto the first stage at one minute intervals. Unlike some entrants, we didn't try to plot our course on a map when we received each day's road book just prior to departure. In some cases, junctions were deliberately identified by landmarks rather than road signs, which made such an exercise difficult. One tulip in particular foxed us and many others – a simple junction to the right with the explanation "TR to SAUF DESSERTE 1000m after ARRET BUS". So we assumed the right turn was 1,000 metres after the bus stop. We therefore obviously ignored the right turn immediately after the bus stop – which, if you looked around the corner, showed a sign saying "SAUF DESSERTE 1000m" – which was the correct turn. Oh, well …

The results on the practice day weren't included in your overall total for the rally, but there was a prize for the best practice day score. We managed to get a "maximum" (more than five minutes early or late, earning us 300 penalty points) on one of the stages, but generally felt quite comfortable with the procedures. After the third (and final) stage that day, we were directed to the toll bridge across to the Rle de RÈ, where we assembled at the CoopÈrative des Vignerons de l’Rle de RÈ, which specialises in pineau – a local fortified wine made from one third brandy and two thirds grape juice. After sampling the product – and buying a few bottles to take home - we continued to the north west tip of the island, where we enjoyed a late lunch in the shadow of ancient lighthouse, the "Phare des Baleines". The remainder of the day was spent touring the island before returning to La Rochelle for dinner at one of the many delightful little restaurants in La Rochelle. The meal was punctuated by cheers and groans from the kitchen, as the restaurant staff were watching Italy versus France in the final of Euro 2000 soccer tournament.

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