The Daytona is once again back in the Champagne region for this fabulous classic car event.
It was 6:50am on Saturday 18th October, and the first shards of daylight were a good 30 minutes away when I fired up the Daytona to head out the 2014 edition of the Journees d’Automne. Regular readers will recall my wife Danielle and I attended this fabulous event in 2013, although we did have some mechanical problems with the car. Hopefully this time we wouldn't have any serious issues, but I still had a feeling of trepidation as we headed off on what would be the longest trip we've done in the car since last year's event.
The format for this year's outing was much the same as last year, with a track day at the Circuit des Ecuyers on Saturday followed by a Sunday drive through the picturesque Champagne region. In an ideal world we would have headed down on Friday with the rest of the British contingent made up of Jonny and Mark Shears in Jonny’s 1975 Alfa Romeo GTV and Richard and Mandy Plant in a 1969 Morgan Plus 8. However, work commitments on the Friday meant a reduced schedule for the event for us.
Traffic was light as we took the M25 then M20 to the Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone, but some earlier delays at the tunnel meant it was very busy at the terminal. Normally the security checks and passport control at Folkestone are very quick but this time there was a long queue at the French passport control and annoyingly we were pulled in for a random security check as well. This meant we had to turn the engine on and off several times in the short run from the terminal to the train itself, and the car was beginning to protest with rising temperatures and what may have been slightly fouled spark plugs. Fortunately, we made it onto the train and climbed out to stretch our legs during the short 35 minute crossing.
However, when it came for our turn to disembark on the other side of the Channel, I turned the key and the engine briefly caught, stuttered a bit and then died. I tried again and while the starter motor was turning, it was clearly not connecting to crank the engine! The Eurotunnel staff came to our rescue and sent out their recovery crew. Their mechanic recognised the problem but was unable to fix it in situ, so we ended up pushing the car out onto the platform with the aid of some of the passengers who were unfortunately stuck behind us. Once out on the platform, we were able to bump start on the car at the second attempt and the Eurotunnel mechanic gave us directions to a local garage were we could check over the car more thoroughly.
The garage was only a few minutes away and they spoke enough English combined with Danielle’s excellent French for us to explain the problem. The mechanic there asked me to switch off so he could hear the starter motor. Typically, when I tried to start it up again, the starter motor turned the engine again and it fired up with no problem! Old cars, eh?
On the short drive to the garage I had briefly considered just turning around and going home again but with the car seemingly back to full health we decided to press on, since if there were any more issues at least we'd be in the company of fellow classic car enthusiasts and experts on hand to help. Fortunately, the problem didn't rear its head for the remainder of the weekend, though I was mindful to park the car on slightly downhill slopes at the first few stops in case we had to bump start it again.
The rest of the run down to the circuit was uneventful as the A26 autoroute was largely traffic-free. Our earlier delays and a wrong turn on the way meant it was just after 3:00pm when we got to the circuit, somewhat later than the lunchtime arrival I'd planned!
The event was already in full swing with an eclectic mix of classic cars from Minis to 8.0 litre Bentleys displayed in the paddock or enjoying the circuit to the max on an unusually warm October Saturday. We spent the rest of the afternoon watching the action, catching up with friends and browsing some of the wares from event sponsors Chapal, Cadot, Ruby and Briston watches.
At the end of the track day we headed to the Gite that the British contingent had rented on the outskirts of Fére en Tardenois, a few kilometres away. There it was time for a quick shower before heading to the lovely four-course dinner the organisers had laid on at the nearby Chateau de Nesles, accompanied by champagne from Veuve Clicquot.
It was a slightly later start the next day, as the itinerary called for a rendezvous in the main square in of Fére en Tardenois at 8:45am for the Sunday country drive. The car was parked outside all night and had a layer of dew covering it by dawn. It proved quite difficult to demist the windows as they would fog up again as soon as I wiped them over and the blowers on Daytona are not fantastic.
The windows had cleared by the time we were ready to head off for the drive, which remains my favourite part of the event. The sun was well and truly up by now and the roads were largely dry. However, in the places where the road was still in the shade it was very damp, so I had to be a little circumspect to avoid the back end of the Daytona stepping out. The Vredestein tyres that I've fitted this year are giving more grip than the old Pirellis, but the Daytona still has more power than grip. Even driving with some caution it was enormous fun, with one of the highlights being briefly running in convoy with a Bugatti Type 35 and a competition spec 289 Cobra.
The route took us north-east towards the historic town of Laon where, back in 2012, much of the photography for the Octane magazine article had been carried out. We stopped in Laon for more coffee and a chance to stretch the legs and let engines cool down a little, before heading west towards our final destination, the Chateau de Courcelles near Soissons. This final section was probably the most challenging as there were a number of sections with heavily potholed roads, which meant taking extra care not to catch the low-slung exhausts on. I probably made this last task harder by stopping to brim the tank with fuel for the return journey to London - a full 127 litres of fuel in the tank makes quite a difference to the weight and ride height of the car.
The whole route was 127km, and entirely on French D roads or smaller unnamed roads, It was a thoroughly enjoyable drive and those who had been on the event last year thought it was a more challenging route than the one in 2013.
At the Chateau, a second Daytona was also present as the owner was joining the group for lunch. One of the organisers (and all-round top bloke) Étienne Raynaud asked if we would park the two Daytonas together in front on the hotel as they made a great photo opportunity. He was right, too - the two cars looked fantastic parked side by side in such beautiful surroundings.
After a lovely buffet lunch we said our goodbyes and formed a convoy with the rest of the British contingent to head back up to the tunnel and home. The Calais Eurotunnel terminal was surprisingly quiet when we arrived and we were fortunate to catch an earlier train than we have originally booked.
Leaving the tunnel back in the UK it was now dark and annoyingly once again the left-hand light pod would not deploy. It seems to be an intermittent problem, since I'd been using the headlights without issue all over the weekend. Once out of the tunnel I pulled into the garage at the exit and deployed the light manually. Strangely, once I got home the light retracted normally.
Despite the mechanical issues, which in retrospect were much less significant than last year, this was once again a fantastic weekend. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that the Journees d’Automne is my favourite classic car event.
Firstly, huge thanks to Etienne Raynaud and Guillaume Le Métayer for the invite to the Journées d’Automne. The event is organised by Profirst and would not be possible without the grateful support from Chapal, Ruby, Cadot, Briston and Veuve Clicquot.
I would also like to express my appreciation to the people at Eurotunnel for getting us going again as quickly as possible from the train and, grateful thanks and apologies for the delay to the passengers that helped us out of the tunnel.
All pictures here by the author, and for more pictures of the event check out this awesome gallery from Lucile Pillet.