A member’s published letter to the Editor

Le Mans Classic

As a reminder, the CGMC trip to Le Mans Classic took place over 4 days in sunny June with outside dates of 6 to 11 June counting the RV at the pub (name?) which included our first road side break-down, officially it took place outside the pub.

10 cars and 20 drivers and les co-pilotes from the C&Gs as well as welcomed guests. Highlights are many but the drive to and from Le Mans as well as through the valley of the Loire are my personal favourites along with the night’s racing, the Le Mans start and the general bon-vivant of petrol heads in car heaven for a few days of forgetting the drudgery of working lives, assuming that is what CGMC members do when not in their classics.

For Team Buick this was our first Le Mans Classic, we were in the oldest car and quite possibly the oldest and certainly the grumpiest team; why on earth CH would want me to pen a few words I have no idea, perhaps because from the back of the field, we could see all the cars or perhaps because so often we were separate from the main pack with team Saaaaaaab (Jan didn’t like the term Team Saab, not sure why but since I am drafting this piece, I shall use it consistently!) that you wanted to know what we had been up to, other than emptying the radiator for no apparent reason (merci Monsieur P W de G).

As an expatriate with little experience of living and working in the UK, attending Le Mans Classic was a real opportunity to stretch the legs of a discreet mid 60s two door pillar less coupe which I have owned for over a decade but so rarely used. He had gathered up a large black box of spares for me, which was perhaps a little concerning! I am pleased to say, I rarely needed to open the box, well actually it did not contain any spares we could have used for the various faults the old girl developed along the way.We never officially broke down, we just shed water and petrol at about the same rate as wine was drank in Arnage, mostly into the cabin, adding a gentle scent of “essence de petrol/coolant” to our journey through Normandy. I convinced Patric to join me on this short burst to France, with tall tales of speeding down the Mulsanne straight supported by fine dining (achieved…well at least once) before retiring to our chateau on the outskirts of Le Mans on the edge of the Loire region. Patric had been foolish enough to join me on similar such motoring tales since the late 70s and had clearly never learnt from such previous adventures. My mechanic had assured me she was ready for the road but with a gentle warning that she may develop a few unforeseen faults as she had not had a decent run for so many years.

I had somehow assumed that the CGMC would be made up of old British cars from the same period as mine and I would naturally be one of the fastest, most powerful and best handling wheels in the convoy. I was confident and perhaps a little cocky at the capability of my 425Ci Super Wildcat pumping out a very credible 360bhp, well so the brochure said in 65. By the time we had reached the pub in St Mary Bourne, I was a little concerned by the site of a mid-80s Porsche, albeit somewhat relieved to find she had shred her fan belt. I was feeling really quite ill when I parked up in Portsmouth only to see a Carrera GT pull up in front of me and clearly the man in charge of this hyper car was going to be travelling with us. And so the list went on, 2 Cobras, an Aston, another Porsche, a Saab Turbo and the DS! In fairness, Patric and I were already feeling queasy for a very different reason by the time we had reached the ferry terminal, the strong smell of petrol (gasoline for the sake of the Buick), had forced a strict windows down policy which was fine on the passenger’s side but less so on the driver’s side, where the window operation was at best intermittent! This meant clearing the petrol fumes was slow to happen and equally inside the smoke infested car parking in the ferry, we choked as the window would not close (not before a respite of some 30 minutes whilst some pervert from customs riffled through my bag and bored me about security). We also felt ill because even before reaching the ferry we were clearly both suffering from motion sickness from the sharp ride of the 17 foot+ X shaped chassis supported by the sporty Buick all independent suspension, something of a rarity in 60s American cars. Do you remember in the 70s and 80s, when one bought a car, the first thing you checked was to press on the front and see if the car bounced, it was a way of checking the state of the suspension. Don’t try it in the Buick, the endless sawing motion will hypnotize you.

What is a Buick Riviera? By the early 60s, Bill Mitchell, the then boss of GM was in London and through the fog outside Harrods, he saw both a Ferrari and a Rolls Royce Corniche cross in front of him. He asked his design team to merge both cars and create a slick, fast, smooth, sporty handling two door pillar less coupe with four bucket seats, which would be built in limited numbers and appeal to the rich wealthy harp suited Americans of the period, hence why the car loved the recent series of Mad Men and has since leapt in value (I think!). He achieved all of these I would suggest and the bendy roads between Cherbourg and Le Mans were testament to this fine handling and rigid frame.

Team Saab and others (in fact thinking about it, all) commented throughout the trip at the road poise and superb balance of the car in sharp corners. I did try to briefly video an overtaking by the DS and the Aston but the malaise forced me to abandon the effort. By the way, the DS was über cool and such a good looking machine. I really thought she would remain with me in the back row but was surprised and delighted to see her flight to the front in speeds in excess of 80mph. We deliberately kept the Buick between 40 and 60 which had nothing whatsoever to do with overheating, fuel economy or keeping the rear diff in one piece and I will strongly deny any such allegations. Patric, on the way to Le Mans, thankfully developed and then shared a revised Buick low-speed driving technique to avoid the clonk from the sticky diff (yes Sir Meyrick, you were right, of course you were!). Brake prior to small roundabouts to reduce the speed and then accelerate all around the curb, adding to the experience of a yank tank.

The Buick made it back home and has now gone in for some much needed surgery. To give her credit, she did wait for the morning of the 12th to throw a conrod (assumption and still awaiting news). I spent hours pondering her replacement as the cabin filled with toxic fumes but in fairness, she was in some ways the star of the show, yes she floated, yes the front seats are too close to the windscreen, yes the heating did spray boiling steam into the cabin, yes the electric windows were as temperamental as a feline and yes she had to be nurtured but in the end, she was big, brash, the crowds loved her, her sound of a gentle barge suited our convoy and she growled once or twice when needed, including on a rather silly piece of overtaking and those lines with the windows down matching that stunning ice blue coachwork are just too delicious to part with in any great hurry. She will be with us in 2017 I hope.