Ferrari Life Epic Driver 2.5
1. The Car
Since FLED 2 in the Alps in June, the 308 GTB has received new radiator fans and had the a/c removed. The latter results in the a/c radiator that sat in front of the main radiator being removed plus the removal of a heavy lump of metal from the engine bay (picking up the a/c unit, I would estimate that it weighs about 20kg!)
As the rear tyres had worn smooth, I decided to take the opportunity to replace the BBS rims (8"by 16" all round) to period-correct Stratos rims "Group 4 spec" (8" by 15" front and 12" by 15" rear with massive 285 wide Michelin TB 15 racing rubber on the rear!) These rims are made by Compomotive exclusively for Hawk Cars in Turnbridge Wells, UK. The front rims feel much lighter than the old BBS rims and the rears feel about the same. A big advantage is that the two (!) spacers (one thin, one wide and heavy) on each side at the rear were removed to fit the new wider rims. The thin front spacers remain in the front.
As FLED 2.5 was to take place in the UK, I decided to drive up a day earlier to have the new rims and tyres fitted.
So what we now have is a Ferrari 308 GTB/M vetroresina Grp 4 stradale:
Bodywork-lightweight fiberglass body with deep front spoiler, integrated mirrors, widened arches front and rear, rear spoiler, aluminium rims as fitted to rally and racing Stratos' and Ferrari 308 GTB Michelotto's of the mid-1970's.
Mechanics-freshly rebuilt and balanced motor with heads converted to run unleaded petrol, sports exhaust, rebushed suspension, radiator redone, new radiator fans, a/c delete and Michelin TB 15 racing tyres.
To-do: install Birdman's fusebox with superior glass fuses, fix windscreen wipers and change oil as we have driven over 5,000 km since the engine rebuild.
2. The Plan
Up early on Thursday 29th October, onto my bicycle and an enjoyable cycle to the garage where the red car sleeps. Off we go and soon hit traffic in the vicinity of Utrecht. 308 keeps her cool in the first gear pull-off, into neutral and coast for a few metres and then stop. Repeat a mind numbingly number of times. Traffic eventually lifts and time is getting tight to make the ferry in Calais. Into Belgium and lots of fog. Turn on the headlights and smell acrid burning. I hope that it is factories I cannot see in the fog. But the sinking feeling is confirmed by the smoke starting to seep through the vents. Turn off heater and lights immediately! No, even quicker than immediately.
Luckily a filling station nearby. They must think I am mad as I peer into the front and rear comparments sniffing around. No sign of fire. Put the fire extinguisher on the passenger seat, filled up with 98 and caned it through Belgium. A happy cruising speed is revcounter needle straight up at 5000 rpm and speedo reading 180 km/h. Effortless with oil temp barley registering above 80 Celcius and water temp at a quarter. A short blast to 220 and the temperature gauges do not move. Arrive and embark on the ferry straight away. Perfect.
A nice crossing gives me 90 minutes to enjoy a sandwich and to relax.
Into Dover and the sun is shining. Wonderful!
3. Tyres and Turnbridge Wells
An easy drive northwest up the M20 and then down southwest on the scenic A26 to Turnbridge Wells. Beautiful countryside in Autumn with lots of trees with yellow and brown and red leaves against the backdrop of green, rolling hills. Superb houses just before arriving in Turnbridge Wells. On the main road I pull into Freeway Exhaust and Tyre. The service I received from Liam and his team was outstanding. They collected my rims and tyres from Hawk Cars about 5 miles away. Despite the rear wheel spacers being almost impossible to remove (one broken Allen key later), they never gave up and got them off. I wanted to visit Hawk Cars and Liam kindly joined me to show me the way-I would not otherwise have found it. An innocuous looking property on a twisty, narrow country road on the other side of Turnbridge Wells. We enjoyed a terrific blast on those backroads before turning into Hawk Cars. Behind the house are a few sheds. Filled with magnificent alumium-bodied Cobra's built to spec. And a Stratos that looks indistinguishable from the Italian version. Gerry tells me that they have built over 600 of the Strati! Usually fitted with an Alfa V6 motor.
As I drive Liam back to Freeway, it is 5pm and dark. On with the headlights and a few minutes later, smoke is pouring out of the dash. Lights out and a careful drive back to Freeway. The 308 gets locked up for the night, the team assure me that they will contact the auto-electricians in the area and they recommend a few places for me to spend the night. Liam takes me to Mount Edgcumbe, a lovely little hotel with great bar and restaurant overlooking the rolling valleys below Turnbridge Wells. A Guiness and a fine meal of fish & chips and I am ready for 10 hours of sleep.
During my full English breakfast the nest morning, Freeway call to say that Alltech, a father and son auto-electrician team specialising in racing cars, are waiting for the car. A nice stroll into town, collect the car and soon we are at the industrial estate where I find Alltech. I am dispatched to B&Q with the only decent cafe in the area and while father and son inspect the cause of the smoke. I settle down with a cafe mocha and a great read: "Vulcan 607"-Rowland White writing about the Vulcan missions into the Falklands. Particularly appropriate as I harbour great memories of watching the only flying Vulcan left in the world giving superb flying demonstrations at the Goodwood Revival. So beautiful and purposeful in flight with a thunderous sound as she climbs out of a smooth silent fly-by and up into the sky.
Three hours later I walk back and the car is ready. The fan fuse-connector had started to melt caused by having the heater on. Putting lights on was the last straw. They have checked and all other systems are go, including the lights! In addition they have done research and printed out details of Birdman's fusebox for me. Funnily enough I had ordered and received Birdman's fusebox a few months earlier. But my mechanic advised me not to fit it as it uses American glass fuses and I live in Europe. Alltech assured me that the Birdman's fusebox would be the way to go and gave me a pile of glass fuses to use. They assured me the my windows will work quicker and smoother, lights brighter and less chance of smoke. Fitting the Birdman's fusebox is at the top of the to-do list now.
4. FLED 2.5
A quick drive back to Freeway to ensure that the wheels have been correctly torqued (they have) and then we head towards the M25 to connect with the M40 to take us to Clivedon House near to Slough. This is where we will meet for dinner and spend the first night of FLED 2.5. Traffic flows well until just before the M4. Luckily I phone Boxer who advises me to take the M4 and then junction 7. Boxer's directions sound a whole lot simpler than the Via Michelin's M40 and then backroads. Once on the M4 we flow and junction 7 soon comes up. At 17h30 we are at Clivedon House. The lights work fine and no more smoke!
4.1 Clivedon House
The buildings and grounds are magnificent. I park in the front of the House where it looks like the Rolls-Royce-Bentley's owners club is having a meeting. In fact the Phantom and Continental belong to the hotel. The other 3 or 4 belong to guests. The little red berlinetta brings some class to this establishment. Particulary with her gold wide rims in the same hue as F1 and Le Mans Ferrari's from the 1960's and 1970's. I wish I could say the same about its driver as he inelegantly folds his 6 4" frame out of the low-slung berlinetta. I am led to a magnificent chamber where I note that my name has been placed at the door. Shortly afterwards the phone rings. Barry and Niamh have arrived and I join them for drinks. Barry has just added a lovely blue Aston V8 Vantage to his stable and has his brought his red/crema 360 Modena F1 along. Interesting to hear owner impressions of the GT Aston and sports Ferrari. The previous evening Barry and Niamh had taken the ferry from Ireland and then driven to be at Nick Cartwright at 7 that morning for a service including belts, collected it that afternoon and driven up to Clivedon House. Good going by both Nick and Barry! The 360 looks superb in great condition. Time flew as we enjoyed our drinks and chatted and soon Boxer arrived. Followed shortly by Matt and Anne. A great dinner later, a nightcap and back to my chamber I go. Life is sweet!
Up the next morning for a light breakfast and great coffee. The pouring rain as I loaded my bag into the 308 earlier has almost stopped. Good show. Ollenaram joins us for coffee and outside our steeds await: Barry's red 360, Matt's black 360, Ollenaram's red 550 Maranello, Boxer's red F40 and my 308. While the cars warm up, I dry the 308 off as the rain has stopped. We leave the magnificent grounds of Clivedon House and jump onto the highway direction Severn Bridge and Wales. My view that Ferrari's look their best when viewed at speed from another Ferrari is once again confirned by my viewpoint from the 308. The F40 in front looks impossibly low and wide. The 550 looks classic and brutal from the front with its wide mouth and gaping bonnet air intake. The black 360 looks menacing. The red 360 simply beautiful with touches of Dino 246 from the side. Barry's 360 has a Nick Cartwright sports exhaust and sounds superb-a low and loud growl that switches to a high-pitched scream at speed.
Over the new, magnificent Severn Bridge we go, pay our GBP5.40 toll and stop to fill up. Wales is beautiful with verdant, rolling hills, big ones, and mist lying low just above the hilltops. The sheep were enclosed in fields but we came upon some ponies standing on both sides of the road. Glaring at us. The roads were mainly single carriage but the traffic was sparse and we could cruise comfortably. We stopped for a delicious lunch at a pub. Drinks unbelievably cheap, people friendly. There was an item on the menu "faggots"-apparently some type of meatball. I had the red mullet with red pepper sauce on wild rice. Delicious.
Then some amazing roads winding up and down the rolling, open terrain. No rain but some roads damp and others dry. A really good stretch next to pine forests but a number of cars as well . No problem, excellent visibility on the gently winding and open roads. The little 308 sang as we blasted past two or three cars at a time. And then we found some fine empty roads and flew along in third and fourth gears before arriving at Al's bodyshop. Wonderful! Occasionally I would get a whiff of burning rubber. Matt and Barry informed me that they each noticed a puff smoke from the left rear tyre if I hit a bump at speed. The new tyres are so wide and with the car leaning a little to the left due to my weight in the driver's seat, the tyre would make contact with the rear wheel arch lip. I spoke to Al about this and he may have a solution. A nice chap with a good reputation for doing good work for reasonable prices. In the workshop were two 308 Dino GT4's; two 308 GTB's-one vetroresina and one steel; a 348; Alfa Spider and an Alfa Giulia saloon. We enjoy a cup of coffee with Al and then head back to Gloucestershire to Thornbury Castle.
Matt and I swap cars. Matt's 360 is stunning with black exterior and bordeaux interior. What immediately strikes me is that I sit more upright and higher than the 308. All glass areas seem so far away compared to the more intimate confines of the 308. After driving Boxer's 360 on FLED 2, this 360 reminds me what a wonderful Ferrari the 360 is. Comfortable and effortless. Edgy and serious and very fast when you floor it. Revs die instantly when you change gear, a joy through the classic open-gated 6 speed gearbox. Back into the 308 and it feels more mechanical than the 360 and where the 360 felt effortless, the 308 requires, no demands, effort. Compared to the 360, the clutch feels firm and I wonder where the brakes went. At one point I heard gearbox whine in the 360 exactly as I hear it in the 308, a definite and wonderful link between these two fabulous Ferrari's.
Another petrol stop at the same filling station as earlier in the day. It turns out the 308 used the most fuel, followed by the F40 with Barry's 360 using the least fuel. Quite proud of that, I am.
4.3 Thornbury Castle
An easy drive down the M4, lights on and soon we arrive at the magnificent Thornbury Castle. Unfinished since King Henry took over and now discretely turned into a hotel. I am led to my turret into a huge room. With a decanter of complimentary sherry and home-made biscuits. This is more like it as I lie in a big hot bath sipping sherry and resting my tired body after a day of fabulous driving through beautiful Wales. The little red berlinetta fits me like a glove and even after long streches at the wheel I do not suffer backache, but this is a very physical car. Windows open to hear the music, the multi-timbred melody from the motor, the responsive steering, the firm clutch and gear box, and the sheer speed of the car leave me tired. In a good way. What you put in, is what you get out.
Drinks in the drawing room and then a fine dinner. Talk swings randomly from p(h)easants to catapults to fires. As conversations do during a fine dinner in great company in a castle after exploring Wales at the helm of a Ferrari.
Time to say goodbye to new and to old friends as I will leave early on Sunday morning to drive 331km to Dover to catch my ferry to Calais (last check-in at 13h15). A light breakfast and more good coffee early on Sunday morning and I am joined by Barry and Niamh. Their later, fast ferry to Ireland has been cancelled due to poor weather and they also have to head out early to catch an earlier ferry.
5. The Drive back-England
Winds are strong and it rains. The wide rear tyres handle the wet better than expected but they do acquaplane over standing water, so intense concerntration is needed. Wipers on, we head for the highway and soon are cruising down the M4 to then join the M25 near to Gatwick and then to Dover. About 100km into our drive and the wipers die. Occasionally I flick the wiper switch on and off, but nothing. By keeping between 100-130 km/h I can see alright and keep going. Great, no wipers and wide tyres in the rain. And then we hit traffic near to Gatwick but visibility remains margninal and soon we pick up the pace again. Amazingly we make it to Dover in time to fill up with 97 at around GBP1.15 a litre compared to around 1.45 EUR in the Netherlands. Problem is that driving in town a low speeds means that I can hardly see anything in the fierce wind and rain. Get to the ferry terminal and they direct me to a shed for a random inspection. What a surprise in my discrete red car with huge gold rims. Then manouevre slowly to my quene for the ferry. They are still disembarking so turn the motor off. The windows decide to act like the wipers and not work. So rain is blown into the passenger side of the car. Grateful not to have a passenger to experience how the other half live (cold and damp and worrying about wipers). I remove the fusebox but cannot see any broken fuses. I keep the cover off to let the fuse box cool down.
And now the inerior is misting up. Luckily I have a chamois handy and continually wipe the exterior and interior glass much to the amusement others smugly sitting in their cars with decadent luxuries of heaters, demisters and windscreen wipers. It will be interesting to board the ferry as I can barely see the large ship through the wind and rain and misted windscreen. Fire up and the wipers work just long enough for me to aim the car up the steep ramp to the ship. Result! I start to smell victory. Once on board I dry the car off and head up to the Costa coffee shop for refreshment.
6. The Drive back-Belgium
The captain warns us of fairly rough seas, but once underway, it is pretty smooth sailing. I try not to worry about the prospect of driving through France, Belgium and the Netherlands in the dark and the rain. My concern is not helped by lighter skies behind us and dark skies in front. The storm is following us!
Off we disembark at Calais and no rain. A smooth drive for the 50 km through France and then into Belgium. Lights on and here comes the rain. I am not singing. To my immense relief the wipers work when I put them on. And the windows decide to work again. So here is the plan: I will switch the wipers on every 30 seconds or when I see a directions sign and then turn them off after a sweep of the windscreen. Less wind but more rain than England and we make good progress. Until a major traffic jam near to the Antwerp ring road. First gear, neutral, stop and repeat much like outside Utrecht. Finally the tempo picks up and we are cruising around Antwerp and heading towards Breda. The tyres seem to be improving with every kilometer with little to no acquaplaning and the ride becoming progressively smoother. On the smooth highways of the Netherlands, the big balloon tyres mean that this car rides like a Jag. Much smoother than the old 16" 225 tyres and they were not bad at all for ride comfort.
I clearly remember the sign the says "Amsterdam 44km". It is raining hard and I think I may have to seek shelter until the rain lightens up. But then 3 km down the road and the rain stops! We sail serenly towards the Amstelveen turnoff that I will take to park the car in her garage. Just before the turnoff I see a light in the misty sky. It winks at me and then disappears suddenly. Must be a plane. I like to think of it as my guardian angel.
I park the little red berlinetta, climb onto my bike and cycle the 30 minutes home. Arrive home almost exactly 12 hours after setting off from England, 700km of driving, one ferry crossing and a cycle home. Once again the 308 has brought me home. Even though she has suffered mechanical maladies, she has brought me back each time: when the head cracked and oil mixed with water on the drive back from Guernsey in August 2008, she still got me home and now, even in the pouring rain with dodgy old fusebox, we have made it. New fusebox has arrived and will be installed soon. I feel immense relief, tension, peace and pride in myself and the little red berlinetta for surviving one of the toughest drives of my life.