My old friend Donald was desirous of having his 20hp back at his place in the Dordogne to use for this coming 2014 season. Accordingly he suggested we give his car a thorough service & drive it back to him by way of a holiday. Thus last month I loaded the car to the gunnels with wife, two urchins & clothes for a week & off we set.
Our first day was a leisurely drive down to Portsmouth at a steady 50MPH; this 20hp I am sure has had a high ratio rear axle fitted at some juncture as it wafts along at 50 up hill & down dale without breaking a sweat or even getting hot. The Ferry was due for a change of crew at Roscoff, so instead of the usual over-night we got to have two indolent nights on the boat which for me always feels like a small holiday in itself. Easing into Bilbao in the early morning we were immediately struck by the balmy climes on deck compared to the frigid UK we had just left. Fittingly we unfurled the sedanca portion of the roof in preparation for some alfresco motoring.
The first leg of the trip involved a longish leg by way of Pamplona to a precipitous little pass into France. Leaving Pamplona, mountains darkly beckoning, we wound up ever more sinuous roads into the Pyreneean mountains proper. Lunch was taken at a splendid little regional restaurant in the picturesque town of Roncesvalles. Not given to speaking Basque, we simply handed the proffered menus back to the owner/waitress & indicated that we would be happy to eat whatever the best the restaurant could produce was. A fine plate of Pata Negra de Bellota ham as it turned out for the first course followed by the mother of all Chuleta chops to follow washed down by a soft supple & velvety Ribera Del Duero.
From here we cut south & east onto ever more minor roads until we found ourselves grinding slowly up the steepest incline so far in the teeth of a howling rain lashed gale up to an altitude of over 6000 feet. The Rolls handled the climb with aplomb, our feet kept toasty warm from the fire wall radiating engine heat & a snug roof keeping out the worst of the drafts.
Just past the summit a splendid vista of Gascony unfolded in front of our eyes with better weather beckoning us like a welcome hand. A quick photo stop on top was followed by an equally long & precipitous descent made mostly in second gear whilst deftly avoiding a coterie of boar hunters conducting a hound aided drive down the valley into which we were descending.
Out of the mountains we had a simple 30 mile or so drive to the small village of Moumour just outside of Oleron St Marie where we checked in for two days to the excellent & classic car friendly Chateau Moumour for some R & R. Not quite a hotel, it describes itself as a Chambre D’hote, but what a place to stay!!! Far better then most hotels & with a personal touch one gets from being one of just three parties of guests rather then part of the baaaing flock. Mine host, Laurent,a genial Dutchman had attended the famed Alain Ducasse cooking school & it showed; ably assisted by his wife Christine, even breakfast was a gourmet affair. Stay there if you are passing!!!
During the following few days we enjoyed not driving more the 10 or 20 miles per day & ambling round the local Gascon villages with plenty of time for shopping & eating; a French haircut for myself & my son; a driving lesson for him in the 20hp round Moumour seated on my lap which drew applause from the local populace & also the local Gendarme nonchalantly seated at his favourite seat outside the local Tabac enjoying a Gauloises Bleu who broke from his reverie to give us a thumbs up enthusiastically answered by Charlie toasting him with the Klaxon.
On our last day a Parisienne French banker showed up en famille with his prized early Porsche 911. Upon learning we had driven in over the Pyrenees he expressed both shock & amazement that I had endangered my family in such a manner & even more surprise that the old Rolls had actually made it. A swift rejoinder to the effect that with dual ignition available the Rolls was probably more reliable then his 911 swiftly put him in his rightful place leaving him to scratch his gallic head.
Departing Chateau Moumour, we drove a 200 mile or so day up to Velines on the Gironde river. En route we stopped for lunch with a client at the splendid Chateau Las Tapies, a 13th century Bishops hunting lodge on 64 acres, just south of Condom to drink his home made Armanac & eat his wife’s delicious food whilst admiring his Phantom II, 1904 Darracq & fine pre war Tatra Streamliner lurking in the outbuildings. The chateau is on the market so if you have a spare £1.2Mil hurry so as not to miss it.
Adieus bid, we motored up to yet another Chateau/hotel in Velines run by a pair of genial & delightful expat Belgians fleeing the smoke & square tomatoes of Brussels. Philippe insisted on a tour of the locale in the Rolls & who was I not to indulge him in “une balade en Rolls Royce” as he so aptly put it?
On the morrow was a relaxed spin up to Nontron deep in the Dordogne to deliver the car to Donald who kindly deposited us at Bordeaux airport on the following day & thence to London. I tend to rave on a bit about 20hp’s but this trip was ample justification for yet another diatribe. The car ran faultlessly for over 1000 miles never failing to start & averaging about 20 to the gallon. It never felt slow, even when dueling with Spanish camions on the few bits of dual carriageway we encountered. (We were faster up the hills but they caught us on the down grades.) It ran seamlessly & is a testament to the quality of the smaller engined Royce cars. This particular model being a time warp museum quality example with original leather & fantastic scumbled paintwork resembling quarter sawn oak. When I die. if you are the first to open my garage door, without doubt you will find a 20hp inside.