by Matthew Lange / 19 Sep 2013
It is very rare that I look forward to a 4:45 AM alarm call, but then it is not every day that champagne house Veuve Clicquot invites me to join their vintage car run from Paris to the Goodwood Revival meeting. The early start was necessary as the rally had an 11:00 AM launch from the Shangri-La Hotel in Paris and photographer Jonny Shears and I had to catch the first Eurostar train from London in order to be there in time.
Veuve Clicquot organizes the tour as part of its sponsorship of the Goodwood Revival but also has a long-standing relationship with motoring. The Duchess de Uzes, granddaughter of company founder, Barbe-Nicole Clicquot-Ponsardin, is not only credited as the first woman in France to hold a driver’s license but also went on to compete in motorsport. More recently, Veuve Clicquot has established a partnership with the most iconic brand in motorsport: Ferrari.
Upon arrival at the Shangri La, we were greeted by the sight of the rally cars lined up outside the hotel. I’m embarrassed to say my French is a little rusty, so it was somewhat of a relief to discover that the entrants, mainly French, spoke very good English. And anyway, we all spoke the language of vintage cars!
The cars themselves were an eclectic mix of 1960s machines. Jonny Shears was assigned to an Elva Courier of Guillaume Le Metayer, while I was introduced to my ride: a Facel Vega Facel II and its driver, Charles Henri Couvat.. With only around 180 Facel IIs made, they’re very rare, and this particular example was rarer still, as it was fitted with a manual gearbox and the larger 6.7-liter Chrysler V8. In the early sixties, it was one of the fastest four-seater cars in the world.
Setting out from the Shangri-La, the initial challenge was to cope with the chaotic Parisian traffic. Fortunately the organizers had issued each car with a detailed road book with tulip instructions for each waypoint. We were soon out onto a 40-kilometer stretch of autoroute heading towards our lunch destination at the Château de Vatimesnil les Bains some 100 kilometers away.
Photography by Jonny Shears for Petrolicious
The grand touring nature of the Facel easily ate up these kilometers. However, once onto the smaller D roads, the big Facel struggled to keep up with the nimble Elva, and the comfortable bench seats provided little support on the turns and had me reaching for a non-existent grab handle.
Obviously an event organized by Veuve Clicquot involved plenty of fine dining and consumption of their wares, so after arriving at the picturesque château, we were served a light buffet lunch, accompanied by (for the non-drivers, anyway) copious quantities of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label.
The lunch was so enjoyable that it overran a bit, which required the cars to press on a little in order to make our next destination: the ferry in Dieppe another 100 kilometers away. The countryside was very beautiful in the part of France we passed through, but we had no time to stop and admire the view. As we traveled through the many villages, passersby were very appreciative of the old cars, especially the French-built Facel. Unfortunately, most of these villages also contained plenty of speed bumps which generally cause problems for older cars. As we gingerly drove over these obstructions, both Charles and I winced each time the Facel’s exhausts grounded. With some spirited driving, the rally made it to the ferry just in the nick of time. Once safely on board, we celebrated by heading up on deck for more champagne.
The ferry to the English south coast town of Newhaven took about four hours, and it was well and truly dark by the time we docked. Everyone was elated, if tired, when we disembarked. Fortunately it was only a short seven-mile run to our final destination in the historic town of Lewes. The hotel, although located in the center of Lewes, was not that easy to find. Much to the amusement of some locals imbibing in a pub, there was an impromptu parade of vintage cars for a good 15 minutes as the tour drove back and forth through the town trying to find the hotel. In the end, we found the hotel and quickly stowed our bags in the rooms before heading down for an evening meal and inevitably more champagne.
The next morning it was time for the final 40-miles-or-so run from Lewes to Goodwood. For this leg, I switched from the Facel to event organizer, Etienne Raynaud’s, Jaguar XK120 OTS. Etienne has owned the car for around ten years and has used it extensively in events such as the Tour Auto. The car shows a wonderful patina that is a world away from the show queens of the manicured concours lawns. The journey took us down the A27 over the South Downs, where the open XK was utterly glorious with a magnificent roar from the 3.4-liter XK straight six. Even when it started to rain (we were in England after all), the heat from the engine and exhaust kept the open cockpit warm and snug.
Other than a couple of small sections, the route was mercifully free of traffic. As were rolled into the pre-1973 tax exempt parking area at Goodwood, I realized that the tour had been a perfect prelude to the Revival.