Ahead of this month’s Drive-It Day, the CCW team took our classics to California (sort of ), hit a renowned surfing beach, and enjoyed some great old car action. Nick Larkin swears it’s true…
‘Y es, we’re off on a road trip to California. Honestly!’
‘ Whaaaatttt?’ There was a stunned chorus of disbelief and delight from the whole Classic Car Weekly team when editor David Simister returned from a management meeting grinning from ear to ear to give us the glad tidings. ‘Are we all going?’ ‘ Who will look after the office?’ (No-one seemed particularly concerned about this.)
‘ What about the expenses?’ (Everyone seemed extremely concerned about this.)
‘ What can we drive? A ’68 Dodge Charger? A Chevrolet Corvette C2?’ (That was Mike.)
‘How about a ’30 Ford wagon? We could call it a woody.’ (That was me, quoting from Jan and Dean’s 1963 US number one hit, Surf City.) ‘A Bathtub Nash?’ (That was Murray.) ‘AMC Pacer?’ (That was Richard. Obviously.) Clearly, years of slaving for 23 hours a day tapping away on our Imperial typewriters for CCW were finally being rewarded. However, as we lined up on our haunches like a row of hungry, salivating English Setters awaiting dinner, the not-quite-so-good news hit. Yes, we were going to California, all of us, but we wouldn’t be getting our kicks on Route 66 – instead we’d be jarring our backsides over potholes on 80 miles or so of England’s A47. Our road trip destination was California… Norfolk. Still, at least we wouldn’t have to waste time making lots of long-distance phone calls to arrange the cars – we could simply bring our own.
OFF WE GO…
So it was that at 07.26 on a cold spring morning, with early sunshine reflecting on my newlyserviced 1960 Austin Cambridge’s scratched bonnet, I pulled into the McDonald’s car park at Eye Services, just outside Peterborough. A 220-mile drive lay ahead, so here was a chance to discover whether or not the car’s new fuel pump worked properly.
Editor Simister and news editor Scullion arrived in their Mazda MX-5 variants – it was too early in the morning to make any quips about whether any actual classic sports cars would be making an appearance ( just joking, of course) before an enticing engine note heralded the arrival of production editor Mike Le Caplain in his 1977 MG Midget 1500. The orange-snout of associate editor David Brown’s 1999 Rover 200 BRM shone in the sun while Dick Dale – the initiated among you will know he had several hits in the early 1960s including Surfing the Wedge (a 2.2 HLS Princess perhaps?) – boomed from the cassette player.
Richard Gunn, general superstar and nominated photographer for the trip ( bribes to delete certain images freely taken) loomed up next in his Fiat Panda 1.1 Selecta. And last, shimmering into the car park in his 1993 Ford Mondeo, came managing editor James Sadlier.
Richard took a group photo before we set off –useful, in case some of the cars didn’t get any further – with the famous golden arches in the background (recently damaged in gales) looking sufficiently Route 66 for our purposes. That done, we decided that not a wheel would turn until a mass feed had taken place.
Hugely lovable though my Cambridge is, it’s not exactly a rocketship and I had horrible visions of lagging behind everyone else all day long. ‘I’ll go on ahead,’ I mumbled over the sound of teeth chomping their way through Mega Breakfast McMuffins, chicken nuggets and supersized fries.
I bounded into the Cambridge like a youthful gazelle and soon had it up to its maximum sensible cruising speed of 59mph on the A47. My thoughts drifted back over 32 years of owning this car, still not repainted after it was vandalised in 1995. Its ‘good side’ shouldn’t look too bad in pictures, but I really must stop dipping into the repaint fund.
Past the village of Thorney, I gazed longingly at one of the world’s most glorious eateries, Chill Out near Guyhirn, then bypassed Wisbech, alleged Capital of the Fens, which has some wonderful Georgian vistas, but a general feeling that it’s still 1975.
Then it was into Norfolk, eventually hitting dual carriageways and circumnavigating King’s Lynn, which has some very nice bits but also a banger racing track where I once had serious fears that I was about to be lynched when reporting incognito on a classic banger race.
After cruising through a couple of villages, it was time to take a short break in a layby (some Callard & Bowser peppermints would have been nice) and wait for the others to catch up.
Such had been my progress that everyone else thought (or maybe hoped) that I had disappeared into thin air. But, no, they soon caught me. David Brown (and Dick Dale, of course) then kindly kept me company while the others sped on ahead.
We bypassed Norfolk’s great city of Norwich, and I knew David would be thinking the same thing as me – Anglia Television’s revolving knight logo (which in my opinion should be brought back immediately), along with ‘From Norwich, it’s the quiz of the week…’ Ah, Sale of
the Century and Nicholas Parsons. We regrouped near Acle. We had originally intended to visit Caister Castle Motor Museum, said to house the largest private collection of motor vehicles in Britain and now home to the first Ford Fiesta. Alas, it doesn’t open until May. The castle, built in 1432, is apparently one of the earliest significant buildings constructed from brick. Ah well, another time?
Instead, it was on to the B1159 and finally taking a right-hand turn and past a sign telling us we had reached California. We could go no further, so we took in what lay before us.
Sunset Strip clearly has nothing on the JD Amusements emporium – offering ‘fun for all the family’, but closed on the day of our visit. Other attractions included a 1980s phone kiosk looking rather like Richard’s Fiat Panda standing on its rear, lots of seagulls, the California stores (open) and Tricia’s Chippy (sadly closed on the day). There was also an advert for the Watersport Spectacular at the Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth.
We had the pleasure of talking to a very nice lady called Elizabeth Cuddenham, who has run a caravan park of the same name for 50 years.
California (Norfolk) was founded by a group of beachmen, who made their living collecting salvage from wrecked ships. They also established a lifeboat service. The place got its name because gold coins were found on the clifftops, just like the California Gold Rush –, at least if you understood irony in 1845.
There was just time to head down steep steps to the sandy beach with its oceangoing windmills on the horizon. ( They were offshore
wind turbines, Nick – Ed.) We ran around madly like The Monkees did in their 1966 TV series, and shivered a lot. A bit of Googling revealed that nearby Scratby Beach offered ‘good surfing opportunities’ that can ‘attract a substantial crowd’. Today, though, we were the only ones there. And we’d forgotten our boards.
Then it was down to some serious business – a line-up of cars for some photos in front of the open-all-year-round California Tavern, offering ‘ live music, great food, real ale and a beer garden’. Sadly, this rather nice-looking hostelry wasn’t open until noon, and we were too early. Apparently it has served the local community ever since the original California Tavern fell into the sea in Victorian times, presumably ( hopefully) after patrons had finished their drinks and gone home.
With all the cars present and correct, I took time to reflect on what a fine collection we had assembled. It was frightening to think that James’ Mondeo is not far away from celebrating its quarter-century. You certainly don’t see many early ones and what a step forward it was over the Sierra.
And what a lot the MX-5 offers for modest money. Mike’s Midget is much loved and does sound great, even when he’s just parking it up. David’s Rover 200 BRM has got to be a good investment, and Richard’s Panda is a simple and effective design yet still well capable of motorway speeds.
It was during the photoshoot that I made a disturbing discovery. Lying on the grass was a piece of a a frilly, lacy garment that had presumably been mislaid by a California gal. We couldn’t work out exactly where it was supposed to fit, though. And on that bombshell, we decided that it was time to leave California, because we had an exciting appointment to keep. After all, we couldn’t have gone to Norfolk without doing something related to Lotus. Even the stately Cambridge seemed to put on a bit of a spurt as we powered west towards Hethel.
CLASSIC TEAM LOTUS
We arrived at the hallowed and historic site almost ( but not quite) in convoy. They may look unassuming, but these were the very buildings into which Lotus moved when it emigrated from London to Norfolk in 1966, and many of them are recognisable from historic photos of cars being built and Lotus founder Colin Chapman overseeing his empire. They now form the headquarters of Classic Team Lotus, still owned by the Chapman family and a home of automotive legends. Few other places in the world contain so many amazing Lotus racers, not only as residents but also privately-owned cars undergoing work.
We lined up our cars for a group shot in front of the Classic Team Lotus car transporter – it was a tight squeeze and I said a quick prayer that an errant Cambridge tail fin wouldn’t hit the historic tractor and trailer unit.
Classic Team Lotus, which has a 15-strong staff, was set up in 1992, a couple of years before Team Lotus was disbanded. Now the team attends about 30 classic races each year. Last year saw wins at Monaco, Goodwood and the US and Mexican Grand Prix support races.
We were introduced to Classic Team Lotus accountant Steve Allen. He actually worked with Colin Chapman, who died in 1982 aged 54. ‘He was a hard taskmaster, but a great inspiration to so many people,’ The team poses in front of the classic Team lotus car transporter. Steve told us. He also recalled Chapman banning a Scalextric circuit because Team Lotus staff were spending too much time playing on it.
Our tour took in a library containing just about every Lotus-related publication ever written, and a room full of Classic Team Lotus merchandise – we could have snapped up a sparkplug from a Cosworth engine used in the 1978 season, when Lotus was World Champion.
Other treasures we saw included Jim Clark’s 1965 season overalls, original Lotus factory drawings and – holy of holies – the first Lotus racer, the 12.
Other Lotuses on show included the Type 25 in which Jim Clark won the 1963 World Championship, a Lotus 16, the 91/5 driven by Elio de Angelis in the 1982 F1 season and the 72 driven by Jacky Ickx. We had to leave before our knees turned completely to jelly, but not before admiring an incredible set of locker units from Team Lotus days covered in stickers for everything from Gold Leaf and Valvoline to BBC TV’s Swap Shop. Maybe Noel Edmonds had dropped in with his helicopter?
After all that excitement, we regrouped for sustenance at Thickthorn Service’s Burger King, which to my joy offered silly cardboard crowns and Route 66 California Chicken Tendercrisp. So we’d been to a surfers’ paradise and eaten some ‘Californian fayre’. No need to have gone abroad then.
The trip ended without a single breakdown (automobile or driver) or anyone bursting into California songs from their youth – in my case Al Jolson’s California Here I Come, progressing though The Mamas and The Papas’ California Dreamin’, the Eagles’ Hotel California and, er, Katy Perry’s California Gurls. How can we top such an epic drive? Well, there’s always Philadelphia… the one
near Sunderland, that is.
Motley crew of beach hunks brave the chill.
The team poses for a layby breather and to swap notes. Don’t look now, Mike ‘Cool’ Le Caplain, but you’ve got a newshound on your tail!
we made it! cars pose at The california Tavern. Many consider the lotus 16, left, to be the ultimate front-engined racer.
‘Now, if they had moved the right sprocket by two inches…’
classic Team lotus and in particular stephanie clements for putting up with us. Tours of the facility are arranged regularly. There is also a huge catalogue of lotus-related items for sale at www. classicteamlotus.co.uk