CAL­I­FOR­NIA SCREAM­ING

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…

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Living With Classics -

‘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…’

THANKS TO

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

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