Mick Walsh From the cock­pit

‘Ur­gent torque would be con­tin­u­ally re­ward­ing when ac­cel­er­at­ing out of end­less moun­tain turns’

Classic Sports Car - - Contents -

Some of my most mem­o­rable drives have been in hire cars, none more so than a ba­sic Re­nault Twingo when driven up the famed Mont Ven­toux hill­climb. I now look at Peuguot 108s with sim­i­lar affection af­ter my re­cent Cor­si­can hol­i­day. Road testers have crit­i­cised its re­fine­ment for city driv­ing, but I’ll never for­get the growl of that 1.2-litre triple over the fan­tas­tic N196 from Ajac­cio to Pro­pri­ano. Post-rush­hour, the route was vir­tu­ally de­serted and the un­der­stated lit­tle Pug thank­fully didn’t en­gage with the few de­ter­mined lo­cals chas­ing home.

My Kiwi chum Rob Whitehouse had pre­vi­ously taken his Lan­cia 037 over to the is­land for a his­toric rally and mar­velled at the spec­tac­u­lar roads, but warned about the Cor­si­can driv­ers – who all think they’re the next Sébastien Ogier. The chal­lenge of main­tain­ing speed, lean­ing through the fast climb­ing bends up to Sartène dur­ing the golden hour, was great fun. Only the ping of the low-fuel warn­ing cooled my pace on the down­hill run back to­wards the sea.

It’s taken 60 years for me to fi­nally visit the is­land, which lived up to all ex­pec­ta­tions. The com­bi­na­tion of mag­nif­i­cent coast­lines and sin­u­ous moun­tain passes, all blessed with road sur­faces that put the UK to shame, make it a driver’s par­adise, if you’re out of sea­son and avoid rush hour. Lit­tle won­der so many ’bik­ers now take the ferry across the Lig­urian Sea.

Back in the 1920s, a fine car must have been a real nov­elty around the quiet roads, as proved by a vin­tage post­card I dis­cov­ered of the clifftop road cut through the gran­ite Calan­ques de Piana. To­day you need to visit early in the morn­ing to beat the coaches and mo­torhomes.

Over the week I’d spot­ted sev­eral clas­sics and as I coasted down to Pro­pri­ano, I couldn’t help think­ing about dream cars to ex­plore this beau­ti­ful is­land. To my part­ner Liz’s frus­tra­tion, I was reg­u­larly dis­tracted by aban­doned Re­nault Qu­a­trelles spot­ted un­der olive trees in re­mote farm­yards but we never saw a DS, so pre­sum­ably most older cars have rot­ted away in the salty air.

The most com­mon clas­sics were Citroën Méharis, but most were tourist at­trac­tions, parked around the mari­nas as lo­cal run­abouts. The ex­posed, gut­less flat-twin would soon lose its ap­peal on the tor­tu­ous moun­tain routes.

On the road, sev­eral vis­it­ing clas­sics were en­thu­si­as­ti­cally spot­ted in­clud­ing a Healey 3000, a Lan­cia In­te­grale and a cool early MGB. Fin­ished in light blue and on French plates, it looked like a 1960s ad­vert as it bur­bled down the Val­lée de l’asco in the late af­ter­noon sun.

On our last night, a pack of mod­ern Fer­raris ar­rived nois­ily into the ho­tel car park. But these brazen, ‘look-at-me’ su­per­cars won’t come close to achiev­ing their po­ten­tial on this is­land.

As a fan­tasy des­ti­na­tion for per­sonal dream cars, Cor­sica would be awe­some in a su­per­charged Alfa Romeo 8C Monza or an AC Co­bra, where ur­gent torque would be con­tin­u­ally re­ward­ing when ac­cel­er­at­ing out of the end­less moun­tain turns, not to men­tion the joy of a glo­ri­ous ex­haust note re­bound­ing off the rocks. More re­al­is­ti­cally, a Cater­ham Seven 160 would be huge fun: cramped and im­prac­ti­cal for two, per­haps, but its su­per-re­spon­sive steer­ing, han­dling and brakes would be per­fect.

Any num­ber of clas­sic rally cars with Tour de Corse her­itage would ful­fil all those Jean Rag­notti fan­tasies – from Alpine A110 to Re­nault 5 Turbo – but the his­tory of Henri Toivo­nen and other rally deaths would de­ter any se­ri­ous pace. Lit­tle won­der the Group B era ended on these roads with their scary drops and few bar­ri­ers. The dis­tract­ing vis­tas reg­u­larly took my eyes away from the road, with ner­vous protests from my ever-tol­er­ant com­pan­ion.

One day I’d love to bring my Alfa Duetto or Mazda MX-5 to Cor­sica, but ul­ti­mately I think I’d have more fun with another Pug 108 hire car. Clos­ing my eyes, I can still hear the ea­ger thrum of that triple as I re­live those epic roads.

From top: vin­tage post­card of mys­tery pre-war tourer was dis­cov­ered in Cor­sica; 2CV is fol­lowed by ’bik­ers en­joy­ing the spec­tac­u­lar nat­u­ral dis­trac­tions

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