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Vintage Revival - Montlhery 2015


Duncan Grimmond

Having decided that a trip to Montlhery was not to be put off for another two years the post went up on the forum. A good response which eventually whittled down to 5 cars with 7 bodies and one tin-top with two up. Tickets presented a minor problem which Vincent Mouton sorted out from the French end and I suggested a provisional route allowing us to collect him from near Soissons on the NE side of Paris.

I booked a cabin for four from Hull to Zeebrugge and on the day three Scotsmen, namely Bill Davies, Colin Ferguson and Tom Rae, arrived for lunch and the brief (for me anyway) and slightly damp drive to the P&O terminal. Loaded and berthed we found the bar for an aperitif and a look at the map. I still can't work my GPS properly so had to wait until we landed in Zeebrugge to type in the destination and the avoid motorway option.

Belgium lived up to expectations by deciding to start raining and I had to get out the waterproof suit and helmet at the side of the road. Off again without problem until we arrived at a friendly "Route Barree" sign which had fallen over. I decided to risk it but had to do a U turn after 200 yards. The diversion signs disagreed with the GPS and we returned to the fallen sign after a 3km loop. Back onto the diversion and the "Route C" option ran out of signs at the motorway. Finding a suitable pull-in I turned off the engine and cursed the rain, Belgium and the world In general. A new route decided but the engine would not start as the battery was flat. A push sorted that but I had to leave the headlights off as they were draining more than the alternator could deliver.

After a couple of further diversions and loops we started to approach France and look for a coffee stop. There is a long stretch of road leaving Belgium which seems to have nothing but furniture depots, Casinos and dubious looking "Clubs" and no cafes. Eventually in the dim regions of Wallonia a bikers' caé appeared (third U-turn of the day) and we enjoyed a coffee and loo-break.

Trying to avoid motorways in Belgium is not easy but we eventually crossed the border into France and took to the N and D roads which I love so much. However hunger called and we were now equidistant from the proposed first stop at the transport museum in Compiegne and our campsite at Soissons. The satnav gave each ETA of 16.30. Sod it, fill up with fuel and sandwich and let's head for the campsite.

montlhery trip

The Camping Municipal in Soissons is 1km out of town on the bank of the river. An easy walk to find a restaurant and on the way we spotted a Fiat 500 coming towards us as we waited at a crossing. We smiled and waved and the driver smiled and waved as she turned right to collect or deliver children in the passenger seats.

We found a restaurant in the old Grain Exchange building, a French equivalent of a Witherspoons but without the real ale.

We'd arranged to collect Vincent from his home in Brescy at 09.30 on Friday morning as he had planned a suitable scenic route to Montlhery. As we pulled into his yard there was the Fiat 500 and Sondrine, his wife who had recognised us the previous evening. Coffee and croissants and then onto the country D roads heading South-West.

Vincent's route took us through the edges of the champagne region, conjuring memories of our trip to Rheims and after a coffee stop we drew into Provins, which sits at the foot of an ancient hill-top citadel. We drew up to a barrier across the way up to the citadel and Vincent entered negotiations to let us pass even though we were not residents. Suddenly a large black Peugot sped up alongside and the barrier was drawn back. We were also waved through and having parked at the top of the hill, the dapper gent in the Peugot came up and told us that if we were questioned we should say we were "Invitees par M.Vitte".

He chatted a little more about our cars and then asked if we would like to see the "panorama". He led us through an side gate into a garden of surprising size with walkways, a swimming-pool, sculptures and a stunning view over the plain below. "Would we like to see his 12th century cellar?" This turned out to be a crypt with delightful artworks on the walls and floor. Meanwhile Mme. was muttering, "You're not dressed yet, the wedding is starting…. etc." "You may as well go out through the house" and he led us through a hallway hung with wonderful prints. Another stunning example of Pembletons opening doors! The interest and welcome these cars generate is a phenomenon.

We found a restaurant for lunch and an hour or so later we wandered back to our cars, did a circuit of the square and headed out to the road to Montlhery. The long lunch ruled out our visit to an aircraft collection but we had a deadline to meet. The last section was on the "peripherique" and the mouse Bill had trapped under his bonnet turned into a screaming rat, a seized alternator bearing and burnt drive belt. I saw the smoke but couldn't stop the headlong charge down the motorway. Just as we left the peripherique, Bill vanished from my rear-view mirror and we all pulled into a slip road.

montlhery trip

As we were waiting, a car pulled in and told me" Your friend is 100 metres away" We found Bill on the roundabout and he managed to get going again on a constant loss ignition system. We reached the campsite at a Chateau where several other entrants and marshals were staying and set up our camp.

The case of champagne appeared, a cooler was improvised from a carrier bag filled with cold water hanging from a nail in the shady side of the wall. After Bill had investigated his alternator and discovered that it needed another we toasted the weekend in cool champers. Vincent came up trumps with a suitable replacement which was in his shed, and a delivery system, Sondrine who was coming with their girls on Sunday. We tried to arrange a rendez-vous with Mike, Eileen, Dave and Nicki but the complications were too difficult so we ate what we had and went to the bar in the Chateau. Food had been served and we grabbed the chance to book a table for the Saturday night.

montlhery trip

Saturday was the first day of the Revival and we set off early to meet the rest of the Pembleton team at the autodrome. 2kms from our camp, at a set of traffic lights, Tom's gear-shift decided to break. This is a very difficult thing to repair at the roadside. A frantic search through spares and odds and sods produced not much by way of materials to effect a repair. Split lightweight tubing is tricky to sleeve or fill but eventually a pry-bar appeared in my tool-roll. This had almost the right bend but would it hold onto the tube?

Rather than stick another nose into the mix I went wandering off to a farmyard where I hoped to find suitable repair materials and drew a blank but there was a bakery, and yes they could do a take-away coffee so I returned with five cups to find the repair almost complete. Vincent volunteered the gear-shift from his own Pembleton to be added to the spares order.

montlhery trip

Vincent rode with me to the autodrome to save Tom's clutch as the shift seemed to be a little reluctant. On the parking area we formed a line amongst a mix of modern and classic cars including a motorcycle which had a boat-body and retractable stabiliser wheels and a huge semi-circular steering wheel/tiller. This was the first of many weird and wonderful automotive devices that we encountered over the weekend. Vincent is preparing an article and his range of photos is far larger than mine so I'll leave that side of things to him.

montlhery trip

Tom found a pal with a three-wheeler Morgan and managed to wangle a ride on the course! We were all seriously envious and the grin on his face after the run was a treat to see.

Mike, Eileen, Dave and Nicki arrived making the full complement, four Pembletons and one Crozier. There was a modern Morgan stand just behind where we parked and a new Guy Gregory Pembleton SS with a Guzzi motor was on display with them. It was the bullet tail model and very tidy.

I met the couple who bought my BSA three-wheeler on the Amicale de Tricyclecaristes de France stand and they invited me to join them at lunch. The weather, the company, the wealth of fascinating metal all made for a wonderful weekend.

On the Saturday evening we had been invited for aperitifs at the Chateau so we got ourselves ready for dinner and joined the rest of the company for drinks on the terrace. A very pleasant interlude before we went in for our dinner. A three-piece band entertained us and there was also the treat of a singer who accompanied himself on an "Orgue d'Arab", a hand-cranked barrel organ carried on a shoulder-strap which played punched-paper rolls of classic French chansons, well known to the audience but unfamiliar to us.

Sunday breakfast was to be at the same bakery but Colin and I were the only ones who remembered to stop . The bakery also did a very nice "pain complet" with nuts and seeds and big juicy raisins, mmm.

Another day of more hot metal and banked circuit followed and although we tried to arrange an evening meal with the full party, Sunday evenings seem to be a problem for restaurants, even fast food ones. The spares delivery went to plan, Bill had a new alternator, Tom had a new gearshift ready for our trip towards Bagnoles de l'Orne. Vincent certainly proved to be the perfect guide and support to our venture. Back at the Chateau we discovered that there was a pizza place a couple of kms away and set off but we hardly got out of the gates as in the square outside the church was a mobile pizza van. We stopped and ordered some take-away from the proprietor who seemed to have indulged in some exotic herbal refreshment but was nevertheless entertaining and made good pizza.

On Mondays France is closed. Our favoured bakery was too and we had to drive to the first rendez-vous point to find a bakery which was open. Dave and Nicky were stuck in their B&B after a late start and we seemed to play "not quite catch-up" for the rest of the day.

Driving through a 5 house hamlet I spotted a restaurant at the side of the road and we screeched to a halt, turned around in the station car park and headed back to what had been the station hotel/restaurant in earlier times. A couple of painters were making for the door which convinced us we'd made the right decision and we sat down to a "menu ouvrier" or workman's menu four course lunch with wine and coffee all for 12Euros. Marvellous! "M. le Patron" did everything from cooking to taking orders and serving at table. A pretty good one-man-show.

The roads through the "Parc Naturel de l'Orne" are a delight for Pembletons, hills, z-bends and some astonishingly long straight sections. The terrain varies between wooded areas which give a pleasing shade with dappled sunlight and open farmland. The only minor drawbacks are the elevated crossings in villages, designed to keep speeds within the limits but it's a much more sensible approach than the English system where folk seem to treat speed limits in villages with utter contempt. However, I have to admit to triggering a speed camera disguised as a road sign in one 60 km/h stretch of open road which was too tempting! I haven't had a ticket (yet) but I was only just over the limit at 61…

Bagnoles de l'Orne is a spa town in recovery. The buildings show evidence of a very rich past having had a decline but now being restored. The cure is still available at the main Hydro-therapy hotel/hospital, a little reminiscent of Harrogate or Bath. The municipal camp site is excellent with first class facilities and it's only a short walk into town. We met Dave and Nicky as we were walking past their hotel and we spent the evening there with another couple in a Morgan 4+4 who had also been at the Revival.

We met at the hotel the following morning for a ride to the coast and the route unfolded itself in much the same way as the previous day. Miles of well-surfaced interesting driving road through a mixture of forest and agricultural terrain. We found a café for coffee after some diversions and the adjoining restaurant was preparing for lunch, again a fixed price menu. We asked if they had a table for 6 but unfortunately they were fully booked. There must have been 30 tables and I can only assume they had a wedding or similar celebration as the village had perhaps 40 houses. A pity as the lunch they were preparing smelled wonderful. We headed for Avranche and found a small restaurant on the ring-road," menu ouvrier", car park full of white vans, a very good indication. Yes they had a table and we could sit outside. All this eating and very little exercise will take its toll I'm sure.

montlhery trip

We then took to the coast road towards Granville having a couple of stops to take in spectacular views of Mont-St-Michel and the bay.

At Granville we said farewell to Dave and Nicky who had to catch a ferry that evening. Work is definitely the curse of the would-be-leisured classes I'm afraid.

montlhery trip

On our way back to Bagnoles Colin peeled off to visit an old friend and so the three of us returned to the "Rae-Davies hospitality basher" having called in for some supplies at a supermarket. We took a stroll into town for the obligatory beer in the bar by the fountain followed by an early-ish night.

We were unable to leave the camp-site until the office opened at 09.00 but the sun was warm enough to dry our tents before packing them away and preparing for the first leg of the return to Zeebrugge. I'd booked rooms with Eric at the Hotel Henry IV (See Pembletons Open Doors, ePAG #54) in St Valery en Caux and hoped that the transport museum in Pont L'Eveque would provide an hour's entertainment but at the (yes, another!) restaurant we were told that it was no longer in business. If only they'd kept the website up to date!

With the GPS re-set to allow for motorways and tolls we headed for the Pont de Normandie, the huge viaduct over the mouth of the Seine inland from le Havre. Tom and I headed for the operator controlled booth ready for a discussion re. trikes and free passage. The operator threatened to charge us for a six-wheel truck before waving us through. Bill and Colin, having chosen an automatic booth were charged at car rates. That was the easy bit as the road after the viaduct is a veritable double or triple version of Spaghetti Junction and I only just managed not to take the wrong turning as we headed back to a small D road leading up the coast to Yport. I'd been there a couple of times and found a wonderful hill-climb out of the village but although we went down the hill, after coffee and ice-cream by the sea we couldn't go back up it as it was now a one-way system using a less interesting climb.

montlhery trip

Having up-dated the GPS before I set off I was surprised to note that it did not acknowledge the existence of several towns and villages along the coastal route which I had planned so I had to improvise and we had an interesting sally along very small farm service roads for several kms before returning to the larger main route. I must ask TomTom why there are gaps in their system. Eric welcomed us at Henry IV with a "verre d'acceuil" a much appreciated cold beer which we drank on the mezzanine balcony in the hotel.

We settled in, read some of Eric's stack of motor magazines and then headed out for a walk before dinner. A ship's chandlery beckoned and we went in to inspect the price-tags. Anything with a picture of an anchor or ship's wheel is always three times the price of ordinary ironmongery but there were some S/S staples suitable for bonnet straps at 8Euros a pair… Another restaurant and dinner, more exercise required!

montlhery trip

After breakfast Colin wanted to visit a memorial and I took Eric for a spin. He came back grinning from ear to ear!

Just as we were leaving St Valery it started to drizzle but fortunately it didn't last long. It was Ascension Day and so France (and later on Belgium) was pretty much closed for the entire day. Furthemore, my planned coffee stop at Le Bambou Cabane on the D928 was spoiled as the place had closed down. My first visit here was on the way to the Pyrenees rally in 2009 when I stopped for lunch and petrol. I seem to have visited at least 7 or 8 times since on various forays through France as it is a tankful from Zeebrugge and the lunch was good even if the Patron was a bit on the surly side. There were photo's on the walls showing the place as it had been before 1914 when it was a bamboo shed with blacksmith's workshop at the cross-roads. Whatever was responsible for the demise it's a pity that another small part of motoring history has vanished.

We found another open café a few kms further along and then struck out cross country into Belgium. As on the way out, the return avoiding motorways is difficult and the contrast between road surface quality is stark. It ranges from uneven cobble through patched tarmac and concrete slab to perfectly smooth motorway . Lunchtime was approaching and every placed we passed was closed for Ascension day. Eventually , with the sky looking darker and rain threatening we found a café which had food and tables .As we ate the rain started and seemed to worsen. Rainsuits and helmets were again the order of the day and when a diversion for road works presented a choice of motorway for 35 kms or side-roads in foul weather there was only one choice. On to the motorway and foot down until we reached the ferry terminal.

The following morning we had not quite left the port area when Colin's off-side accelerator cable decided to free itself from the pedal. Bill and Tom had a fair distance to travel so they headed North, Colin's van was in the yard at my workshop. After a bit of "upside-down in the footwell" shennanegins the cable was re-connected and we reached Markington at 11.00. My total mileage for the trip was 1250, the Scots division travelled considerably further. Now I need a diet and more exercise to make up for over-indulgence in too much fun.


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