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Bolide in Auvergne


Mike Meakin

Having "tested the water" for Eileen by driving to Montlhery, then on in to Alsace in May, in the modern VW (thereby avoiding a severely wet, cold start from the UK – it still rained like fury, but we were safe inside, behind high speed wipers!), we decided to bite the bullet and drive to the Auvergne in the Pembleton, for June.

Bolide in Auvergne

As per usual, the section of the drive to Dover from Dartford Crossing was really unpleasant,with some really poor displays of UK driving – poor lane discipline, tail-gating, middle lane blocking, under-taking. Maintaining speeds in the 70s was taxing and still not fast enough for other drivers, so we opted for a sedate 60 in the inside lane. An uneventful crossing saw us in Dunkirk for early afternoon and at our first overnight – a water mill near Beauvais. There began what was essentially "the Car's the Star" over the coming weeks – a constant procession of people would gather to look at Bolide, frequently with gallic shrugs of incredulity. Because we could see the car, we enjoyed dinner , "watching spectators". "Je vois, mais je ne le crois pas" was a frequent excpression.

Our next call was with friends in La Ferte St.Aubin, a short distance South of Orleans. The satnav declared 2 hours and 5 minutes, but involved using a selection of autoroutes, all of which pointed towards Paris – a sort of series of manic A road driving, with short urban links to the next bout, passing through Versailles. 4 hours later we arrive for a late lunch. Our friends had seen the car, but didn't really believe we would turn up in it! Some hours later, we made our way on to our next overnight in "Domaines des Perrieres" – a huge, working farm/chambres d'hotes and one of a sequence of B &Bs, chosen from Alastair Sawday's "chambre d'hotes de charme.

Bolide in Auvergne

Having spent a total of 7 hours in the car the day before, we decided to take advantage of the peage to cover the majority of the distance towards Thiers . We spent a couple of amusing hours loping along at 130 kph, the 5,750 rpm comfortably within the engine's reach without increase in oil temperature. The buffeting and noise was tiring, but clearly, French drivers did not expect the little car to have that sort of capability. We made our next stop – Chateau de Vaulx, St Agathe – in good time. We'd stayed there before (2009) and had had to cancel a trip after Eileen's accident, so were on familiar ground. The intention was to park the car, fit the tonneau and relax for a few days. That was until various members of our hosts' families kept turning up, for photos "and a ride". Even both sets of our hosts' elderly parents (octagenarians all!) were in the queue – getting them in and out was not easy! Having ALL our meals at the Chateau bar one – the car enjoyed a well-earned rest, until we went to a local Auberge (specialising in freshwater fish). Having finished our meal and got in to the car, one of the famed, June "Orages" (thunderstorms) created a deluge. Clearly, driving in such conditions was out, so we quickly put up the huge brolly and waited until the storm had passed. So many people came out and took photos – obviously amused – we were too, but WE were dry.

The next day, we had 200 miles to do to reach David's at Fraysinnet-le-Gelat. More "orages" were forecast, so we decided to press on as quickly as we could, stopping for a "comfort break" half way at an "E.LeClerq" supermarket. Our normal sequence is to park some way from the doors, pop the tonneau on and make for the loo (parking near the entrance results in the inevitable crowd and difficulty in "escaping" ). PROBLEM – no tonneau. I distinctly recall folding the tonneau and putting it with the hi-vis vests in the heavy plastic case we use for the purpose. A quick call to the Chateau – sure enough, the packet was there, in the garage (which they insisted we use, rather than park Bolide outside). Obviously, a 100 mile return was well outside of daily limit of miles, so we decided to buy a small tarpaulin, some stout string and another set of hi-vis vests (no point in risking an on-the-spot fine for "no vests"!). Trying to describe "tarpaulin", Hi-vis vests" and "strong string" in French was interesting! Surprisingly, all three were found in the Store at a total of 8 Euros! A quick check of our itinerary showed we would be within 50 miles of the Chateau on our return leg, so collection then wouldn't be a problem.

Bolide in Auvergne

We arrived at David's without further adventure, put the tarpaulin over the cockpit, tied down low with the stout cord and settled in for relaxing days at Malbernat. Curiously, whenever we walked past the car, it smelled distinctly of petrol. No sign of leaks at the engine or fuel tank ends, but one hot, dry afternoon there was a damp patch on the gravel – the leak. It turned out that the "unleaded fuel pipe" sleeve, linking the cupro-nickel pipework to the fuel pump inlet was "sweating" fuel all round, the leaking fuel forming a drop every 2 seconds. David had a length of new "unleaded/ethanol proof" hose, but fitting that was difficult, because there was over 6 gallons of fuel in the tank. We managed to clamp off the fuel supply pipe further back sufficiently to allow the front sleeve to be replaced. Examination of the oozing pipe showed a material breakdown akin to "leaky irrigation hose". Fitted in good faith as "new and unleaded proof", 7+ years later, the use of ethanol in fuel had caused the sleeve to go sponge-like.

The "fix" was tested when we went out for a drive, David in the T35B Bugatti, us in Bolide and on to lunch just outside Praysac. Parked in a Public car Park, there were many admirers of the cars and obviously no little respect. The cars weren't touched. We drove on to a local "view point" overlooking the river and vineyards. A coach drew up full of Dutch tourists – one woman jokingly mentioned that they'd driven several hours to get to this viewpoint. Having arrived, everyone was taking pictures of the cars, ignoring the panoramic view!

Our 6 days with David up, we drove on to Chateau de Lescure – it took SUCH a time to get there. The Auvergne roads were small and laid out in similar fashion to small intestines! We later realised why local people, when asked "how far is….. from here?" invariably answer "3 hours" – it really doesn't matter what you're driving or how fast you might envisage, any journey from here to there takes….. Our daily, self-imposed limit of 200 miles could easily take six and a half hours!

The village of Lescure is simply The Chateau – 1,000m up it adds a new dimension to "remote". Our hosts needed 2 bottles of milk. I offered to drive Michel to collect same. He took two empty bottles and we drove 8 kms along single-track roads arriving at le Laiterie – a shack containing a stainless steel tank of (as yet) unpasteurised milk. A sterilised jug was dipped in to the tank and the bottles filled – no money changed hands. It seems the dairyman benefits from hay in the fields of the Chateau, so fresh milk is the exchange. At the Chateau, Sophie uses it to provide cream, milk, butter and yoghurt. It really is a different world.

Bolide in Auvergne

A local tourist attraction is the series of flooded valleys near Laussac that form a huge, hydro-electric facility. Spectacularly beautiful and covering so much ground, it is serenely peaceful, with but a handful of people in any one place – except when you arrive in a Pembleton! SO much interest in the car – even a group of Dutch, Harley-Davidson riders pulled up and wanted information on the car.

Having ridden in Bolide, by way of exchange Sophie took us out in to the Auvergne countryside in her horse-driven carriage. You have to have a surprisingly patient view of "driving a horse" – especially when the horse spies a particularly luscious clump of grass "over there". An interesting experience!

Bolide in Auvergne

We thought we'd become used to "remote", until we came to find our last long stopover – Chambre d'Hote "La Roussiere". Instructions included driving to a particular turning, from where you followed the electricity power line for 4 kms, making sure you stayed on the same track. At the end of the power lines was "Lieu dit – la Roussiere"! Sure enough, the power line ran out, the road ended and there it was. What was particularly pleasing about this chambre d'hote was the pre-arrangement I remember from when I was a small boy – the local tradesmen delivered your order of yesterday. Baker, butcher,greengrocer all turned up reliably, happy to "put something else on the van" for tomorrow and all at prices significantly less than supermarkets. It was like reliving normal life of sixty years ago.

All too soon, our 6 days there were up. An amused audience watched me install the luggage (enough for 3+ weeks) in the car, plus a couple of bottles (Chataigne liqueur) and a couple of tins of confit de canard. Piece de resistance was producing the GPS from the cavernous glove box, clapping it on to the nearside aero screen and plugging in. Again, we decided to head for the peage en route back to the Chateau de Vaulx to collect the tonneau. The distance quickly despatched, we were driving through the gates of the Chateau when the voltmeter suddenly dropped and the tachometer ceased – the alternator had stopped charging. (My tachometer "reads" the AC pulses from the alternator).

Yet another audience watched as I removed bonnet, spare wheel and tool locker cover, producing tools, multi-tester and alternator front cover. No continuity between the rotor slip rings meant no prospect of a "fix" – we would just have to drive on the battery for the next 3 days, charging it up overnight at each stop. (I carry a 4 amp charger with Euro adapter and 3metre lead). The car was put back together (WITH the tonneau and hi-vis vests this time) and we continued on.

Our 2 overnight stops heading back to Dunkirk were only too pleased to provide an extension lead to the car and we left each morning with a fully charged battery. The downside was that switching off (for comfort breaks etc) meant a battery restart, possibly reducing available capacity needed to get where we were going. In similar fashion, we resorted to hand signals, rather than use indicators, with Eileen performing exaggerated gestures indicating which roundabout exit we needed next.

All went well until the last day when we were in good time for our Dunkirk Ferry home – except that the Terminal was blockaded by dozens of Police cars and motorcycle riders, obviously preventing the Calais strikers from spreading their action. Sure the Terminal was still blocked, but the Police had control. Communication/coordination of the Police was clearly not in place – everyone was directed away – anywhere, just go away! We decided we couldn't sit in a log jam. If we switched off, restarting would loose us battery power – if we sat there, engine running, it would surely overheat.

We checked in to a nearby, plastic Hotel – it was awful, but allowed me to park the car beside the main door (after moving the plastic potted palm) and run my extension lead through a window to Reception and plug in. After some calls (a premium number) /emails (get back to you in 3 working days) /on-line chats to DFDS Ferries (North Shields!) we were rebooked on the first available departure next morning, but had to get to the Terminal as early as possible, preferably 0600. We set off, but with only 3kms to go, hit the log jam. Nothing was coming out/nothing was going in. A gendarme in a Peugeot pulled alongside us : "Ou allez vous?" – we waved our DFDS reservation papers "Suivez moi, monsieur" he said, driving down the wrong side of the road, pipping at other cars as we passed, signalling them to tag along. We were thus the first car loaded on to the Ferry, which sailed early.

On the UK drive home we took the risk of actually turning the car off, so we could have a Pub Lunch, leaving the car in the warm sun hoping that the heat would encourage the battery to last long enough to get home – which it did. Tally for the holiday – 2,581 miles run, 2 litres of oil added, 51.8 gallons of super unleaded (at just over £1 per litre) – another Bolide adventure in France.

Safely back at home, the realisation that "your car" (2CV donor, re-assembled by your own fair hand) is far from normal in France. Many disbelieve that (a) it is sitting there and (b) that you have driven MANY miles in it; most are aware that to build and register such a car in France is not possible. Almost all recognise the undeniably "joli" appearance of the car and are genuinely envious of the opportunity to drive around France in a car of such character. In our experience, The Car is The Star. . The real bonus for us was the confirmation that Eileen could cope with touring France in the little car, given moderation of the hours in any one day actually in the car and the ability to relax for some days, between locations.


A postscript from Mike

Hi David,

Philippe (our host at Chateau de Vaulx) has sent pictures of Bolide in a “state of undress”, after the alternator failed. I don’t know whether you can use the images as they are not separate attachments. I’ll send you some other pics with a trip account, separately.



Bolide in bits
Bolide in bits
Bolide in bits
Bolide in bits

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