French leave, part 2

No apologies for the above photo. I know it’s not a Bristol but it is one of my favourite cars, in terms of looks, ever built – the De Tomaso Mangusta, so called of course because the mongoose eats cobras… Another trip to France in the 410 last weekend, this time for the Le Mans Classic. The Mangusta was parked in the paddock area, and I expect was the most orange car on site by some margin. We had a smooth drive down in torrential rain from the Eurotunnel to Le Mans, in convoy with friends in a lovely 1970 Porsche 911 2.2. Tim in the Porsche was slightly startled to discover quite how fast a laden Bristol could go, and rapidly had to change his expectation that having to dawdle down with a lumbering saloon would delay his trip!
Once in Le Mans and installed in the gîte in Mulsanne, an excellent dinner was procured from L’Auberge des 7 Plats in the beautiful old town of Mans. €19 for three courses of excellent Sartois cooking – it’s not just the roads that we go to France for. The next day, Friday, was practice and qualifying, so we made it to the circuit in time to see BOC members Michael Parr and Andrew Mitchell on track in Michael’s BMW 328 in the pre-war class. They looked good and I think qualified as the highest placed 328. Also in that group were two of three Talbots that won the three-litre class in the 1934 Alpine Trial. These cars were very interesting for me, as my own grandfather had competed in that Trial, in a Lancia Augusta, winning a Glacier Cup, and it was nice to have a personal connection with something there. I spoke to one of the owners of them now, who seemed interested that his car had beaten my grandfather all those years ago. I resisted the temptation to put pins in the tyres and wished him every luck instead. I don’t think he needed it though – the pre-war class was pretty well sown up by the Talbots, which are clearly even more competitive today than 74 years ago. As an aside, the Lancia still exists also. I tracked it down a few years ago after finding its purchase receipt and early service documents when clearing out an old box full of my grandfather’s papers. It is currently residing in Belgium and the owner was over the moon to find out its early history. He had had no idea it had been successfully rallied in period, although this has no doubt increased his insurance premium somewhat.

The rest of the weekend was much of the same, the racing was gripping to watch, with lots of great cars being properly exercised. As well as the racing, the car park and paddock was so full with wonderful and rare cars that one became almost blasé about it. For a group of petrolheads who revel in the rarities we didn’t know which way to turn most of the time! The comedy was provided by modern cars doing some laps inbetween the races. They were mainly BMWs on some sort of corporate sponsorship thing, which just looked even uglier than usual given that we were all looking at proper cars moments before they appeared. The crowning glory however, was a modern Ford GT spinning and stalling at low speed, on a track that just minutes before had been filled with genuine GT40s lapping at enormous speed and showing just why the new GT was so unnecessary. As for other Bristols, I saw several familiar cars but never managed to catch up with any of their owners. As well as a 400, a Beaufighter, a 401 Special and a 603 that we saw in the paddocks or carpark, we also saw a 407 heading out onto the circuit for one of the parade laps.

The trip back was pretty smooth. After helping to hotwire a friend’s MGB (I said last time that it would be a useful thing to know!), we left Sunday lunchtime to miss the rush, this time in convoy with two 911s, ours having found a friend over the weekend. In the dry, it has to be said, they were faster than us. The second 911 was an orange RSR replica, which sounded like God’s own chariot, and every tunnel was an opportunity for him to drop a couple of gears and deafen us all! Back in Calais though, it seemed the 410 had won over both my passengers with its ride, comfort and pace, and certainly impressed the Porsche owners no end. We’d kept up a pretty steady 90mph cruise for about 5 hours on the autoroute all the way back from Le Mans, three up with luggage, and shown a decent 911 a pretty clean pair of heels on twisting roads in the torrential rain on the way down. And we managed to fit five in when taxi services were called for over the weekend. So there you have it, the Bristol 410 – who needs anything else?

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