Hit the road for a classic adventure

22 June 2023

Welcome to the second article in our new quarterly lifestyle series, where we explore the global trends catching the eye and making life more enjoyable.

Please note: Barclays International Bank does not endorse any of the companies or individuals referenced in this article.

Classic cars move their owners in more ways than one. It’s easy to be so excited by the investment potential that the car gets stored away in a humidity-controlled plastic bubble to ensure it remains in pristine condition. But the great thing about a classic motor is that you can have lots of fun using it while you wait for it to appreciate, a pastime that’s more popular than ever.

A gentle potter down some rural lanes to a favourite eatery on a fine day is all it takes to enjoy the unique experience of driving a classic car. But there are plenty of owners with a stronger sense of adventure, and they are catered for by a growing range of epic, long-distance rallies. Choose the right car and take it on the right event, and it can be an experience like no other. Friendships are forged and memories created that will last a lifetime.

Epic events

Feeling the urge to get involved? The good news is that there are many organisers you can turn to.

The long-established Historic Endurance Rally Organisation aims to organise events for all levels of experience, including the well-known Classic Marathon which this year took in Slovenia, Croatia and Austria, and the Land’s End to John o’Groats LE JOG run. For the more adventurous there’s HERO’s London to Lisbon and Pearl of India rallies, plus its most famous event, the extraordinary Peking to Paris marathon. Another organiser is the Paris-based Peter Auto which puts on a range of events including the Tour Auto around the south of France, and the Rallye des Princesses for entirely female crews.

Rally the Globe is one of the newer names in classic car rallies, but it’s backed by a team with enormous experience of organising motoring events all over the world. It’s a not-for-profit club that seeks to create events for a wide range of historic motorsport enthusiasts. Its rallies are divided into four categories, each offering a different level of complexity and driving challenge.

The Carrera events last between one and two weeks, and plot routes through spectacular scenery with stops along the way at luxury hotels. All the driving is on metalled roads and there’s a competitive element in the form of ‘regularity sections’, where the object is not to go flat out but to maintain a set average speed. Penalties are awarded for early or late arrival at time controls along the way. There are also a few high-speed ‘tests’ on private roads. The point being that a diverse range of drivers can take part. 

And in a sign of the growing global appetite for these adventures, a Challenge event is currently being planned in Jordan and Israel, and another along the Iron Curtain.

The rally experience

Though these events differ in their length and complexity, and in the amount and intensity of competitive driving they involve, they all share a common ethos. Fundamentally they are about taking part in an extraordinary event on an epic scale, taking in spectacular scenery along the way and enjoying the camaraderie of fellow competitors. For many, any competitive element is secondary – though there are also plenty of owners who do take it very seriously. Even so, it’s not unusual to see crews stop to help if a car breaks down, sharing tools, parts and know-how for the common good.

Some events also deliver a feeling of being part of history. The Mille Miglia, for instance – a 1,000-mile lap of Italy that was originally a full-blown race, won by legendary figures like Tazio Nuvolari and Stirling Moss. Since the 1970s it has been run as a more sedate event for pre-1957 classic cars, but the participants – many of them the great and the good from motor sport and show business – still feel the connection to the great cars and drivers of yesteryear. In the same vein there’s La Carrera Panamericana, a historic revival of the tough 1950s road race across Mexico, and the Rallye Monte Carlo Historique.

Every November one of the most famous old car runs takes veteran cars from Hyde Park in London, to Madeira Drive in Brighton, to commemorate the relaxation of motoring restrictions in 1896. Somerset-based Classic Rally Press offer a different connection with history, specialising in events which revive old routes from the competitive rallies of the 1950s such as the Liège-Brescia-Liège.

Even some of the newer events on the circuit have the feeling of an epic experience. First held in 2019, The ICE St Moritz is not a rally but a ‘concours’ automotive beauty contest. What makes it unique is that it takes place on a frozen lake and the cars are exercised on a slippery snow-covered track. Or there’s The Great Race, a 150-car thrash across the USA with a party atmosphere.

Choosing your classic car

Many classic car owners have a particular car for a personal reason – often because it was a machine they lusted after when they were young. But if you’re in the happy position of choosing a classic car specifically for rallies, it makes sense to weigh the pros and cons carefully. It’s all too easy to be won over by handsome body styling, only to find that there isn’t enough space in the cabin for two people to co-exist for a week, or the ride is too stiff to be bearable after the first few miles. Sophisticated multi-cylinder exotic machinery can be wonderfully characterful to drive, but simplicity and ubiquity count for more when you need to find a spare part in an out-of-the-way place to make a field repair.

Specialist companies like Rally Preparation Services and marque experts like Tuthill Porsche (both based in Oxfordshire) can advise on how to prepare classic cars for different types of event. For simpler, less demanding rallies it might be enough to make sure maintenance is all up to scratch and the tyres, brakes, suspension and cooling system are all in good condition. For regularity tests, it’s useful to fit a time/speed/distance computer, known in the rally world as a ‘Halda’ after the best-known make.

If you plan to tackle events with timed off-road sections special wheels and tyres are normally fitted, and there will be modifications to the suspension. Safety equipment like roll-over bars and fire extinguishers are fitted and, depending on the event, it might be useful to add extras like auxiliary lamps, protection panels for body and engine, and stone guards for lights. Serious competitors prepare their cars using the works competition cars from back-in-the-day as a guide, together with more sophisticated equipment and techniques developed for modern competitive rallying. Experienced preparation companies can also handle everything from driver training to vehicle shipping, and on-event support.

All that might sound expensive, and it certainly can be, but good preparation is essential for an enjoyable, trouble-free event. The good news is that it can also add value to the car in the long run, particularly for classic cars that build up a track record of successful participation in major rallies. All the more reason to take to the road for another epic event?

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