A chance meeting
Back in 1969 there was still good reason for a motoring trip to Sicily each year. Although the Siracuse Grand Prix was no longer taking place, the Targa Florio was still on the International calendar and demanded coverage in Motor Sport. After many years of travelling to Sicily in my Porsche 356 I was now doing the journey much faster in an E-type Jaguar and with faster and better roads. For something different Graham Arnold of Lotus Cars had suggested I went to the Targa Florio in a Lotus Europa, the little mid-engined coupe with the Renault engine and gearbox, so after covering the Monza 1,000 kilometre race which was won by Joseph Siffert and Brian Redman in a Porsche 908, I motored off to Geneva where I parked the red E-type and flew back to London to collect the white Europa. In true Lotus tradition it was late being delivered and Sunday evening Arnold arrived at a restaurant in South Kensington where I was having dinner. He could not stop to join us, but said it was outside with some spares in the boot, a box of odds and ends, some rubber bands and a coil of wire, so he thought I should be all right for a trip to Sicily and back!
Outside in the dark and the rain was the Europa TNG 10G (I wonder if it still exists?’) and after a quick run out to Richmond Park and back I retired for the night ready for an early start on Monday morning. The trip went fine and I described it in detail in Motor Sport in July 1969 and recounted how I met another Lotus Europa right down in the southernmost point of Italy, just before crossing the Straits of Messina to Sicily. That meeting was memorable, for many of my friends had forecast doom and disaster when they heard I was going to Sicily in a Lotus Europa, and certainly a Europa had not been that far from the factory at that time. Our meeting is worth repeating and I quote from the aforementioned article:
“We had only gone about 50 miles and were turning round after looking at a new road when round the corner came a red Lotus Europa on Austrian number-plates. With much light flashing and horn-blowing we stopped and it was like Stanley and Livingstone. By now we were really sold on the Europa and to meet another one at the foot of Calabria was too much. The red one was called a Europe, as it had been bought in a teutonic country and someone like NSU already have a patent on the name Europa. Our Austrian friend was a truly happy Lotus owner, even though his starter switch was playing up and his wife was having to push-start him. He too was on his way to Sicily and the Targa Florio, so naturally we ran in convoy, and the two cars together caused much speculation among the Sicilians. The most popular remark was “Is it Team Lotus going to the Targa Florio?” Over lunch we compared notes and cars, and his cruised all day at 6,000 r.p.m. with a maximum 6,700 r.p.m. and the tick-over sounded beautiful, whereas mine would only pull 6.100 r.p.m. and the tick-over sounded horrible. The day before he had left northern Austria at 5.30 a.m. and covered 950 miles in the day without feeling tired! He and his wife were tough, for their previous car had been an MG-B and they had toured in Greece and Israel in it, so the Europa was a revelation of ease and comfort.
There is nothing more satisfying than running fast in company with someone in an identical car, for you know that he can do everything you can do and you know that he is enjoying it as much as you are. As we twisted and turned along the Sicilian coast road I was thoroughly convinced that the Europa had put the fun back in motoring and when we stopped at a level crossing our Austrian friend was grinning with delight, and I knew why. Our 250-mile twin Europa dice ended up at Cefalu, the headquarters of the Targa Florio.”
Since that springtime of ten years ago the scene in Europe has changed drastically, everywhere is governed by yellow road markings, speed limitations, traffic density, police surveillance and an over-powering feeling of guilt if you enjoy yourself with a motor car. The FIA killed sports car racing, Formula One racing spread to enormous proportions, the Targa Florio was quietly put down and after battling on against the odds I virtually gave up motoring and returned to motorcycling, travelling to some Grand Prix races by BMW motorcycle and to others by jet aircraft and letting someone else do the tedious bit of driving the Avis rent-car in the awful traffic and trying not to break too many motoring laws. It was about 1973 that I began to give up the unequal struggle, realising that the aggravation factor in trying to get about Europe fast was becoming greater than the enjoyment factor. People said I should use the Motorways, but I found them boring and if speed restrictions didn’t inhibit you from cruising at 100-110 m.p.h. then traffic density kept you down around 80 m.p.h. By returning to motorcycling I found great enjoyment and peace of mind by using the smaller byways, even though the journey time was much longer. Whereas, for example, some people flog to Zandvoort on the Motorway in a reasonable time. I took twice as long and used ferry-boats, causeways, bridges and canal paths and arrived in a happy state of mind. When you have driven on one Motorway you have driven on them all, and I do not enjoy overtaking long lines of lorries and big articulated traders, unless they have Martini Team Lotus or Ferrari on the side. In these days of more and more restrictions I find the freedom of a motorcycle is really refreshing, you can stop when you like, turn round and go back to look at something, park without problems, ride quietly along lines of stationary traffic jams, find space on ferry boats and cross-channel boats without booking in advance, enjoy the scenery much more as well as the fresh air (with an open-face helmet) and generally live in a little world of your own. You can also get very cold and wet!
Like so many of my stories this one has wandered far from the point, but looking back to 1969 revived many happy memories, just as looking back to 1959 does, and 1949 does and 1939 . . . The Monaco Grand Prix had just finished and we were all saying “Good old Regga, wasn’t that fantastic” and generally reliving and enjoying the past hour and a half. I was lurking around the Lotus transporter finding out what the team’s problems had been, when a voice called to me from the crowd looking over the barriers. The face looked familiar but I couldn’t place it at first, then this chap said “Lotus Europa in Calabria”. It was the chap in the red Europa from Austria that I had met in 1969, and after ten years almost to the day we had another heart-warming meeting.
We compared motoring notes over that ten years and he told me how he had changed the Lotus Europa for a Porsche 911 and had continued to enjoy European motoring, but it had eventually closed in on him in the mid-seventies! When I asked why, he listed all the things that had closed in on me between 1973 and 1976. I asked him what he drove now and he said “A BMW motorcycle, and I enjoy the freedom so much”. When I asked about his wife he explained that they now had a family and she was no longer keen on travelling to races and was quite happy to stay at home with the children while he went off to races on his 900 c.c. BMW motorcycle. He had had a wonderful trip across the Alps on his way from Austria to Monaco and was returning the next day and looking forward to another memorable trip, he could hardly believe that we had followed virtually the same path since that chance meeting in Calabria in 1969. When I got back home I dug out a photograph of those two Lotus Europas sitting side-by-side in Calabria. — D.S.J.
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We apologise to any readers who may have been inconvenienced by an unfortunate misprint in the June issue of Motor Sport in which the date of the Ferrari Festival at Honington Hall, Shipton-on-Stour, Warwickshire, was given as June 10th. The correct date should have been June 30th.