Rob Widdows

A life on the open road

Driving a high-performance car in Britain can be a frustrating experience. We are not supposed to do more than 70mph, and we spend a lot of time in traffic or, worse still, crawling along between miles of cones while the road is dug up around us.

One solution is to put the car on a ferry to Spain and roll off the other side into a land of open, empty roads that swoop through some stunning scenery. Even then, however, there are speed traps to catch those who imagine they are immune to the laws of the land they visit But a bit of sunshine helps, the roads are better and there is a greater feeling of freedom, an elusive elixir for drivers of rapid machines.

Drive Espana, established in 2004 and run by Jasper Gilder, provides a popular service to owners of exotic cars, organising European tours for the TVR, Aston Martin, Ferrari and AC Owners Clubs, to name but four.

These tours pause for refreshment at numerous vineyards, allow time for some sightseeing and are punctuated by dinners and nights in comfortable hotels. In short, fun in the sun, roof down, flat in fifth. Not much wrong with that, except you cannot drink the wine and drive the car Perhaps the afternoon shift could be passed to a trusty friend. I do not own a supercar, but last month joined the 10th anniversary of the TVR Owners Tour of Spain and Portugal in the breathtaking scenery of the Sierra Nevada, Granada. This included a track day at Clive Greenhalgh’s impressive Circuit de Guadix. Those who felt disinclined to fling a TVR around all day could opt instead for a leisurely look at the sensational Alhambra Palace, just down the road.

TVR owners, like their cars, come in all shapes and sizes. But they share a singular passion. They are a breed apart, a very patriotic brigade, proud to own a British sports car that makes a rather American sound. Making a noise, and they do quite a lot of that, is all part of the fun as the throaty burble of TVR’s own straight sixes and V8s ricochets off walls that were built way before cars were invented. Old men in sleepy cafés shake their heads as the cars wend their way south to the sun.

These are social events, a time to share a mutual passion for the cars, especially since the company’s Russian owner stopped production in 2006. Until 2005, the year in which it last produced a new model, the Sagaris, TVR was based in the very English seaside town of Blackpool. Not quite Maranello or Stuttgart, but then the folk I met in Granada last month didn’t want Italian drama or German precision, but a proper British sports car. And why not?

Colin McRae’s TVR came along for the 10th anniversary tour. This was the fun car the late rally legend kept in Monaco and no doubt became used to motoring sideways. Its new owner told me that the car showed signs of contact with various solid objects during its life with Mr McRae.

Also along for the ride was the Gibraltar TVR Owners Club, all two of them, driving virtually identical purple Chimeras. Richard Roberts, a doctor, and James Elliott, a Bwin executive, met at a party, discovered their mutual love of the TVR and, hey presto, they had an owners club.

Loudest of the loud was Simon Grimshaw’s 4-litre Chimera, complete with ‘Mega Squirt’ ECU, supercharger, straight-through exhaust and more than 300bhp. In the tunnels of Granada this machine makes very raucous music.

In October Gilder will take an all-marques Drive Espana tour to the Algarve Historic Festival at PortirnJo. Time to polish up your passion, book your slot and head for some Portuguese sunshine. Your car will appreciate the exercise on those empty, open roads.