Story: Barry Green
Photos: Dawn Green
AS a 1960s schoolboy, Barry Green spent his hard-earned pocket money on Racing Car News and Sports Car World, monthly enthusiast magazines he would studiously pore over at the expense of any text book. Little wonder then that reading about fast cars and motorsport led to a four decade career (not out) writing about same, initially as freelancer then author and professional writer. His exploits are captured in two recent release books, The Best of Drives 1 and 2, each a first-hand compilation of nearly 80 drives on some of the world’s greatest roads and circuits. This story is but one . . . (Headshot photo - Ernest Litera)
Drive - Redditch to Brecon and return, 320km
Cars - 1980 Corvette Stingray C3/1999 HMC Healey IV/1972 Jaguar E-Type V12 Roadster/ 974 Jensen Interceptor/1969 Porsche 911 T
HOW does a day’s drive over some of the best roads in the UK sound, especially behind the wheel of five aspirational classic cars?
To me, it sounded too good to resist. So, with an overseas holiday in the planning, I lost no time in booking my place on the Break for the Border Rally.
So-called because it takes in a network of superb driving roads on both sides of the English/Welsh border, this is a motorcade to adventure.
The organisers, Great Escape, provide the cars, plan the route, and organise breakfast and lunch.
There’s even a back-up vehicle – in this instance, a red Jaguar E-type coupe –that travels behind on a trailer, should one of the cars on the drive break down.
The rally got underway from Astwood Bank, near Redditch, with two drivers to each car.
Paired with local IT specialist, keen photographer, and classic car buff Matthew Walters, I’m down to drive a Jaguar E-Type V12, before taking turns about in a HMC Healey, Corvette Stingray C3, Porsche 911 T, and Jensen Interceptor.
Also making up the convoy were a Morris Minor convertible, Jaguar Mk2, Mercedes-Benz 280 SL and Alfa Romeo Spider.
With the UK in the midst of a summer heatwave, the modus operandi was to slip the top down on the various convertibles and panels out in the targa-roofed cars, splash on some sunscreen and slap on a cap.
I’ve had the privilege of driving an E-Type before – the 3.8-litre, six-cylinder roadster example of Warwick (Queensland, Australia) Jaguar enthusiast Steve Moulder – historically significant as one of the first two to come to Australia, so I could not hide my enthusiasm in sampling a Series 3 V12 version, this one in Old English White and black leather interior.
With a turn of the key, the lusty 5.3-litre powerplant fires up and settles quickly into a smooth idle.
We’re among the first cars away -- the town of Ludlow first up. Torque is omnipresent, at any speed and any revs, and the E-Type quickly impresses with its amazing tractability.
Open road overtaking is a breeze – just roll the throttle in fourth (top) gear and the big V12 responds with a surge and a rumble from its fantail exhaust.
The ‘whoa’ doesn’t quite match the ‘go’, though, and it’s apparent that the brakes need a hearty shove rather than light brush.
The power-assisted steering proves user-friendly, if a little light at highway speed, and the ride compliant and comfy as we follow the A4183 over Holt Fleet Bridge, past the Witley ruins and on through Burford.
All too soon, the 65km distance evaporates and we trickle into the car park of a Little Chef roadhouse to swap into the HMC Healey Mk IV, a limited edition (just 167 examples) ‘continuation’ build by the Holmes Motor Company of the Austin Healey 3000, with input by Donald Healey’s son, Geoffrey.
This is no kit car, our 56km drive from Ludlow to Llandrindod Wells reveals instantly, but a quality, hand-built roadster with spaceframe chassis that fuses nicely the old (design, aesthetics) with the new (engineering, technology).
And with a 3.9-litre, TVR-enhanced alloy Rover V8 under the bonnet, mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, the lightweight roadster gets along as well as it sounds and looks.
With its gleaming two-tone paintwork and chrome wire wheels, wood grain dash and twin exhaust, it might appear pre-Carnaby Street era, but there’s no mistaking that the HMC drives like a more modern build.
The grip levels are impressive, ditto the well-weighted, power-assisted steering, ride quality and driving comfort.
The only blemish – an awkwardly-placed handbrake on the passenger side of the transmission tunnel.
The narrow, high street of Brecon – our destination for leg three – is a long way from the concrete freeways of Los Angeles, hence it’s with some trepidation that I approach our next mount, the 1980 Corvette Stingray C3.
This is a big car by British standards, particularly in width and footprint.
When called upon to thread our way through likely parked traffic, I have genuine concern that I might kerb the broad alloy wheels and their 255/60R15 rubber.
But for now, town has given way to country and it’s possible to relax and give the 5.7-litre V8 its head. Well, kind of.
It might not be short on ‘cubes’ and boasts optional 230bhp (172kW) engine, but there’s no rush of response.
With its three-speed auto, the Stingray gradually gathers speed, rather than getting to the point quickly.
It’s then that I notice the speedo, which goes up to only 85mph (136km/h) and time for a reality check – this is an American cruiser, one that happened to come out at the height of emissions crackdown in the US.
There are things to like, though: Targa roof; plush, powered driver’s seat; red leather interior to complement the white exterior paintwork; servo-assisted disc brakes all-round; along with independent rear suspension and ‘Posi-drive’ limited slip differential to keep the rear end in check.
A welcome lunch of fresh, crisp rolls brimming with succulent prawns, washed down by a pint of cold lemon squash, at the Red Lion at Llanafanfawr sustains and refreshes, then it’s back on the road to Builth Wells, before turning on to the B4520.
This is a road that is a little slow to get going, but progressively wins you over with its long, sweeping curves through the open moorland.
At Brecon, we switch to the car that redlines my anticipation levels – the Porsche 911 T.
Modelled on the 911 S example owned by the ultimate king of cool, Steve McQueen (which he drove in the opening sequences of the Le Mans movie), ‘our’ car looks every bit the classic – left-hand-drive, dark grey duco, lowered suspension, Fuch alloys and, on closer inspection, a 2.2 flat-six under the bonnet rather than the standard 2-litre unit.
Initially, though, I’m disappointed. The pedal placement feels awkward, the throttle travel oddly short yet not unlocking any keen performance and the throws on the five-speed gearbox too long, but once the B4558 towards Abergavenny starts to twist, the Porsche adapts a flat cornering stance and starts to monster the bigger iron in front.
With the tacho needle wavering around the 4000rpm mark, it fairly flows from bend to bend, displaying a symmetry that delights driver and passenger alike.
Our last drive, from Skenfrith Castle to the Malvern Hills, is the mighty Jensen Interceptor.
Just standing still, the Jensen oozes presence. Although bearing a British badge and construction, the Interceptor employs a massive, 7.2-litre Chrysler V8 swathed in typically handsome Pininfarina coachwork.
Inside, it lives up to the exterior promise, with plush, deep leather seats in maroon and black for four (it’s a genuine 2+2) and horizontal bank of gauges set handsomely on the broad dashboard, the centre piece of which is a classic, thin-rimmed Moto-Lita steering wheel.
It’s immediately evident that this is, and undoubtedly always was, a meticulously maintained motor car.
The throttle feels buoyantly light, and able to tap into the deep reserves of torque and power that reside inside the big Mopar mill as we tackle the B4521; like the B4558 we drove in the 911, a road that features on motorcycle forums as one to ride.
The TorqueFlite three-speed auto shifts smoothly, and everything about the big Jensen feels well-connected and fluid, be it steering precision, body control or ride quality.
By the time I hand over to Matthew, the Interceptor has well and truly won me over. For me, the play of the day.
Remarkably, in broiling temperatures that saw three British Territorial Army infantrymen perish from heat exhaustion on manoeuvres in the nearby Brecon Beacons, not one of the nine classics on the rally expired.
The spare E-Type stayed on its trailer, and we all made it back to base hot but heartily contented.
A ‘classic’ day out in every sense.
1972 Jaguar E-Type V12 Roadster: Engine: 5.3-litre SOHC 24v V12. Power: 203kW @ 5850rpm. Torque: 412Nm @ 3600rpm. Transmission: 4-spd manual. Weight: 1525kg. Drive: Rear-wheel. 0-100km/h: 6.4sec.
1999 HMC Healey IV: Engine: 3.9-litre Rover DOHC V8. Power: 179kW. Torque: 320Nm+. Transmission: 5-spd manual. Weight: N/A. Drive: Rear-wheel. 0-100km/h: N/A
1980 Corvette Stingray C3: Engine: 5.7-litre OHV LS2 V8. Power: 172kW @ 5200rpm. Torque: 353Nm @ 3600rpm. Transmission: 3-spd auto. Weight: 1489kg. Drive: Rear-wheel. 0-100km/h: N/A.
1969 Porsche 911 T: Engine: 2.2-litre SOHC flat 6-cyl. Power: 92kW @ 5800rpm. Torque: 176Nm @ 4200rpm. Transmission: 5-spd manual. Weight 1020kg. Drive: Rear-wheel. 0-100km/h: 10.0sec.
1974 Jensen Interceptor: Engine: 7.2-litre Hemi OHV 16v V8. Power: 209kW @ 5200rpm. Torque: 508Nm @ 3200rpm. Transmission: 3-spd auto. Weight: N/A. Drive: Rear-wheel. 0-100km/h: 7.5sec.