Year after year, car guys drive to the same places with the same people. Why do they do it? Discuss.
Rolling into the Chunnel car park and finding twenty of your friends waiting for you in similar cars is a great feeling. Camaraderie engulfs the entourage, with anticipatory awe permeating the queue of cars headed for check in.
Off the train in la belle France half an hour later, we gathered to discuss the route options. A red Carrera GT filling up next door was a positive Porsche portent, with the same good vibrations evident throughout our journey west to Rouen and south towards Sarthe. An unbelievable amount of rain means marine terminology is required to describe making way along the A28, each 911 creating a huge rooster tail of spray. France is famed for its joi de vivre though, so torrential rain and a few wet clothes do not dampen our high spirits.
A sodden autoroute might seem an odd place for an epiphany of sorts regarding the ritual annual migration of some automotive enthusiasts. But as my eager 911 surged through the tidal pools of standing water, with my buddy’s black Speedster in our wake, headlamps ablaze through a dull blanket of mist, it suddenly dawned upon me that I could quite happily see this picture in my rear view mirror once a year without regret. At last I was beginning to understand.
The sun was waiting for us in Le Mans itself, and our weekend was a blast. For me, those four days of fun, and the time spent touring Northern France the following week, bore more than a passing resemblance to Big Brother, the Channel 4 TV show now in its ninth season. Many say the BB format has had its day, but this epitome of people watching on the small screen continues to attract 3.3.million viewers an episode, the unpredictability of unscripted drama proving hugely fascinating for many devoted fans.
Big Brother game rules ensure a similar format year to year, but as time passes, the increasing familiarity between contestants and the ever-evolving narrative regularly ups the entertainment ante. The complex interactions taking place between the housemates is constantly tested and twisted by the programme directors, in their quest to stimulate the participants, and engross the addicted audience.
Fresh casting and plot twists are core to the attraction of Big Brother and annual road trips too, as participants change and events are never entirely predictable. Only those with no sense of adventure could be expected to stick to a convoy ad nauseum, so our flock of Porsche fans would regularly split up and regroup during the week, despite there being no prearranged plan. Sitting in a service station with little brother and my Speedster-driving amigo on the way down, it was not in the least bit surprising to see six of our pals arrive in the peeing rain and park up alongside our cars. Our dishevelled drive down set a precedent of voluntary participation; perfect for the relaxed holiday we had in mind.
Once comfortably ensconced in our rented house, we found we were sharing the facilities with another British classic car club, who had been coming to the same place for ten years. Their experience of events during that time gave them some stories to tell, mostly centred around how the new English landlord at the local auberge wasn’t a patch on the old French one. Sadly, we saw no reason to disagree.
As the weekend unfolded, a sizeable amount of personal detail was made public, much of it not repeatable. We learned for example, that one of our number restricted his motorway driving to maximum fourth gear, in case he had to accelerate suddenly. We also discovered that we had a master chef in our midst, who amazed us all with a sublime spag bol following two nights of negativity at the hands of the aforementioned hotelier. On the other hand, a certain someone levered himself into our happy house on a pity card and then wriggled vigorously when faced with his share of the bill: inappropriate behaviour noted for future reference!
My previous visit to the Classic had been with six other 911 friends who left us with good memories. Although none of them were with us this time around, it was a delight to see the first timers enjoying the event and each other’s company so heartily, every step of the way. It was also a boost to have additional help close by, when mechanical issues arose for some cars during the trip.
Our party included new friends from down under, who really immersed themselves in the proceedings. The new owner of my old SC Cabriolet also joined in, and it was great to spend quality time with all these guys. The village Bastille Day celebrations on our last night together as a group were the perfect finish to what had been an exceptional weekend.
The cultural phenomenon that is Big Brother will continue to inform our consciousness long after the show has been thrown on the televisual scrap heap, so I hope that our car communities continue to embrace interactive road trip versions for many years to come. It may transpire that not all of our jaunts will be as enjoyable as this last one, but when the rewards are as substantial as they have been on the last two events, it’s worth the slim risk of an occasional disappointment. Roll on 2010!