After months of planning, I was finally on the French side of the Channel, on the way to take part in the Les Séries en Helvétie event in the Jura Mountains near Lake Geneva.
The first part of the plan – leave at 5.30am and catch the 11.10 Dover-Calais ferry – had gone perfectly, and the excitement of driving off on to foreign soil in my Series I had kicked in. All my earlier concerns and worries about completing the trip had fallen away and we were soon humming along through rain and shine at a steady 50-53mph.
What could possibly go wrong?
Part two of the plan was to continue at this cruising speed towards a campsite in Châlons en Champagne for an overnight stop. I’d been told by event organiser Yves de Mestral that the campsite was just down the road from the house of avid Land Rover collector and Anglophile, Sébastien Conte.
Little did I know how big a role he would play in the success of my trip...
‘What’s that noise?’
It doesn’t do to alarm your passenger when something unexpected (and possibly terminal) occurs to the 58-year old Land Rover you’re driving.
‘That doesn’t sound good,’ is all I can say to the photographer in the passenger seat, as the transmission makes a sudden, clattering and defi nitely negative statement about continued forward progress. As a cold sweat breaks out on my brow, despite the stifling heat in the cab, I disengage overdrive.
Amazingly, this instantly resolves the problem – the noise goes away. But then, when the overdrive is re-engaged, back comes that dreaded noise.
We’re about 100 miles short of our overnight stop and now gingerly rumbling along at around 40-43mph. Thankfully, the autoroute is fairly quiet, so we’re not getting in the way of too many trucks, but it takes almost three hours to reach the campsite.
Very tired and very dejected after travelling for nearly 14 hours, we set up camp and consider our options. I’m on the verge of throwing in the towel, but after a boil-in-the-bag meal and a cuppa, I come up with a cunning plan.
Fortuitously, I’d packed enough spare parts and tools to enable the removal of the overdrive and refitting of the original gear and backplate.
So I call Sébastien and arrange to use his yard the next morning to effect the repairs. I still feel gutted. Thoughts of having to abandon the Series haunt a restless night’s sleep.
My confidence about completing the journey has been seriously shaken. Should I bale out and return home tomorrow? Should we continue south and try to complete the event?
Would I get to carry out my plans to continue on, after the Swiss event, to the Great St Bernard’s Pass to visit some of the locations used in The Italian Job?
Hope springs eternal
The next day dawns stunningly bright and cheerful. As soon as I meet Sébastien, I know that we are in good hands. Within a couple of hours, the troublesome overdrive is stashed in the back and we’re enjoying a pizza in the next village.
A few route tips from Sébastien and we’re on our way again, for another nine hours behind the wheel, to get to the campsite at Rolle. The site closes its gates at 10pm and it’s now 10.45, so we have to sleep in the car park.
Who knows what the next day of ‘adventure’ will bring...?