In memory of our founder, David E. Davis, Jr., Automobile Magazine editors are choosing our ten favorite American Driver columns and will be posting one each day over the next two weeks.
Whitton Hall, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England -- I spent 175,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles for two first-class round-trip tickets to London, in celebration of my wife’s birthday. Whitton Hall is a wonderful English country house, owned by Christopher and Gilliam Halliday, and we will be here for three nights. There is at least one ghost, Gill’s food is nonpareil, and the farm that surrounds Whitton Hall is home to 140 registered Jerseys, whom we watched being milked after tea this afternoon.
We are here through the good offices of a wonderful travel agency called Frontiers, which specializes in hunting and fishing adventures all over the world, and must certainly be the finest company of its kind. I don’t know if you could just call the Hallidays and book a weekend at their home, but I fully intend to return once a year for the rest of my life, in order to shoot driven birds just across the border in Wales, to drive cars in one of the world’s most beautiful places, to visit with our esteemed correspondent and drinking companion Mr. Phil Llewellin (who lives nearby), and to further my own Welsh roots.
We drove up from London with six other American couples, all pals, in a four-door Range Rover, a two-door Mercedes-Benz 280GE Geländewagen, a Ford Scorpio 4x4, and a long-wheelbase turbo-diesel Land Rover County--the current model Land Rover that now shares engine and suspension with its more posh sibling, the Range Rover.
So far, everybody loves the Range Rover and the Scorpio--the Range Rover because it’s a full-fledged off-road utility vehicle that drives like a luxury sedan, and the Scorpio because it’s a full-fledged luxury sedan that drives like a sports car (and has the most comfortable rear seat in most of our group’s experience). Everyone in our little band is involved with cars, either professionally or as committed enthusiasts, or both, and their reactions are interesting. One guy, who devotes his life to selling General Motors products, sat in the driver’s seat of the Scorpio, ran his fingertips over the small controls, and said reflectively, “This car is what Ford’s ‘Better Ideas’ is all about. It’s so thoughtfully done, and everything works so well.” I agree, but I find it a bleeding shame that Ford doesn’t ship the 4x4 Scorpio to the States.
Our Land Rover suffers a bit in their estimation because of its diesel engine, and the Geländewagen is taking a bad rap because the British Mercedes-Benz organization turned it over to us with a blown exhaust gasket. The noise is absolutely ear-splitting, and the poor old G stops everything in every village we pass through. Nonetheless, it’s still a joy to drive, especially off-road. I love to play with the controls for the locking differentials, like some mad monk crouched over the out-of-tune organ in a mobile cathedral.
Mont-Saint-Michel, France -- Yesterday, we drove the Scorpio down to Brittany from Ardres, at the Pas de Calais. Our friends have returned to the States, after one final raucous party at the St. James Club, in London. There’s a hotel in Ardres called the Clément, just twenty minutes from the Calais ferry and hoverport. We love it. We cross the channel on the Hovercraft, nip up to the Clément, enjoy our first French dinner and a good night’s sleep, then drive on to our continental destination. The guys at Car magazine informed us of this gem ten years ago, and we’ve used it ever since.
Our Brittany hotel, the Château de la Motte Beaumanoir, is in the middle of nowhere in the Breton countryside. Madame la maîtresse looks a lot like Simone Signoret at the wrong end of her career, and likes to bitch about Americans. I am tempted to point out that if it wasn’t for Americans, she and her neighbors would be speaking German. The old chateau, complete with moat, is lovely, but when the lady of the house tells us on our after-dark arrival that she could fix us some eggs but she’d rather not, I am ready for the Holiday Inn.
Today we drove from Dinan to Dinard to Saint-Malo to Mont-Saint-Michel. We loved Dinard, which is a charming resort town with several hotels where I’d rather be staying, and we ate traditional Breton crepes for lunch in Saint-Malo. Now we’re watching the sunset from the highest battlements at Mont-Saint-Michel. Just a few minutes ago, we looked up to see two hawks locked in combat high above us. Screaming like the Furies, they’d scramble for altitude, each trying to get the advantage of the other. Then they’d roll into steep dives, ultimately colliding at a combined speed in excess of a hundred miles per hour. Why they didn’t smash bones I’ll never know. After three or four such midair collisions, the interloper headed for the mainland, while the champion--who apparently lived among the towers and rooftops of the old castle/abbey/fortress/prison/town--came back to the home roost, obviously pleased with himself.
Pointe du Hoc, Normandy -- This is the one D-day landing site I’ve never before visited--where the Rangers landed on June 6, 1944, scaled the cliffs in the face of ferocious German resistance, and became the first Allied unit to achieve its objective. Two days later, when they were relieved after a series of determined counterattacks, ninety of the original 225 guys were still on their feet. The place has been left as it was. Busted concrete, unfilled shell holes, barbed wire, everything much as it was when the Rangers moved out. Nothing at Normandy is more moving than the Omaha Beach cemetery, but Pointe du Hoc is a stirring memorial in its own right.
The Scorpio has done yeoman service for two weeks. It has been fast, sure-footed, and comfortable over all kinds of roads in some truly frightful rainstorms. But today, on the way down from Saint-Lô to Pointe du Hoc, I lost an argument concerning the right of way with an oncoming French eighteen-wheeler and he busted our left-hand mirror. I caught considerable hell from the female passengers, and I’m mortified. If I’d been driving a left-hand-drive car it wouldn’t have happened, but the Scorpio had been so good for a long that I’d begun to believe that it and I could do anything, and I turned out to be wrong by about three-quarters of an inch.
Fuel is expensive in France. We ran four vehicles--including the Scorpio--in Britain for a week, and our fuel cost a total of $259.70. A week’s French fuel--four tanksful--for the Scorpio alone cost $169.42.
The Palm Restaurant, New York -- Lunch with Celine Sullivan, our distinguished marketing mind, who wanted to show me the latest demographic research on you, our readers. When we’d put business aside and cleaned our plates, she said, “I had a wonderful experience the other night. It was the coldest night of the year so far, not brutally cold, but cold enough to keep the riffraff off the streets of Greenwich Village. It was a like a time warp. With all of them in the subways, or whenever they go, the Village looked as it did years ago, and I found it quite lovely. I walked along, kind of exulting in all this, when I suddenly saw a perfectly maintained Edsel sitting under a street light.
“It simply stopped me in my tracks, and I thought, seeing that car parked in surroundings that really haven’t changed much in the past thirty years, what a wonderful way to explain to younger people who we were, and where we came from. That Edsel, with those bizarre lines and all that chrome, says so much about those times. Standing alone under the street light in Greenwich Village, it was like a Rosetta stone, a key that might have been used to unlock all kinds of mysteries and clear up all kinds of misapprehensions about the years between Korea and Vietnam.”
New Pittsburg, Ohio -- Dr. Emilio Anchisi, Ferrari’s U.S. president, called me in England to say, “I have a Testarossa for you to drive, but only on one condition. You must come shooting with me on the twenty-ninth, or no deal.” So a few hours after the aforementioned lunch with Celine Sullivan, I’m driving a Ferrari Testarossa from New York to Ann Arbor. It’s the eve of a holiday weekend, and I stop in New Pittsburg to collect my seventy-six-year-old mother so that she can join the Michigan branch of the family in fun and frolic. Sort of “Over the River and through the Wood,” with twelve cylinders and an Italian racing red paint job.
Based on this morning’s experience I can tell you that the Ferrari will hold one Gokey canvas carry-on bag (mine), one lady’s (larger) bag in nylon, one loden coat (mine), one lady’s quilted coat, one lady’s poplin raincoat, one round metal box of grandma-gemacht cookies, two antique mercury-glass candy dishes, one bag of bulbs (recently dug from my mother’s garden), three frozen roasting chickens, one book (a biography of Confederate general A.P. Hill), one large standing rib roast, three large sirloin steaks, twelve good-sized hamburger patties, and three bags of frozen shelled chestnuts.
In addition to me and my mother--but only for a short time--it also held one cat carrier containing her thoroughly annoyed cat, named Bennington. New Testarossas have passive belts, like those in the Toyota Cressida, which slide along a track over the door to clasp you safely against the seatback. When I twisted the key to bring the great flat twelve to life, it also caused my mother’s belt to gather up old Bennington’s carrier and press it very firmly against the aged person’s rib cage. Bennington was not amused. He did his best to rip the carrier apart from inside, and the Testarossa was filled with floating cat hair.
When we set off down Route 250 toward Wooster, I deliberately nailed the throttle in first and second, causing my mother to exclaim, “This little thing certainly has good pickup.” Enzo Ferrari his own self could not have said it better. She remarked that she had once gotten up to eighty-five while passing a car in her old Chevrolet Nova, and I immediately floored the Ferrari again. “Well, Mom,” I said, “there’s 100,” and a moment later, “there’s 120.”
She laughed like bells ringing, and said, “It doesn’t seem like very much, but you’d better be sure that one of these farmers doesn’t drive a tractor out in front of us.” Bowing to her wisdom, I backed out of it. And, at about eighty, was sailing past the turnoff to the cat hotel when she shouted, “Left!” I jumped on the brakes, causing the tin of grandma-germacht cookies to open, showering us with several dozen, er, snickerdoodles. I repacked the cookies while a betrayed Bennington was being turned over to the cat sadists, and I can promise that anyone who eats a snickerdoodle this weekend will get a bonus of nourishing cat hair with every bite.