TR Register members David Hudson and Les Gibson are also Ferrari Owners' Club members and undertook what was originally billed as a Ferrari Owners' Club Monza road trip. Originally submitted for publication in TR Action Magazine, you can now read here this entertaining account of when one of Italy's finest teamed up with a Triumph TR7 V8 for the epic road trip.
Outline planning for a European road trip started over four years ago, yet for various reasons it was still only an idea until May 2014, when it was formally unveiled at a club meeting. It was already too late for the trip to happen in summer 2014, but there clearly was interest in a tour to Italy and the Italian Grand Prix.
The basic concept was a DIY approach. With no tour operator we would work out a route and then select and book our own hotels to suit. Initial feedback showed that we could not turn back at Milan, when Maranello (Modena), the home of Ferrari, was so close. Therefore the road-trip would be to Modena and back.
By November 2014 the basic bones of the trip were established: 12 days touring through Germany and the Alps to reach the Italian Grand Prix. An advertising flyer was printed and the trip was officially on the club calendar for 2015. We pressed on with the detail planning.
When diaries and commitments were checked the initial interested group was progressively reduced down and down until only two cars and three enthusiasts remained… But two cars is nearly a "group" and we three persons were definitely going!
In the Red corner: representing Italy, Modena and the Cavallino Rampante… Les Gibson with his glorious hand built and instantly recognisable Ferrari 308GTS. Fitted with Ferrari's marvellous v8: using a flat plane crankshaft, four weber twin choke Webbers, the carburettors and cams are set for top end power. 255Bhp from an engine that loves to rev and sing. Shining rosso corsa paintwork and glossy black interior.
In the Orange corner: Me, David Hudson, with a British mongrel: a Triumph TR7 V8. Initially thrown together in some fashion by British Leyland, in Coventry, from various bits they happened to have lying around. Then dutifully modified by persons, with varying skill, ever since. It is now a surprisingly solid convertible example; powered by a 3.5litre, stage 2, Rover v8 with 190Bhp. With comparatively crude suspension and less power than the Ferrari, the TR7v8 is slightly lighter and does have a wider torque curve on its side, which makes it very flexible and forgiving to drive. I am in a good position to make comparisons, as Les Gibson bought his beautiful Ferrari 308GTS from me, five years ago and that car is our link between the two owners' clubs.
Last, but not least and taking the role of executive hitch-hiker, another Les… Les Arrowsmith. Les shared the TR7 driving and passenger seats in both cars.
So we were ready for the off… Well not quite, if I may jump back a couple of weeks as this is relevant to the story.
For as long as I had planned the road trip I knew the Triumph's original 240mm sold disc brakes would probably not survive the autobahn and definitely would not survive the long Alpine descents. Long story shortened: Countless upgrade options were considered, the suppliers were to a man and woman useless; lacking basic technical knowledge about their products and generally without the courtesy to return enquiries. All of this meant weeks and months were wasted such that designing a bespoke brake upgrade was frustrated.
Time was up as the holiday now loomed before me. I selected an 'established' front ventilated disc upgrade, from a well-known Rover / Triumph supplier. To make the most of what I had I also entirely renewed the rear drums, shoes and wheel cylinders and fitted a variable proportioning valve to get a much better brake bias.
Five weeks to go. The new brake parts arrived promptly. The TR went into a local garage to get the parts fitted and two weeks later I got the car back; with an apologetic, "that is the best we can do with those bits". The brakes were working, per say, but the brake pedal travel was ridiculous… oh and I would need wheel spacers to clear the callipers. The TR was not drivable in that condition.
3 weeks to departure and PANIC STATIONS. Les Arrowsmith's Mondial cabriolet was the finest of back up cars and it too was in a garage receiving servicing and final checks. However there was a suspicion that the alternator was not 100%. The Ferrari Mondial also might not be ready!
Despite the supplier's earlier advice, it was quite obvious that the Triumph needed a bigger brake master cylinder to match the larger calliper pistons. The supplier then failed to return my calls about whether he had a larger master cylinder and there was no more time to mess around. I consulted various web sites and was finally able to find a possible master cylinder. Taking a day of work and working through Friday and the weekend I modified and fitted a 1" (25.4mm) bore Subaru Imprezza WRX servo and master cylinder.
The 1" master cylinder was based on educated guesswork and it might easily have been the wrong size, but it was perfect and finally I had brakes!
I had one week of running the Triumph to and from work, to bed everything in and the TR was ready to roll with only a week to spare. There was the faintest vibration under braking, but all the brakes and suspension parts were checked again and it was all good to go.
And so to the trip.
The first leg was really quite short; assembling at the DFDS ferry terminal in Newcastle. A flat calm crossing of the North Sea was perfect for on-board dining, a couple of beers and a restful night. The fact that the ship's exhaust was routed via our cabins spoiled things slightly, but an excellent crossing nonetheless.
Disembarking at Ijmuiden (Amsterdam) couldn't be simpler, with the tiny ferry terminal leading directly onto the fish quay and Dutch roads.
Immediately it became apparent that the CB radios, we had brought, were not going to be effective. With the roofs open, on both cars, the radios could not be heard over the wind noise. We reverted to old school touring, with the lead car keeping the last car in sight. Still we were hardly in peril, we were in civilised countries, the hotels were booked and both cars had maps and identical TomTom satnav units. Even it we did get separated, we would be guided to the same end point.
Our first stop was a moment of reflection at the Oosterbeek war cemetery, Arnhem. An immaculately maintained and peaceful clearing in the trees, where the rows of white stone tablets told their story of young lives spent.
Continuing onwards we planned to use side roads as much as possible, but with Dussledorf, Cologne and Bonn between us and our first over night stop at Koblenz it was obvious this section would have to be on the autobahn. At a motorway rest halt we met, by chance, another British touring group. We swapped ideas and headed off on our different routes.
The run into Koblenz was fairly unremarkable, except that my slight vibration was now becoming quite noticeable. By our second rest halt I was concerned enough to drop the wheel off the Triumph and find the new kerbside disc was both very hot and not running true. The constant chaffing was knocking back the brake pads, generating heat and creating a vibration in the steering.
On arrival at Koblenz it was becoming obvious that the new brake disc was a problem; I was beginning to get a distinct knocking and shudder under braking. Still we'd got the first day out of the way.
It was hot and very humid, but the cars were tucked up in an underground car park and it was definitely time for beer and food. A gentle walk around the old town found a restaurant serving Italian food and that was the end of a good day.
The second day was going to be a fairly long haul from Koblenz to Ehrwald located just inside the Austrian border. It was grey and damp and the car roofs were up, down, up and down again as we initially followed the river Rhein south. This section was fabulous, with vineyards and castles above us, the river beside us and neat little towns to through. Eventually the river turned east and we had to turn away in order to track south towards Ulm and Fussen. However, a slight navigational slip turned us back towards Stuttgart and into some unfortunate weather.
Stopping for fuel it was at this time I decided the brake disk was now too bad to ignore. Looking ahead we would have a 'quiet' day at Modena; when we were due to visit Les Arrowsmith's dearest Italian friends Fabio and Afra Vandelli. If I could just pussy foot the Triumph's brakes through the Alps then that day, in Modena, was my only chance to pull the car apart without spoiling our tour schedule.
Hence from a petrol station forecourt in Germany I made arrangements for a new brake disc to be shipped to an unsuspecting housewife in Modena. The shipping costs were eye-watering and the supplier made no apology for the original disc, yet this wasn't the time to start a fight. Hopefully self and brake disc would both meet up in a few days' time assuming, of course, that Les Arrowsmith's phone call about, "a very heavy letter from England" had been understood correctly.
We'd lost some time and now headed towards the Autobahn to catch up a few miles, the skies were black and it was time to raise the roofs, but too late. We plunged into wall of water.
Les Gibson dived his car under a tree to quickly fit the one piece targa roof to the 308. Not so good for me, there was no more shelter there and, with the travel cover fitted, it is a two / three minute job to uncover and fit the Triumph roof. If I could just keep rolling it is amazing how much rain you can drive through, in an open car and still stay fairly dry.
I rushed onwards to the next village hoping to find cover. The plan was working at first, but the rain worsened and slowed the traffic to a crawl. All but stationary self and car were soaked. I turned into an ALDI car park and fitted the roof as quickly as possible, but everything was saturated. At least was that I was in the right place to buy some kitchen towel to mop up the water!
Forty minutes were lost before the car was dry enough for the inside of windscreen to clear. Even then the humidity in the car was so intense that stopping, for any reason, meant the glass immediately began to fog again.
The motorway allowed us to press on and we began started to dry out. Despite more rain we arrived in Erhwald shortly after dark. The cars were wet, we were wet and the Triumph's brake vibration was now a nasty rattle, so bad that the steering column was loosening and my Cibie spot lights had been shaken out of alignment!
We loved the Mairs Landgasthof, it was scrupulously clean, had interesting traditional rooms, great bathrooms and stunning scenery. That it cost a mere £45/room means it is highly recommended. A quick rinse and we were downstairs for beer and food; both were of a high standard.
The Alps beckoned, but first some running repairs were needed. An inspection showed the top of the steering column was still bolted in okay, but the lower bushing through the bulkhead had been destroyed; leaving the steering shaft free to rattle around. Clearly I could not buy a Triumph bushing in an Austrian skiing village, so I needed to create a packing. After a few false starts, trying to pack the gap with polythene sheet cut from drinking bottles, I was directed to a DIY shop only 100mtrs from the hotel. They sold heavy rubber hoses by the metre and one size was near enough. Back at car and a section was cut, slit down its length, fitted over the steering shaft to fill the gap where it passes through the bulkhead and secured with tie-wraps. Although not perfect it was a very, very good fit with only a couple of millimetres clearance. What's more, for only nine Euros I had enough spare hose to make another six such temporary bushings.
The Mairs Landgasthof proprietors again deserve congratulations for their helpfulness, for letting me pull the car apart on their forecourt and for searching their cupboards for likely materials and tools.
Finally we were in the mountains, still cloudy grey and damp. My steering was okay, the brakes were shocking, but look at that scenery and what roads!
Our route skirted west past Imst and Landeck to join the Silvretta Hochalpinestrasse. The Hochapline is now a toll road that loops south before returning north to re-join the main through road, this means it is not used by through traffic and is frequented only by locals and tourists. As we climbed finally we broke out into sunshine, what a relief.
Our finishing point for the day was Arosa, south east of Chur, Switzerland. The weather had reverted to mist and damp, but after a vicious climb we arrived at a very fine hotel that, the proprietor was pleased to announce, had been frequented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle… although not so much recently.
Arosa had been selected as an interesting stop over, as it would host the Arosa classic hill climb event that weekend. Our tour timing had been determined to reach the Grand Prix, in Milan, on Saturday. We were, therefore, in Arosa a day too early! Although indicated as a four day event, there was actually no hill-climb action on the Thursday, but still we saw the first cars arriving and there was a growing buzz of classic engines in the town.
European hill-climb events (Bergenrennen) are somewhat larger than anything we have in the UK. Steeper and much longer, the Arosa event uses the last 7.8Km section of the public road as it twists and climbs 1,200ft to reach the town. It is more akin to a WRC tarmac stage and the cars that arrived were mainly road-rally prepared classic vehicles.
Leaving the clouds in Arosa we dropped steeply back down to Chur. The 308 was still running perfectly, but the shuddering Triumph brake made this a painful descent, albeit one with inspiring views.
Next we tracked south, following part of the old San Bernardino Pass, to reach the little village of Splugen. Here we took another coffee and cake stop, before turning off the San Bernardino pass and onto the Splugenpass.
The initial climb is steep with a narrow road quickly rising out of lush pasture into bare upland grasses, not unlike Scottish fells. At the summit the road crossed into Italy and we find a strange village perched alone in the grey cloud and apparently abandoned. The ground is barren and rock strewn, no good grazing or crops, but there is a reservoir here. Perhaps these were the cottages of the workers Mussolini brought here to build the dam? It isn't clear why it is there, although many may now be holiday homes.
The descent down the Splugen-pass gave split opinions. It is an astonishing piece of road building, with hairpins carved into a cliff face. I love this road, but Les Gibson found some of the hairpins to be too tight for the Ferrari and he didn't enjoy doing three point turns half way up a cliff. Certainly it isn't a place to enjoy the car, there is barely 40mtrs between some of the hairpins, this section of road is a gruelling lock to lock work out!
A nice (and very cheap coffee) in Chiavenna before the final leg of the day, back north and up to Sils Maria (Silvaplana, Switzerland).
The Swiss pride themselves on the cleanliness and attention to detail. Even by their standards Sils (Silvaplana) is a picture postcard gem, so polished as to appear artificial. Nonetheless they let our now rather grubby cars into the village (or rather we raised the 'No Cars' barrier and let ourselves in…) and another very fine hotel was found. It was, however, raining again. We'd had a few spells of sunshine, but the trip had been predominately grey and very wet up to now.
The mountains had also provided a slightly surprising result, the low down torque of the Rover V8 was making much lighter work of the hairpin climbs than the nervous, high-revving Ferrari V8. The TR was able to pull through the hairpins and get going easily, whereas the Ferrari got bogged down, at each hairpin, needing some space to get the revs up and then it rapidly caught up. Although sweating a little bit, both were climbing and coping very well for their age… and so were their cars!
On Thursday we had doubled back north to Sils, with the intention of today looping up further north to pick up the San Bernardino Pass again and follow it back down south to Milan today.
We woke to brilliant sunshine, but it had rained heavily over night, the cars were wet and there was significant snow on the peaks. It was decided to head more directly to Milan, back through Chiavenna and then down the western shore of Lake Como.
As we entered Italy at Chiavenna we were greeted with our first clear skies, brilliant sunshine and heat; "Ah, wait for beautiful Italy" Les Arrowsmith had told us and he was right. Stopping by the lake it was time to take morning coffee and to dry out the car covers and saturated boot contents!
Leaving the beauty of Lake Como and a short motorway haul took us to the outskirts of Milan. Strangely the Autostrada toll barrier took pity on us, rising as we approached. It wasn't clear what we should do, so we nipped through before it changed its mind. Perhaps there will be a letter in the post.
I didn't fancy driving in Milan, fearing endless queues and overheating engines. In fact the route into town was very simple, the SatNav units did exactly what was required of them and the entry in Milan was quite unremarkable. The pre-booked car park was some distance from our lodgings. So Les Arrowsmith was offloaded at the hotel, left to enjoy a cigar and guard our bags, while Les Gibson and I searched for the car park. A hot, dark catacomb was found beneath an office tower block and the cars were safely locked away from the curiosity and careless parking of the Milan streets.
Keen to see the old town it was time for a quick wash and change, before jumping onto the Metro and down to the old town centre.
Milan is such a grand town and slowly we meandered back to the hotel, admiring the views, arcades and people until a suitable restaurant was found. After a fine dinner al fresco, we used a sophisticated form of alcohol based dead reckoning to take us back to the hotel. Another fine day was done and finally the weather was bright and hot.
The hotel had been chosen carefully, as it was near to the central station and in turn the central station would connect us to the Lesmo rail station at the north east corner of the Autodromo Monza. Two trains and a modest walk brought us to the second chicane to witness the second qualifying session, which brought a pleasing and strong Ferrari performance with both Vettel and Raikkonen very well placed for the race.
The F1 cars sounded much better in person than they do on television, but the supporting GP2 cars were a great surprise with a screaming V8 and shape that suggested the F1 cars we knew about five years ago. As a single chassis race series the racing was very close, if a little processional. Still as a lower budget racing, it compared rather too well in light of the current F1 cars.
Back into Milan and it was time to avoid the tourist traps. Two doors from the hotel and we sat outside watching the world and, again, drinking local beers. Fifty yards further and around the corner to a side street trattoria. Les Arrowsmith used his Italian to order a veritable feast for a handful of Euros. A mountain of Mussels started the meal, with Foccacia, more seafood and more and more! The evening was topped off by free Limoncello and gifts to take away. "Eat like the locals", said our translator. Unassuming and simply brilliant.
Grand prix race day. Lewis Hamilton toured around competently at the front, Vettel showed some improved speed and did a fine job to keep second, yet everyone was watching Raikkonen. After bogging down on the start he had squandered is grid advantage and was plum last before the first corner. Tenaciously Kimi worked his Ferrari back through the field to a very creditable forth position. We were in a perfect vantage point to see his overtaking moves, which yielded an unexpectedly good result for the Tifosi. The Freccia D'Oro air display (the Italian version of the red arrows) weren't too bad either; as they painted the red, white and green Tricolore across the Monza sky.
No time for the post-race track invasion, we had a dinner invitation in Modena. It had to be double fast onto the train, back into Milan, grab the cars and down to Modena by 8pm. Les Arrowsmith's Italian friends, Fabio and Afra, had laid on a simple, but excellent Modenaise meal. Authentic Bolognaise ragout, home-made pasta, roast meats, fruits, cheese and home produced balsamic vinegar. The generosity of this couple was a joy. Of course they knew Les, but to take two other English strangers into their home was so kind. Fabio did wonder, however, why he had received a single brake disc in the post…
Back to Fabio's house and time to repair the Triumph. Frankly the replacement disc wasn't acceptable, with multiple impact wealds around the mounting surface. The shipping box wasn't marked, so this clearly wasn't transit damage; instead I suspect the disc had had a long life on various shelves. However, I was in Italy, there was no chance to get another disc today and so I could hardly debate the point!
I draw-filed the damage flat, fitted the disc to the hub, refitted the hub and brake calliper, reconnected and bled the hydraulics: the result was astounding. Powerful, smooth, normal brakes! The repair had taken nearly two hours, so now it was quick time into Maranello to take in the Ferrari sights.
Since my last visit (last year) the Galleria had entirely remodelled several sections of their display, which shows the depth of their collection. Next were the compulsory photographs at the Ferrari factory gates and again at the entrance to the Fiorano test track.
Now we had turned the corner and started the return leg. The 308 was still running faultlessly and the Triumph was quite transformed and felt quite civilised; now that the influence of the warped brake disc had been removed.
The outbound leg had meandered to take in the best roads and sights, the return leg had to be a bit quicker.
We started on the Autostrade to get some easy miles out of the way on the open, flat and quite featureless Lombardy plain. Passing Verona we continued up the motorway almost to Trento before transferring onto the old road. The pace relaxed now and we took the first coffee break of the day.
Cruising towards Bolzano and finally it was the Ferrari's time to break down. Fortunately it was more comical than serious.
Les tooted his horn, so we took this hint to stop the cars and talk… Indeed he had not called us back, rather the horn push had shorted out! Over the next leg the tooting became more frequent and was really quite embarrassing by the time we rolled into Bolzano (for lunch). Not only had this Englishman arrived in this quiet town in a rather flash Ferrari, he was blasting his horn at all and sundry just to make sure they noticed him. Who did he think he was?
Three minutes of contortion was all that was required to disconnect the wire to the horns, despite the compressor being helpfully buried in the front wing amongst the headlight lift assembly.
We had covered a lot of ground easily that morning and leaving Bolzano we turned on to the SP99 / SP98 mountain road that winds through the villages of San Genesio, Valas and Zona before dropping back down to our overnight at Merano. The road was perfect.
The SP99 isn't a famous pass and a much more sensible low level route exists between Bolzano and Merano, so once again there was very little traffic. The SP99 has also benefitted from a lot of investment and, while some sections are still narrow, it has modern open hairpins, short tunnels and smooth surfacing. We'd found a perfect touring road allowing us to relax and just let the cars run.
Perhaps we should mention the hotels more. Working to a moderate budget the hotels were selected for location and cost, while paying attention to the feedback rating on a well-known booking website. Generally they were brilliant, one more worthy of particular mention was Hotel Zima, Merano. Great host, more spotless rooms, good breakfast and marvellous location, a gentle 15mins walk from the old town centre. Once again very sensibly priced.
The last day in the mountains. San Leonardo pass, smooth and steep. By the first stop we were easily 4,000ft above the valley with a view it is difficult to convey. Over the top and down the north side to meet and follow the old Brenner Pass.
We still had a lot of ground to cover, quick though the outskirts of Innsbruck and onward to Oberammergau for lunch. Finally onto Bavarian roads to reach the Autobahn and north to Heidelberg.
It became a hard day's driving. It nearly became a very long day, but fortunately we narrowly escaped a huge motorway traffic jam and took to the back roads trusting the SatNav to reach our last hotel. It was dark as we arrived, far too late to see historic, beautiful Heidelberg and nearly too late to find a meal. A German fast food outlet was the only answer, providing meals of varying and dubious quality.
This leg had been far too long, but overall the trip had been a great success. Eating our variously fried chicken parts we began to plan for next year… More of this, less of that and much the same.
Motorway and more motorway… we had a ferry to catch! Only once we arrived at Ijmuiden did we catch our breath. Finally, we joined the ferry and, gratefully, another flat calm crossing back to Newcastle.
2,075miles, 12 days, one brake disc, one steering bushing, a gallon of coolant, a mad Ferrari horn, countless cafés, coffees, cakes and grand views, some astounding mountain roads, a Grand Prix and Italian friends… Surely not a bad way to spend a holiday?
Already the plan is coming together. Similar recipe, DIY booking, ferry from Newcastle or Hull. Maybe add an extra day to the trip overall in order to shorten the daily miles.
A layover day in Heidelberg to see the town and the Sinsheim aviation museum. Then onward to the mountains…
Another layover day to see the hill climb action of the Arosa classic. Leave to option of the Sunday Grand Prix (for those who didn't go this year). Plenty more mountains and excellent roads. Plenty more coffee and cake stops and hopefully a few more cars to take the group up to six or seven.
So far we have three cars, TR7v8, TR6 and Ferrari Mondial Cabriolet complete with five persons. If you are interested in joining us, we will start working out a route this November 15; final route February 16 for a trip in September 2016.
We look forward to hearing from you.