I recently bought a delightful Rolls Royce 20hp Barker all weather cabriolet in Dumfries Scotland. Having parted with my hard earned cash I loaded it upon a trailer & made a slow progress back south to base. This to me is the best of body configurations allowing for full closed, half open or fully open motoring.
The Rolls Royce 20hp is in my opinion the finest car the company ever built. It is light & tactile, delicate on the steering, like butter on the gear changes & with a sweet little willing engine that imperceptibly whisks one down the road. People complain that they are slow, to which I always ask: “What kind of coach-work did the one you drove have?” The response is invariably: “Well I have not actually driven one, but everyone knows they are slow.”
We spent a week or two running round in the car, taking it on picnics & on the ubiquitous super market runs etc, during which time we covered 1000 miles or so. The car never missed a beat & ran beautifully albeit with a slightly too rich carburettor setting cured by the folks at The Priory Vintage Car Co who completed a service on it. The service involved setting up the Carburettor, injecting oil into the various oiling points dotted round the car & replenishing the engine oil etc with 20/50 non detergent oil.
A man inquired about the car from the South of France & came over to inspect it. Love at first sight would be a good description as he bought it instantly. Part of the deal involved me delivering the car to Sarlat in the Dordogne where we would rendez-vous & he drive it the last 150 miles home. Accordingly I made some reservations at moderately priced french country hotels, loaded the wife & two kids aboard & set off towards Portsmouth & the overnight ferry to St Malo. I always find the overnights to leave you a little short of sleep as you lose an hour on the way out due to the time change. Accordingly we lay in bed ’til the very last moment eschewing breakfast before scuttling down to the car deck just in time to disembark.
We motored quickly into Dinan & stopped in the old Port where we procured fresh croissants, pains au chocolates & a sliced baguette which we washed down with lashings of cafe au lait. Nothing like a fresh baked French breakfast to start the day. Our plan was to drive solely on french “D” roads avoiding all main roads like the plague & to do a series of 150 or so mile legs heading ever south. In this manner so long as we kept the sun in front of us we would always be heading south & in the general direction of our destination. Whenever we misread the map, we simply pointed the nose towards the sun until such time as civilization appeared.
Rural France is a simply delightful place to drive. We wafted along experiencing “La France Profonde” meandering through sleepy hamlets & farm yards with hardly another car to be seen. When people complain about the lack of speed of a vintage car what they are in fact saying is they did not allot sufficient time to the trip at hand & have failed to mentally readjust themselves to a different era. Our 150 mile days were a pleasure indeed; relaxing with time to stop for morning coffees & sumptuous lunches, arriving each day at our chosen place of rest with ample time for a nap prior to dinner.
Off the ferry we opened the front of the roof & only ever closed it again to keep the night dew off the seats. My face needless to say, after three unrelenting days of direct sunshine took on the appearance of a well done lobster.
This particular Rolls was ordered new in 1927, delivered in ’28 to a lady residing in Dorking, Surrey. She kept it until 1967 after which it passed with a scant 45,000 miles to a collection in America. By the time it got back over here & had been used for short trips to club events etc, the mileage had climbed to 59,000. I had the pleasure of watching it pass the 60,000 mile mark. Being so low mileage the chassis was crisp & tight with absolutely precise gear changes & none of the sloppiness one finds on 300,000 mile chassis.
Driving a slow route down French country roads was pleasure in itself. We saw & smelled incredibly varied scenery, wildlife & each day revelled in the senses bought to one by travelling slowly rather then rushing along a distant péage in a hermetically sealed modern box. At every stop bucolic locals & gentry alike, would pour forth to admire the car & wonder at the fine sort of madness we were engaged in, in driving the car so far.
Last year I sold a nearly identical Barker Cabriolet with a scumbled wood effect paint job to Donald, a delightful ex-pat dutchman who is growing old disgracefully in an old farm house south of Limoges. We accordingly called him ahead of time & arranged to lunch together alfresco at his local fine dining spot. It was a wonderful sight to see the two cars parked side by side & after our repast we climbed into each others steeds & did a convoy along the back roads for a few miles, klaxons braying at every turn.
Our last day of travel bought us to our final resting place; a small hotel on the banks of the Vezére river under the shadow of the fortified Bastide hilltop town of Domme. We spent an idyllic few days sight seeing, eating, drinking & devoting ourselves to a pleasant indolence.
One afternoon we trundled several miles down a dead end road, drove through the farm yard at the end, past the pens of live foies not yet made into gras, & into a splendid leafy Walnut tree orchard.
We edged down the riverbank until such time as we found a passage to the river itself at which point we drove onto a freestone beach beneath a splendid towering chateau on the opposite bank. At the waters edge, we parked the Rolls, peeled of various layers of clothes which we left festooned upon the bonnet whilst we took to the refreshing waters.
Passing Anglo canoeists made a comment about bringing such an old car down such a precipitous & rough track. What they do not realize is that an old Rolls has high ground clearance, narrow tyres giving good traction & a torque laden engine well suited to inching along at 5mph. Indeed when these cars were made the roads they were expected to traverse were a far cry from those we use today. They easily go to places an average modern car would not.
Other days were spent squeezing the Rolls through ancient city walls & simply enjoying the pleasure of vintage motoring with no rush or pressures. As to those who say the 20hp is too slow, I ask, how much time of your pre war car driving do you actually do at over 40MPH? The Rolls ran 700 miles or so between 40 & 50MPH & never missed a beat. With the carb’ well set up it averaged 21 MPG. It was with great sadness that I breakfasted with the new owner & handed over the papers & keys..
My brother was on business with his Piper Saratoga in Paris. By waving a monkeys worth of 100 Euro notes in his direction I managed to persuade him to route south & collect us at Sarlat/Domme Airfield; a rural strip perched on the top of a hill with just a couple of other aircraft present. He arrived the night before so as not to miss dinner.
The following morning we duly loaded six passengers & luggage putting us at close to full gross & staggered down the shortish runway getting airborne shortly before the end. 3.1 flying hours later we were on short finals to Elstree & the end of a memorable trip. By landing we were well under full gross having burned off 50 gallons of fuel at 6lbs per gallon.
When I die, if you are the first to open my garage door, you will without doubt find a 20hp lurking therein, hopefully sharing space with a Tiger Moth!