The Car Club Escapes to Champagne

The Car Club Escapes to Champagne

The Car Club doing their bit to help with the harvest

After the trials and tribulations of the past two years, it was third time lucky for the Distillers Car Club’s 2021 foray to Champagne. Sadly, our secretary, Nick Car and his wife, Louise, were unable to attend, so Bob Russell and Steve Wilson stepped in to manage the schedule of events for the sixteen participants in their eight cars.

Our base was Les Grains d’Argent in Dizy, where we congregated on a sunny Monday, 20th September to go en masse in a fleet of exotic and mainly British cars, plus one German and one Japanese (guilty as charged M’lud) and headed to Pressario, the first visit of our trip. Pressoria describes itself “in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage vineyard in Aÿ-Champagne”, offering a unique sensory experience around champagnes and featuring, audio-visual, olfactory and taste experiences. This was followed by even more tasting experiences at an Epernay hostelry, Le Sardaigne.

Tuesday comprised a free morning in Reims, where we met at to visit Champagne Barons de Rothschild’ offices. We were hosted by Rachel Dumangin, who explained that this was a relatively new project for the Rothschild family, in which the three winemaking arms of Châteaux Clarke, Lafite & Mouton-Rothschild combined forces in 2007 to produce premium quality champagnes, as befits the name. Their offices have been furnished by the family to give a luxuriously homely feel. Later, we had an opportunity to sample their Brut, Rosé & Blanc de Blanc Champagnes which were absolutely delicious

On Wednesday afternoon, we congregated at the vineyard Les Coquelicots in Congy, hosted by Xavier Brulfert. Xavier told us that this year’s harvest will be disappointing, not only for the poor weather, but also the absence of East European pickers. Normally, Xavier would employ up to thirty on his four-hectare plot, but on our arrival, he was down to five, which jeopardises not only the harvest, but also the winemaking process. Accordingly, the car club rolled up its sleeves for three quarters of an hour picking grapes in sympathy. After which, many of us found it difficult to stand up straight for the next two days! After our labours Xavier treated us to a tour of the plant, explaining the winemaking process and including an opportunity for us to sample his 2017 Blanc de Blanc.

On our last evening together, Bob & Steve organised a special dinner at the Royal Champagne Hotel, which overlooks the Marne valley and its vineyards. A beautiful sunset with Champagne, was followed by a sumptuous meal accompanied by a couple of very nice Burgundies. I was also presented with a magnum of champagne in thanks for all my quiz work during the lockdown. It was not necessary but very gratefully received.

On the Thursday, we went our separate ways after the mandatory lateral flow test, completing the HM Government’s passenger locator form, followed by a PCR test on our return home. Oh, how bureaucrats try to take the shine off a simply wonderful escape to Champagne!

Andy Napier

The Car Club Does The 3 H’s

(Heritage, Henley and Hofmanns!)

The Distillers’ Car Club started its second meeting of 2021 at the Waterfront Café at Benson, adjacent to the Thames on another sunny and hot day (we do not know how Nick does it!). The party comprised 19 club members and partners along with 11 cars ranging from vintage to new.

At 10:30, we proceeded to the nearby Aston Martin Heritage Trust & Museum in Drayton St Leonard, where we were hosted by the trust’s chairman, Rob Smith. The museum is housed in a stunning medieval structure, which has been lovingly restored at a cost of several millions of pounds.

The collection includes cars ranging from the Ulster 2/4 seater, of which only two survive, through classic models from the 1950s and 70s, the 1980s WEC/Le Mans Nimrod, a rare Zagato model and a DB7 prototype. Also on display were trophies won during David Brown’s days racing, donated by his widow, a range of engines from the classic straight sixes of the DB4/5/6 to the V8s of the 70s, 80s & 90s and the mighty V12 of the 2000s. In addition, there were extensive exhibits of scale models, racing memorabilia and engineering tools.

After 45minutes at AMHT, we headed off on a tour of the local highways and byways to meet up at the Leander Club in Henley for a lovely light lunch overlooking the Thames.

Lunch was followed by a visit to locally based Hoffmann’s, a car engineering specialist which specialises in car restorations and the manufacture of Proteus sports and racing cars, an iconic recreation of the Jaguar C Type. Chris Randall, Hoffman’s managing director, kindly hosted our tour and explained their deep and close involvement in maintaining the spirit and passion of historic marques such as, Fraser-Nash, Lotus, AC, Aston Martin, Bentley. Jaguar and others.

At 4pm, we went on our separate ways after a splendid day of automania.

Andrew Napier

Distiller v Churston GC 2021

That “The Spirit of Churston” has survived the problems of  past years was readily apparent from the frisson of anticipation, mid morning on Monday 24th May, when golfers from both teams met up again in the Churston clubhouse for coffee and bacon rolls. It certainly did not seem that it was eighteen months since our last match, such was the spontaneous pleasure of renewed encounters emanating from all sides.

The Distillers’ Get Ready for the Match

Despite the possibilities of ever changing national guidelines interfering with plans, it had been decided to go ahead with the fixture and it was so very pleasing that the enthusiasm of our Distillers’ golfers enabled us to raise a full team despite untimely medical matters ruling out stalwarts Graham Franklin and Bruce Hyde, who happily have both vowed they will be back on board next year. Their absence enabled us to welcome three new comers in Bryan Burrough, Ronnie Cox, and James Espey, who were all to contribute substantially to the character and success of the day…

It was James in fact who made an impression with his diligence in researching his correct handicap, to his teams advantage, on a strange course, first from off the yellow tees,  and further when he learnt we were off the whites, which it turned out were in front of the yellows!

Bryan, whose enthusiasm for golf is only matched by his increasing competence, had taken himself for a round with his son at St Andrews in preparation for our match, whilst Ronnie had been forced to forego his international travelling but had enjoyed seeing flowers in his garden he had not witnessed for over thirty years.
Our leading pairs of Mike Campbell and James Espey, won 3 & 2, and Bob Howell and Bryan Burrough, won 4 & 2,  got us off to the very best of starts, and the manager was congratulating himself on his pairings, but as ever Churston were not to be outdone.

Ronnie Cox and Charles Minoprio did well to take their three handicap opponent to the 17th, whilst the ever combative Mike Walpole with Bob Rishworth shook hands on the 16th. Adam Wallis with our annual guest Mike Brown also reached the 17th green whilst Keith Garrard and Allan Westray  were thwarted by their waltzing opponents’ three ball winning their game with a par on  the final hole.
So good matches all as we lost 2 – 4

After an enjoyable all seated drinks reception the traditional “boxing ring” dinner table was replaced by tables of six, and nothing was lost as a result, the splendid meal being complimented by magnums of St Emilion and Cotes du Rhone.

Ronnie Cox provided the highlight of the evening with an amusing whisky tasting tutorial, in which he shared with us a lifetime of experience of the Distilleries of Scotland and markets of the world.

Toasts were drunk all round. John Smith was thanked for all his efforts to ensure the success of the day, and Monday 23rd May was confirmed as next years date.

Ladies have fun

Whilst their menfolk were involved in the above their Ladies were entertained by Jenny Smith and Jane Baldock at Cockington Court  followed by cream teas and a fish supper at a Brixham restaurant
A very good time was had by all!

Keith Garrard June 2021

Brands Hatch – The Ultimate Driving Experience

On a beautiful day at the famous race circuit of Brands Hatch, seven intrepid Liverymen with sons and friends arrived to experience some drives of a lifetime. The lineup were five supercars including Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins, Audis, BMWs and Nissans. All were at our disposal, three laps in each car, objective; drive as safely and as fast as you like and try not to embarrass yourself or the instructor! Simple, I hear you say? Well, with over 500 BHP available in each car and one of the trickiest circuits in the country, Livery reputation was at stake. Everyone was concentrating on race lines through corners to maximize speed and get the feel and ability of the car, just as Hamilton does it, well nearly.

Some of the more adventurous decided to take one of the options. A drive in the famous Nissan GTR that featured in the film Fast n’ Furious. This monster churns out 850 BHP; wheels spin under acceleration in 5th gear! It was real test of one’s nerve, especially when the instructor said nail it! Car and drivers all survived but there was just one last experience. A drive with an instructor in an Ariel Atom. It is hard to describe this car to anyone who has never seen one. No outside body, two seats, turbo charged motorbike engine, 0-60 in 2.9 secs, weight 600kg, and death defying road holding, all in the hands of 20 years old racing driver. After one lap most just said insane, brutal, best fair ground ride ever. 

After this tiring morning we retired to a local pub to recount our experiences, Nick Carr and his son decided to go back in the afternoon to do the Ariel drive, which they had missed, we wished them well and hoped he did not have to enjoy their lunch again. We understand there were no digestive problems following their ride!

Just a great day out with great friends.

Golf Society

The Livery has a very active Golf Society with over 70 members covering the full handicap range. During the season there are four golf days, six matches against other Livery Companies and our Affiliates, and Knock out Competitions in both Scotland and the South.  Anybody wishing to play should contact our golf secretary Graham Franklin

Car Club McLaren visit

“Life is measured in achievement not in years alone”  
  Bruce McLaren 1937 – 1970

Fifteen Livery members, their partners and guests were very privileged to visit McLaren Technology to see and hear about the extraordinary developments of this hugely successful, divers and innovative company. The HQ is situated in central Woking, though you would never know it. A semi-circular glass-walled building designed by the architect Norman Foster, it comprises of two main buildings overlooking a series of artificial lakes. Inside it is spacious, clean, warm, and welcoming. We all commented about the wonderful working environment.

McLaren Racing Ltd is best known as an F1 constructor. Founded in 1963 by New Zealand racing and engineering legend Bruce McLaren, their success started in 1968 with a first win at the Belgium Grand Prix. A combination of Porsche and Honda engines and an outstanding team of talented drivers from Niki Lauda, James Hunt, John Watson, Emerson Fittipaldi, Alain Prost and Ayton Senna, and in more recent times, Mika Hakkinen, Jenson Button, David Coultard, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, has made McLaren into one of the most successful teams in F1, with 182 races, 12 drivers’ Championships, and eight constructor Championships.

The Woking HQ just oozes and inspires their work ethic of efficiency, success, and innovation. Walking down the spotless “Boulevard” of historic racing cars from Bruce McLaren’s early 1928 Austin 7 Ulster to Ayton Senna’s 1994 winning Marlborough McLaren, the span of their successes was very apparent, not only in Grand Prix’s, but also Indy, and Can-Am.

This being the first practice day of the Australian Grand Prix, we were shown the race HQ where the race strategy is decided and won, where lightening and instantaneous fast banwidth telemetry communicates directly through the 700 employees tasked with managing two cars and drivers, with hopefully a podium finish, 12,000 miles away? Quite an IT technological challenge! But McLaren takes this in their stride.  

As we walked through sparkling hallways on our way to the McLaren sports car factory, we were struck by the frenzy of very youthful employees on their way to enjoy lunch in the spacious dining room overlooking the lake. One of our members commented, “Not a bad place to work is it?”. McLaren supercars are legendary from the first Gordon Murray designed F1 road car in 1988 to todays outrageously fast sports cars. The factory produces 20 cars a day, 4000 a year from the 600LT Spider at £200,000 to the McLaren Senna at £850,000. At these prices even Liveryman Steve Wilson had his hand firmly on his wallet! All the cars are hand built with just one very small robot in place, all hugely impressive.

As we ended our tour we were very fortunate to spend some time with Jonathan Neale, Chief Operating Officer of McLaren Technology. He briefly explained about the Companies strategy, the issues and opportunities facing the Company, and in particular the importance of battery powered technology over the next five years. (McLaren’s cutting edge innovation in this area provides all the batteries for the current Formula E). He also spoke about the very big changes about to happen in F1 over the next couple of years, which will set a spending cap for all teams, create a more level playing field, thus reducing the huge imbalance of F1 costs, investment, and stress on working capital for the smaller teams. Currently the top works teams have budgets in excess of £500m a year in F1 and are outspending the lower teams by 2 to 1. This change has to be good for the sport and for the future of McLaren as an iconic brand in F1 racing, and who will without doubt return to the podium.

Our sincere thanks go to Hannah Lambert, and Tom and Danielle who guided our tour with such friendliness and professionalism; there wasn’t a question they could not answer. To Barrie Anderson, Finance Director of McLaren Technology, who together with past master Richard Watling and our hard working secretary, Nick Carr made this tour possible, and to Jonathan Neale, for giving us some inspirational insights about the future of McLaren. What a great day.

The Car Club weekend of the year in the Welsh wilderness

It has become a tradition over the short life of the club to hold a weekend away in a pleasant place close to a spirit or wine location taking in some good drives, food, wines, hotels and petrol-head visits.

This time we excelled ourselves by getting them all in – starting in Ledbury the eighteen distillers and partners managed to get to a tour of the Morgan Car Company, a tour and tasting at Chase Distillery, distillers of potato based vodka on their farm, drive up the famous Shelsby Walsh Hill climb, enjoy a Pol Roger tasting, attend a cocktail master class, and still watch England beat Sweden.

The tour around the Morgan Cars factory was particularly special. Family owned business celebrating its 50 th anniversary, producing 850 cars per year, hand made to order except for the engines, and designs over the years which had evolved through whim and opportunity. Modernity was revealed with an updated all electric three wheeler alongside a proud motorsport history which a near class win at Le Mans. We left there with the prospect of a weekend hire of a Plus 4 on our bucket list!

What a delightful part of the world this is.  In the heart of Elgar country in Malvern and its wonderful rolling hills, we were close to the mysterious backwater of the Forest of Dean where we looked for (and think we saw) a peregrine falcon at the Symonds Yat Gorge.

As always the atmosphere was jolly – with a little friendly competition on the hill climb, admiration of new cars on the tour especially the rainbow coloured TVR Tuscan of Graham and Sandra Franklin, and noisy banter after the cocktail competition – well it would not be right to waste the delicious liquids we produced.

The weather was of course blue sky from dawn to dusk, favouring the rag-tops the picnics and the country drives. What more could you wish for? We prayed for  rain for the gardens – but at home, not here please!

Many thanks to Nick and Richard for their hard work in organising this trip – the recce must have been fun and we look forward to more outings this year. 

What next? The Bugatti museum visit on August 26/27th? Perhaps the celebration of the F1 career of Rob Walker – scion of the Johnnie Walker family – at Dorking in October. We shall see but it will be varied and fun. Why not join us?  Our hard working Hon Sec Nick Carr would welcome your application.

Car Club visit to Dedham Vale

As befits our reputation as the social club of the Distillers who happen to enjoy messing about in cars, the DCC was chosen to lead this event to Essex and Suffolk to visit the Mistress Distiller’s famous garden at Ulting Wick and the car collection of the Master’s friend Rupert Marks. Both happened to be close to Constable Country, and as one thing leads to another, and we needed somewhere to stay, where better to go than the 5 star resort of Milsoms, dining at Le Talbooth, the pride and joy of Liveryman Paul Milsom, son of past master Gerald Milsom. The team, led by Bridget Stanley, did us proud with the delicious dinner and reception set alongside the river as the late summer evening gradually turned to dusk. What an amazing collection of top quality hotels he has.

Earlier in the day we had wandered around Flatford Mill almost hidden in a charming if busy backwater with the famous views still discernable despite much growth over the years. The Stour valley is a delightful area if outstanding natural beauty in is this most picturesque of settings. It’s well worth the visit.

The Rupert Marks collection is a gem – a very personal group of prewar GP cars – especially the wonderful Type 59 and 45 Bugattis – capable of well over 160 mph in their day. Some of the group fell in love with the touring cars, others dwelt over the Citroen SM – possibly the most beautiful car design ever – and the highly advanced Lancia Lambda of the early 1950s. The Rafale power boats which had attempted various speed records were definitely the most dramatic – in a collection that covered so many areas. There being no limits to the Marks ingenuity, even a very early fishing smack had been rescued from the mud of a nearby creek and was being restored by Rupert with the help of the young boys and girls who were learning the skills of team working and restoration supported by his own charity The Pioneer Sailing Trust.

The list of interests goes on – some of the group went off to view Leonie Marks jewellery workshop while others headed to the airstrip to carry out a regularity trial in a souped up Renault 4 of 70s vintage with the writer winning a pot of their honey, while being regaled with a master class on how to fly a gyrocopter!

But then it was time to travel further south to Ulting Wick, where we were entertained by Philippa and Bryan Burrough proudly showing us the result of 23 years transforming a run down farm, yard and land to a magnificent 11 acre garden composed of many themed rooms and areas. Skilfully working around the 16th Century house, pantiled barns, small dwelling and outbuildings she has created a top-flight garden experience. We wandered round the white space and the pink room and the main other colour themed areas admiring the density of planting and the intense strong colours that are her trademark. Beyond the central areas were a wild pasture, a creek and wet area, and an arboretum planted from scratch and now tall and mature. 10,000 tulips are planted and removed each year together with many other delicate plants. No wonder this is a garden requiring full time attention especially as it lies in one of the driest areas of the country – you can imagine what means in the semi drought conditions we have experienced this year.

A glorious traditional tea in the magnificent and ancient barn with delicious home made cakes brought the visit to a close with a vote of thanks to our generous hosts for inviting us into this very special place, and a cheque for the National Garden Scheme, which does so much to support the Macmillan nurses and similar needy organisations.


Jaguar Car Club Visit

We were delighted to spend a day with Jaguar,  touring the manufacturing plant of the F type sports car and visiting the new Classic Centre. Whilst staying near the Balti heaven of Birmingham we started proceedings with an exceedingly good curry dinner. Morning arrived without incident.  The day began with a comprehensive look at the newly built body and assembly plant – admiring the combination of slow time handwork and extraordinarily dextrous robots.  This is one of those rare plants where you see sheet metal arriving and fully built cars leaving – impressive and absorbing. Two beautiful E-Types heralded the Distillers arrival at the vast new Classic Centre, which holds the workshops, heritage vehicles and sales area. This is a huge investment in the brand and the idea, supported personally by the TATA family; the business sense is clear when you hear of the project to make 25 “new” D-Type racing models missing from the original register and 9 of the ultra rare XKSS road car version which were lost in the 1957 fire – at a cool £1 million each – and they sold out in days. There was such an outcry at the ending of the Land Rover Defender that it is now being reborn from donor vehicles. The rumour is that it will be back in production again in modern format before long. Meanwhile there are 400 vehicles in store awaiting exercise or restoration!