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

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.

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!

A Bright Start to 2018 for the Distillers Car Club

On Thursday Feb 8 members and their guests made up a jolly party of 16 visiting the Design Museum in South Kensington to race through 70 years of passion, glamour and design innovation, with unique behind-the-scenes access to one of the most iconic car brands.

Billed as follows;

Ferrari: Under the Skin Exhibition

‘This show is well worth a spin’ ★★★★ – The Times

‘Intelligently curated and stunningly designed’ – Forbes

…we were not disappointed…

A fantastic range of memorabilia, supporting the family history of Enzo and his business (Scuderia Ferrari founded in 1929) brought the marque into close personal touch.

The clay build of every single car, the leading edge engineering and the “future of Ferrrari discussion” in the context of a rapidly changing motoring world stimulated both awe and thoughtfulness.

The beautiful cars on display ranged from the original 166 MM created for the famous Mille Milia, the open top Berlinetta, the Tessarossa and the F40 to the racing salon where the Grand Prix winning 1952 Ferrari 500 driven by Alberto Ascari, through the Ferrari 250 GT series made famous by Stirling Moss to the more recent F1 car driven by the great Michael Schumacher who restored the racing success of Ferrari’s heritage   were elegantly displayed. Which one to take home!?

The evening could only be finished off with a delicious Italian meal at the highly rated Il Portico – also with a long family history.

Great company and food – not a bad finish either!

Car Club visit to The Cotswolds

It has long been an ambition of mine to have the Car Club come down to our adopted home in the Cotswolds and at last a break-through occurred to enable this and to make the visit particularly special. The area is blessed with a number of rare and famous car collections and after some months of patient networking it finally became possible to visit one of the holy grails, the home of the collection belonging to Nick Mason of Pink Floyd fame, and his family.

We were fortunate that perhaps the most famous Ferrari 250 GTO of all was indeed on display despite the risk of being taken away to some concours or other. There was a choice of Bugattis – one being run for our benefit and others being rebuilt by an on-site engineer dedicated to the purpose, such is the passion for the marque. We were indeed grateful for this once in a lifetime chance to tour and dream in the halls of these unique and beautiful cars. It transpired that the boss is the chairman of the ambassadors of the Navy Heritage Flight at Yeovilton, home of our affiliated 825 Squadron, so a brisk fund raise produced a decent cheque that we donated to the CO Commodore Jock Alexander during the more recent golf match.

Driving the long limbed, rangy roads across the top of the ridges and down in the combes of this area of outstanding natural beauty is part of the pleasure of visiting the Cotswolds. We managed this in some style with an eclectic mix of Alvis, Jensen, Aston Martin, Porsche and even a very rare straight eight Railton of Ecurie Maxwell our King of Gin. Such is the everyday stuff of Distillers mounts.

Our target on the second day was the delightful distillery of Liveryman Dan Szor who proudly showed us round the stone built stillhouse and maturing warehouses. Just days away from becoming whisky we sampled this delicious spirit, warm and fruity, just the way the distiller intended.

About to be launched at Vinexpo the general feeling was that they had a winner on their hands, so we presented a Distillers Quaich to make sure it had a good launch. Already there are plans for a significant expansion – which gives a further excuse for a visit in the future – if one were to be needed!

You cannot make whisky without rain and so we should not have been too disappointed when Sunday dawned wet and windy, and the idea of a walk in Cider with Rosie country suddenly seemed less appealing. But we had enjoyed fine sunny weather until then, great company, a convivial meal at Chateau Kemble, home of the Watlings, and some delightful foodie experiences in nearby Nailsworth and at the top of Rodborough Common, with spectacular views across the five valleys that converge on Stroud.

That now concludes the 2017 programme that has taken us to Prodrive and Aston Martin , Chatham Historic Dockyard and now the Cotswolds. So now is the time to hunker down with a fine malt whisky and work out the plans for 2018 and more fine drives, great company and interesting visits along the way, perhaps across the channel this time – we shall have to see.