Driving Ambition

Driving Ambition

From a 1953 Fiat Otto Vu to a 1958 Porsche that evolved from a Beetle, some of the world’s most impressive cars lined up to take part in this year’s Classic Drive – iIllustrator: Alain Bouldouyre

Classic Drive 2017 at Chateau Saint-Martin & Spa

The Classic Drive returned to Provence, in the South of France, in October, with 44 teams from across Europe competing for the coveted first place. The rally – which was the fourth of its kind, took place over three days and covered a total of 435 miles, leading competitors via some of the continent’s best culinary destinations, including the eponymous Chez Bruno, the restaurant belonging to Clément Bruno, who is known as the “Pope of truffles”, and Château Léoube, one of the region’s most famous vineyards. Ahead of the race, Alex Moore spoke to three of the drivers about their beloved cars and how they came to acquire them.

Susanne Lebek

Professional horse rider and trainer
1963 Ford Shelby Cobra

My brothers have a lot of old cars – mostly German models like Mercedes – and for 15 years they were pleading with me to join them on a rally. Eventually I gave in and I started to drive their cars, and that’s how I got into racing.

Ford Shelby Cobra

The Ford Shelby Cobra: “It’s very beautiful but very masculine”

I’ll be driving a 1963 Shelby Cobra in the rally. I bought it at the start of the year, but it only arrived in March. Since then, we’ve made a few changes, including putting a set of really good brakes on it. When it arrived, it was in almost perfect condition, but next winter we’ll make some more tweaks so it drives that little bit better still.

I had two old cars already – a Jaguar E-Type and an Austin- Healey – and I was looking for another to add to the collection. I was after a Cobra because my brother loves them, and I like the look of its long front. We found one in California in November last year, after passing up two in Germany that weren’t in great condition but were really expensive. We had it shipped over from the States. The owner I bought it from had only had it for a couple of years, but the owner before that had looked after it for 20. Only 400 Cobras, maybe 450, were ever produced. Usually, they don’t have a roof, but mine does – and only a few have a soft top.

I drove in the Las Carreras de Mexico in a pink Shelby Mustang. I took part with a girlfriend and we came 35th. In 2013, I did the Classic Drive in Marrakech with Oetker in the Jaguar E-Type and came second.

I’m thrilled to be driving this car for the rally – I just love the loud sound of Cobras. It’s not a normal car – it’s very beautiful but very masculine. It’s hard to drive, but that suits me – I don’t mind cars I have to work with. It has a very heavy motor out front – there’s no power steering – and the pedals are very stiff, meaning a hell of a lot of work for the legs!

Georg Weidmann

CEO of Swissvax
1953 Fiat Otto Vu

The Fiat I’m racing is pretty spectacular. It’s a 1953 Fiat Otto Vu – an 8V. Not many people know that Fiat once built such a supercar. It looks like a small Ferrari and has a two-litre engine. The Otto Vu won the 2L GT class in Italy every year from 1953 until 1958, despite having been produced for only three years at that time. It had no commercial success, of course, but it’s a brilliant car – and very rare. It’s amazing to have such a small engine with eight cylinders; that’s why it feels very similar to a Ferrari to drive.

But you know how Italian cars can be – and this one’s a bit of a diva. Unfortunately, it’s not super-reliable. I’ve had problems with the petrol pump, the ignition, the clutch... On a rally in Austria, all the controls broke. We had no speedometer or rev counter, so I was just driving guided by the sound of the engine. Fortunately, everything else worked – and, surprisingly, we won!

“Fiat

The Fiat Otto Vu: “I thought: ‘Oh my God. That’s the real McCoy.”

I like pre-war cars, but that’s probably an age thing. It wasn’t until I hit 40 that I really got into them. I have a soft spot for them because they’re real machines and you have to put in the effort to get the best out of them and think about what would work best. If they break down – which they naturally do – you can fix everything and get on your way. You just can’t do that with a more modern car.

To buy an Otto Vu isn’t easy – you rarely come across them as they’re hardly ever on the market. I first saw one on the Mille Miglia 15 years ago, which sparked my interest, so I bought a book about them and began searching for one of my own. Then, six years ago, I was showing a car at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este and I saw it: a red Fiat. I thought: “Oh my God. That’s the real McCoy.” From then on, I followed that car, until, two years later, I was in a position to buy it.

It’s a nice vehicle to own because people always ask what it is – it’s not pretentious and it’s such fun to drive. It’s light, very lively and has such a beautiful shape – it was designed by the prototype department of Fiat itself.

The V8 engine was the work of Luigi Rapi and was actually intended for a limousine. In the early 1950s, Fiat wanted to move into the more exclusive limousine market, but when the engine was ready, it realised it was far too expensive and it would never be able to sell a limousine that had such a costly part. Instead, the engineers came up with idea of doing a two- seater GT with the same engine.

The car has a little bit of racing pedigree – all Otto Vus do. It came second in the 1954 GT championship. Afterwards, it was sold and, in 1968, it vanished. Lots of models ended up in the States, where, when their engines blew up, the owners would replace them with American V8 engines. In the 1980s and early 90s, a few emerged again, but they always needed extensive restoration. I was lucky because the work on mine was carried out in Italy by Dr Piero Lorenzo Zanchi, owner of Pavia FC, who was also the president of the Milano Automobile Club. He had the car restored over 10 years to an amazing standard, largely because the work was undertaken in Italy, where you have access to both the parts and the specialists. No credit goes to me – he did a superb job.

Mark Featherstone

Sponsorship director at Goodwood
1958 Porsche 356A GT

This will be the second Classic Drive I’ve done properly and my wife is with me this year. I did my first in Marrakech in a Volkswagen Campervan – one of the support trucks – and rode shotgun with its owner for a week to see what it was all about. Last year, I did the rally in Baden-Baden, Germany, in a viper-green, early-1970s Carrera RS, which was great fun.

“Porsche

The Porsche 356A: “It was the start of that incredible transformation from the slow but loveable Beetle into a bona fide sports car”

I own a 1967 Porsche 911S that I’ve had for a very long time. I intended to race in that, but someone recently drove into the back of me! Fortunately, I’ve been able to borrow a 1958 Porsche 356A GT for the rally. It’s the precursor to my 911 and a very important car in terms of the history of Porsche. The Volkswagen Beetle became the 356A, then the 356A went on to become the 911. The 356A was the start of that incredible transformation from the rather slow but loveable Beetle into a bona fide sports car.

Porsches are iconic cars. When I began working, a Porsche was the one purchase I dreamed of making. I bought a couple of new ones and eventually got round to buying an old one. Mine may have been built in the 1960s, but it’s essentially the same car as the new ones people are driving today, with the rear engine and all the weight over the back.

I love Classic Drives because they’re so relaxed. There’s a road route and a set of instructions, and it’s not about winning at all costs. All the competitors are great people, very polite, and all the cars are pretty much of the same age – they tend to be from the 1950s and early ’60s. It’s very laid back: usually there’s two or three hours of driving and then the enjoyment of exceptional food that reflects the region you’re in. Great driving, a beautiful backdrop, wonderful people, delicious lunches – what more could you want? And obviously the accommodation is exceptional too!

Ford Shelby Cobra
Ford Shelby Cobra 1 of 3
Fiat Otto Vu
Fiat Otto Vu 2 of 3
Porsche 356A
Porsche 356A 3 of 3