Motoring: Back to our routes

Gavin Green joins a race where thrills and spills come at 50mph

Silverstone's grand prix circuit, scene of Damon Hill's and Nigel Mansell's greatest triumphs, Mecca of British motor racing, high-speed showcase for Formula One and home for next month's annual British Grand Prix. The great grandstands that line the circuit were only a fraction full, although the fireproof-suited marshals were there, waving their flags, and there were emergency vehicles on hand in case I lost control at top speed - about 50mph. I tootled on my way, with no more urgency than Postman Pat, around the Theatre of Dreams of British motor sport, Grandpa beside me, plus three small children, Grandma and my wife in the vast back seat of the 1936 limo.

There are no other motor sport events like the Norwich Union RAC Classic Run. None that allow you to drive around Silverstone at whatever speed you like, and with however many passengers your car can carry. And none bigger: the Norwich Union RAC Classic is the world's biggest motoring event. More than 1,600 cars competed in last weekend's rally, from 10 different countries in 119 different makes of car. And there were more than 1,500 winners.

To "win" all you need to do is finish, along whichever route - there are 15 to choose from. Anyone who owns a car more than 20 years old can have a go.

We chose to start at Silverstone, which is also the finish for all competitors. We could have chosen Paris, Dublin, Newport or any of seven other English locations, including Bath, Norwich and Chester. Each goes along a set route, all different, each a scenic period piece, all roads leading to Silverstone.

Our route, of 130 miles, was one of the shortest, a wise precaution, given the inexperience of the crew. It consisted of me (the driver), a novice at the Norwich Union event; Grandpa, who had never navigated in a rally before and had never seen the "tulip" map routes, but sure remembered what it was like to drive Thirties cars; Grandma, who comes from Australia, and was therefore clearly going to be of limited use if we got lost near Lower Shuckburgh or Clifton-upon-Dunsmore; my wife Katharine, who was in charge of controlling the other, younger crew members, Henry, seven, Sebastian, three, and Hugo, eight months. The latter three were instructed, respectively, not to whinge, puke, or badly foul a nappy. They did splendidly. I also fancy that with a crew of seven, we may have had more people in our car than any other competitor, although I've no way of verifying this.

We certainly had one of the biggest cars, a 1936 Vauxhall BXL limousine, powered by a chugging great lump of a six-cylinder engine, and possessed of an enormous back seat. The rear compartment was velour- and carpet- lined and was quite beautifully finished - and proved easily big enough for three children and two adults, as well as a substantial hamper that the kind people at the Vauxhall museum, which owns the car, provided. The rear also featured a vast partition window, to isolate those front seat occupants who, back in the Thirties, would presumably have been "the staff".

Our run got off to a bad start when, owing to the difficulty of readying three children for any early get-away, we were half-an-hour late. In the British GP or RAC rally this would, presumably, be a major problem, but in the Norwich Union the man who sent us on our way merely remarked that we "must have had a good breakfast" before he waved the Union flag at us, and the old Vauxhall chugged on its way. We did one lap of Silverstone at the start, before gently cruising our way through Northamptonshire lanes.

The route was marvellous. If you'd told me I was about to go on a 130- mile scenic drive through Northants, Leicestershire, Bedfordshire, Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, I would have said, sure, and we had a great summer holiday in Warsaw last year. But the scenery was continually superb, a reminder of what a staggeringly beautiful country this is on a fine May day. The organisers try to take you down narrow, period roads wherever possible and, apart from the odd incursion into drab post-war suburbia, they succeeded.

We tootled up and down gently rolling hills, the hedgerows full of wildlife and birdsong and gorgeous colours, the high Vauxhall affording us all marvellous views. We never hurried, and had the time to take in the scenery. It was a glorious reminder of what most of England must have been like, before it was bulldozed for speed and efficient agriculture. Much of it is still gorgeous, of course, but you need to get off the wretched motorways or major roads to see it. We encountered little traffic, apart from a few other competitors, most of them going much faster than us. Locals waved cheerfully, enjoying the sight of so many old cars passing their way.

We arrived back at Silverstone, to do another lap of the GP circuit, at just after 4pm - seven hours after starting. We had three scheduled stops, for refreshments and the official stamps on our route book. It was the most enjoyable day's motoring I can remember. Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill may have got more satisfaction from their motor sport, but I can't believe they've ever had this much fun in a car.

Norwich Union, which has sponsored the event since its inception in 1986, is pulling out of next year's rally. Nonetheless the organiser, the RAC Motor Sports Association, says other sponsors are lined up, and the 1998 event will go ahead. For details, contact the RACMSA on 01753 681736. The Vauxhall Heritage Centre in Park Street, Luton, is open to the public one day a year - this year on 15 June, 10am-4pm, admission free.

Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value

Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas