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.

News
people

Harry Potter actor suffered 'severe flu-like symptoms' on a flight from London to Orlando

Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
News
news

Rap music mogul accused of running two men over in his truck

News
Gywneth Paltrow proposed that women seek out a special herbal steam-treatment service
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Toronto tops the charts across a range of indexes
news

World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Arts and Entertainment
tv

First full-length look is finally here

Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Arts and Entertainment
film
Arts and Entertainment
Peppa Pig wearing her golden boots
film

"Oink! Oink! Hee hee hee!" First interview with the big-screen star

Life and Style
tech

Biohacking group hopes technology will lead people to think about even more dystopian uses

Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Film director Martin Scorsese
film
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Sport
bottom
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Regional Gas Installation Manager - South East England

    £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Gas Installation Manager is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service and Breakdown Engineer - South East

    £29000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Service and Brea...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

    Recruitment Genius: Engineering Manager - Alconbury

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for an Engineering M...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee