My name is Henry Fryer and, yes a self confessed petrolhead, with a genuine love for the classic car world. My narrative adventure isn’t dissimilar to an ever increasing band of loyal devotees, all of whom seem to have similar prodigious stories to share.
Dixie – Rallying Around An Austin 7
Looking back through my nostalgic memories I was very lucky growing up, especially when it came to holidays. My parents were most definitely ‘holiday people’ which meant visiting a vast array of interesting places. At my youngest age this usually meant a family drive to Morocco in our eager and lovable Volkswagen Camper Van.
Some years later my enthusiastic father discovered that our excursions were more efficient travelling by aeroplane, which in hindsight (and our camper van) is difficult to argue against.
Despite this sometimes intriguing and enjoyable spectrum of destinations, ask me what my favourite holiday has been and my answer will consistently be the 2003 Wessex Vehicle Preservation Club French Rally.
Both father and I had attended this particular rally on two previous occasions, so dressing in our finest leather bomber jackets and driving goggles was nothing out of the ordinary. We arrived at Poole Ferry Terminal on a bitterly cold morning in our trusty Austin 7 Special.
Yes, we adored this cheery little car and every bone-shaking rattle it lovingly produced from its centrally mounted half elliptic transverse spring. Affectionately known as Dixie (after her number plate DXE 306), she boastfully puffed out her cheeks and gleamed as we boarded the ferry to France.
On route and safely across the channel, the first few days of our rally experience went without a hitch. We duly visited some of the obligatory beautiful French villages, and enjoyed the stunning views on some of the French serpentine like roads.
Despite being one of the eldest cars on the tour, Dixie performed well. The old girl did everything we asked of her, even showing some of the youngsters clean pair of Parisian heels on the hillier Normandy roads.
On the penultimate day we returned to Cherbourg for one last night before catching the ferry the following morning. Sun shining, and only a few miles away from our destination we became aware of an unknown ticking noise from the engine.
Curious and slightly worried, we pulled over to investigate this rather loud and more serious commotion going on under our now steamy hinged bonnet. Close inspection revealed our worst fears – the water pump had failed, one of the more crucial parts of the motor car.
After some head scratching it became obvious our predicament had gained the attention of 10 or more British enthusiasts, who were quick to give that now legendary classic assistance. looking back it must have been quite a sight for inquisitive locals to see their reticent French highway, littered with budding motoring fanatics.
It was decided that there was no other choice but to continue the journey in convoy, stopping at random points to quench Dixie’s thirst when required. A good plan spoiled by it being rush hour in busy Cherbourg.
Mission accomplished, we eventually made it to the hotel garage. No mean feat given the speed the water was leaving the very tired radiator. The end result was Cherbourg coming to a virtual standstill thanks to a little Austin 7 nursing herself home.
Looking back, it was incredibly stressful. Yet, at the same time immensely satisfying, which I think sums up the classic car enthusiast fraternity.
That night my father tried to implement a plan for returning home. Getting onto the ferry would be fine, but the two-hour drive back to Salisbury was a mountain to climb for Dixie.
The next morning we awoke to something quite overwhelming. Astonishingly the club used its numerous connections to utilise someone who had a spare water pump, and subsequently try and fit the unit to Dixie. Unfortunately the much sought after pump turned out to be from a slightly different variant, therefore couldn’t be used.
Nonetheless, whilst on this rally, my father and I discovered that the classic car network will always go that extra mile to help. More importantly, with no expectation of reward. True camaraderie is indeed a rare commodity, which to this day has had a lasting impression on me.
The following day we safely disembarked in Poole. Dixie returned to her home soil, restrained in temporary accommodation at the house of a fellow rally enthusiast, who fortunately lived near the terminal. Later that week she was successfully recovered and repaired.
Being 12 years old at the time and by far the youngest there, I have never forgotten the excitement, disappointment, and overwhelming experiences. To this day it makes me smile whenever I picture us creating havoc in Cherbourg in that tiny lovable car.
Classic rallying is most definitely a wonderful experience, especially younger people. Although as a mechanic now I do recommend regular maintenance of your pride and joy to avoid breaking down at all, but should the worst happen you will most likely be in excellent company. The help we received was not something one witnesses in everyday life, and is a great advert for classic motoring.
To this day Dixie the Austin 7 still resides with me now – and she has never let me down since.
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