Roadtrips. There are so many aspects to classic car ownership, and I think I genuinely love them all. Participating in meets or attending exhibitions, working on my classic, searching for some rare new-old-stock part which I’ve suddenly convinced myself that I need, reading about their history, washing and detailing them, simply enjoying their shape and details over a coffee in my garage, and of course not least the social aspect. But if I could only choose one, then my very favourite aspect would simply have to be roadtrips. I love the adventure of driving my classic.
But what defines a roadtrip? Well, much as jumping into your classic for a quick run down to the shops for a fresh loaf of bread is both pleasing and worthwhile, it can hardly be called a roadtrip. However, in my opinion it also doesn’t necessarily have to be a weeks-long, continent-crossing adventure which pushes both car and driver to the very limits. In fact, let’s just hold on to that one word: Adventure. If there’s an element of adventure to the drive, then I feel that’s enough to call it a proper roadtrip regardless of length or duration.
In fact, exactly five years ago to the day, a good mate and I went for a drive together. It was only a one day drive and the full roundtrip put less than 300 miles on the speedo of our trusty old steed. Yet to this day, it still stands out as one of the very best roadtrips I’ve ever undertaken. And yes, it was an adventure and most certainly a proper roadtrip.
At the time I was living in Hong Kong, and work had me visiting Australia on short one-day trips on a regular basis. Whenever the destination was Sydney, I would meet up with an old friend, Lars, who had emigrated to from Denmark to Australia a few years earlier. Our meets would always involve plenty of gourmet coffee and shared dreams of various fabulous cars. But one day we decided to stop dreaming and start doing!
Life in the very centre of Sydney didn’t offer Lars the luxury of his own classic car, but this was undoubtedly precisely what we required. We quickly agreed that hiring one for my next visit was the only way to go. We also agreed that one on the iconic V8 Aussie muscle cars like a Ford Falcon, a Holden Monaro or a Holden Commodore would be most suitable, however finding one for hire proved impossible. After considering at a Corvette C3, we eventually let financial constraints have their say and settled for an early pull-handle 1964 MGB roadster with its correct three-bearing B-series engine. Yes, yes, yes, I hear the moaning and complaining… “How unadventurous”; “Just another MGB”; “The most boringly obvious choice”. We will get back to that later…
So with Lars having arranged the hire, the next time I landed in Sydney, I basically hit the ground running as we leapt straight into our Aussie MGB adventure. I only had 26 hours on the ground until take-off, and we were on a mission: Great roads, stunning scenery, rich coffee, amazing apple pie, good company, and not least the legendary Mount Panorama in Bathurst.
Heading west out of Sydney, we could have simply joined the A32 main road, but where’s the fun in that? Instead we headed a little further north and settled into the many bends and curves of the undulating B59 as it twists and turns its way through the breath-taking Blue Mountains National Park. The sky was crystal blue, the temperature pleasantly warm, the top was down, and Lars and I were already enjoying that characteristic rasp from the 1.8-litre B-series engine. It wasn’t long before the little oasis of Tutti Fruitti beckoned – as did their famous homemade Bilpin Apple Pie and a hot cup of coffee.
Soon enough though, we were back on the road. The MGB’s steering was light yet communicative through the vast original Bakelite steering wheel, the engine torquey, the ride compliant and comfortable and the sun baking down our necks. Lars and I were taking turns behind the steering wheel as we worked our way deeper into the Blue Mountains. At times we found ourselves reminiscing about everything from our many previous trips to the Nürburgring while we both lived in Europe, a rather spirited drive along the coastal road from Cannes to Saint-Raphaël in the Porsche Cayman which Lars owned then, to cars we had previously owned and not least those we hoped to add to our garage in the future. At other times we merely sat in silence as we took in the stunning views and admired the little MBG humming away melodically.
Despite another coffee stop, various photoshoots and a couple of minor diversions simply because some random small track looked exciting, we eventually cruised into Bathurst – the little MGB still purring along happily. Having reached the goal of our journey, more pictures were naturally in order as we peered towards the famous Mount Panorama which rises up to the southwest of the small town. The race track opened back in 1938 and a wide variety of races have been held here through the years from open-wheel racers, to touring cars and not least motorcycles. Nowadays it’s best known for the Bathurst 1000 in October and the Bathurst 12 Hours in February.
The track itself is 6.2 kilometers (or 3.8 miles) long and has an elevation difference of 174 meters (or 571 feet) as it rises out of the small town and makes its way up over Wahluu and then back down the other side. Especially the portion of the track which climbs over the hill is particularly challenging, as it’s both relatively narrow by modern race track standards and also a constant string of twists and turns. Some race drivers have likened it to a smaller version of the notorious Nürburgring with a bit of Laguna Seca thrown in. The Dipper – the last of the three corners making up The Esses – is a sharpish left hand corner which drops brutally away under you as you tumble down the hill; not unlike the Cork Screw at Laguna. It’s quite the rollercoaster ride!
How would I possibly know? Well, what makes Mount Panorama even better – it’s a street circuit! If it’s not race weekend, the whole of the track is just a normal public road with two-way traffic and regular speed restrictions. There are even several houses which you can only get to via the race circuit. Which obviously means that Lars and I stretched the MGB’s legs a little, as we both had a go at multiple laps of the legendary race circuit – at legal(ish) speeds of course as we didn’t want to upset the locals, get fined by the local police, or break our 49-year-old MGB by pushing the old girl too hard.
It was time to let the MGB cool down again. Truth be told, Lars and I probably needed to cool down a little too, as we were frankly having way too much fun! So we parked up our MGB outside the National Motor Racing Museum which is only a stone’s throw from the pitlane. It was time for a cold soda as we wandered through the aisles of the museum while admiring the many glorious race cars which make up Mount Panorama and all of Australia’s racing history. If we missed out on driving an Aussie V8 muscle car on our roadtrip here, at least the museum made up for it by the bucketload with plenty of Holden Monaros, Toranas and Commodores lined up alongside Australian-built Ford Falcons of varying age. Add to that all the foreign invaders which took on Bathurst as well, such as Mk1 Cortinas, Mustangs, a purposeful Nissan Bluebird Turbo and most importantly the vicious TWR Jaguar XJ-S, and it’s immediately clear that several hours can easily be spent here.
However, if I were to get any sleep before flying back to Hong Kong the next morning, it was time to head east towards Sydney again. We crawled back into our MGB, cranked her up, did one last celebratory low-speed lap of Mount Panorama, and the backtracked our route through the Blue Mountains.
So as promised, getting back to that common-as-muck MGB. Many enthusiasts will often discard the MGB with remarks about it being too obvious a choice – thus making it the boring choice. Truth be told, I can’t possibly deny that I’ve done the same. Yet despite all that Lars and I had just experienced, a very substantial portion of our drive back to Sydney was spent talking about our MGB and MGBs in general. What a thoroughly lovely little roadster! Granted, there is perhaps not a single attribute to the MGB which it does better than all others. But then there’s also not anything which it does poorly. It’s just a really competent all-rounder, which is still characterful and charming while putting a big smile on your face. At the same time, it’s remarkably accessible – both in terms of market value and not least spare parts availability. No wonder so many enthusiasts opt for MGB ownership! Arguably, the MGBs popularity is perhaps its only real downfall. For a while during our drive back, I actually thought that Lars might have ended up buying a MGB himself…
But regardless of where in the world you are, whether you’re driving a MGB or a somewhat more exotic Bizzarrini 5300GT, and whether it’s a hire car or your own, just make sure to get out there and enjoy the roads. Proper roadtrips need not cost a fortune nor wipe out a full week from your schedule. With a classic car, well-chosen roads, and some good company, a single day can easily suffice for an adventure which will leave a lasting impression even five years later – or much more.
Dear ViaRETRO reader, share with us below which classic car roadtrip was your best to date…