From Stuttgart to Lyon: the 2012 Blenheim Alpine Cup
Every year, our friends at the French motoring website the Blenheim Gang embark on a grand European journey they dub the Blenheim Alpine Cup. Blenheim’s Alasdair Campbell‘s offers the following dispatch from this year’s journey. Color us jealous.
As real world driving enthusiasts, we do believe our cars belong on the road under any circumstances, which sometimes includes watching pouring rain come down from behind the windshield, or being trapped in yet another horrendous Parisian traffic jam. But of course, to make up for the many hours spent in these less than ideal conditions, we’ll occasionally treat ourselves to some of the best driving roads that Europe has to offer, all while under the brilliant sun of an early September. So, as it has now become an annual tradition, we set off once again for a 1500 km trip, which this year would take us from Stuttgart to Lyon. And this, basically, is the story of how we spent a whole week driving, and how we thoroughly enjoyed each and every minute.
For starters, we had to get to our starting point in Stuttgart, which was going to take us the better part of the first day. So we gathered on the outskirts of Paris early on a Saturday morning, picked up our route maps, and got on our way. Once we were about halfway, we made a pit stop to meet a friend and examine the contents of a local warehouse, which included his very own Citroën ID. Having taken a quick spin in this (beautifully unrestored) underdog version of the venerable DS, it was time to show the cars (a Porsche 924, a BMW 325i, and a MkII MX-5) a stretch of unrestricted Autobahn. And before we knew it, we had arrived.
The following morning, our Swiss friends – having brought with them a Saab 900 Turbo convertible – had caught up with us. Since we were within easy reach of both Mercedes’ and Porsche’s museums, we thought we’d spend a few hours there, and boy was it worthwhile. Trust me, not many companies can showcase the level of pride and devotion they have for their products as these two can: the architecture of the buildings alone is worthy of cathedrals.
By the time we were done with our visit to Germany’s automotive capital, we were so hyped we could wait no longer to tackle the first stage, starting with a lap of the abandoned circuit of Solitude (as mentioned in this blog recently). Located on the outskirts of Stuttgart, it has been a public road for many years now, with roundabouts and traffic lights. Yet, we could still more or less figure out the contours of the 11.3 km long former racetrack, dipping and diving like a rollercoaster through the trees.
At this point, I should maybe stress a few points about the spirit of this run. By no means is it a proper rally: we drive on open public roads, and therefore have to comply with traffic rules and regulations. There are no checkpoints to go through at a set time either. On the other hand we do make a point of closely following the itinerary of a given classic rally stage: in this case the “Stuttgart Solitude – Lyon Charbonnières” as it was raced in 1960. Thus, we often end up on the kind of trail where driving at a legal pace is challenging enough. And as you might expect, incredible viewpoints on magnificent scenery are another bonus of picking out these often deserted roads.
Over the next couple of days, we progressed through the majestic forests of the Schwartzwald and the Jura, regularly crossing the frontiers between France, Germany and Switzerland on the most remote roads. Having gotten used to these very alpine conditions on previous Alpine Cup drives – namely the numerous hairpin turns and passes at altitudes well over 2000 meters – everything so far seemed just a bit too easy. But on Tuesday evening, the last climb of the day brought back some of the challenging conditions we were used to seeing. With almost no fuel left in the tank, we arrived at the top of the Col du Grand Colombier just in time to enjoy the sun beginning to set. With our shadows growing longer by the minute, and only a few stray cows for company, it was a remote and otherworldly experience.
From there on we focused on the treasures of the Alps in the southeast of Lyon, naturally including lakes and national parks, but also man-made wonders such a railway wrecking yard. The last morning led us across the woods of the Vercors, excessively thick mist adding to their already uncanny character. It wasn’t until we were back on our way towards Lyon that we gained decent visibility beyond 20 meters.
Now for the real beauty of this trip: none of the cars from our “yuppie-era” selection were of the unaffordable variety – be it to buy or to run – and yet they were great fun. Better still, drivers and co-drivers would happily swap cars for a few hours at a time, giving everyone a taste of how a car as dainty-looking as the 924 could be such a truck to drive, or how an E30 BMW 325i would instantly turn even the most mild-mannered driver into a hooligan.
Amazingly, and though this subject has been discussed many times over multiple rounds of beer, we haven’t yet come to a consensus on the ideal car for our annual Blenheim Alpine Cup. Then again I suspect this is also a way of making sure everyone turns up the following year with a different car to try. And that will surely happen since, of all the great things this adventure has to offer, the best thing has to be that a wacky driving holiday project like this has managed to bring eight individuals together and turn them into proper friends.
Images © Alasdair Campbell