While most people were probably doing their Christmas shopping last Sunday, I took off (at the unseasonably early hour of 7am) for Limassol. Destination: the Cyprus Historic and Classic Motor Museum in Ypsonas.
The museum’s owner, Dimi Mavropoulos, had offered to lend me one of the cars in his collection to take part in a charity Christmas Touring Rally that was going to raise money for the Ypsonas social grocery, which aimed to provide needy families with a proper Christmas lunch.
Some 40 cars were lined up in the museum’s front yard, ranging from a 1957 Standard Super 10 and a 1961 Fiat 1100 to a 2014 Range Rover: the museum had specifically invited drivers of modern vehicles to join in the fundraising.
The fun thing about classic car rallies is that it’s as much about the socialising as it is about the actual ‘race’ – in fact, it’s not really a race at all: it’s more of a leisurely drive from one regroup to another. In this case the first stop was for coffee at the St Raphael Marina, then up into the hills to the Tsiakkas Winery and finally on to Agros and the Rodon Hotel for lunch and the prize giving.
My daughter Emma gamely agreed to co-drive for me – she had never before tried her hand as a navigator – and she got a few tips from other co-drivers before we made our way to our allocated car: a 1989 Audi Quattro.
We set off at 9.22 am and headed into Limassol and along the seafront. Then the car started misfiring. Afraid of damaging the engine if I continued, I pulled over and called the emergency back-up crew.
“It hasn’t been driven for a while, but it’s OK, it’s an Audi, just rev it!” I was told. So we started off again, and the problem seemed to have disappeared, but I did put my foot down on an open stretch of road, hoping to blow away any cobwebs.
We got to the regroup and Jim, one of the mechanics, was there, waiting to take a look under the bonnet. He pronounced that there were no major problems he could see, and after coffee we set off again into the hills north of Limassol. Dimi called to ask if everything was OK, and we said it seemed to be fine … then about three minutes later the misfiring started again! We continued as best we could, but eventually decided that we’d stop again and see if that helped. Emma walked to the edge of the hill to take photos of the wonderful view of Limassol below us, and as I walked back to the car I noticed water under the car. A quick inspection revealed that, sure enough, we were losing water. I called the back-up again. They suggested that we top up the water and head straight for the finish at Agros – missing out the second section.
We both decided that we would rather try to complete the rally when Tony Regan – who was driving his beloved Panther Kallista, stopped to see what the problem was. He handed over several bottles of water so we topped up and set off again, keeping a beady eye on the temperature gauge.
A few miles up the road, there was Tony’s Panther coming in the opposite direction – we stopped to ask if he had a problem. No, he didn’t – he was coming back to see that we were OK, and had decided that he would drive behind us to make sure all was well!
Another stop in the next village as the misfiring started again, but Tony took a look and although he could see water dripping when we turned on the ignition, the radiator water was at a reasonable level, so off we set again, with the ‘regularity test’ imminent.
This was the only competitive section of the event, in which drivers have to keep to a specified (very low) speed over a designated route. Points are lost for going both faster and slower than the required speed – and you don’t know where along the route the checks will be made.
We stayed as close to our speed as we could, having converted mph to kph (the Audi was a UK spec car, so the speedometer was in mph) but, as we were in danger of getting time penalties at the winery regroup, when we thought we’d completed it we pressed on to make up the time lost with all the stops to check the car, only to realise, too late, that we were still being timed!
One more stop was needed before the final climb to Tsiakkas, and by now we realised it was a problem with the fuel feed, not the radiator. Revving just made matters worse, as the engine wasn’t getting enough fuel, so I eased off and once we had a reasonable speed up after each stop I just glided round the bends in as high a gear as possible – and broke all the rules of the road by free-wheeling on the downhill sections!
We made it to the winery with a couple of minutes to spare, now confident that we would be able to nurse the car to the finish. The ever gallant Tony, however, waited for us on the last section so that he could follow us in case we needed his mechanical skills. He and his co-driver, Christina, were still in open-top mode, despite the misty drizzle and definite chill in the air as we climbed higher, but in no time we arrived at our destination, elated that we had soldiered on regardless, and very thankful for the concern of some of our competitors.
After lunch and the prize giving we got back into the Audi for the run (downhill!) back to the museum, where we left car number 22 and boarded my Clio for the drive back to Nicosia.
Christmas shopping has been re-scheduled for this weekend ….