Going the extra mile!

Chris Rocker joined our club at the end of 2014 and has always been an active member. He has joined day drives, an earlier trip to France and our annual big meetings. He is also kindly making plans for our 2023 annual event.

You may recall that Chris previously contributed his account of a drive to Poland back in 2020, I think he enjoys long European drives in his Barchetta affectionately called “Yellow Bird”. Well he has been at it again having just undertaken a round trip to Bled in Slovenia. Why did he go there? Oh, just to bring his son James back home after a mammoth cycle ride across Europe. What we do for our kids! Here is Chris’ account of his journey. Thanks Chris and well done James.

Martin Garrad

So what do you say when your son thinks about going for a long cycle? Well previously he did Bournemouth to Bordeaux, this time I said, well why not do Bournemouth to Bled (Lake Bled, Slovenia)?Then I said half-jokingly, well, if you cycle to Slovenia, I will pick you up and bring you home!

Next thing I know, he is on the ferry from Portsmouth to Caen, then over the next ten days, he averaged 120 miles per day with a high of 143 miles in one day! Camping along the way in orchards, fields and woods, he was a bit broken at the end.

For me of course, it was a great opportunity to do a long drive, which I love. But which vehicle to take? the sensible Qashqai diesel, the wild Stelvio, one of the Just Shutters Transporters or the beautiful Barchetta, well as you can guess Yellow Bird won and the only challenge was getting the bike secure for the return journey.

The solution was a boot rack, one wheel removed and one pedal unscrewed. So for me a lovely overnight ferry with a cabin to Caen and then a good day’s run through France and Germany down to the mountains of Austria and a lovely hotel set in a gorge courtesy of Booking.com.

German autobahns are a challenge! In the UK cars come up behind you at maybe + 20mph, 30 at a push. Even cruising at 80mph big fast mainly German cars were regularly coming up at a closing speedof +70mph; phew, it makes you think and look very carefully before moving to the outside lane that’s for sure.

Next day a relatively easy run on to Bled using small roads and avoiding the motorways. Up and over the Wurzenpass which is quite something. It was only when we met up at the hotel in Bled that I realised James had done the same pass just before me. My 1800cc’s were struggling on some corners, let alone his leg power alone to do the same, I am one deeply impressed father! Lovely to see my boy be able to dig so deep, stay the course and achieve over 120 miles per day on average. So we had a lovely afternoon together and he still had the strength for us to walk around the lake together.

The next day we had the fun of fitting the boot rack securely onto Yellow Bird; that went well and with the removal of the front wheel, saddle and a pedal all was great. The cycle locks back to the hoops behind the seats was an additional reassurance. So off we went down to Ljubljana the capital and we had a beautiful day in this relatively unknown city.

After a lovely breakfast, we headed off North West and then West, through Austria and Italy, even touching Switzerland on one occasion. Good driving on pretty quiet roads and glorious scenery, heading all the time westwards through the mountains heading for the Stelvio Pass. Wonderful driving country with beautiful smooth roads (remember them?). We stopped at a restaurant for lunch where the car was much admired and on and up all the time.

The climb up to the pass itself certainly made the car work hard with a lot of second-gear corners and a few first-gear ones. Satellite navigation is great as you can read the corner to judge the speed to go in at.To be fair the pass at the top is a little bit of an anticlimax with a very barren outlook and quite a bit of concrete, but it’s famous and ticked off the list.

Stopping at the top, Yellow Bird spluttered to a stop, on restarting it ran for a little while and then did the same again. It really felt like fuel starvation. I loosened the fuel filler just in case a vacuum had built up but she still refused to start. As it was pretty windy we decided to coast down to a car park some way below. Keeping her in gear gave us power to the steering and brakes. Stopping again, well we had to as there was a small hill in front of us, I checked there was fuel at the injector block (there was) Googled where the fuel filter was (just in front of the rear offside wheel) laid down and felt under the car. Hmm, that was going to be tricky to get at or bypass! So I gave it a shake and a good knock to try and clear some debris and voila, she started and ran, but would she make the small hill?

Well she did and pretty much coasting down into Switzerland and our hotel we felt that we would see what the next day brought, it would be a Monday and mechanics should be more plentiful and hopefully cheaper! The next morning she started and ran, me being the eternal optimist thought we would see how it went. She ran well, up and over another pass and on our way home.

At one stage we were two cars behind a lorry who in fairness clearly knew the roads and was a good driver. No one seemed keen to overtake him, but I knew that if we could, there would be a glorious stretch of road ahead with no cars in front of us. So with a clear view ahead, we took the outside of two curves past the two cars, the road straightened for a short stretch, the lorry driver saw us coming and made way and then yippee we were past. Thank you again Sat Nav and a helpful lorry driver.

Wow, glorious miles of lazy curves to drive at our own comfortable speed, high mountains and sunshine all around as we dropped down into Davos. After a well-earned coffee, we aimed for Zurich. We worked out that Switzerland must have spare tunnelling machines that they needed to use, any excuse and there was a tunnel through this or under that. We practised something that I did with the boys when they were young and we went through a tunnel. Can we hold our breath till the end? Well just under a fraction under 2km was our record, just.

Then it was the long flog back through France to Calais. We were lucky and managed to find a safe place to pull over to put the roof up, just as a monumental shower and high winds hit us. Soon we were at the tunnel, through and hauled across Kent, the M25, M3 and M27, then we were home, phew, 1,350 km and 15 hours later. No sign of the fuel starvation problem again and she recently ran the 400 miles up to Derby and back with no problems. I do think I will have the tank cleaned and the filter replaced though!

The Barchetta, a stunning car that will do everything you want (apart from moving furniture), will cruise all day above 70mph, will bring smiles to most people and be glorious to drive. Why would anyone want anything else (apart from to move furniture that is)?

One of the world’s most beautiful cars; thank you Fiat for going through with the project all the years ago now.

Kind regards

Chris Rocker