The Grand Tour

Chris Barnes is a new member of our club.  Perhaps inspired by his father our treasurer, Mike Barnes, Chris has chosen a Barchetta to undertake his grand tour of Europe with his girlfriend Megan.  Here is his first beautifully crafted account of his travels so far.  He tells me that he is now in Slovenia so I hope there are further chapters to come.  He has included some excellent pictures taken by Megan.  What about that restaurant!  I hope you enjoy the article.

Martin Garrad

(Membership Secretary)

September 2018

I usually only hire the cheapest hire cars you can get, you seem to pay a fortune for something only half decent and it rarely seems to be worth the mark up. So the default booking request coming from me is generally, ‘the worst car you have, thanks’!  In 2016 myself and my girlfriend took a short holiday to Spain, and while in the queue at AVIS Bilbao one of us made the somewhat unoriginal joke to reception when we saw a brand new Audi TT parked up a few metres away, ‘is that our car, then…?’. Ha ha.

The response was no, but it’s on special offer for X amount more. We were only there for about 3 days, did some quick sums, mutual smiles and a card swipe, then 10 minutes later set off in the TT. It was a great few days and we covered a decent amount of ground. 

The upshot of this trip was my girlfriend (Megan) was clearly so charmed by Euro motoring (she’s Australian and previous EU trips had been pretty city specific) that we talked about the prospect of doing a far larger, longer Euro trip. A fun car was essential, we agreed, if we were going to execute that plan.

Fast forward to 2018 and the trip is actually happening. We both quit our jobs in Sydney in April, wrapped things up there the best we could and headed for Asia for a month while the UK and Europe warmed up, set to arrive in the UK mid May. Asia was great (Bali, Thailand mainly), we really didn’t have to do much, generally taking it easy- but we did have one task to engage with, work out what car we were going to do this trip in.

As a bonafide car nut, looking at cars isn’t really a chore for me. I do this anyway. But instead of idly looking at eBay at projects and cut price exotica, this search actually had proper criteria, and actually had to yield results.

Megan’s requests: Must be LHD. Must be convertible, Ideally 4 seater. Must not blow the bank. Must be ‘fun’. Must be fuel efficient.

My requests: Must be fun. Must be convertible. Probably shouldn’t blow bank, but more importantly should represent value. Must be fun.

You’d think ticking all of those boxes in the UK would be easy. I’d argue it’s a great market, as I expect anyone reading this would agree. For choice and price, new, old, classics, kits, UK buyers are pretty spoiled for choice. Admittedly not great if you like your cars thirsty, but that’s mainly it.

For some reason though, our joint criteria is not easy to fulfil. We both agreed a UK registered car was preferred, to avoid the hassle of foreign registration and then insurance, do you buy it abroad and sell it abroad, what address do you use, do you buy abroad and register in UK, then who do you sell it to unless it has genuine classic status (in which case it will cost you in the first place) and so on. It’s a faff.

I’ve been aware of Barchettas for many years, as a mint, bright yellow one has been part of the family since 2005. My father absolutely loves his Barchetta and it has certainly been his most enduring car purchase, having been in use every summer since new and still in use, which cannot be said of any other vehicle.

I always knew that a Barchetta ALMOST ticked all the boxes for myself and Megan, but her point that 4 seats were more useful than 2 was a valid one, not really because we were expecting an abundance of guests on our Euro adventure, but because ‘chucking stuff in the back’ as overflow from the boot or front does undeniably makes things easier. 

We agreed to keep our eyes peeled for a few weeks to see what was out there, that had 4 seats. Or maybe 2…

Well it’s pretty obvious what happened as I’m writing this for the ‘Fiat Barchetta Owners Club’. No need to email in your answers.

I picked up our ‘new’ (19 year old) Fiat Barchetta from Leeds having caught a very early Saturday train from Norfolk. It was raining on the way up, and rained rather harder on the way back. We were expected in South London for a BBQ that eve and due to catch a ferry to Calais early Monday. The first time Megan saw the car it was raining, and we packed the car together, in the wet. As we packed the car for our trip of several months the rain built into thunder and lightning, and genuinely, as we were climbing into the car to leave the house, next door’s roof was struck by lightning (we were not aware of the fallout from this at the time!)

We drove through the flash floods while water poured onto Megan’s lap through the roof seals and I could barely see where I was going as we headed onto the A11 towards the M11. Our day 1 of Barchetta of ownership!

Well now it’s August and I can confirm that Day 1 was also the low point of the ownership experience. The car has niggles of course, a couple of which bothered me, and many of which did not. The ones which did bother me I fixed within a week (examples being blown speakers and a maddening nut rolling around in the dashboard). The ones which didn’t bother me remain!

After Dover/Calais we drove down through France, via Champagne and Burgundy before stopping a while in the SW with my parents.  We left from Carcassonne in the direction of Barcelona. Non toll, through the Pyrenees, I’d recommend this drive. Enjoyable to watch the landscape change so much along the way, along with the temperature, barely any cars on the road really and when you see them they are often classics/ sports or bikers there for pleasure, not a commute.

Since then we’ve lapped Spain, via Portugal, before crossing back into Southern France and along the Riviera, passing through the border into Italy, having also had a couple of nights in Monaco. Actually won some Euros there! I’m writing this from Turin, I thought a good place to stop and take stock of what we have done.  Some great roads along the way, and joining the ‘Lions Run’ (Gumball Rally rival) convoy, albeit for only 40 minutes, was a real driving highlight. The convoy had all the world’s greats: Bugatti Veyron Spyder, Lamborghini Murcielago, many Ferraris, Aston Martins, a Mclaren and the 1999 Fiat Barchetta. All the big ones!

The car has been good. We’ve made the amount of space work (ditching the spare tyre in exchange for a tyre weld canister helped).  No breakdowns, punctures or significant issues, so far! We’ve largely driven non – toll, unless in a real rush or the toll dodges a clear traffic jam. As anyone reading this will know, the car does work well on these winding, undulating or mountainous roads, so often with dubious road surfaces. We’ve seen some fantastic machinery along the way but you wonder how the supercars would work on some of the sections we’ve been on in old Betty.

I should have mentioned, our silver Barchetta is named Betty (Betty Barchetty!) 

Tomorrow is Lake Como and then we need to decide if we’re heading up to The Stelvio Pass, or over to Lake Garda. Decisions! Beyond this, Slovenia, Croatia, then either further south, or ferry over to Southern Italy then up.


August 2018