The recent trip to Barcelona to review the new SEAT Leon SC had it all. A break from the miserable British weather, some of the best roads I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving on and a pretty good car to test. The only thing missing was a selection of PetrolBloggy motors to gawp at.
Only they weren’t missing – it just required a little patience. On the trip to Florence I only had to wander around the airport car park for my PetrolBlog kicks. It was a similar story in Lisbon where I was able to name the city as the Shatchback capital of Europe. Barcelona was a little different. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there would have been a wealth of brilliance in the city, but we were heading up to the hills.
I did catch sight of an immaculate Renault 11 in the suburbs but there wasn’t an opportunity to stop. Fortunately I was having too much fun in the Leon to worry.
But then, in a quiet backstreet, I chanced upon a rather lovely Renault 4 TL, complete with period Renault-Elf sticker in the rear window. Not immaculate, but the Spanish climate had clearly been kind to it. Just look at it – lovely!
Then, as I turned around to get back into the Leon, I caught site of something old and green heading my way. No, not Kermit the Frog, but a delightful little SEAT 600. This was the car that got Spain moving again after the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and nearly 800,000 were made between 1957 and 1973. It was a joyous sight – I’d love to know how many have survived…
After lunch I stopped outside a dilapidated but somehow majestic Spanish villa to make some notes, not realising that this was a prelude to one of the greatest roads I’ve had the pleasure of driving on. It covered such a vast area of landscape and contained so many hairpin bends that would be impossible to photograph it without the use of a helicopter.
In the 20 or so minutes I searched in vain for a decent photo opportunity, only two cars and three bikes went past. It was bliss. For minutes it would be eerily dead quiet, only for the silence to be broken by the distant sound of an engine.
Like this lovely MK2 Volkswagen Golf which looked quite good from afar. As it rolled past me I reckon it was running on two cylinders – the hills of Spain had clearly taken their toll on this old timer.
I thought that would be it for treats, but then I chanced upon a stunning Renault 8 parked by the side of the road.
Naturally I stopped to take a few photos, at which point I noticed the back end of a Renault 25. By now I had attracted the attention of the garage owner who came out to confront me.
Fearing I was in for a telling off, I began to pack my camera away and head for my Spanish-registered SEAT. But far from telling me to clear off the garage owner was keen to show me around his Renault 8.
It turned out the 8 was one of the Spanish-built cars manufactured between 1965 and 1976. Such a fact was highlighted by the little badge on the boot.
Sadly all other details about the car are a little vague. My grasp of the Spanish language is poor to non-existent and the garage owner’s English was equally as bad. But I was invited in to see more of his collection. At least I hope that’s what he said.
Inside I was greeted with the sight of, amongst other things, that wonderful Renault 25, a Dauphine, a tribute to the Clio Williams and a Volkswagen Beetle. This was introduced to me as ‘Hitler’s car’. Well, quite.
For five minutes we engaged in a conversation that consisted solely of arm waving, shoulder shrugs and nods of appreciation. I loved his cars and he appreciated that. Clearly operating a roadside assistance business in rural Spain makes for a lucrative business.
As I left I wished Barcelona good luck for their match with Paris St Germain that night, at which point he reeled off the names of Spanish greats – Messi, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos, etc, etc. My pitiful mention of David Beckham was greeted with stone cold silence.
Just goes to show though – across borders and without a grasp of each other’s spoken tongue – football and cars present the perfect grounds for friendship. That is unless he was muttering ‘stupid Englishman’ as I made my way back to the car.
As I left there was one last glorious sight to behold – a lovely old Citroën Visa. Simply wonderful.
I’m off to Italy next week for another new car launch. Stay tuned for some more typical PetrolBlog fodder…