2005 Swiss Tours

Visiting the former home of Graber in Wichtrach
This article on the June Tour was written by “SIGHTSEER”

The well known AOC Graber `aficionados’, John and Nadine Fox had been signalling for some time the 2005 Swiss Tour. They were nearly overwhelmed by the response, to the degree that they have had to organise two tours to meet the demand! Clearly well above the normal call of Alvis owners’ duties. They deserve the heartfelt thanks of all those, on this the first tour, who, with their guidance, drove across France to the magical, indeed beautiful scenery and superb hotels of Switzerland.

It all started, at least at Dover, rather damply. A dozen or so Alvises gathered amongst the ranks of juggernaut lorries, in driving rain on the dockside awaiting the Sea France ferry across to Calais.

The Little’s TC21/100 carried an extra passenger

The mandatory ‘extra equipment’ now required for Continental touring—headlamp deflectors, first aid kit, spare bulbs, emergency triangles and yellow tabards—were checked once again. As we were travelling mid week the rather tired ferry was only half full and the Alvis drivers and navigators were able to relax, as the ship rollocked across the narrow strip of water to France. Soon, through the driving rain, the docks of the Calais ferry port were in sight and we were swiftly unloaded and following the signs for the A26 /E I 7 Autoroute and points south east, passing Arras, Cambrai, St. Quentin, all WWI battlefields.

Our first night stop, after about 150 wet miles, was at the Mercure Hotel, in Chamouille, south east of Laon. Here at the delightful modern hotel on the shores of the inland lake of l’Ailette, with curtains of the continuing showers sweeping across the water, we were joined by the `Northern’ group of tourists, who had travelled overnight from Hull to Zeebrugge and thence across Belgium and northern France to this night stop. As is normal, the evening was quite boisterous, but relaxed.

At the Mercure, now the Hotel Golf de l’Ailette

Next day we departed Chamouille and, for most of the rest of the tour, left the Autoroute systems behind. We plunged into the secondary roads of rural France. These are mostly empty by UK standards. Easy driving with smooth and often straight roads sweeping through very beautiful, big farm countryside. However, this first morning, in bright sunshine, offered, after crossing the WW1 front line of the Marne, the chance of lunch in Epernay, the heart of the Champagne producing areas, where the aperitifs were, naturally, flutes of bubbly—just one or two, you understand.

Coffee stop at Margerie Hancourt

Onward again on the excellent ‘D’ class roads, passing Chalons en Champagne, Vitry le Francois, Bar, Longeau and all the villages between, to Gray and the Hotel Chateau de Rigny. There we were joined by the quartet of those who had crossed on the western route from Portsmouth.

Evening sunshine at the Chateau de Rigny

Outside the classical eighteenth century country house hotel, after washing away the stains of the days’ motoring, gathered 21 Alvis crews—well, one crew was in their Alfa Romeo Spyder, because their ‘proper’ car had seriously misbehaved just before departure.

Soon on the terrace in the shade of mighty trees, overlooking the lawns sloping down to the River Saone, welcoming aperitifs were being presented to Alvis owners and, as necessary, were promptly refilled.

The Terrace at Chateau de Rigny

This preceding a lovely dinner, served in a private, most elaborately decorated dining room, with windows open wide to welcome the evening breezes.

Morning preparation for the next leg in to Switzerland

The run to the Swiss border, through Besancon, was, after leaving behind the last of the wheatlands, increasingly hilly, with echoing tunnels cut through the riverside cliffs at Pontarlier.

The Swiss border guards gathered outside their post, were more interested in our cars than any formalities. Soon, as we cruised towards Neuchatel, the change in the style of the houses and the small farms, with tiny rock strewn fields climbing up the steep hillsides, was apparent. The final leg to the Montmollin wine cellars, at Auvernier, was through a somewhat confusing maze of narrow village streets and, for some, detours on to the local Autoroute.

On the cobbles outside the cave
Into the cave, welcomed by a 4.3 Offord

However, the warmth of the welcome, from our ‘soon–to–be’ Swiss friends, on the terrace behind the dimly lit wine cellars, was only exceeded by the excellence of the wonderful ‘vin du maison.’

Lunch was taken in Cortaillod, followed by a visit to the splendid Fondation Renaud Collection, where a beautiful Graber Alvis rubbed shoulders with other motoring gems, from all the years of the twentieth century.

It was also interesting that all the cars are fully road legal and, unlike many museums filled with unmoving vehicles, they are all out and about several times a year.

The forecourt of the Hotel Beaulac in Neuchatel was soon filled with Alvises, attracting the admiring attention of all those strolling along the harbourside, in the warm afternoon sunshine. The tourists were then officially welcomed, within the walls of hilltop Chateau de Neuchatel, by the delightful Minister for Education, with some more of the wonderful local wine.

The Road Train to the hills of Neuchatel
Ministering some education

Later, on this evening, the pre-dinner `aperitifs’ were taken on the hotel’s roof garden, where there were wonderful views across the blue lake which was flecked with the white sails of many pleasure boats, to the distant mountains beyond Fribourg.

Lac de Neuchatel

For steam buffs the next morning’s trip behind the wonderful 1908 Schweizerische built 0-6-0 steam locomotive, at Laupen, was a splendid experience. Those of us, of a certain age, were swiftly taken back to childhood as the rythmic grunt of the engine and the speck filled smoke, billowing past the open carriage windows, filled the senses. The engine was also rather good at setting fire to the tinder dry, grassy embankments, necessitating a couple of halts and the application of hot water, from the boiler, to remedy the arsonist tendency of steam engines in a world of diesel and electric locomotives.

By midday, after a somewhat tortuous intermediate route, we were gathered at the Oldtimer Galerie, in Toffen, for lunch amongst a glittering display of `on-offer’ vehicles, including a nice pair of Alvises. I must admit—sacrilegiously perhaps—that I really fancied the C type Jaguar—remember them at Goodwood, new fangled disc brakes glowing as night fell, Stirling Moss at the wheel, during the long ago Nine Hour Races?

Replete, the Alvis owners then, under the guidance of the Swiss Car Register members, paid homage to the man who effectively saved Alvis motor car division production, with his inspirational body designs, at the site of the former Carrosserie Graber establishment, in Wichtrach.

A swooping run along the shores of the Thun and Brienzer Lakes led us to the nearly hidden, narrow road, clinging to the steep slopes of the Schwarzhorn, which led to the wonderful Hotel Giessbach. This building is a fairytale concoction of Victorian turrets and cast iron balconies perched, amidst the woods, between the thundering Giessbach waterfall and the shimmering lake below.

During our well earned ‘rest day’ the rallyists scattered across the local area, some on the lake steamers to Interlaken, others to Brienz, to ride the cable cars to the mountain tops, or even further afield to Luzern.

The 1931, 12/60 Beetleback spent every spare day collecting Swiss Mountain Passes. On this day the Klausen and later the Fussen, amongst others.

Next morning we all negotiated the first of the many constantly twisting and turning mountain roads, chosen for our amusement, en-route to the ski resort of Engelberg, now nestled in a summer warm green valley below the mighty, snow capped Titlis mountain. From our balcony we, the inhabitants of a relatively flat island, just sat and gazed at the massive wall, strung across with ski lifts, rising from small tree surrounded fields, strewn with pale brown cows with the sound of their clanging bells echoing through the still evening air, up to the shrinking greenery at the tree line, fields of scree, boulders and thin strips of snow trapped in the north facing clefts below the snow fields around the summit of the mighty Titlis.

On the top of the world – Titlis
One excursion was to visit the Pilatus factory

After a day of private excursions we set forth to tackle the St. Gotthard Pass, using the old twisting, brake–testing cobbled road, which must have been well known to many Monte Carlo Rally drivers over decades of winter driving. In high summer it was testing enough for `our’ cars. However, we did have a cool, coffee break in the four star Claustra Hotel, which is located within the dripping tunnels of a former fortress, once guardian of the valley stretching away to the south, buried deep in the mountain. Not much of a view from the bedrooms here, then.

Enter through the red door
We had reached the snow line at La Claustra
What goes up must come down…

Onward down the Leventina Valley, beside the greeny silver, tumbling waters of the Ticino River, passing Airolo, Biasca—wonderful lunch—to Bellinzona, Locarno and the tropical, palm tree encircled, paradise of the Albergo Losone. The swimming pool was soon well populated by Alvis crews and after unbroken sunshine, every day, and temperatures in the mid 30’s °Centigrade—the 90’s F.

Relaxing after a long day’s drive

Our rooms were blessed with air conditioning—bliss. However, there were two wild life problems in this little corner of ‘paradise.’ Our Tour leader, when trying to brief the tourists, after our outdoor, poolside dinner, was totally drowned out by the very noisy bull frogs persistently serenading their intended mates and, whilst we strained to hear the words of wisdom, squadrons of mosquitoes silently feasted on our bare legs and ankles. The effects of these very nasty insects, one sufferer was hit twenty three times on one leg, were felt by everybody over the next few days. Nevertheless, after dinner recitals by Alvis pianists of various skills—from brilliant to very good `ragtime’ and Les Dawson style ‘nearly right’ finger fumbling, some accompanied by the strong base voice of the Silver Eagle navigator, held us all enthralled and to bed late.

Next stop the Gstaad Palace Hotel. First a twisting run up the Centovalli, where we had been warned that the down mountain commuters to Locarno, amongst them several driving with Italian elan, was to be avoided at ‘rush hour.’ After crossing the northern spike of Italy we arrived at the foot of the Simplon Pass. Several tunnels, cascading streams bouncing down the cliff faces, the road – a good one – clinging to the mountain sides and sometimes covered with avalanche deflectors, slowly wound higher and higher. Reaching the ‘col’ and taking a well earned coffee break, allowed the drivers time to take in the valleys below, stretched away to north and south, and beyond the steeples of mighty mountains loomed in the crisp, clear air. Another new experience beckoned.

After a steep descent and a quick run through Brig and Visp led us to the foot of the climb, twisty of course, to Goppenstein, the southern entrance to the Lotschberg railway tunnel. Here, with the accustomed Swiss efficiency, we were soon loaded on to open–sided railway wagons and dived into the dark as night tunnel, filled with the clatter of the wheels and wind blast from the speed of the train. After fifteen minutes, or so, we were out in the bright sunlight at the village of Kandersteg, where the balconies, of the beautiful wooden chalet homes and farmhouses, all cascaded vivid red geraniums. After a smooth run north to Spiez, we turned west into the Simmental Valley, meeting, running in the opposite direction, a Tour from Germany, which included many British Classics and, much to my surprise, Werner Hartjen’s Alvis Firefly, known to all who were on the USA Tour in 2000. Later we caught up with some of the cars we were joining for the ‘Weekend des Veterans a Gstaad.’ One or two were crawling slowly up the steep gradients through the beech woods and, we learnt later, were suffering from fuel vaporisation on this very warm afternoon. Ahead, perched in the trees above the village roofs, snuggling below, was a white painted, Disney like castle, our destination, the Palace Hotel, Gstaad.

There we fell, gratefully and happily, into the lap of luxury.

The organisers had to share the Schumacher suite on the seventh floor….

After parking underground—we were supplied with drip mats, as if our cars would ever sully the pristine floor of such an upmarket garage—our rooms matched the five star rating awarded to the Palace, superb. However, the cold champagne in the mini (no big) bar—delicious—made, we discovered later, a significant hole in our dwindling collection of Swiss francs.

Ahead of the planned departure for dinner at the 11,000 foot high Glacier restaurant, lowering grey clouds, pierced by multiple and repetitive flashes of lightning with accompanying crashes of thunder, marched up the valley, followed by an awesome deluge of rain. Nevertheless, we embussed and crawled up through the lightning lit gloom, to the lower cable car station at the Col du Pillon. Here, instead of being swiftly plucked upward, we learnt that lightning bolts had struck one of the cable towers, also blowing ail the fuses on the control system-so we imbibed our plentiful aperitifs at the base station, as the rain lashed down outside and dribbled under the doors to puddle all across the floor, around the stylish shoes of the ladies. Dinner atop the glacier was eventually abandoned, as the lightning continued to flash and the thunder rattled the windows. Half an hour later the full expertise of the Palace Hotel catering organisation was put to the supreme test, as more than 130 hungry people turned up for dinner. The meal was superb and the service could not to be excelled.

Next morning, along with a bevy of wonderful cars – Delahayes, several Rolls-Royces, Lancias and the more mundane – the Alvis contingent, both local and UK based, departed, in a strictly controlled sequence, on the Cartier sponsored Old Timer, Gstaad Rally

Now, I must reluctantly report that the Sightseer team got comprehensively lost. So we missed all the fun and games of trying to drive a front wheel drive car, on a sloping car park, with the rear wheels replaced by supermarket trolley castors, into a bollard designated garage – not easy, l ‘m told.

Similarly playing skittles with a tyre, instead of a ball, was also reported as extremely testing.

While we were out and about those opting to take a day of rest were co-opted into the team changing the cylinder head gasket on the blue and grey TC21/100, which had overheated, somewhat, after a thermostat failure. Unfortunately ail this labour did not solve the problem and the car was, later, piggy-backed home.

The Gala Dinner was just wonderful and the singer, after some persuasive prompting by one of our west country drivers, switched to a string of ever greens, by old blue eyes Sinatra. Another late night!

Next morning, when we were all to take part in the Cartier Concours d’Elegance, dawned bright and soon, very hot. All the Brit contingent made great efforts to dress in the period relative to the age of their cars.

Our ladies excelled with their colourful and stylish outfits

.The selection of delicious ‘period’ hats indicated some serious searching in various attics. The ‘lads’ were generally more subdued. However, the driver of the 1936 Silver Eagle excelled. He strode out, a sight for sore eyes, in a heavy tweed suit, plus fours, thick hairy woollen socks, a high necked jacket and appropriate flat cap – and proceeded to melt rapidly in the mid 30’s temperature.

The stylish David Lowe and Silver Eagle

After a gentle promenade down through the centre of Gstaad, between the beautiful wooden, flower bedecked chalets and judgement by a panel of ‘experts,’ we climbed back up the hill to the Palace. Then followed prize giving, on the south facing lawns, under, the now, very hot sunshine. ‘Sightseers’ team managed to come last, in the Saturday rally-well, we did follow a different, more scenic route. Happily the first three places, with Cartier goodies as mementos, were collected by Alvis visitors from the ‘sceptred isle.’

So it was over. After lunch most of the Alvis contingent scattered northwards – Chateau de Rigny, then Chamouille, where we were treated to a parade of Alvis crews bedecked with Swiss mushroom style felt hats, and then to the homeward bound ferries across the Channel or the North Sea. Others headed for Alsace, or south west to Provence.

A special mention for Chris Holt who won the Gstaad trophy in spite of the car being too new! Celebrations continued at Rigny

Brilliant-more please!

The September Tour…….

What can we add to “Sightseer’s” account of its first Swiss Tour in Bulletin 495? We went to many of the same places and hotels all of which fed us far too well yet again and introduced us to many new wines. The members and their Alvises were different but the weather was just as unbelievably clement. Difficult to believe but Swiss Tour 2 was for us at least as good as Swiss Tour 1 even if we did miss out the spectacular Giessbach Grandhotel and the stunning Palace at Gstaad.

This time we lingered longer in Neuchatel and had time to visit the incredible Automate Museum—such stunning mechanical pieces made over nearly 250 years ago had us wide-eyed and open mouthed. On Saturday, after a brief stop at the Chateau de Grandson we joined ninety classic cars of the VCCSR for their lunch stop on the “Sortie des Marrons”—the chestnut run—on a glorious sunny day through the hills from Yverdon to Romont and back to Neuchatel for the wine festival.

Different for us, however, was taking a newly restored Alvis on the trip instead of our trusted, reliable Piasio. It was a special treat, a home coming, for a very special Alvis that started its life in Switzerland in the workshops of Hermann Graber some fifty years earlier. TDU 810 (as it was eventually registered in 1956) was the star of Earls Court in 1955 when it returned from Wichtrach with its twin SHP 642, the demonstrator which took us to Wichtrach in 1985 on our first Tour of Switzerland. TDU had first been used by J J Parkes for many years as a development car, and now called “JJ”. It had only clocked a mere 61,000 miles before being left in a lock-up for thirty-five years. The widow of the last owner, a Club member, had been involved with us on the 1991 Tour of Britain and had seen SHP. When she died in 2002, JJ was bequeathed to me. Naturally I felt obliged to restore the car. With the dedication of Barry Ward to this massive project (body off, everything needing doing) by April 2005 the car was on the road again. Over 1,000 running in miles were completed before venturing abroad and suitably confident, we set off on a 2,000 mile adventure in perfect weather.

At our first pit stop at Birchanger services on the M 11 saw our first Alvis, the Stamford crews of Thompson and Harding in TA14 and Speed Twenty taking a late picnic in the sunshine. After a spot of embarrassing fuel vaporisation we set off again, kangaroo fashion, eventually doing the M25, Dartford crossing and onwards to our guest house in Canterbury for the night to await our fellow Graber tourists, the Camerons. Wednesday 21st September dawned bright and sunny and we waited in 25 degrees at Dover docks for our flock. The South West contingent was present and correct, the Moores and Griggs in TA 14 and TC21 saloons. From Surrey the TE21 of the Peaces and the ubiquitous 4.3 of the Bakers (also with a full attendance record for Swiss Tours) were there. A phone call from Stuart Nell said he was there so early he took the earlier boat. A surprise was seeing the Warner TF Drophead appear as he was not booked on our trip—just another Alvis coincidence!

Stuart Nell in his Speed 20 Charlesworth dhc

Mechanical maladies were limited to Ian Smith’s Nissan failing to unlock while the Peel’s X-Trail was reassuringly commodious in case of mishap. Once in France we enjoyed an uneventful cruise down the autoroute to stay once again at the Mercure in Chamouille where we were joined by the crews crossing from Portsmouth, the Spencer TD21, and the Whitehead TA21 from Hull. We were now eleven Alvis and two Nissan tender cars.

Day 2 to Rigny was as pleasurable as ever on the back roads and after a pleasant evening at the Chateau where the twelfth Alvis, the Jarvis TA21 Dhc, joined us having been in France for a few days already.

Day 3 was more relaxed than Swiss Tour 1 as we simply took a relaxing sunny drive by the spectacular valley of the Loue to Petit Cortaillod for a fish lunch with our Swiss friends. Another visit to the Renaud collection (latest acquisition a Pagani Zonda) preceded a drive to the Beaulac in Neuchatel for a two-night stop.

The Pagani Zonda at the Renaud Collection

Sunday morning was an early start to avoid the closure of the town for the wine festival. Our Swiss friends, Werner and Daniela Graf were driving from Zurich to brief us on the day’s events and bring the road books. Amazingly, just as we found in June, any request to the tourists to be ready for a certain time (this is Switzerland!) was met without demur with time to spare. Can we be forgiven for a wry smile that the Grafs were a teeny bit late, but never mind, their entrance and Daniela’s outfit were greeted with enthusiastic applause from the assembled tourists at their breakfast table.

The Thompsons have promised an account of this day, which was quite exciting for most of us (we visited Wichtrach, a cheese -factory and did a mountain pass which turned out a bit hairy) and we ended up in Engelberg for three nights.

Back to the Graber House in Wichtrach

Since June, Engelberg had made the headlines by being cut off in the floods that hit Switzerland and for some time we had expected to have to change our plans but, as the manager of Hotel Waldegg explained, Swiss people enjoy local government that simply got on with sorting out the mess. The railway was washed away, the road was washed away and many properties were destroyed. The monastery, which fascinated us on both trips with its magnificent interior, was the centre which catered for the displaced.

The monastery in Engelberg

We enjoyed the bargain “Hochwasser” menu in the local restaurant for lunch, wonderful service and food with a sense of humour. The temporary road built to replace the one washed away was single track and 17% gradient, controlled by lights. After climbing the Glaubenbfielen Pass earlier, JJ was firing only on five and decidedly marginal in its ability to climb steep hills. Fuel was going down fast but at least the lights were green. We had a friendly Nissan behind me but the knuckles were white and the heartbeat fast all the way to the top. Next morning a duff plug was diagnosed and it seemed OK with a new one so we didn’t worry too much. Ken Cameron also suffered similar symptoms in the TF and we exchanged theories on causes. Most other tourists gave the Monday visit to Lucerne’s Verkehrsmuseum a miss after the exciting Sunday and we had a call from Ralph Schwarz—”where are you”-as he was the only one there at 10 a.m.

Tony Harding spent most of the day cleaning and tinkering with the Speed Twenty while others took the trip to the Titlis, enjoyed the wellness centre and walked around the devastated town. That evening we were joined by Ralph in his TE21 Graber, Marcel lsler in his TD Graber and a Firebird owner, Paul Fischer, who lived just down the road. Nadine soon signed him up as a member.

After the Waldegg we set off for Albergo Losone. We took the easiest Gotthard pass and the motorway as JJ was still not going as well as it might while some took the old road and others the Lucmanierpass. We still got there first so went to buy a new set of “candela,” like Bill Rankin did in June, from the Bosch service depot just minutes from the Albergo. Fortunately, Mel Grigg was around when it was time to test the car with its new plugs and he decided it did not go as well as their heavier TC saloon. So he tweaked the carbs (too weak) and the timing (the points had gone wide and pimpled) and all was much, much better.

Albergo Losone

Swiss Tour 2 also had a special train treat—the hotel’s old train up the Centovalli to Camedo. This was spectacular and a taste of what was in store for those who were to drive it the next day towards the Simplon. We stopped on the return for rose tea “elevenses” and a guided tour on foot of Intragna where our host and tour guide, Diego Glans, was born. The ladies seemed to hang on his every word.

Friday was a full day with a drive over the Centovalli, or for those who did not want the climb like us, a gentle tour by Lago Maggiore to Intra and back up to Domodossala and the Simplon Pass. Here we got entangled with the Aston Martin OC doing a similar thing to us but on a higher budget. One got so excited at the sight of Ken’s Graber as it went by it went full circle at the next hairpin.

We had two visits to fit in before we got to Morges—the Fondation de Pierre Giannedda at Martigny—a splendid museum of Art, a museum featuring Swiss made cars, a garden full of sculpture and a da Vinci exhibition. Further up the road at Aigle, we were invited to stop at Fondation Herve, the former Ghia workshop, which is the private collection of Count Jacques de Wurstemburger (Raymond Mays right hand man on the continent). He shared celebrating his eighty-eigth birthday with us. This visit made the day of Roger Peel who rediscovered his former AC saloon in the collection (which includes many AC, Voisin, MG etc.). He had believed the car was written off in an accident but in fact was alive and well.

And so to Morges and our last two nights at the “Fleur du Lac.” The evening sunshine in Morges was stunning over the lake and the crews were relaxing and taking tea in the garden.

We were delighted to be greeted by Lutz and Christine Burchard in their TD Graber. They had opted out of the rest of the tour because Christine had broken her wrist. The new management and the restaurant at the hotel were superb and we were very pleased with our choice for the final nights. You could walk by the lake to the town centre where the British Car Meeting was being held.

Alvis had pride of place in the castle grounds and we had twenty-five Alvis cars there with our Swiss friends.

From Bern came the family Merz with the four door and a cabriolet, from Zurich the last Alvis made with Dieter Schaetti and his son, Pascal Chatenay with his TD cabriolet and Marcel Isler with his TD Special, Miguel Errand with his TC108G and 4.3 Mayfair and Daniel Fischlin with his Speed Twenty.

Daniel needs special mention for his incredible help in both organising and getting sponsorship for both tours. He joined us for the whole of Tour 1 and both weekends on Tour 2, organising our participation in the Sortie des Marrons and the British Car Meeting as well as lunch at the Yacht Club.

This turned out to be an excellent idea as we all needed somewhere to shelter from the rain which started at 10am and did not stop until we reached somewhere in France the next day. Thanks are also due to Phil Owen who found our hotels in Engelberg and Losone but was unable to join the actual tour as hoped. Daniela and Werner Graf provided us with road books on both Tours and soon got used to the British sense of humour. The Merz family and Kurt Holzner also provided invaluable help. Many others also helped us and while we may not have mentioned you we do appreciate it.

JOHN AND NADINE FOX

PASS SUNDAY by Graham Thompson

The second Swiss Tour of 2005 was our first venture to the mountains of Switzerland with our trusty TA 14. The car is well travelled having previously been on several French rallies, to the USA in 2000, to Jersey etc. Switzerland proved to be very different in one respect—Pass Sunday. The wonderful route organised by John and Nadine Fox had taken us through France via Chamouille, Chateau Rigny at Gray and on to Neuchatel coinciding with the wine festival. We had visited the fantastic Renaud private collection and joined in the fun of the fair. Were we being softened up? One evening in Neuchatel, John and Nadine entertained Hubert Patthey to dinner.

Hubert had been involved in the importation of Alvis to Switzerland just after the Second World War. He told John an interesting fact which for the moment John kept to himself. On Sunday 25th September we were required to be away early as the roads in Neuchatel were to be closed for a procession. We waved to the workers finishing the organisation of vast numbers of chairs for the expected crowds. At that time we were in a small group led thoughtfully by Werner and Daniela Graf in their Graber TD21. Had Werner been in the Swiss Navy we wondered? – he clearly understood that a convoy travels at the pace of its slowest member – me – everyone else had three litres under the bonnet! Daniela’s style added something to every day.

Werner left the designated route quite quickly and through beautiful rolling countryside we made very good time to the Graber Garage at Wichtrach— a time for all grown Graber men to bond. After this pit stop we moved on to Emmental where a section of the car park had been sectioned off for “old timers.” Initially a little disconcerted, we were eventually told that this was a reference to the cars, not us. After a superb lunch at a nearby restaurant, some of the group visited the cheese factory, while we made a start on the final section to Engelberg. The route from Emmental was through some of the prettiest Swiss countryside you can imagine. The sun was shining, the cow bells were tinkling, and the roads clear. All was well with the world. But not for long! The chosen scenic route included the Glaubenbuelenpass, billed as “1611m (5235 feet in our money) above sea level, with panorama road?’

As we started to ascend we should have realised the road would be a challenge as there were numerous motor bikes clearly going up and down as quickly as possible. Expressions such as “that was close” and “where did he come from” and “idiot” could be heard as bikes, declining to wait in passing places, squeezed by. It was very steep and the air was filled with Alvis engine sounds as we ground our way up and up to the top to find that, unfortunately, the view was spoiled by low cloud. However there was a large car park for the cars to cool down.

A light drizzle started as we resumed our journey. The old adage “what goes up must come down” comes to mind. There now followed what politely would be called “interesting” driving. That evening other descriptions were applied varying from “a bit of a challenge” to “different” to “whose idea was that? and “if I had only known.” We set off down 10km of horrendously steep gradient with narrow roads, mad bikers and further down, impatient bus drivers. The only course of action was second gear and foot hard on the brake all the way down and to hell with the queue behind. Having just had a bottom end rebuild the engine was very tight and eventually popping could be heard. At this point, a biker in a moon explorer helmet, was, as we say, “nearly up my exhaust pipe.” The car gave an enormous backfire, the biker wobbled — I think he thought he had been shot.

After stopping to clean the plugs we soldiered on, a trail of blue smoke dissipating as the engine settled down. There followed a scene reminiscent of the Keystone Cops. A rare bit of poor signing resulted in cars coming and going in all directions. The outskirts of Lucerne were unintentionally visited by some. Eventually we reached the environs of Engelberg.

Waiting in the queue to tackle the precipitous temporary road constructed following the recent devastating floods, dreams of all round synchro and hydraulic brakes floated across my mind. Finally driving into Engelberg we thought the crowds of Neuchatel should have been there to cheer us in. The hotel in Engelberg was superb with an extensive covered garage. Knowing what problems others had I am sure in the night the cars said to each other “what was that they put us through today?”

So what did John keep to himself? It transpires that when Alvis sent the first batch of TA14 chassis to Switzerland, the Swiss sent them back as not suitable for Swiss conditions. Well my TA14 conquered the Glaubenbuelenpass—but I wouldn’t want to do it again. Never mind, we still had the Simplon Pass to look forward to. A fantastic tour. Superb route (well almost), superb friendship and terrific hotels. I’m off to buy a TD for the next one.

GRAHAM THOMPSON