Driving a Vintage Sports Car in Provence – Part 1

Due to Covid and all the unrest in the world, it has been over 2 years since we took a family trip abroad. We finally felt enough was enough. So with gusto, we decided on South of France as our destination.

As we planned out our itinerary, we chose to rent out a farmhouse in a small vineyard turned into a tidy, quaint Villa in the outskirts of picturesque Menerbes in the region of Luberon Valley.

Whenever I travel to Europe with my family, being a brave soul and a true Motörhead, I always rent out a car to experience driving the local roads we travel to. I can proudly say that I have driven an Alfa Romeo Coupe GT through the windy roads of the entire Amalfi coast, both ways. A little trivia: did you know there are 1001 turns along the entire coast line of Amalfi? So making 2002 turns while simultaneously entertaining and scaring my entire family (safely of course) has been my bragging rights of road adventure in Europe thus far. But now I wanted to create even a more memorable moment driving in Europe.

As I am getting older, I have become more nostalgic . They say this is definitely a sign of already having passed through midlife crisis and reaching the next milestone of yearning for everything in the past.

And for me this nostalgia has been through my love of all things music and cars spanning four decades of golden ages of 60’s through 90’s.

They say except for passage of time, nothing else has changed in the South of France. The Villages and Towns in Provence has truly withstood the test of time… and so has the local roads. What better way to experience this standstill in time by driving a vintage sports car along the windy roads of Provence!

So I searched high and low, and thanks to Google, didn’t take but a few minutes before I stumbled onto ProvenceClassics, located in Cavaillon, Provence. They were the answers to my nostalgic Motörhead experience I was craving for while vacationing in Provence.

They are UK based fellow car enthusiasts who set up a Vintage & Sports Car restoration and rental shop in Cavaillon, Provence, conveniently located 15 minutes away from where we were staying. They have a comprehensive website (provenceclassics.com)

Some of the neat cars in their collection that caught my eyes include, Porsche speedster, Triumph TR3 and TR4, MGA and MGB, and Lancia Fulvia. They also have more luxury line of Jaguar E types which are reserved for sole purpose of Special Events like weddings, photo shoots, and etc.

Being a cognoscenti of all things Italian, of course I chose Lancia Fulvia as my weapon of choice to carve out the road experience while driving through the beautiful and ever windy roads of Provence.

If I gained anything with passage of time, perhaps it is a bit of wisdom. And my wisdom informed me that I better stick with the family Itinerary like the requisite guided tours and perhaps even a day of sailing at Marseille, which got me exceptionally seasick, further to earn some brownie points from the family.

strategically planned my nostalgic drives towards the latter half of our vacation and picked a few close destination points for the sole purpose of driving the beautiful windy roads of Provence

As I got excited about picking up my 1971 Lancia Fulvia 1.3 from ProvenceClassics, a day prior to pick up, I was informed by Richard Feather, who spearheads ProvenceClassics that unfortunately Lancia had just developed a little issue with one of the camshaft. The earliest they can receive the new camshaft would be on the day of my pick up and after that, would need another day to put the engine back together along with a bit of upgrade from dual Solex to Weber carburetors.

As a classic gesture, they upgraded my rental to the Porsche Speedster for the two days I signed up for. The Speedster was the next level up in terms of rental cost but ProvenceClassics graciously ate up the difference in cost.

Typical daily rental is 9 am to 7 pm while 2 days or more is from 7 pm to 7 pm. So on Tuesday evening, I went to go visit ProvenceClassics in Cavaillon. Since Richard was back in the UK, I was greeted by Matt and the crew. Matt is the brain and head mechanic who overseas the daily ins & outs of all the cars being rented out as well as all the repairs and restoration. He graciously gave me and my family a comprehensive tour of the facility and even allowed me to take the TR4 for a quick spin. He showed me the Lancia Fulvia with the valve cover off and old camshaft out of the engine as well as the beautiful set of dual Webers to add a bit more grunt to the engine, ralley style. He promised he would do his best to get the car ready once he receives the new camshaft in order to make the plan come to fruition, I did my part by extending my rental to 3 days hoping I can drive the Lancia on my third day. (BTW, 3rd day is only half the daily rental rate).

There is no reason or rhyme but given a choice, I will always default to a car manufactured in Italy fore no matter the model, I always feel like I am slipping into a familiar pair of driving shoes or my favorite broken in driving gloves… So… as you can imagine slipping into a Speedster to discover the windy and hilly roads(as we were in the hilly Lubron region) initially took a little getting used to. However in no time, I discovered how nimble and agile the Speedster handles and how responsive the 1.6 liter engine felt. And the best part of the driving experience was shifting through the stout but super responsive gearbox and, Matt only heightened the experience by setting up the pedals so toe-healing would be easy for anyone who tried. Towards the end of my tenure with the Porsche, I was seriously thinking how wonderful it would be to own and drive a 70’s 911 with a 2.4 or 2.7 stuffed in the back.

The roads in Provence are beautifully paved with rarely a pimple on the tarmac.. but super narrow, at least for anyone coming from the states. However as rare as they are, large native SUVs and commercial trucks drive with aplomb as impossible as it appears. So I took comfort in knowing “if they can do it… I can do it!”.. and it worked. Of course the best part is the scenic views, galore. In Provence, I promise you there is no such thing as a “bad” view… every view you soak in is straight out of a picture book, only you get the pleasure of seeing it in 3-D with your very own eyes. And trust me, your set of eyes definitely knows the difference between seeing it on a laptop vs in real life…. There simply is no substitute! From the open lavender fields to wineries to olive tree groves to wide open valleys engulfing farms and villas and hamlets … simply all breathtaking. The perfectly manicured villages perched on top of hills are straight out of fairy tale books. Provence is truly all about the View providing endless visual pleasure which is the perfect “sauce” to the “meat”, in this case, the Porsche Speedster! This is the perfect metaphor for the exquisite epicurean experience while in France. However while 99 percent of people may value the latter culinary experience, I definitely belong in the the one percent who value the motoring experience of driving a vintage European sports car through the narrow hilly windy roads of probably some of the best roads In Europe, perhaps as the Engineers had intended when these cars were being built in the factory back in the day.

to be continued in part 2...

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