Every year Daniel Guerin the Chairman of R.A.V.E.R.A ( literally translated as – Rally of the Lover of Old Vehicles of the Artois Region) writes to our section secretary inviting our members to exhibit at the indoor arena of the Artois Expo in France. This is arguably one of the most important car shows north of Paris and one to which none of our members, at least to my knowledge, has ever been selected to exhibit in the prestigious carpeted indoor arena . French tabloid and magazine journalists attend and all vehicles must be over 30 years old. The Invite to the section duly arrived in January and Jeff Kaby circulated it to section members not really expecting anyone to make the foray into France in March. I put the idea to the back of my mind until Craig Archer contacted me and invited me to make the trip with him using his recent nut and bolt bare metal restored 1968 1750 Duetto Spider. I did not need asking twice and agreed to arrange the trip whilst Craig was in Mexico for an extended period. Time being of the essence as the show was on the 17th March and I set about organising what stuff needed to be done in the initial phases. The show, experience and the weekend road trip was more than well worth the preparation but I should really start at the beginning.
Craig Archer has fully restored to show standard more than his fair share of rare and sought after Alfas over the years and in May 2016 purchased a rolling chassis for a 1968 Duetto Spider right hand drive.
On the face of it the vehicle looked reasonable for a restoration but once the restoration commenced in the January of 2017,it revealed that this was going to be a bare metal nut and bolt complete restoration with original hard to find parts. The entire body needed to be totally stripped and media blasted. Stripping one of the doors back revealed filler and surprisingly parts of a newspaper that was dated 1972 showing what a previous owner had done to try to solve a problem only four years after the Duetto had left the factory.
An inner wheel arch under one of the wings was bent and badly repaired. In fact some of the previous repairs were so badly welded, rusted through and repaired that work to restore this Icon really had to start all over again. Lots of body panels and flooring had to be cut out and new panels re-welded in.
The vehicle was on a spit for 6 months whilst this was being done and all in Craig’s own workshop.
It needed new wings, a door, an “A” pillar, inner arch, and a rear quarter panel not to mention new door sills both sides and a new nearside passenger arch. The trailing edge of the boot was also rusted through so a new repair section was welded in. The gear box and rear axle needed a total rebuild as well as the engine needing new liners and pistons as well as cams (DOHC). The head was tested for porosity and was shown to be borderline but watertight, that said, once the engine was rebuilt and refitted water was being forced out of the bolts and therefore needed a new head unit.
The whole of the front and rear suspension, on inspection, needed to be completely rebuilt or replaced with new parts. A new Burman steering box was also installed.
All this would have, for most of us normal mortals, taken 10 or so years to complete but the aim was to get the Duetto into shows by the start of 2018 and that at most would leave around 12 months to complete the work. The shell of the Duetto, once the welding of new panels had been completed, was sent to Tony Collins of Classic Car Restorations to work his magic where it was completely re-sprayed in the original paint code of AR501. It had by now, as well, acquired four new floor panels on top of everything else.
The dashboard now had to be completely repaired as well as the dash top. Thankfully once all the clocks and dials had been cleaned and tested, they were found to be in full working order, the dashboard being painted at the same time as the rest of the car. A brand new wiring loom was required and estimates for the supply of this were far too long so Craig built a new one himself as they are now only made to order.
The hood frame was then media blasted and painted black. A new hood cover was supplied by Classic Alfa, in the original Mohair material and the Duetto was now starting to look like it should do over 51 years ago. New rubber mats and door trims were then added as well as a nice new red tunnel carpet. The heater was found to be wanting and was re-built. All the shut lines were adjusted and everything with a hinge re-positioned including the ever difficult to adjust boot and bonnet. Thankfully the scuttle had earlier been found to be serviceable and did not need replacing. The bumpers were sent away to be cleaned and polished and a new windscreen fitted. New glass in the doors were added and one of the most elusive parts to a 1750, the opening quarter lights could not be sourced so a pair akin to the static 1300 Spider were left in situ until an original pair could be sourced and that was not finally achieved till the winter of 2018/19. It was found that the carbs needed to be entirely re-built, new master servo and new alternator fitted. The Duetto despite all this retains the original bonnet.
Twelve months of frantic restoration now took the Spider to the start of the 2018 show season around the South East of the U.K and this is where I bumped into Craig and his Duetto Spider (not literally I hasten to add) and over the course of the Summer months, at various shows, learnt about the vehicle. Bits and pieces still needed to be done and over the winter of 2018/19 the seats were professionally re-covered. This in itself was a difficult fit as the original pattern covers just did not sit right and had to be re-sewn. Then there was also the fitting of an Alfaholics stainless exhaust that just finished the car off a treat.
That brought us more or less up to date and I was contacted by Craig at the start of 2019 to see if I wanted to ride shotgun to the Arras show in France for the weekend of the 17th March 2019. How could you possibly refuse such an offer of a road trip of that magnitude in such a car! It was a no brainer really.
As Craig was in Mexico I filled out the application forms which were all in French and booked meals as part of what the organisers provided for exhibitors at ten Euros each and once accepted for the prestigious indoor part of the show, booked the Ibis Hotel in the centre of Arras, with breakfast and investigated the local restaurants around the main two town squares that were about two minutes walk from the hotel. Eventually I settled on “The Petit Rat Porteur.” This turned out to be a great choice as the cavern under the restaurant was just filled with a perfect ambience and setting for a traditional French meal. Booking the tunnel crossing was left to last as there had to be a contingency. Yes, the weather was completely against us and a choice had to be made! Do we cancel the trip or not? Should we use the trailer to limit possible damage to the 1750? ……
If the weather was improved we could go for a drive around from there as the car did not have to be in the arena till between 2-5PM on the Saturday. Strangely whilst talking to an actual human being to get a quote for channel tunnel tickets led to a £300 quote. Craig booked it on-line later for £60 each way so well worth bearing in mind if you are contemplating this trip yourself.
The weather forecasts got progressively worse and by now storm force winds were battering the U.K. Ships were kept sheltering in ports and lorries were backed up along most of the M20. One of my neighbour’s 60 foot Ash trees decided to end its life in the wind and promptly took out another neighbour’s car as she was backing it off the drive to take her son to school. Thankfully both were O.K but that and other events settled the matter. We would use the trailer and that was the most pragmatic decision dictated by the weather. Craig had already considered this by booking for a trailer and higher vehicle slot on the channel tunnel – just in case. March in any case is very early for a car show and weather that time of year is very unpredictable. To our minds it was a very sensible compromise in the prevailing weather conditions.
So the Saturday before the show saw me dropped off really early at Craig’s place in the depths of the Kent countryside and we were joined by his partner Michelle for an hour’s drive to the tunnel that was completely surrounded by lorries stranded this side of the channel. By 10 o’clock we were navigating very wet and windy French roads arriving at the Artois Expo in Arras about an hour and a half later. My ill practised French negotiated us through the barriers to the vehicle entrance of the arena where we were paid, yes I kid you not! We were paid 15 Euros to show the Spider. There was a lot of interest in the Duetto from staff who all crowded round the open bonnet. We spent the best part of an hour polishing up the Alfa to remove what the weather had deposited on the car and left the Spider gleaming on the carpet to be guarded overnight by the hosting club members in the locked exhibition centre. This left no time for our planned Duetto tour around Arras, oh well, next time! In all about 45 vehicles from the 500-600 cars attending had been chosen for the indoor show. You are informed if this is the case when the acceptance is returned to you but you have to tick the appropriate box and remember the forms are all in French. At least 50 historic car part stalls were setting up in the adjacent hall and it dawned on me just how big this exhibition was and how privileged we were to have been selected. In all about 8,000 people were expected to visit the show during the Sunday and once we had discussed matters with the organiser Daniel Guerin we set off for the Hotel that was less than a mile away or 1.6 Km since we were in France. The Hotel was pleasant for a three star, the restaurant and food splendid. I am glad I reserved a table before the trip as it was full and most of the patrons were French and local. Nothing better than eating with the locals as they really know the best places to eat.
By 9AM Sunday we were back at the exhibition centre and finished prepping the vehicle and saw that out of the 45 cars on display there was an 1984 Alfetta GTV6 2.5L on French plates with a listed 160 BHP. The styling of the door handles and headrests being typical of that period, most of the Alfetta’s we see in the UK at shows are much older.
My all time favourite and a vehicle which I could only ever dream of owning was a 1961 Giuiletta 1300 also on French plates and the same type as the vehicle used in the Edward Fox film namely, “Day of the Jackal.” although this one had arrived at the show with a black hard top and was owned by the president of The Alfa Club Du Nord – John Louis Bridoux.
That left a white 1980 2 Litre Kamm Tail Spider 130 BHP which did look rather splendid. That was also on French plates.
That was parked next to Craig’s 1750 and enabled me to compare the rear ends of both vehicles as a compliment to each other. It did occur to me that together with all the Alfas displayed outside, that we were the only British Alfa on display.
I’m glad I took all the photos early as by 11AM you could not move for people and the chains put in front of the exhibits, to stop people touching the cars, made photography difficult. There were just so many people! Outside was no different either so all three of us decided to make a break from the crowds and visit the site of the incredible slaughter that was the battle of Vimy ridge during the first world war and some 15 minutes from the town. Part of the battlefield has been left intact as a testament to the loss of life and literally you could not walk between shell craters, some of which were over 30 feet across. Visitors are still not allowed onto this due to the high concentration of unexploded ordinance that still persists there. The monument itself is quite a sobering place to visit and the silence is only broken by the wind and children on school trips that really would never understand what happened there:
Between the 9-12th of April 1917 four Canadian divisions attacked the ridge suffering 3,598 killed and 7,004 wounded. The exact number is not known but over 20,000 Germans were killed and 4,000 taken prisoner and by the end of the offensive on the 17th May 1917 the dead on all sides was over 300,000 men – the allies had only progressed a maximum of 5KM.
By now it was rather cold and returning to the exhibition centre saw that the crowds had grown, Craig and Michelle decided to visit the British war memorial and I stayed using the conference room above the arena to eat a rather nice cold buffet, provided by the organisers, overlooking the display area. There were a couple of journalists that had escaped the crowds as well and using my rough French we set to discussing Alfas, Brexit and the surprising interest that the French have in the Marque. Having 4 Alfas displayed out of 45 incredible cars must have made an impression on them and it was not lost on me either.
But when a rusty dream goes from this …
To this …
Then you cannot sum up the emotion involved in such a project. It does help to spend time with a person to get to know how they “tick” and get under the skin and mindset of the restorer when it comes to this sort of project and I hope I did Craig and the Duetto justice. The price however is the cost of owning, restoring and maintaining such an iconic car. Personally I think Craig has succeeded and the car should be around for many more generations to enjoy for the future.
I am surprised that more from AROC do not make this road trip as the total cost for three people was £345. This included the tunnel (both ways) two double hotel rooms, restaurant and breakfast for three, food at the exhibition centre and other ancillaries. It was a very memorable, enjoyable, fun road trip and weekend. Application forms for which can be obtained from Daniel Guerin at firstname.lastname@example.org and all of this can be organised on-line with very little effort.
Information on events held by the Alfa Club du Nord (of which there are many) can also be obtained by contacting John-Louis Bridoux at email@example.com I know that Craig for one is planning later in the year to make some of these events. What a great trip, I made some friendly, knowledgeable and useful contacts, I enjoyed Craig’s 1750 and if I was to be invited again I would not hesitate.
In the grand scheme of things nothing ventured is nothing gained, so go experience it!