As a frequent adventurer on trips to Europe with an Alfa Romeo I know it can be difficult to generate much enthusiasm for the roads in Belgium. They are busy and quite often have as many bumps, rough surfaces and potholes as roads in the UK. Besides there is a magnetic pull to the South, the sun, the vineyards, Italy and the Alps. All of this tends to steer the car towards Rheims, the Alsace, Comar and beyond.
It was definitely time for something new this year. Now I’ve driven to Rotterdam before and in an Alfa too. It was many years ago and the car was a 3 litre 24v 164 which was my business conveyance. It was a quick trip as you might imagine but the return was a taken at a slower pace because a Dutch work colleague advised me that the police in Holland had taken a fancy to confiscating cars from speeding motorists! Now that is not the sort of behaviour you expect in acivilised country!
This year the plan was to join the Nick Clancy organised Club trip to the Spettacolo Sportivo at Zandvoort and, in particular, to join up with the other Alfisti from the U.K. in Zandaam near Amsterdam. On Wednesday, 22nd August, it was time to fill the tank in the 4C and get to the shuttle. The first amusing moment of the trip occurred when Britain’s finest Customs and Exercises, or was it Border Forces, steeped out of their Folkestone shelters and ordered the 4C into an inspection bay. “Please open the bonnet and the boot sir” was the polite yet firm request. Have you noticed how these people look at you as if you are some sort of criminal? Those looks intensified slightly when I replied “You can have a look in the boot back here but as for the bonnet we need three factory trained technicians and some spanners”. It took an entertaining minute or two to show our border peeps the the footwell, the space occupied by passengers, the lack of release mechanisms and the general layout of the car before the penny dropped!
They were left slightly bemused and I was left wondering whether there had been a tip off that someone was trying to smuggle Jeremy Corbyn out of the country unnoticed.
On the outward journey I decided to take an extra day to do some sight seeing and so I set course for Bergen op zoom, not just because I like the name, but because it is an old place quite central to 18th century wars and conflicts. I went by way of Antwerp and was fortunate to escape the traffic jams caused by a rebuilding of the city centre roads. After a visit to an 18th Century Fort I drove across country to Kapelle where I had a motel arranged for the night. Now spectacular views and hills are in short supply in the coastal parts of Belgium and Holland. In fact you wonder how Wellington might have faired if he had to fight his signature “reverse slope” battles to the North of Brussels! History tells us that the Germans found some mountains in the Ardennes but that is in another part of the country entirely. Whoops! I came dangerously close to mentioning the war there and the Belgians and Dutch were on our side … I think!
The region around the River Scheldt is low and flat as the previous photograph shows. Also you have to be aware of low flying cyclists what with everything being so low.
Notwithstanding the endearing hazards of the low countries, there are some surprisingly scenic and pleasant places and one of them is Houdekenskerke. This village is set just below the Northern dyke of the River Scheldt (on the Dutch side) and it has a small railway station serving as the terminal for a local preserved steam railway which winds its way through the countryside from the town of Goes about 22 km to the North. On the top of the dyke above the station is an old railway carriage which serves as a cafe/bar. You can have a beer on the verandah and watch the ships go by. Antwerp, upriver, is one of the busiest ports in Europe so there is plenty going on.
After a comfortable evening the 4C was taken for a trip across the polders to Den Haag and the Louwman Museum. This place is quite stunning and as a car collection it is measured has one of the best in Europe. The exhibits are shown off individually and there is a valet squad seemingly on a permanent mission to keep everything looking exceptional. A special exhibit for the week of my visit was the Mercedes “silver arrows” collection including a rather special 1960’s racing car transporter, ‘The Blue Wonder”, which is powered by a 300SL engine!
It would require days of writing to even begin to describe the museum’s collection so I will let the pictures do the talking. First up, a Packard from Detroit, Michigan.
The first four wheel drive, six cylinder, four wheel braked car was a Spyker. This Dutch company began making cars in 1880 and was in business until the 1920’s. After an interlude from 1925 to 2000 the company was reborn and produces a small range of supercars. Given the scale of car taxes in Holland I doubt whether they have sold a car in their home country but still they have agencies in all those countries where the rich hide their billions … and the USA!
A Mercedes Special Roadster, one of only 25 built, was supplied new to a successful London shipping insurer but subsequently was sold on to a butcher in Walsall who put it in his barn! It was found 30 years later and restored in Germany by a rich Swede (you could’nt make this up could you?). It is known as “The Butcher’s Car” and has won twice at Pebble Beach.
Well there is a taste of what lies in wait at the museum in Den Haag, a city which is home to the Dutch political classes. While the city is not populated by the most exciting people, it is certainly a place that the motoring enthusiast needs to visit. But, oh I forgot, it has an Alfa Romeo or two…
In fact there were two and the one shown below is the Tipo 33/SC/12 which has practically all its original parts intact since last raced in 1977. It has a 12 cylinder boxer engine and an integral chassis, known as Scatolato, instead of a tubular chassis, which explains the “SC” designation. The twelve cylinder Tipo 33’s were the last in the series and were very successful between 1973 and 1977, winning the World Sportscar Championship in 1975 and 1977. The yellow and black colours were part of the sponsor Fernet Tonic logo.
Moving on, I stopped briefly to see what exactly stops the Netherlands becoming part of the North Sea.
It is the slope on the left which is the inner face of the main sea dyke, so you can forget those images of boys with fingers keeping the sea out etc!
I arrived at Zandaam late in the afternoon and joined the AROC party for a few beers and supper. Friday was a day for tourist activity so I went to see some windmills. A word of warning here. The Chinese tourists have discovered Holland and a windmill or two is on their bucket list. The trick is to go early and then have a nice walk with, perhaps, a beer on the bank of a canal.
These windmills were a sort of 17th century industrial revolution and you can see them at work today which is quite impressive. All sorts of big moving parts, cogs, wheels and jack hammers and not a safety guard in sight! Now I cannot pass on without making a comment upon the influence of modernism in Dutch architecture. As a tribute to Keith Barker, who I know will appreciate this, here is the Innhotel at Zandaam.
Keith, just exactly what sort of strange substances inspire this yahoo of a building?
On now to the circuit. We moved on to Zandvoort on Saturday morning. I admit now that I did not think the Dutch Alfa Club could better the Nurburgring effort but they certainly did. This was one of the biggest Alfa Romeo events I have attended and comes only second to the centenary in Milan in 2010. There were Alfas from all over Europe and a casual estimate put the number of cars at more than eight hundred and possibly up to one thousand.
The pits area held some truly amazing examples of the very best Alfa Romeo cars made, racers and roadsters parked next to each other in a sort of casual, but very Italian, jumble.
There were rows of SZ’s, Alfetta GTV’s and Saloons, Giuliettas (the 1980’s series), Suds, 75’s, 105 Giulias and some very special exhibits just randomly placed . There were traders selling original parts, and some rare ones too. There were even representatives of a well know UK restorer present. There were several hundred Alfas, 156’s, GT’s, 147’s and others parked just outside the main circuit. I confess that I never got round to seeing those so absorbed was I with the garagesand central display area!
The racers garages were either the scene of frenetic activity or casual indifference, always with a good lunch laid on for the teams and drivers. The photographs capture the scene. The event took place over two days but, of the two, Sunday was the best because the rain stayed away.
The row of Spiders just went on and on, but then so did the rows of almost every other model.
Then racing garages contained some really serious machinery.
The Larts van ’t Veer car was exceptionally quick on the track. I paused to wonder if Lars’ family had Yorkshire connections but then maybe not. Just look at this …
There’s nowt’ wrong wi ’t brakes ’t Veer.
It was most noticeable that 155’s form the backbone of the Alfa club racing scene in Holland and they are fine machines too, mixing it up with 75’s at close quarters!
and now for something special …
An old Alfa thundered around the track driven by its proud German owner. He was interviewed by the Zandvoort commentator and described how the car was discovered in a barn, or should that be a niños, in Argentina and recovered to Europe. Not much was known about the machine except that is was running! The mechanicals, chassis and suspension were refurbished to a safe standard but the bodywork and interior patina was preserved as original. The result, well, quite spectacular ..
Then there were some rarities. For example the Ghia bodied 1900SS (many thanks to John Dray for identifying this one for me) …
The casual mixture of machinery was striking. Some of the old and new rubbed shoulders or should that be fenders.
The 4C brethren were treated to visit from this bespoke model in a interesting flavour of green and, as you can see if you study the drivers headrest, a matching green leather interior. The redesigned front looks really pleasing to the eye. It went quite quickly around the track too!
There was a brief (two lap) foray from the Andrea de Cesaris Marlborough sponsored Alfa Romeo 179B which raced briefly in 1981. Unfortunately it was all too briefly on the Zandvoort circuit and disappeared in steam signifying some sort of coolant disaster. A year back my son’s 156 went the same way!
I keep coming back to the Argentine car. The spirit of racing in the very early days. Look at the three pedal layout, the gear linkage, the oil pressure and hand pump and the width of the tyres. The drivers leather helmet and the exhaust heat shield tell their own story.
It was pleasing that the weather did not put anyone off. There are far too many who baulk at taking their cars out if there is the slightest hint of wet weather. At Zandvoort at spot of rain did not deter.
It was “full beans” down the start finish straight with some serious braking at the Tarzanbocht hairpin
This was a spectacular event living up to its name in every sense. Many thanks to Nick Clancy for his organisation. A real benefit of one of Nick’s trips is that he knows the routine and the places to go which saves you the trouble of planning, making mistakes and generally messing up.
Other guidance points are that the Westerschelde Tunnel on the N62 is the way to go and the toll did not prove an obstacle for a right hand drive 4C. You drive up to the cash lane, while the car in front is paying you get out and wander over to the lady at the cash window, pay your dues and sprint back. Its best not to drive in between the toll piers as you might not get the door open far
Friendly greetings to all readers who I met on the trip, it is nice to see so many familiar faces at these events. The final picture shows my 4C with Kevin Rascher’s South African 3.0 GTV6, a beautiful car displaying its Gauteng number plate.