Mixing it with automotive royalty at the 2022 Tour Privé

by John Mayhead
2 September 2022 4 min read
Mixing it with automotive royalty at the 2022 Tour Privé
Photos: Gerard Brown and Salon Privé

As I pulled up onto the gravel, my car suddenly felt very small. The narrow black coachwork and twin leather seats of my 1946 MG TC became dwarfed by one of the most imposing buildings in Great Britain: the three-hundred-year-old Blenheim Palace, a hop and a skip north of Oxford, seat of the Duke of Marlborough and site of the 2022 Salon Privé concours.

Just to add to the feeling of slight inadequacy, the rest of the forecourt was filled by a host of automotive royalty: from pre-war Bentleys and an exquisite 1933 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Touring Spider, all the way through to a gang of modern supercars via the Seventies class of a Porsche 911 2.7RS and a 246 Dino.

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I was here in a formal capacity, as one of the judges of this week’s Salon Privé. Happily, one of the perks of being invited to judge is an entry into the Tour Privé, a 150-mile amble through some of the best of the British countryside. The idea is that the concours cars are asked to take part, proving they’re not just trailer queens but capable road cars too. In the event of a tie in the concours, attendance on the Tour is taken into account, so it’s a serious business. Well, sort of.

In reality, it’s great fun. My little MG might not have been as elegant or prestigious as some of the cars taking part, but the other drivers made me and my navigator (my 19-year-old son, Fred) very welcome and showed a great deal of interest in the car. It has a fascinating history, having been given new to MG racer and speed record-holder A.T. Goldie Gardner who used the little car to trial run his record attempt routes in Brescia, Italy and Jabbeke, Belgium in 1946, and I spent much of the warm-up flicking through black-and-white photos on my phone, telling his story.

Soon, we were called to the start, the faster cars taking the lead and the older cars following on. Somewhere near the back, we were waved off with the Union Flag and roared off (obviously within the Estate’s 10mph limit) through the main Palace gates, along the driveway and out into the Oxfordshire countryside.

Now, the Tour isn’t just a test of the cars, but also of those inside it. Each car was given a roadbook with 51 checkpoints and the directions for each. At first, there was a string of cars driving almost nose to tail, but within a couple of miles the small Cotswold roads started to separate the amateurs from the experienced hands. At one point we grinned as we saw a group of three much faster cars waiting to pull out having made a mistake; at another crossroads tour cars were emerging from no fewer than three directions at once.

We passed Hagerty’s other entrants, James Wood and Dan Cogger, who’d stripped a tyre on their rally-prepared Alfa Romeo Sprint GT. Meanwhile, the MG actually performed pretty well, as did Fred, who turned out to be a fantastic navigator. In fact, by the time we stopped after about fifty miles so that he could drive for a while, we hadn’t take a single wrong turn and had even overtaken a Lotus Esprit Turbo.

We were feeling very smug, but it was not to last. Before we’d reached the first checkpoint with me navigating, I’d managed to miss one of the instructions and we sailed past a turning, only to suffer the indignity of Tour designer Jeremy Jackson-Sytner flashing his lights of his chase car, telling us to turn around. Nevertheless, we reached the lunch stop at Compton Verney house without much more ado and without embarrassing ourselves.

2022 Tour Prive

I’ve owned the MG for a year and the Tour was the longest single drive I have completed in it. I’ve just had the modern Spax dampers it came with replaced by period friction dampers and the ride was great. On quite a humid day, the water temperature remained resolutely low and the oil pressure reassuringly high.

Fred impressed me too. He’s a VSCC member and has a surprising amount of experience for someone of his age, and my insurance requires me to be in the car while he’s driving, but he was very competent. Any older car, especially one with skinny 19-inch wires like the MG, dances around a little on the road, especially when there’s a wind blowing, as there was during the tour. If you tense up, that’s when things can go wrong, but he remained very relaxed. Plus, although I had a parent’s natural instinct to want to drive myself and keep him safe, I think it’s really important the younger generation are entrusted with older cars. They are the people who will be doing this in a few years’ time, not me.

After lunch, we wound our way back to Blenheim. The roads Jeremy had found for us to drive on were superb: a few faster A roads (which neither Fred nor I enjoyed too much in the MG) but mainly a mix of wide country lanes and sweeping B roads. Finally, pretty tired, we reached the village of Woodstock next to the Palace and were waved through the ornate gates once again.

Looking back, the Tour has been one of the highlights of my year. There was a superb group of cars, a lovely bunch of other entrants and judges, and I got to spend time with my son doing the hobby that I love. When Hagerty says we need to save driving, this is just that at its best.

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