Phoenix Car Club

Phoenix Car Club

Costa Blanca (South) & Vega Baja

Continental Journey

A Continental Journey

Richard O Rourke

About halfway down through France, in darkness and driving rain I asked myself was I mad or what? I didn’t dare answer the question in case I might arrive at the wrong conclusion so I just carried on but have no doubt, dear reader and fellow club member, I was seriously concerned about my sanity. How did I find myself in this situation in early December, driving a fully laden MX5 from Ireland to Spain with nobody for company except Maggie, the Sat Nav voice and a cuddly toy in the shape of the Munster Rugby mascot. I spoke to both ! Frequently !

I bought my MX5, a 1991 BRG V Special, in the summer of 2008 and even though it was in pretty good shape then I have done quite a lot of work to it since. On arrival it underwent a full service which included a complete fluid change ( oil, gearbox, brake and LSD ), a new timing belt and water pump and new brake pads all round. Over the three years of ownership it has received a strut brace, windblocker, front grille, mudguards, a K&N air intake system, a boot rack and many more pressies of a lesser variety. I ditched the cat, fitted good quality plug leads and advanced the ignition timing to 14deg btdc and this, along with the air intake mod showed a noticeable performance increase, particularly throttle response, as well as a nice exhaust note. I refurbished the wheels and even stripped the black paint off the Nardi steering wheel to reveal a much nicer polished aluminium finish.

In the summer of 2009 and in the company of two other Fivers I crossed the channel (the one between Ireland and the UK) and visited the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu and the Haynes Museum at Sparkford and of course had a scenic drive over Dartmoor and Exmoor. (Note; Scenic drive = blat).

The following year I accompanied my good friend Dick O’Brien to the Ford Side Valve Owners Club get together in Burford, Dick in his home built 1958 Special and me in the MX5 acting as service wagon. We took in the VSCC Prescott Hillclimb on the same weekend and had a wonderful time. I carried a supply of tools and spares, including a head gasket, but the only thing the Special required was about a pint of water. Needless to say the MX5 was fault free.

In 2011 I ventured further afield and five of us in MX’s, all Mk1’s, drove from Cork to Larne and then crossed to Scotland to begin a never to be forgotten tour which took in Skye, Fort William, Inverness, Letterfinlay, Stirling, Pitlochrie, and Edinburgh. 2303 km later we arrived back in Cork and once more not a fault among the five cars.

Since I retired from my job as an Air Traffic Controller in January 2010 I have had an ambition to spend the winter months in a warmer and sunnier climate than we normally experience at home and so the germ of an idea formed in my ever active mind. How about I drive there rather than fly and have the use of the car when I arrive ?. I hadn’t even decided where there was yet but that was only a minor detail. When I announced this plan to family and friends they were amazed but not surprised and so I picked my spot. La Zenia, 60km south of Alicante was the winner in the destination stakes as I was familiar with the area and already had some friends based there. Next came the job of packing. Ah yes. Packing ! My list of must have items included my cameras, my laptop, my guitar and my golf clubs. You are in an MX5 you fool, not a Camper Van I hear you say but with the golf clubs wrapped and strapped to the boot rack and the guitar in the passenger seat I still had the boot, the footwell and the rear shelf for clothes and other non-essentials.

I set out from Cork on December 4th and drove to Rosslare to catch the 6pm sailing to Cherbourg. On arrival at the ferry terminal I adjusted the headlights as the car was nose high and fitted my beam adjusters.

Bon Jour said I to France at 2pm the following day and having exhausted my supply of French reverted to Del Boy for further inspiration. With the aid of Maggie, a map and the help of a very nice man on the ship I negotiated Cherbourg and set off for Rennes and Nantes and onward towards Bordeaux. I didn’t know how far I could get on day 1 but decided that I would keep going until I got tired and then stop for the night. I was following the advice of the AA Route Planner but what that didn’t warn me about was the proliferation of artic trucks and the constant bombardment of rain and spray which reduced my average speed to a lot less than my expectation. Darkness fell and I ploughed on until I eventually threw in the towel at 9pm and asked Maggie to find me an hotel. This she did and I laid down my weary head in an Etap hostelry on the outskirts of Niort. At 8am the following morning having consumed what the French call breakfast I checked the car and found that all was well. The golf clubs were still attached to the bootrack, oil and water were ok and so I cleaned the windscreen and the lights. Remember the beam adjusters ? There they were gone!. Oh well, I expected to complete the rest of the journey in daylight anyway so what harm.

Day 2 and more rain to keep me company along with a decent variety of CDs and soon I was south of Bordeaux and heading for the Spanish border at San Sebastian. I stopped for petrol and coffee and was joined by the entire fleet of artics not realising that go-juice was around 40 cent a litre cheaper than in France. Up to now the journey had been boring but suddenly things began to look up. The sun appeared as I turned left for Pamplona just south of the Pyrennees, the trucks disappeared and the roads were fast, well surfaced and undulating. This was more like it !. I motored on with a smile on my face only regretting that, because of my load, I couldn’t drop the roof. I reached my next overnight stop in Zaragoza at 5pm and once again enlisted the help of Maggie to find me an hotel. This time an Ibis was my choice and after a nice meal I wandered around the city and my what an impressive place it is. Well worth a visit but beware, bloody cold this time of year.

Day 3 and I wasted nearly an hour trying to negotiate the ring road system to get me on the right track for Valencia. I eventually sussed that I was to head for Teruel, an intermediate town on the way to Valencia and away I went. The highlight of the journey came on this section as I descended from the Massif Central to Valencia on a never ending series of flat out bends towards the east coast of Spain. The little car was enjoying itself and more than once I gave the steering wheel a friendly pat in appreciation of the effort the MX5 was making. I was now on the home run with the sea to my left and a straight run down to Alicante and my new home in La Zenia. I arrived at 3pm and once again checked that all was ok with the car. The oil level was full and still yellowish in colour and everything else was as it should be. Four days and 2064 km later and not a hitch. What a car ! It now has 133,000 km on the clock and is already looking forward to the return trip in June  or maybe it would like to stay here where it likes the dry, warm climate and the roof is down every day. Who can tell ? Watch this space !

Richard O’Rourke. 08-01-2012.