An Almost 50-year Old Bentley and the RROC Fall Tour

Driving 1,200 miles in a week in a British car that rolled off the production line ~49 years ago may seem like a crazy thing to do. But it’s not considering the car – a 1966 Bentley T1 – and the event, which was the Fall Tour of the Rolls-Royce Owner’s club – held throughout British Columbia in late September 2015.

Meet SBX2479, a 1966 Bentley T1 I purchased in spring of 2013 while rejoining the ranks of classic Rolls-Royce/Bentley owners after a hiatus of several years. I’ve been an enthusiast of these cars since the mid-1990s. After a disastrous flirtation with a 1967 Jaguar S-Type, I ended up with a 1979 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II, which provided tens-of-thousands of miles of trouble-free enjoyment (after having rejected the first 16 examples I looked at, the first of which was coincidentally another 1967 Bentley T1.

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Representing less than 1% of Silver Shadows produced, a proper North American-specification Left Hand Drive (LHD) T1 is a very rare car. My own estimates suggest there may be only a dozen LHD original series 1965-67 examples around the continent. These early cars, although quirkier in some ways than later examples, feature the beautiful wood-trimmed interior and full engine power output that was missing on later emission gear equipped cars.

Now, for the event itself. The Rolls-Royce Owners Club is a wonderful organization. Some of their national events are driving tours, which combine great company, interesting sightseeing, and some good exercise for one’s motorcars. This event, hosted by the BC Region, was no exception.

I drove up early to join the Fall Meet between the BC and Pacific Northwest regions of the club, which was held the day before the national tour. The meet consists of several contests of absurd driving skills coupled with other fun and games (such as faux sword fighting).

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Although the event was wrapped early due to persistent rain, the Northwest Region was this year’s victor, resulting in next year’s meet being hosted in Washington state versus British Columbia. Participants moving onto the national tour then spent the next day getting from Abbotsford to North Vancouver for check-in and the opening reception.

For the RROC Tour itself, each day started with a briefing and was followed by an alternating course of driving and sightseeing. Most (though not all) days also had an evening event.

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On the first day, the initial stop was the British Columbia Museum of Anthropology. Here we had a chance to get a local immersion in the history of the indigenous peoples of British Columbia and see many amazing First Nations and Chinese artifacts.

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For lunch, we stopped at the Salmon House in North Vancouver, which was opened especially for the RROC tour participants. The weather cooperated and we were treated to a magnificent panorama of the Vancouver area – along with some extremely delicious Northwest cuisine.

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After lunch, we headed up to the Capilano suspension bridge and requisite nature park. The bridge is definitely not for those afraid of heights – and several participants took a pass. After that, several of us headed to the optional waypoint of Cleveland Dam to see it prior to heading to a Chinese dinner nearby.

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The second day of touring started with a drive up to Whistler. En-route, the group stopped at the Britannia Mine, which at the peak of production was one of the world’s largest volume producers of copper. Once arriving in Whistler, everyone had a few hours to spend on their own until an evening dinner event.

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Day three began with a trip to Shannon Falls on the way to Fort Langley in Surrey, British Columbia.

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Once at Fort Langley, the group got to learn about the history of the first major Hudson Bay Company trading post in the British Columbia region as well as see re-creations of life from several hundred years ago.

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The evening wrapped with a lovely time at the Vancouver Club, after a quick shot across the water from North Vancouver to downtown Vancouver on the Seabus.

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Day 4 saw the group off to Vancouver Island. Our first stop was the Cowichan Cultural Center, just south of Nanimo, British Columbia. Here the group was treated to a guided tour of local tribal legends, a delicious salmon lunch, and an amazing performance of tribal dancing. They day concluded with some time to see Victoria and a reception at a club members home, featuring the guest appearance of John Lennon’s Rolls-Royce Phantom V.

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Day 5 began with a trip to the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. The featured exhibit was “Gold Rush – El Dorado in BC” which offered many unique insights into the history of gold mining within the province. The afternoon saw the group end up at Hatley House, which is probably best known for its appearances in the X-Men movies. Besides being a popular film venue, Hatley House is also the home of Royal Roads University. Prior to that, it served as a military training facility after being purchased by the government from the Hatley family. The day concluded with a lovely BBQ at another member’s home just outside of Victoria.

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Day 6 – the final day – saw the longest day of driving yet. We took a long, circular route spanning Cowichan Bay, Lake Cowichan, converted logging roads down to Port Renfrew, then up to Sooke, and finally back to Victoria. Day 6 also included a Trivia challenge, where tour participants were supposed to find highly obscure facts at the various destinations along the way. The tour concluded with a closing dinner at the club of the University of Victoria.

Cars on the tour ranged in age from a 1926 Bentley 3-liter (whose top was last seen in the 1950s) to 2010-era Bentley Continental GTCs, Azures, and Brooklands models. And just about everything in between was represented. Thanks to excellent logistics, mechanical support was available for the handful of issues that arose. People came from as far away as Pennsylvania, with several participants bringing their cars from as far away as Missouri and San Diego.

The social activities are fantastic; I know I made several new friends as well as reconnected with people i have not seen since the late 1990s when I was far more heavily engaged in enthusiast events. For those that have not done an event such as this, it’s absolutely worth it on all fronts – socially, driving, and sightseeing. And my hat is off to the RROC and our BC Region hosts in particular for absolutely flawless logistics and support. I can’t wait until the next event…

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Still a Jaguar Fan

I got my start in exotic cars with a Jaguar. A 1992 Vanden Plas, to be specific. I loved them for the formative years of my driving experience.

But, for many years, I thought they lost their way. I couldn’t see much worth owning beyond a late 1990s performance-oriented XJ – which I bought with a 1995 XJ12 in early 1997. There were frankly better alternatives, starting with the Aston Martin DB7 (which was born from the still-born original F-type) from the 1990s). And nothing post 1995-XJ12/XJR from the British saloon market until Bentley found its way with the Arnage Red Label.

But, this is a marque that shares the same birthday as I; I have a soft spot. The XF started to find the spirit of the Mark II. It is a very good car.

The new F-type coupe – in my opinion – has brought them back to the supercar status they once owned (but now are regaining credibility). The combination of the F-type coupe and the XF Supercharged / XFR / XFR-S  have brought me back – from having not wanted anything since the 1995/1996 XJ12s.

I look forward to the future – and continue hope it regains the specialness of the Mark II’s and E-Type’s of old. They seem to be well on their way. May they be Britain’s automotive headlines once again in 2014…

Audi S8 – 2-year update

It has been about 2 years since I have been driving the S8 every-day as my Ottawa daily driver. The short-take:

  • There is not much to dislike!
  • Power and performance is amazing – in any weather (caveat: must have right tires).
  • Absolutely comfortable for 4 adults + luggage.
  • Fuel economy is abysmal in town – but it gets 25MPG+ on the highway
  • Best electronics I have seen in a car ever both in terms of features and usability
  • Non-ostentatious – totally a stealth “bahn” burner
  • No real maintenance issues – despite having a Lamborghini-sourced 5.2L V10
If anything, it’s biggest detractions are that it lacks style and soul – but then again, that’s also one of its selling points. It just depends on what you’re looking for. In short – there are not many performance cars that could survive daily driving in Ottawa. This did – with aplomb.

DB9

The DB9 is here.  The photo above was taken on delivery in Seattle. It is AWESOME. A full review comes later when I have lived with it for a while. But the short take:

  • Nothing sounds like an Aston V12 – it rocks!
  • Great balance of comfort – without sacrificing handling or performance
  • Seemingly limitless power
  • You can feel the road – but it won’t knock someone’s fillings out
  • Nice balance of amenities – but not too much; it still feels like a sports car
  • Quite usable for city driving
  • Cornering is amazing (with the Sport Pack) for a large car
Be seeing you!

V8 Vantage – the Farewell Review

Ottawa Fall Colors '09 #78 by rdonovan
Ottawa Fall Colors ’09 #78, a photo by rdonovan on Flickr.

I admit it. Jeremy Clarkson was right. Those who bought the V8 Vantage would probably just end up wishing they buying a DB9. I can now count myself in that boat, having worked a trade of my V8 Vantage for a DB9.

There are many things to like about the Vantage. First, the sound. It sounds like a proper sports car. Nothing else sounds like it. Second, the handling – it’s brilliant and like playing a video game. You can feel every nuance of the road.

The performance is very good – but you have to push the car psychotically hard to get at it. This is a matter of preference. I am in the camp where I would prefer something more fluidly available.

The lack of front park distance control makes parking a challenge. As you can’t see a bloody thing out the front. But the sie makes fitting into narrow spaces a breeze.

However, what absolutely, totally did it for me was the transmission. It is an Italian-designed F1 paddle-shift with computer controlled clutch. And it’s horrible.

Yes, it can shift in milliseconds. But that isn’t that useful in every day life. The fact that the clutch burns and grinds in parking lot or stop-and-go-traffic is annoying. Even more annoying is when you can’t get at the gear you want.

More annoying still is stopping – and starting – while you agonizingly wait for the clutch to engage. And hope it does before the car coming in the opposite direction nails you. Or, when it engages – it ENGAGES and you are off with a huge streak of burning rubber.

But what absolutely did it was a catastrophic failure to proceed leaving the car stuck in neutral – and a $550 towing bill to get it to the dealer in Montreal from Ottawa. And finding out this kind of failure isn’t at all uncommon. And costs $10K+ to rectify out of warranty.

So with a year left on the warranty, it’s time to find something else. And that something else will be a DB9 – with an automatic. The Vantage is a great car – but if you get one, get a 6-speed.

Saying Goodbye is Hard (or Not)


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Originally uploaded by rdonovan

Moving to the Northeast and Ottawa has been quite an adjustment from an automotive pursuit. In Seattle you are spoiled with weather that permits driving any car that can withstand rain all year long – on salt free roads. And parking is plentiful. So is the ability to get exotic cars serviced.

Ottawa is filled with snow and salt. This means an all-wheel-drive vehicle that can withstand salt. And anything else has to stay in the garage for half the year. Parking is not plentiful – spaces are small. Most people take the bus/train (except when there is a strike – sigh). And getting an exotic serviced – you will be driving to Montreal or Toronto.

This has caused a reset of my automotive hobby. My daily driver, a Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE, fits right in. But for a “fun” car – neither of the Bentley’s are a fit – both size-wise or service-wise. So with reluctance I parted with my 2005 Continental GT and my 2000 Arnage R. The Continental is not a car I will miss – it is an excellent automobile but it lacks the kind of quirky character I desire in a British car. The Arnage is everything I ever wanted in a British saloon. I will miss it dearly. But, the Arnage of my desire is not this example – but actually one of the Series II cars made between 2005-2009, preferably a special series such as the Blue Train, Diamond, Concours, or Final Series. And it certainly does not fit an Ottawa lifestyle.

So with fondness I bid these wonderful machines farewell – and welcome a brand new Aston Martin V8 Vantage. I never thought I would ever own a new Aston Martin. But, year-end specials made that an extremely attractive option – and less expensive than most pre-owned examples. This car also happens to be fully loaded – in my favorite color scheme (identical to 007’s). (In other words, if I commissioned a new example – it would be identical to this car.) It is not a winter-driver, but can at least be serviced in Ottawa. My DB7 Vantage was my favorite of the sports cars I owned. My only criticisms were size/weight and lack of luxury amenities. The V8 Vantage addresses both of these in spades – being significantly smaller, lighter, and gadget-laden. It also has the ironic benefits of great mileage and cargo capacity – qualities not associated with tiny sports coupes.

It shall be fun to be driving like Bond again! 😀

The Ill-Fated Voyage East

I decided that it would be a good idea to drive the Bentley Arnage from Seattle to Ottawa. I set out on a beautiful morning in Seattle in early October. I made it through to Missoula, Montana without incident – and saw some extremely beautiful sights along the way.

Between Missoula and Butte, record-setting snow set in. The Arnage is a rear-drive car. It does not handle snow well. It uses tires that were designed specifically for it – and there are no snow tires available that will fit. The traction control proved to be useless – all I ended up doing was losing all power – and having to turn it off.

After spending the night in Butte, I ended up flying back to Seattle, via Salt Lake City – on the sole flight per day that comes in and out of Butte. There is no ILS nor control tower, so the pilot had quite a challenge getting in and almost had to turn back. (He eventually made it, but landed with the wind versus against – given a clearer approach flying in the opposite direction.)

The car was retrieved a week later after the record-setting snow thawed out – and the roads were again passable.

Given that I live now in a city that is under snow almost half of the year, this requires some re-thinking. Hmm…in the meantime – enjoy the snapshots from earlier in the day at: http://flickr.com/photos/rdonovan/sets/72157608189691237/.