Alastair's Blog

The London to Lisbon Rally – 2013

Alastair Caldwell - Thursday, May 09, 2013

Just back from the glorious London to Lisbon Rally, managed to achieve a Blue Riband and finish 4th in class and 13th overall out of a field of 50 so not a bad result after a few problems before and during the event!

This was the 6th edition of this Rally and having competed before I was keen to do well and decided to take the Mercedes 280SL Sports with me after it served so well in India. But timescales were against me and word arrived that the Mercedes wouldn’t get back in time due to all manner of shipping controls, so I opted  to take the Rolls Royce Silver Cloud llI which I used for the TransAmerica trip last year.  Easy decision for me, but Joe had a lot of work to do to get it ready in time! 

After seven years, the epic London-Lisbon Reliability Trial and Tour 6th edition finally arrived. It's open to all cars up to end of 1983 and the 2,000-mile Classic Trial features ‘Tulip’ regularities, handling and manoeuvrability tests. Starting in the UK we were destined to travel through France and Spain arriving at the finishing line in Portugal 10 days later. 

The rally was long and eventful – but then what else would you expect from me!

The route included some of the best scenery in England, France, Spain and Portugal.  Here’s a rundown of the event and my ‘memorable moments. There’s more detail on my facebook page. For those of you that don’t already follow, might be an idea to follow now as there are more rallies coming, you can also see instant comments on my twitter channel so you can follow me there as well.

I've just started a youtube channel as well so you can also see  some 'interesting videos from the rally on there'!

Day 1: Saturday 27th April – Greenwich to Portsmouth

Laurel Smith, my co-driver, and I left Greenwich after being flagged off the starting line by João de Vallera, the Portuguese Ambassador to the UK, and were among 50 classic cars. The first day is always a challenge getting to grips with the route, trials and of course coaxing the Rolls along. We had a few problems with battery charging and some penalties on regularities and tests, but finished the day in a respectable 4th in class position and 23rd overall.

Day 2: Sunday 28th April – Saint Malo to Poitiers (France)

The car ferry was a sight to behold with 50 classic cars crammed nose to tail in rows – onlookers were abundant! The Rolls got a lot of admiring glances and a worthy mention in the press release from the organisers, Hero.  We had a pretty uneventful day, made good progress and ended up two positions, 2nd in class and 16th in the field. Going well! We went to Nogaro circuit for some more tests. I think the last time I was there was with McLarens testing with Tambay for Monaco 72.

Day 3: Monday 29th April – Poitiers to Pau (France)


Weather today was marvellous, cloudless sky and sunny and by the end of the day we had kept pace at 2nd position in  class and increased our overall standing by 1 to 15th. We had split into two groups last night in different hotels and convened at a local classic car enthusiast’s garage as the starting point. The route to Pau was split into two session with lunch at the posh Château de Mirambeau with a code board section and unscheduled  French roadworks (!) which extended the days timing. 



Day 4: Tuesday 30th April – Pau to Burgos (Spain)

A few cars had retired over the few days and we started down to 42 crews in torrential rain – just like being at home in the UK! Our goal today was to pass into Spain and there were some fears that the rain might change into snow across the pass, but in the end unfounded and our way was clear – but wet! The test at Miranda Kart was great fun and saw us just drop to 3rd in class as we reviewed the days trials (and tribulations!) over dinner at the Hotel Palacio de la Merced and found out that another crew had pulled out due to clutch failure on their Mustang. 

Day 5: Wednesday 1st May – Burgos to Leon (Spain)


Half way through the event as we got up today, day 5. The roads ahead of us were completely empty on a bank 
holiday Monday. Made the driving today great fun as we just had to concentrate on the trials and each other. Clear streets gave us good views and spotted this ‘car art’ along the way: 

Thought it was going to be a good viewing day, but early mist that gave way to sun was soon replaced by torrential rain – very challenging driving for the whole field. But managed to increase our position in class to 3rd and move two further up the field into 13th overall.  

In the evening we enjoyed some local tapas, a favourite of mine, and saw the splendid cathedral, a sight to behold, before retiring to the hotel for some well earned rest ready to start again in the morning as we head further across Spain with some more bad weather forecast. 

Day 6: Thursday 2nd May – Leon to Ourense (Spain)

Today we saw the best of Spain spectacular scenery under clear blue skies and warming sunshine (a welcome change from the rain and snow we had experienced on the last few days). Two speed test tables today instead of the normal Jogularity style. Ending up at the Cabanas Kart circuit under the watchful eye of a local TV crew. Mirrors and make up to the ready as we got ready to complete the kart trial. After solid morning and afternoon events we ended the day at the same position, ready for a good meal and a well earned rest.

Day 7: Friday 3rd May – Ourense to Vila Real (Portugal)

Today saw us aiming to cross the border and a different challenge for the organisers today. The café next to the Spanish/Portuguese customs had shut down! So the planned coffee break after crossing into Portugal saw members of Hero fetching a generator to have coffee and cakes ready and waiting for us as if nothing was untoward.  We had two kart circuits today and at lunch we thought we were in for some trouble as he local police arrived in numbers – only to discover that they were just car enthusiasts like everyone else. No trouble just genuine admiration. The rally remained on Spanish time even though we were crossing time zones – so that made it easier to manage throughout the day, moving up one place to 12th overall.

Day 8: Saturday 4th May – Vila Real to Caramulo (Portugal)

We went to a race track today and were greeted by a photo of me and Cat in the Alfa taken at the first London to Lisbon rally. Talk about Déjà vu! 

Saturday and Sunday rolled into one as it was the roll into the finishing line. We did the Caramulo hill-climb which was supported by more police activity as they shut over 2.5km of public road so that we could run the event unhindered. 

Not sure we’d see this level of cooperation in every country! We two runs at the hill climb looping back after the first run to tee up for the second hill climb. Dinner was held at the Caramulo Museum across the road from tonight’s hotel. 

The museum houses a collection of classic and historic cars of all types, including some iconic Formula 1 cars. We had free access after dinner to see the cars which included: 

 » The oldest car in Portugal, still in running condition, an 1899 Peugeot;
 » The Bugatti 35B that in 1931 established the speed record in Lehrfeld at more than 200 km/h;


And of course
 » The Rolls-Royce that was used by Queen Elizabeth II, President Eisenhower, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II during their state visits to Portugal

Day 9: Sunday 5th May – Caramulo to Lisbon (Portugal)

Hardly seems like yesterday that we left Greenwich, yet here we are ready for the final day of the rally. Today we had a real spot of bother as we came to a halt on the hill climb test completely. I had to get Laurel out and over to the Armco in case the next car hit us - they go at one minute intervals. We were there for more than a minute but eventually the car improved and we did the hill but with lots of penalties. The car seems to be able to tell when it's on a test - behaves fine then as soon as a test comes up it misbehaves!

By the end of today we’ll have travelled 2,386 miles, across 4 countries and had 25 regularities and 14 tests. Hot today, 27 deg C. Lots of spectators as we approached the final stretches of the rally. 

The police were there again paving the way for us. We stopped in the historic square Praca do Comercio then late afternoon, flanked by police motorcycle outriders who stopped the traffic at all junctions and allowed us to go through all the red lights to the finish line. At the finishing line we were flagged across by Her Excellency Gill Gallard the British Ambassador to Portugal together with city councillor Mr Manuel Brito. A very prestigious finish.










And, here we are, across the finishing line with the Rolls sporting my ever trusty Space Station windscreen sticker. We  finished 4th in class and 13th overall with a Blue Riband. A great rally with some superb people. Good fun all round. Roll on the next one!




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