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French Connection

By all accounts the sound of all of these cars starting up once the ferry docked was magical. Photo courtesy Simon Phillips

By basing the 2007 edition of the European Street Rod Nationals just over the English Channel, in Caen, in Normandy, the organisers of this long-running event ensured a healthy UK participation.  Brits had the choice of several easy Normandy ferry crossings, including one directly into Caen itself, or for those who preferred to drive, there was a 250-mile run along France’s northern coastline to this westerly destination.  The majority of rodders from this side of the Channel opted for the comfort and convenience of the ferry on Thursday – about 65 cars and their passengers.  Leaving the final decision on the route to the last minute, in order to take into account the latest weather forecast, we opted to take the DRC Review Deuce on a hastily booked Eurotunnel crossing on Friday morning.  The other good news was that Jon Golding had also opted to drive, which meant we could travel down together – he in his reworked ’32 pick-up.   

The alternative was to take the Eurotunnel and drive down

There was a certain amount of trepidation on the drive down to the Eurotunnel terminal at Ashford, as this was the first major outing for the coupe.  The previous day, a leaking transmission pan gasket had been replaced, but otherwise, the car was running well.  With a vehicle as specialised as a street rod, however, you can never be completely sure – only time would tell if we were going to have a trouble-free run.

Once on French soil, it became clear that the previous day’s weather forecast for sunshine was not entirely accurate, at least around Calais.  We were greeted by high winds and squally showers, with a bit of sunshine thrown in for good measure.  The wind was so strong that it really wasn’t safe to drive above 65mph, which meant a more leisurely pace down to Caen than anticipated.   Add in the numerous peages (toll plazas) along the way – four, by our count – and a more frequent need to stop for fuel than with a conventional car, and we made steady, rather than rapid, progress. 

As we approached the spectacular Pont De Normandie (Normandy Bridge), which crosses the river Seine near Le Havre, and is one of the longest cable-stay bridges in the world, the situation improved markedly – the sky changed to bright blue and the sun shone all of the way to Caen. 

Crossing the spectacular Normandy Bridge

On arrival in Caen mid-afternoon, we soon discovered neither of our satellite navigation systems was capable of locating our destination – the Novotel.  We were close, but it kept sending us down a narrow, one-way street to a T-junction, where there was no hotel.

Eventually we met up with hot rodder, Kev Foster, who showed us the way to the hotel, which, it turned out, was about half a mile up the road.  So much for new technology!  The rest of Friday was spent registering at the nearby showground – Domaine Beauregard, in Herouville St Clair –  catching up with old friends, chilling out in the hotel bar and grabbing something to eat at a nearby steak grill. 

Some participants set off for a local cruise (photo courtesy Dan Boone) .....

......while others headed for the Normandy coastline

Saturday morning saw the showground packed with cars before most disappeared for an organised cruise around the region.  For others, including ourselves, it was an opportunity to catch up on some local history, as it related to the Normandy landings.  A small group of us set off on an alternative “mini-cruise”, to explore the numerous gun emplacements, museums, memorials and cemeteries, which cover the whole of the coastline.   

Kev Foster (left to right), Jon Golding and Tony Nash study a map of the Normandy landings

Part of one fortification pounded to pieces, with a more intact structure in the background 

It’s only when you get there that you begin to comprehend the enormity of the task faced by the Allies, and the reason for the terrible loss of life, while trying to scale almost vertical cliffs in order to outflank entrenched German gun positions.  For instance, at La Pointe Du Hoc, a strategic point which overlooks two beaches, out of 240 US Rangers who fought their way up the cliffs to silence the enemy guns at the top, only 90 survived.   Now, of course, those gun positions would be surgically removed with laser-guided bombs, probably with very little loss of life.  

The American cemetery which overlooks Omaha Beach

While we were soaking up the local history, the main cruise group stopped off at Teddy’s Original Cars, a French hot rod shop, described by those who visited it as a real highlight and resembling a “proper” US shop inside.  It was reportedly equipped with all of the essential tools for building American-style hot rods.   Fortunately, Simon Philips took a few photos of the shop for all of us to see.

American-style rod shop in the north of France - surely not!

State of the art chassis looked good

Looks like a rare Nomad in the making. Rod shop photos by Simon Phillips

The journey back to the hotel revealed a couple of minor problems with the coupe.  Firstly, I found the door lock barrel still attached to the key in my pocket – it must have popped straight out when I thought I’d locked it.  Slightly more worrying, though, was an occasional knocking noise coming from the area of the nearside front wheel when the car was moving.  On closer inspection back at the hotel, Jon discovered the heads of two Allen bolts, which secure the disc, just sticking proud.  It was too late to attempt a repair, and would therefore have to be sorted on Sunday morning.       

Brack Packers (left to right) Dave Sturgess, Sas Hunter, Dan Boone (crouching) Smurf and Keith Atkinson

For Saturday evening, our French hosts had laid on a sizable buffet for the hundreds of participants and guests.  This seemed to go down well with the majority of diners, even if it was necessary to queue for half an hour. Afterwards, there was a live band in a separate marquee and the chance to watch lots of intoxicated Frenchmen ‘strut their stuff’ on the dance floor. 

Come Sunday, and the first job on the list had to be to secure those disc bolts.  I asked Ian McCaubrey if I could borrow his hi-lift jack to get the wheel off, and within minutes the car was in the air, and Ian was busy unscrewing the wheel nuts and removing the calliper.  For some inexplicable reason, I’d taken along some Loctite, and amazingly, it was needed. The calliper was removed, the hub pulled off, and all of the disc bolts removed and then Loctited back in position.  Thanks to the efforts of Ian and Jon Golding, the job took little more than twenty minutes.  I was blown away by the assistance I received, and once again, impressed by the helpfulness and camaraderie of the people associated with this hobby. 

A touch of light fettling on the DRCReview Deuce - thanks guys

As for the show-and-shine on Sunday, from a personal viewpoint, I found the turn-out of cars disappointing.  Considering it was an international event, there were a lot fewer Continental rodders attending than I’d imagined would be the case.  In fact, you’d find more cars at the Billing Fun Run or the NSRA Supernationals, for example.  I guess you have to remember, though, that the hobby still has some way to go in mainland Europe before reaching the level of popularity it enjoys here in the UK.  Plus of course, laws are tighter when it comes to modifying cars in France. 

Interesting spreader bar arrangement on the blue flamed coupe

To our eyes, this chopped French coupe was one of the highlights

This '34 appeared stock apart from the removal of fenders, hood side panels and bumpers.  It was very straight

This lovely '34 Coupe was once owned by Keith Atkinson

French Roadster had the frame horns removed and a neat nerf bar fitted  

There was further evidence of this limited interest by the number of trade stands, but what was interesting is that legendary American striper, Herb Martinez, had taken the trouble to attend, and was busy laying down the lines on helmets, motorcycles and hot rods throughout the course of the weekend.   

Herb Martinez adds a few licks to Sas Hunter's helmet

French artist, Guy Tempier, was a show revelation.  He had an exhibition of paintings in the Chateau, and his work was stunning.  A measure of just how good it was came when Herb Martinez purchased a piece for himself – “I just had to have it,” he commented.  Guy delivers a photo/realist style of painting, and told us he works with acrylics on canvas and also uses an airbrush to get his soft hues and blends.  He’s been painting for over 25 years, and initially started out illustrating nautical scenes before crossing over fairly recently into the hot rod scene.  As you might expect, such quality work doesn’t come cheap, and the main paintings displayed – above A1 size – were priced between 2600 and 4500 Euros.  Check out Guy’s web site at, although it’s worth noting that most of the artwork on show at the ESRA event is not yet featured there.

The artwork of Guy Tempier, with the man himself below

Come 3 pm on Sunday afternoon, and with the prizegiving completed, eight British and two French cars comprised the ESRA Top 10.  Dan Boone, Dave Sturgess, Alan Spittle, Paula Perry, Jon Golding, Kev Foster, Dee Young, and two French rodders who’s names we are still awaiting, were all deserving winners.  Simon Philips received a special award for his steel ’32 Tudor, and a pair of true enthusiasts in a converted old truck picked up the long-distance award, having driven all the way down from Finland!  Mark Belcher won the tombola prize of a very nice ’34 Coupe ‘glass body, which appeared to have been made in France.

Dan Boone and Dee Young were amongst eight British winners.  Nice to see Dee's pick-up looks just as good with the top up 

One of two French cars that earned a Top 10 selection

The second one was this heavily reworked '34 Sedan complete with airbagged suspension, one-piece running boards/fenders  and roof chop

Interesting choice of trailer-type rear lights

Simon Phillips also picked up an award, seen here with a French-owned steel Model B Sedan 

 Overall, the event was a big success.  For Brits in particular this was partly down to the huge amount of voluntary work put into it by NSRA European representative Steve Marley and his wife Di, plus the entire ESRA French team.  As with events of this type, however, it’s not just a car show but one big social occasion, and on that basis alone it was well worth making the effort to be there.

Tombola prize was this '34 Coupe body

As for the drive back to Blighty, happily, the sun shone for most of it and we cruised through France at a steady 75mph.  The wind had gone, which made for a quicker and more comfortable journey.  At least as importantly, though, the DRC Review Deuce behaved faultlessly throughout, and with this trip now completed, our confidence in the reliability of the car has been boosted even further.

Story: Andy Kirk & Graham Jones
Photos Andy Kirk unless captioned otherwise 

The Top Ten ESRA winners were:

Dan Boone               ‘32 Roadster
Dave Sturgess          ‘32 Coupe
Alan Spittle              ‘23 Centre Door Sedan
Paula Perry              ‘37 Cabriolet
Jon Golding              ‘32 Pick-up
Kev Foster               ‘34 Coupe
Dee young               ‘31 Roadster Pick-up
French entrant         ’34 Sedan
French entrant         ’32 Roadster

Not sure whether this '32 sedan was a weathered original or made to look that way

Keith Atkinson's old '34 Sedan put in an appearance

Pete Angel's blown Model A  - perhaps the first UK rod with patina?

A lot of work had gone into create a certain rustic charm about this Model B based rod, but we're unclear as to what that wooden body is for - a chicken coop perhaps?

The Top 10 line-up

It looks as if someone set out to build a boat and decided half way through to turn it into a car.  Whatever it was, it featured lots of intricate metal work 

Ok it's not a hot rod, but there was a certain charm about this Simca

Part of the line-up for the show and shine on Sunday

The Brack Pack cars created a lot of interest

Heavy flame job on this very nicely turned out '33/34 Ford

Pop Browns