An Alfasud Road Trip
One of the downsides of running a classic driving experience business is that, ironically, you don't get to spend much time behind the wheel of classic cars. For one simple reason: they're being driven by customers. And we're usually busy 7 days a week running experiences.
We do get to drive the road trips we create, but usually from the wheel of a 4x4 towing a trailer.
Lockdown, of course, should have changed all that. Cars mothballed, time on our hands. But it's only been in the last few weeks that we've actually been able to get out and drive.
So we have. During the lockdown I've been reworking all of our road trips and Classic Taster routes to make them better - with new routes using different roads. Our new base in Bromsgrove has made a lot of this possible - it's much better located for the roads we really enjoy.
A couple of weeks ago, with a free afternoon from business planning, DIY and allotment fettling, I decided to hit the road.
Step One: Choose Your Wheels
Before you can decide where to drive, you need to decide how to drive there.
Great Driving Days may have some lovely cars on its fleet but, for me, there was only ever one choice.
An Alfa Romeo Alfasud was the first classic car I owned, fulfilment of a childhood dream. Now I am lucky enough to own a 1982 Ti Quadrifoglio (Green Cloverleaf in less prosaic English), which our workshop restored last winter. Although I've owned it for 10 years I've only done 3,000 miles in it. That partly reflects how much free time classic car hire provides, but also the car's overall low mileage of just 41,000.
The Alfasud is perfect for Britain's many B-roads and minor roads. Small, light, nimble and with just 105 bhp, you can wring fun out of the Sud without breaking any speed limits. Although newer rivals like the Golf GTI comprehensively out-performed the Alfasud by the time the Ti Green Cloverleaf was launched, the car still had one of the best front wheel drive chassis around and its 1.5 Boxer engine was both characterful and provided a low centre of gravity.
So the ideal wheels for a B-road blast around the Malvern Hills.
Step Two: Choose Your Route
The Malvern Hills are one of my favourite destinations, a strange oasis of calm and beauty separating the rolling, rugged country to the west from the flat plains of the east. Our Malvern Loop road trip is a 70 mile circuit of these great natural landmarks, mixing winding Worcestershire backroads behind the Hills with flat, fast roads in front of them.
Normally we run the Malvern Loop road trip over 3 or 4 hours and customers drive three different cars during the day, with a break. With limited time and, due to lockdown, nowhere to stop, I decided to tackle it in one go.
Step Three: Hit The Road
The joy of this route is its variety. There's a long, flowing run out along the A443 towards Tenbury Wells, the road winding and rising as it clears Droitwich and Ombersley, before reaching Great Witley. This fast, relatively busy road is a chance to get comfortable with the car and the drive.
The Alfasud is great for this kind of trip. Where some cars are suited to motorways, others to fast, sweeping A-roads, the Sud is at home on any road where 60 is the limit. And your soundtrack is a crackling, fizzing Boxer engine. That engine's low centre of gravity means that the car stays very flat through even tight corners, a process helped along by sharp steering and instant throttle response. Unlike some hot hatches, Alfa found a sweet balance between sharp handling and compliant ride, so the car, even on fat-for-the-period tyres, is never as tiring to drive as some of its competitors.
The downsides of Alfasud driving will be familiar to any Italian car enthusiast - an ape-like driving position - even with adjustable steering column, squidgy rather than supportive seats and pedals best suited to a ballerina. But these problems dissolve away as soon as you get on the road.
From Great Witley the route turns off onto the B4203 towards Bromyard, one of our top five driving roads thanks to its constant demands on the driver. The road winds and rises and dips across Worcestershire, constantly providing new views and new challenges to anyone tackling it for the first time. It's no surprise that Shelsley Walsh, one of Britain's oldest motorsport venues, has its home nearby.
Just before the unspoilt market town of Bromyard, we cut left across Bromyard Downs, which provide stunning panoramic views across to the Welsh Borders and Black Mountains.
Shortly after the route picks up the B4220, which provides yet more great views, including a first glimpse of the Malverns, as it runs faster and straighter - but with a few tricky tight bends - across towards the Hills.
The ascent to the top of the Hills is via a narrow, very winding road that finally, eventually emerges on the scenic drive along the Hills' western edge. The time and the ascent prove just how high these unusual hills are and once at the top the views are remarkable. The atmosphere is also noticeably different. You feel one slight step removed from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
The drive along the Malverns is a welcome break from the demanding turns of the last 20 miles. It's slow - there's a 30 mph limit - and gentle as you trundle along behind sightseers.
Eventually a left turn arrives to take you back down the Hill and across the plains towards Pershore. The contrast is immediately striking - the views are expansive but flat and the road is straight and long.
High speed is not really the Alfasud's forte. Thanks to its low driving position, small size and general lack of protective metal, sub-60 mph speeds feel much, much faster than they are. So as the road stretches out across the Vale of Evesham, it's best to stick to 60. Or less.
On this side of the Hills the A4104 is faster and busier, but still scenic, interesting and surprisingly quiet as it passes through villages and the pretty riverside town of Upton Upon Severn. The it's on to Pershore, famous for its plums, after which the roads get smaller and narrower.
Between Pershore and our base in Bromsgrove there is a wealth of quiet, undiscovered minor roads that are entertaining for the driver and scenic for the passenger. We run all of our Classic Taster driving experiences through this region - they barely hit a B or A road on the whole 20 mile drive.
Finally, after 73 miles it's back to base. The Alfasud has entertained, even if twisting and twirling the unassisted wheel has given me a bit of a workout. And the weather was glorious - the perfect way to enjoy this beautiful part of the world.
You can drive this route on our Malvern Loop half day road trip. To find out more CLICK HERE