VBOA Matters 2/2007 . A special report on the 2007 International Rally, Switzerland Ian Coomber, VBOA Chairman
This year it was the turn of the Vauxhall Owners Club of Switzerland to host the Vauxhall International Rally and what a fine job they made of it too! Club president Marlyse Haefliger and husband John led a very capable committee which provided a varied and very interesting visit to their home country. We certainly felt we had seen and experienced a lot of the area in just the three days covered by the rally timetable. We also enjoyed meeting many friends from the Vauxhall 1000 Mile Trial and the International Rallies held since in Denmark, Holland and Sweden. It was also wonderful to see the fine array of Swiss member’s cars, many of them built at the Swiss General Motors Assembly plant in Biel during the nineteen fifties and sixties.
The event was centred on Gwatt, a resort on the “coast” of the “Sea of Thun”, one of the two lakes bridged by the beautiful town of Interlaken. The lakes are ringed by some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in Europe, the Jungfrau capped with glistening snow.
But for many participants the challenge was more about getting there in the first place! With a total of 51 cars from Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, the UK as well as Switzerland, many crews had a long journey to the hotel Gwatt-Zentrum. 17 UK crews participated, Brian Davey starting from Cornwall as if the continental part of the journey was not sufficient a challenge. The majority of the UK cars were from the Vauxhall Owners Club (1903 – 1957), with the Droop Snoot Group also well represented. VBOA Secretary, Barry Harvey, took his PA and with wife Vera gallantly planned and led a small convoy of the older cars across the Channel to France. With the British invasion well under way, those from Denmark and Sweden were able to take a car train from Hamburg to the Swiss border, but still had a mammoth journey to reach the train.
Despite everyone preparing their cars for weeks, soaring temperatures in France troubled both cars and crews. Peter & Anne McGreal’s J-Type from Ireland had suffered a differential fault on the way to Dover and VOC parts miracle worker John Novell had robbed one from a car in Surrey so that Barry Harvey could deliver it to the docks. It was eventually put in the car in Gwatt. Despite, or as it turned out because of, fitting new plugs, the Coombers had the ignominy of seeking help in Dunkerque for a 5-cylinder Hurlingham, Brian Davey’s long suffering DX developed a craving for water and VBOA Treasurer Anne Norris had cooling problems with her Vectra GSi. It was also a bad week for PA overdrives, Barry losing his before leaving and Charlie and Carol Barron’s example acting up on the way. Dramas apart, everyone eventually made it to Gwatt on the Friday afternoon to be greeted by a ferocious downpour. Welcome to Switzerland! Parking with a guard was provided and the older cars were allocated an undercover area for overnight. In the hotel an informal reception and dinner got the conversation flowing. The VOC Switzerland had done a magnificent job attracting sponsors and we all got a very full goodie bag and an ample supply of wine and beer was evident every evening.
On Saturday morning we set out for a cheese factory in the famous Emmental region and Martin Ruegger had laid out a fine route with a perfect road book for us to follow. It took in a lot of interesting scenery: typical Swiss villages, a fairly stiff climb and descent and many of the characteristic roofed bridges across the frequent rivers. On arrival at Affoltern we had the first chance to see all the cars together. I know I am biased, but with three 30-98s, a magnificent OD 23-60 tourer, a Wingham G-Type Big Six cabriolet, two DX coupes and Swiss built F and P models joining the more familiar British models the line-up was a feast for the eyes. Nigel and Christine Gray had brought their Velox bodied 30-98 from the UK to join two local cars, one of them a very rare and perfectly presented Wensum bodied example. We took lunch, were serenaded by alpenhorn players (a much nicer sound than I had imagined), tried to beat our hosts at a car quiz set by Marc Oesterle (and failed) and toured both the modern and the original cheese making facilities.
On return to the hotel, time was found by several crews to catch up with the “maintenance” of their cars. The McGreal differential was swapped and brake problems were sorted on Ted and Marian De Wilde’s PC and Christer and Anne-Christin Hansson’s Astra Coupe.
That evening the meal was enlivened by the surprise appearance of Elvis who remarkably had a fine command of the local language, but somewhat less of the lyrics he was singing! Despite this he sounded good and put on a great show for us. Many thanks to the VOC Switzerland members who generously sponsored his appearance.
Sunday dawned dull with low cloud over the mountains. Not good news as we were scheduled to leave the cars parked for the day and take a combination of coaches, a funicular railway, a gondola ride and a steamer to experience the very heights of what Switzerland had to offer. First the coach to Beatenbucht, just past Interlaken, where we were greeted by an “oompah” band on a ship sailing past the jetty. Marlyse swears it was not part of the event but it was a very nice welcome all the same. Then onto the funicular railway to Beatenberg which at 1100 metres was only half way up our goal for the day, the 1935 metres (6300 feet) of the Niederhorn. The remainder of the ascent was made in a gondola lift, the spectacular view unfortunately (fortunately for some!) obscured by low cloud and mist. After time at the top with the weather gradually lifting to give spectacular glimpses of our even larger neighbours, it was time to return to lake level and join our steamer to Interlaken for sightseeing and shopping. Generously part-sponsored by Marc Oesterle (whose dog, Patches, was the star of the event), the boat was exclusively ours and was well supplied with cold meats and local white wine. With the sun shining in Interlaken many opted for a leisurely session in one of the many cafes while others hit the plastic for souvenirs including cuckoo clocks and local hats. The steamer then took us down the lake (with more food and drink) to a jetty at our hotel, a fine touch at the end of a great day out.
The farewell dinner that evening gave everyone the chance to say thank you to our generous Swiss hosts and to thank them for their wonderful organisation throughout the event. We also heard from Adam and Kath Vella from the Vauxhall-Opel Owners Club of New South Wales about the 2008 International event in Australia. They received a high level of interest and they look set to get a good number of European entrants for what is sure to be the trip of a lifetime.
As some were missing the Monaco Grand Prix it was decided to run the inaugural Grand Prix of Gwatt with each club entering a balloon propelled racing car found in our goodie bags. Despite rampant cheating by people widely thought to be pillars of society, a winner was eventually declared in the form of the Vauxhall Owners Club Holland with the DSG a close second.
Monday was the official end to the meeting but many had elected to stay on for a few extra days. Unfortunately Switzerland chose this precise moment to be hit by some of the heaviest snow fall ever seen in late May. Nigel and Christine Gray bravely set off in teaming rain for Verdun, but Anne Norris and Keith Mayman had to abandon their planned trip to Grindlewald as police had to shut roads because of trees felled by the freak snow storm. Also disappointed was Barry Harvey who had found the old “three passes” test- route used by Vauxhall Engineering to test the PA prototypes and was intent on taking his PA on the nostalgic route. He too was turned back along with a gallant band of VOC and DSG followers.
Eventually the weather relented and everyone was able to continue with their plans for onward vacation (Trish and Alan Jones in the plucky little HA were last heard of in Como) or the run home. After numerous adventures all the VOC UK contingent returned safely. It had truly been a great adventure!
Pictures of the event are on the gallery section of the VBOA website at www.vboa.org.uk.