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La Dolce Vita: “London Calling”, 5th September 2013

London Rallly

Who could forget the scenes of Marcello Mastroianni driving around the streets of Rome, (forgetting it was a Triumph for a moment), beneath the stars with the voluptuous Anita Ekberg by his side, before she rollicked carefree in the waters of the Trevi Fountain in Federico Fellini’s cinematic masterpiece, “La Dolce Vita”. Described as “Marvellous, Electrifying and Wonderful” on the sleeve of my copy of the DVD. Regrettably, Ekberg at her curvaceous best would have probably baulked at the idea of parading herself before the pigeons and the crowds in Trafalgar Square, even if we could have got the cars close enough!

However, as Paul Weller sang; “London calling to the faraway towns” or in this case Bromley, Petts Wood and the southern extremities of the county of Kent. And it was from here that our cavalcade of Italian bella autovettura Italiano set off in answer to the call.

London Rallly

Il Duce, Doug Mastroianni and his band of brothers; Yours truly (105 Giulia Spider S2), Clive Baker (ditto) and Steve Watts (916 Spider Phase 1), converged on The Sun in The Sands public house near Blackheath at 7ish, ready to ‘paint the town rosso’ with a bit of Italian flare. The prancing horses of Kent had pitched up to see if Park Lane was truly a wash with the prancing horses of Maranello, (courtesy of the United Arab Emirates!).

First, we had to get on to the world famous Sun In The Sands Roundabout; known to everyone who has ever listened to a London traffic report at 6 am. The typical south London driver can be counted on to show due deference to a classic car…..NOT. A couple of laps later, I flashed Clive onto the roundabout and we caught up with Doug and Steve on the A102(M). Then through the Blackwall Tunnel, hoods down. Surprisingly there is no longer a need to hold your breath for 3 minutes owing to excellent modernisations carried out on the tunnel ventilation. Once out the other side, we turned left and headed for the West End past Covent Garden Market, Canary Wharf and through the Limehouse Link. Unfortunately the 30mph speed limit gave no opportunity to buzz the exhausts, much as we tried. Then once through the tunnel we were off to the Tower of London. Fortunately, the sun was beginning to set which meant that when we reached the ‘Walkie Talkie’, there was no fear of Steve’s bonnet being melted!

London Rallly

Leading the group, (the route in my head), was challenging but not as challenging as bringing up the rear when we came upon the many traffic lights in town. I was unable to get any photos of us driving down the Embankment. Maybe the Metropolitan Police might send us some….I hope not.

As if the drivers of south London were bad enough, the drivers of Italy were worse. And there was a surprisingly large number of them on the road. Once they saw our Alfa Romeos they were somehow transported back to the gyratory outside the Colosseum in Rome. There must be a rule in Italy that says “Always turn left from the right-hand lane, cutting suicidely across everything on your nearside”.

Once past Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, we settled down onto the Thames Embankment. This was a little less crazy. A quick U-turn at Temple Tube Station, back up to Blackfriars Bridge Road and left into Tudor Street, before arriving at the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple. Originally the Head Quarters of the Knights Hospitalier aka the Knights Templar. We were able to leave our steads privately and securely within the grounds of the Inn just as the sun was setting. This was good as Steve’s window wouldn’t go up and it would make it easier for Doug to carry out rolling repairs if necessary.

London Rallly

From here we decamped on foot in the balmy evening, (Doug ‘Tin Tin’ Hodson) in his shorts, (no sign of Snowy tonight) and settled in for a pint at the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, opened in 1667 after the Great Fire of London. The Snug bar is precisely that, with wooden benches and tables, oak panelled walls and a straw covered floor. A place steeped in history.

Then once darkness had descended back to the cars and off for the final push. Not before Doug had fiddled under the bonnet for a few minutes, (me holding the torch), in order to coax his beloved Duetto back into life. Then up Fleet Street onto the Strand past the Royal Courts of Justice, left at St Clement Danes and down onto the Embankment past the London Eye, The Festival Hall, Cleopatra’s Needle and on to the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben. Then around Parliament Square, Westminster Abbey, the Supreme Court of Judicature and behind Horse guards to Buckingham Palace. A ‘friendly’ cabbie lent out of his window and shouted, “Sort your lights out mate, you’re blinding everyone”. What could he have been talking about? What was that curious blue prism illuminated on my dashboard? I hadn’t noticed that before….Ah, full beam. “Sorry”. Then around the back of the Queen’s house, past Number 1 London, (great address: former home of the Duke of Wellington) and up Park Lane.

London Rallly

This is where we had planned to carry out the ‘set piece’: three abreast south down the main drag. In a rush of adrenaline we went early and ended up three abreast north surrounded by taxis. Then a white Fiat 500 with green and red stripes came alongside and the ‘fit’ female passenger was going crazy, waving her arms and taking photographs of us in our Spiders. Anita might not have made it but thank you to the anonymous beauty in the Cinquecento. The lights caught us but Doug sped through. This meant he had to stop on the double red lines in Park Lane. (He has since told me that he is checking the doormat each morning for a summons!) It was soon time for Clive, Steve and me to head south. We formed up as the lights changed and we were off. What a hoot…literally horns sounding as we sped past the Dorchester back to Parliament Hill. As for the Arab Stallions….it would have been mad to take my eyes off the road. I just hope that if they were there, they enjoyed the classic Italian car show!

London Rallly

But there was a bonus. Steve wanted to go via Trafalgar square and so outside Buckingham Palace, (forgive us your Majesty if you are reading this), we were able to just about make 4 abreast as we headed down the Mall for Admiralty Arch. Take that Top Gear.…I have rarely enjoyed myself so much.

After that, it was a simple drive down Northumberland Avenue back to the Embankment with the entire Monopoly board completed.

Back out the way we came…it felt like the exit from Turin after the Italian Job. We sped out to the Limehouse Link swapping pole position as we went, before buzzing the Blackwall Tunnel and opening the throttles back into Kent.

Classic and Sports Car Magazine once claimed that the Thames Embankment at night was one of the top ten drives in the world. I am not too sure about that but as an evening out it was “Marvellous, Electrifying and Wonderful”…truly La Dolce Vita, even without Anita!

David Smith

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