One of the attractions of a rural location it’s that everything is spread out. And with one of the best coastlines in the world, travelling between them is never dull. But imagine if you could inject some extra fun into the mix, by leaving your daily driver in the car park and hiring a head-turning classic car for the day.
Well you can, and I went along on one of Highland Classic Car Hire’s organised day tours with five others to get the full experience of driving everything in the fleet.
Owned by Dave Lyons, a self-confessed petrolhead and classic car fanatic, his current clutch (if you’ll pardon the pun) of six classics is just his latest of more than 100 cars he’s owned since he became of driving age. In fact, his very first car was a Triumph Spitfire. Perhaps not so much a classic back in the early 80’s, but nevertheless very much built in the classic style.
The May Day Tour, to be clear, was a tour day in May, not a predetermined emergency waiting to happen. Six cars for six drivers, who all get to swap and drive one of each of the following:
- Eleanor – 1967 Ford Mustang V8
- Gus – 1972 Triumph Stag
- Coleman – 1973 MGB GT
- Skye – 1977 Triumph TR6
- Little Nelly – 1969 Austin Healey Sprite
- Rona – 1967 Rover P6 2000sc Automatic
We arrived at base to be given our ‘rotas’. Dave gave us a run-down of all the cars, and my starter for 10 was the Stag.
My first drive might have been my first choice, the gleaming red Stag. When I picked up my first car in 1983, my little brown mini was parked next to one of these beasts. I remember wishing I was driving away in the Triumph instead. And here I am forty years later, doing just that.
The sun was shining, so the offer of the convertible being converted was taken, and we all set off on the first leg of the trip.
Heading for Duffus Castle with a mini detour to Burghead, the Triumph was a comfortable drive, the roar of the 3.5-litre engine made all the more clear with the hood down, and the full power never realised being part of a convoy, the drive along familiar roads put a smile on my face that was to last the whole day long.
We stopped at Kula Coffee Hut for refreshments, a lovely little coffee cart in the shadow (not literally) of Duffus Castle. I had an Americano, but it definitely wasn’t to keep me awake, the next motor would do that.
Austin Healey Sprite
At each switchover, everyone was briefed on the next car’s ‘characteristics’ – the Sprite has a super-tight gearbox and for sure you were in third gear by the time you were doing 20mph. While gear-changing is fun in these old cars, it’s also nice to be able to look around at the scenery, and being able to keep it in top and enjoy the road has its advantages too.
It’s a sprite by name and spritely by nature. Getting separated at a junction was easily rectified by the nifty acceleration. It’s the smallest engine in the group at only 1275cc but well-tuned for the purpose with a lightweight body. It also has the smallest steering wheel you could imagine, which means you have to stay focussed on your driving line, but everything about this car, including the gorgeous pale blue metallic paint job, makes this a super fun car to drive.
I drove the Sprite from Duffus to Cullen. We stopped briefly at Lossiemouth to take in the staggering view of the east beach from Prospect Terrace, where you can see the sands of the Moray Coast stretch out for miles.
Back in another Triumph and I’d already learned to cope with a right-stalk indicator. But I just needed to remember to switch it off after my turn!
The weather was being kind and whether by accident or design, I was in my third convertible in a row and the sun hadn’t stopped shining. I was starting to worry about sunburn on my bald patch. Actually, I wasn’t. The wind you get from an open-top is simply the best way of cooling the heat from the sun
It’s quieter and smaller than the Stag, expectedly, and more compact driving position. Like the Stag, it has every dial a driver could need, including volts, oil pressure and water temperature.
Lunch at the Royal Oak
Arriving at Cullen, we were lucky to be able to park in front of the viaduct. An impressive sight to have all six cars lined up under this piece of industrial architecture.
This was our lunch stop, and we walked through to The Royal Oak from here.
I had scampi and chips. I used to think it was weird to have a ‘chippy dish’ in a restaurant, but as long as I never ask for mushy peas or a deep-fried Mars bar, I’ll carry on.
In fact, it varies wildly from place to place, and I have to say, The Royal Oak got everything right, the scampi was perfectly cooked, the batter was thin, and just to my liking. It wasn’t overcooked or undercooked, the chips were good and the tartare sauce wasn’t acidy. The cheesecake I had for dessert was pretty good too.
It doesn’t look like a luxury ride from the outside. But looks can be deceptive. The minute you slump into the soft leather seat, you’re in for a treat.
Dave calls it the ‘magic carpet ride’, and he’s right. It’s like armchair driving. It’s automatic, so no gear-changing. Power steering, so not much to do there either. In fact, it feels like one of those fairground rides where you know you’re being guided around a track, but you turn the steering wheel anyway just for fun.
What you have to remember is that this car is 47 years old. It’s such a high standard of luxury for that age. And Dave tells me that this car is rarely his customers’ first choice… until they drive it.
So from here, I took the MG away from the coast and through the winding roads of the Moray farmland. But this was a sportscar with a lid. So it would be quieter right? Well, not really. Whether it was road noise, the gearbox, or wind from the MG aerodynamics, there were noises coming out of everywhere. But good noises.
But hey for the same reasons you don’t go to a heavy metal concert and complain about the noise, neither do you hire a classic and expect to be able to hear the clock tick. In fact, I would even go so far as to say, the car was singing to me. Maybe it was Booker T and the MG’s.
I drove the MG to Craigellachie, and if it wasn’t for the single remaining car being the 4.7-litre Mustang, I would have stuck with it. Not only was it singing to me, it was cuddling me and gripping me. There was nothing loose on this car! the steering was tight – a little heavy – but reassuringly accurate and completely lag-free. I yearned for more S-bends.
Our last stop for the day, for a quick refreshment. I had an Americano (well I was just about to take ownership of the Mustang!), the weather was good enough to sit outside, and we were unexpectedly entertained by the barista.
And finally, the piéce de resistance.
This is Man V Food without the food, the biggest, eye-popping dish on the menu!
As the itinerant writer, I think I was given this car last on purpose. I also got to break away from the pack to position myself for a convoy photo.
Hell yeah! Me, the Mustang and the Moray outback. ‘Have you ever driven a left-hand drive’ Dave asked me as I peppered the hotel window with gravel chips. Oh wait a minute, that was the dream I had later!
No, I sedately moved along the A95.
It IS a sedate car (when you want it to be), It’s big, bulky, heavy yet comfortable. It can be whatever you want it to be. But with 4.7 litres of piston space, it’ll run like a horse (mustang, horsepower, I get it), but it’s not so much that it’s fast, it’s the grunt when it starts, when you pull away, it’s the wide berth it needs to round a corner, it’s the American muscle car feel you just can’t replicate in anything else.
It’s hard to pick a favourite. Every single car puts a smile on your face for a different reason. They all turn heads, even the Rover. I felt like I was part of a Royal cavalcade. People stopped and stared, got their phones out and filmed us driving by. When we stopped we gathered small crowds of admirers.
And, although the benefit of the day tour is to try out all the cars, the time you have in each is too short to pick a favourite. It’s like when you go to the fairground, you have a go on everything and get a different thrill from each. The same is true on this day out.
It’s a wonderful way to try out the cars, and if you do pick a favourite, you can come back for a full day or more in your chosen one.
It’s also a good way to see the Moray countryside. These cars are made for country roads – winding, narrow, and picturesque. It’s an eight-hour day, mostly in the driving seat, but it’s all over far too quickly.
Dave has designed the ultimate road trip. One hundred and twenty miles of well-picked roads, villages, shorelines and refreshment stops. Six, beautiful and well-maintained classic cars. And a memory that will last a lifetime.
The day tour was provided by Highland Classic Car Hire