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Andrew Morland hard at work in his 1933 MG L Type to take second in class just 0.24 seconds behind the raucously quick, supercharged 1931 MG Monthléry of Barry Foster



All photos and video © Peter Osborne

 t  took over 1,000 years, but the Brits have repaid the Norman Conquest of 1066 with automotive interest. You can barely move in some French rural areas without encountering Brits on some sort of classic tour, rally or motorsport adventure.

As Normandy is such a short Ferry run from UK, it bears the brunt of our motorised troops, so we went along  armed with our best Franglais language skills to see how their classic scene compares to the UK.

August Bank Holiday weekend saw Webmeister Osborne and writer Jeremy Walton aboard the Brittany Ferry Etretat, fittingly named as that was one of the coastal towns we’d circle in pursuit of a 1-mile hillclimb.

You can see the course in reverse on our video (left), note that the road is wider and smoother than many UK climbs with comparatively gentle curves rather than hairpins and U-bends frequently found in UK classic climbs.

 The 20th edition, entitled 20-eme Course de cote PEA VHC Etretat/Benouville, was an event of strong character that harks back to British motorsports 50 years ago. Catering for comparatively modern racers within the French Mountain climb cup, the regional Championship event is supported in a series of entirely separate runs and rewards for a multitude of old cars.

Thanks to friend, and pre-war MG L-type competitor, Andrew Morland we had heard a great deal about the event. Andrew ensured we talked to many of the diverse UK competitors who form the bulk of the 50 plus vintage and classic entry.

You swiftly learn just how fortunate we are in Britain with the depth of our older car resources from vehicles to skilled specialists. In France you admire the rear-motor Alpine coupés and Gordini saloons because they are a rare sight in the UK; but when you see the entry lining up you soon realise that Britain is unique in the variety of vehicles we accommodate under the lazy classic label.

Saturday scrutineering and paddock are now in a grassy farmyard; but until recently, it was much classier in Etretat town square.

The sheer variety of competitors is rammed home with well prepared British club stalwarts from Hillman Imp to Escorts and MGs, post and prewar. Numerous though the MGs are, there’s also a phalanx of ferociously elitist ‘Chain Gang’ Frazer-Nashes, 14 of which completed the event, the quickest a gallant 17th overall of 54 classified finishers.

There were seven MGs, but they had the speed advantage, Darren Brock finishing a fine third overall in a very well executed MGC within a shimmering Sebring wide body of GT outline.

We mentioned diversity. It would be hard to find many events with an entry that included an Austin 7 Pigsty Special – neatly steered and entered by Paul Geering – versus thoroughbred hardware Cooper Bristol single seaters of the 6th-placed T23 (Julian Wilton) and T24-5 off 26th finisher, Jonathan Harmer.

Our MG chums, running pre-war types including Montlhéry, PB, NA and L1 were generally competitive. Class winner Barry Foster is an established specialist in pre-war MG preparation and steers with extraordinary courage and precision, but Morland was just 0.24 seconds adrift. Programme cover girl and ladies award winner Rachael Holdsworth also finished honourably in the PB prepared by husband Graham.

We did enjoy the event and the relaxed hospitality delivered by organiser Michel Deldon (who also drove his Alfa Giulia TI Super con brio); but sadly have to report that the Sunday final runs were marred by a severe accident. One that resulted in life-changing leg injuries for a lady marshal and the miraculous escape of the man alongside her.

Worth taking trip over the channel just for the French experience alongside classic British automotive treats.


Jeremy Walton


TOP TEN TIMES – Historic Class

1, Bob Gibson (Alpine A110) — 59.139 seconds

2, Tony Gomis (Marcadier CanAm 2.0) — 59.357s

3, Darren Brock (MGC GT Sebring) — 1m.00.260s

4, Mark Hobbs (Ford Escort Mk2-Pinto) — 1m01.538s

5, Mark Linforth  (Ford Escort Mk1) — 1m 01.562s

6, Julian Wilton (Cooper Bristol T23-mk2) —  1m 02.269s

7, Johnny Hulme (Alpine A110) — 1m 2.836s

8, Dave Wheeler (Renault 8 Gordini) — 1m03.424s

9, Tim Greenhill (MGB) — 1m03.450s

10, Duncan Richardson (Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GT) — 1m 4.256s




MG crews in the paddock (left to right):

Alain Muckensturm (NA), Andrew Morland (L1), Barry Foster (Monthléry), Rachael Holdsworth (PB).