EXHAUSTED, TYRED…AND DEFLATED!
French motorway adventure leaves RPM’s Ian exhausted, tyred…and deflated!
“Don’t panic, don’t panic!” It was a classic Corporal Jones moment when your brain turns to mush and you just can’t help getting a sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach.
The famous “Dad’s Army” catchphrase was all I could think of when the dreaded dashboard red light came on ordering me to stop immediately.
Only minutes before I’d been musing on what a great job I had, and wasn’t it going well.
Here I was zipping along a near-deserted northern French motorway heading towards the Channel Tunnel without a care in the world, tunelessly singing along to the Eagles “Long Road Out Of Eden” CD.
Little did I know band founder member Glenn Frey would be dead within hours.
And only minutes later I would be helplessly waiting around in the rain for emergency recovery from a pull-in area on the A26 Autoroute near Cambrai, slap bang in the heart of the Flanders killing fields.
The reason was an unrepairable puncture that had torn a huge hole in the tread of the rear drivers’ side tyre. Of course there was no spare or emergency tyre, and the so-called repair solvent was worse than useless.
I never did find out what had happened, although it did cross my mind that the motorway surface appeared to be getting progressively worse before the danger warning light flashed. In hindsight that was the tyre deflating!
And it had all started so well only days before, when son-in-law, a.k.a. RPM Technik’s sales chief Greig, had ordered me into his office and forced me to accept a pick-up job.
“How do you fancy an all-expenses paid trip to the Alps to bring back a red-hot hatch,” he said. Well how could I refuse?
The deal entailed flying from Luton Airport to Geneva, then transferring to the premiere ski resort of Chamonix, nestling at the foot of Mont Blanc near the Italian border.
Next day I was due to meet our Welsh client – let’s call him “Gethin” – and drive back his vehicle, which wasn’t even a Porker.
You see “Gethin”, who lives in Chamonix with his family, is in the process of having a bespoke Porsche 996 CSR built by Ollie and Co.
So he was trading-in his current “fun” car, which was an immaculate 2011 silver grey Renault Megane RS250 with a claimed 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds and limpet-like roadholding. Nice! No slouch there then.
As there had finally been some desperately needed snow in recent days throughout the region, everyone in Chamonix was mightily relieved that it appeared the ski season wasn’t going to be a washout after all.
After a night in a local hotel – needless to say I was the only one there not in town for the slopes – “Gethin” and I met up and proceeded in his winter tyre-clad Mondeo estate workhorse to an out of town chalet to pick up the Megane RS.
The house was in a stunning location, surrounded by forests, slopes and peaks and with epic views for miles around. But first we had to dig out the Renault from the drifting snow that had built up over the last few days and make a few basic checks.
Finally, once that was completed, “Gethin” then drove the Megane down to the safety of the cleared and treated tarmac. We shook hands, he wished me well, and I was on my way.
That first day was a long and pretty uneventful drive on various autoroutes, passing Geneva, Dijon and Reims before calling a halt at the hilltop citadel town of Laon, where a cheap hotel for the night was quickly found.
The super smooth French motorways were roadwork-free and in the main, traffic-free, and this was on a Friday. Can you just imagine it in the UK?
But as we all know there is a price to pay and the toll charges increasingly grated, especially as I had to step out of the RS (it was a British-registered right hand drive model) and walk round to the ticket machines at the numerous barriers.
As you would expect, the car performed beautifully that day, with a super-quick takeaway and impressive agility…and attracted many admiring glances along the way.
Shame I’m not in the market for a new vehicle at the moment as the Megane would certainly be a contender.
After a fitful night’s sleep an early start beckoned in Laon so I could make the Channel Tunnel by midday and be home by mid-afternoon. It was not to be.
Who knows if the exceptional cold, frost and potholes in the hotel car park affected the tyres that morning? Fifty miles further up the A26 and I was cursing as I waited for the SANEF motorway recovery flatbed to finally arrive.
The driver, whom I chatted to in broken “Franglais”, managed to find a tyre-fitting centre 15 miles away at Arras that could supply two wide Michelin Sports Plus tyres.
No easy job as even in France they are fairly uncommon.
It was a shock when he handed over the bill for the autoroute recovery.
The fact it occurred on a Saturday afternoon made the cost just short of 300 Euros.
Outrageous! The Megane RS tyres came to another 330 Euros.
And because I was six hours late for my Channel Tunnel crossing slot – even although I had earlier informed Eurotunnel – I was forced to pay a £50 supplement before they would let me drive through the only open entry barrier.
There was no real point in arguing, as I was holding up a long queue of exasperated drivers desperate to get home. The French attendant also claimed her computer terminal was down so there was no record of my call.
So the moral of the story… if only modern day car manufacturers would at least supply an emergency tyre, it would make life a lot easier and far cheaper!
C’est la vie.
Written by Ian Boyne