Vernasca  8 km Hill Climb, Italy

Having missed the Vernasca event in 2004 at the last minute, I was keen to take part this year, with a small group of friends from the Nottinghamshire area. Transport was arranged for 6 cars – the plot was to have the cars delivered to Genoa airport on the Thursday – we fly-in and then drive a day and a half on to Vernasca.
The team was made of 3 TOPS members and 3 Nottingham “BOTTOMS”.
TOPS: Graham Burrows with Mary, Barry Cannell with Helen, and self with mentor Mike Smeeton. The “BOTTOMS” team were Jeff Edwards (Alvis), John Brydon (4 ½ Bentley) and chief Bottom Chris Jackson (Alvis), all with wives. The Brydon equipe failed the time and date test, and sent the car and luggage, but not themselves!
The transportation and fly-in worked fine – unloaded and on our way in no time. Mary Burrows had sat next to a “lovely young Italian man” on the plane who lived in Genoa and gave her helpful instructions on the route out of Genoa on to Bobbio – our anticipated overnight stop.
Thus the Burrows Targa Florio Nash sped off at a great rate on the prescribed route – taking us a little by surprise. Somehow the remainder of us managed to miss this high speed opportunity and within minutes were all charging inevitably along the wrong road. Self and Smeeton were further delayed by what looked like a major fire in the engine compartment of the Talbot Lago – when topping up with oil I managed to spill 2 pints all over the exhaust manifold – whoosh! – Flames! – lots of them. The drama was soon under control by smothering the inferno with Smeeton’s best sun hat and sundry other garments (all wrecked). In due course we caught up with the Alfa and the 2 Bottoms teams who were spotted loitering at a bar (what else should we have expected?).
Meanwhile the speeding “aged apothecary” Burrows assumed we were all ahead of him, and he would catch us up “round the next corner” in time for lunch. This misapprehension remained with him until 6.30 pm when he reached Bobbio and realised we were probably behind him!
We all spent a brilliant night in the Albergo Francesco in Bobbio – a lovely old town with some wonderful old buildings – with a very fine meal in the hotel restaurant – the Birketts and Whites (TOPS) had found us en route and joined us here.
Friday dawned another very hot day and after a leisurely breakfast we cracked off to Castell’Aquato, some 50 miles away.
The event venue was reached without any more drama, in time for signing-on and being allocated space for TOPS members by Trisha, who banished the “Bottoms” men to their true station in life.
It was great to meet up with Trisha and Richard who had just nipped over in the Zagato Alfa 1750 from Sicily or somewhere exotic, together with Kirk Rylands who was enjoying Pilks “ex works” Irish GP winning Alfa. Other TOPS members already in evidence were Chris and Sandy Wilson (Stratos), Bryn and Caroline Williams in their gorgeous 246 Dino Ferrari, the Robertsons and Edens, both in ACs

After much loitering, chatting, drinking cool beer, meeting old friends, we eventually set off for our hotel in Cadeo (a good modern hotel. Trisha said we would not like ‘their’ hotel as there was no bar!)
A quick shower then off to Castello di Vigoleno for an open-air meal in the courtyard of the fabulous medieval hilltop castle. The Grists joined us there – Paul was driving a glorious Alfa Giulia TZ2. The meal itself was delivered in similar manner to a VSCC handicap event – nobody quite knew where they were in order of courses – but anyway the location and the company was excellent.
Saturday – another blazing hot day and frantic activity in the paddock – some really potent machinery from F1 rocketsled to Fiat 500 derivatives with big engines sticking out of their backsides. By this time Chris Jackson’s Alvis had developed serious incontinence problems – but said he would give it a “go” after some quick “bodging”.
As cars lined for their first turn we retired to the bar as were numbered in the 160/180 slots. A third of the way through the enthusiastic queue of competitors, the job came to a halt – a car had burst into flames on the hill and was proving difficult to extinguish/remove (it melted to nothing) – thus more beers. Eventually we withdrew to our allocated restaurant for an excellent lunch having heard that the remaining runs were to be after lunch, when all was back to normal. We duly took our place in the queue and at the right moment roared off along the course to the next village, then up the multi-hairpin 8 km hill to the finish.
“Nottingham Bottom” Edwards lost his sparks after 200 yards, but later recovered (his tool kit is an oily rag, a hammer and a bottle opener).
Being a Vernasca virgin I took the first turn at a semi-intelligent pace and still managed to pass 4 competitors on the hill – great fun.
The evening meal in Castell’Aquato old town was again in wonderful surroundings with what promised to be a spectacular firework show – until the first firework appeared to set fire to the hillside outside the town wall – so, job stopped! But a great evening.

On Sunday morning our second run was attacked with much more urgency and I succeeded in frightening Comendatore Smeeton somewhat. Chris Jackson had greatly enjoyed a run up the hill with Kirk in the blown 1750 – a “proper” car. Barry Cannell was observed driving his Alfa as if he had just stolen it – a skill he probably developed as a teenage car thief in Bath – and Graham Burows finally threw away his usual keen eye on the fuel economy and exceeded his statutory 48 mph (its wonderful what the effect of a paying passenger has!).

With all runs completed, another very hospitable lunch, followed by a very confusing prize giving.
The final evening in Cadeo was spent in an excellent local restaurant, and in the morning we assembled, jaded, for a return run to Genoa, staying en route in Montoggio. We all arrived to meet the transporter at Genoa airport after a great run through the mountains – except the Burrows – the lovely man on the airplane had not given any instructions on how to get back into Genoa!
What a great way to spend a long weekend – in the sunshine, f****ing about in old cars – lots of cold beer – excellent company.
Great appreciation to Claudio Casali and his organisation team, and of course, our huge thanks to Trisha – molto, molto bene.