Life after lockdown: Our dream road trips near and far
Our 2018 Route 66 jaunt is worthy of replication
Autocar staffers reveal the drives they’ll do when the brakes finally come off lockdown restrictions
After a few months during which our collective motoring fix has largely come from essential trips to the supermarket, the gentle easing of the coronavirus-induced lockdown has us imagining a time when life returns to normal (as opposed to ‘the new normal’ we keep hearing about).
That’s still some way off, but the gradual return of some driving freedom means we can start to dream and plan out some road trips for the future.
So these are our ultimate post-lockdown road trip suggestions – along with a slightly more achievable British equivalent. Want to suggest yours? If so, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Spa-Francorchamps for a 24-hour endurance race - Tom Morgan*
After missing out on so much motorsport, there’s only one remedy once restrictions get lifted: full immersion with a 24-hour race, and the holy trinity of European endurance events are all within driving distance. Of the three, Spa gets my vote. It’s less intense than the Nürburgring, which is as much a techno rave in the woods as a motor race, and has fielded GT cars exclusively for almost 20 years. It makes for a closer-run and easier-to-follow race than Le Mans and its prototype classes. Spa’s notoriously changeable weather often makes for exciting racing and track access is the best of the three. There’s nothing like watching Ferrari, Aston Martin and Lamborghini flying up Eau Rouge in person.
We should arrive at a GT race in a GT car, so I’ll take a Bentley Continental GT W12 for effortless long-distance cruising in comfort. Getting there from the UK begins uneventfully, with the M20 giving way to the Eurotunnel. On the French side, I’d head north via Dunkirk. Follow the coast across the border and onto the E40, which loops around Brussels, then sidestep Liège on the E42 and through picturesque Verviers before those final few country miles to the circuit. Camp if you can, and if you have to get some sleep, make sure to wake before dawn to watch the darkness give way to a misty morning before the sun rises.
When it’s time to come home, if you fancy a high-speed detour, the derestricted E40 Aachen-to-Cologne autobahn is less than an hour’s drive away.
*Closer to home: WEC six hours of Silverstone: *There’s lots of UK endurance racing, but this one is my pick. For me, it’s motorway from Surrey to Wiltshire to pick up my dad, then a mix of A429 and A44 through the Cotswolds before cross-country to Towcester in time for the grid walk.
*Deep south road trip - Rachel Burgess*
The romanticism of the American road trip is as strong today as it was in the 1950s, when it symbolised the progress of the US, not least the growth of the automotive industry.
If you fancy veering off the obvious Highway 1 or Route 66 (although do those, too, in your lifetime), a charming alternative is a tour of the deep south.
A few years ago, having flown to Atlanta, I picked up an unexpected car for the US, a Volkswagen Eos, but it proved enjoyable for its top-down motoring. If you want to splash the cash, go for an American muscle car.
From Atlanta to Chattanooga, home to North America’s only Volkswagen plant, before heading to Nashville and then Memphis. Of course, there are plenty of gargantuan highways to cover off the big miles, but go to the less obvious suburbs (as I did, thanks to Airbnb finds) and you can come across some unexpectedly enjoyable driving roads.
For a car museum fix, visit the brilliant Graceland (an unmissable place regardless), where there’s a whole museum dedicated to Elvis Presley’s best and maddest motors.
Beware power-hungry cops on town outskirts. Rumours of my being pulled over for unknowingly exceeding the speed limit despite driving at a sensible pace cannot be substantiated.
Onwards south, take a detour off Highway 55 towards Homochitto National Forest. The route to my tree-house accommodation wasn’t, let’s say, best suited to the Eos, but I managed it despite wishing for a 4x4. The quiet lanes in this part of the region are worlds away from the seven-lane highways.
A fun stop in New Orleans, which involved no driving whatsoever and much dancing and music, before weaving along the south coast to Alabama. In this part of the world, you won’t see much for miles, except for episcopal churches and fast-food joints.
After a beach stop, my circular route included a stop in Montgomery, an important and insightful town for recent black history, before finally arriving back at Atlanta.
Two weeks, 1500 miles, good company, wind in my hair and lots of Elvis and Motown blaring: few times have I felt more euphoric than this.
*Closer to home: North Coast 500: *It’s predictable for a reason: pick the right time – the shoulder season of summer where you chance good weather without the crowds – and few routes are more enjoyable or breathtaking than that of the north coast of Scotland.
*Athens to Mount Olympus - Matt Prior*
Ah, dear old hire car bingo. Remember that? When I first visited Greece, I played it and won, being pleased to be handed the keys to a Citroën Saxo (it was a while ago) for a drive from Athens, heading north through the Greek mainland.
Clearly, reason number one to do this is that there are astonishing places to visit on the way: come for the birthplace of Western civilisation and the olives but stay for the road trip.
It’s not actually a long journey. From Athens to Mount Olympus is about eight hours if you go via the World Heritage sites at Delphi (which ancient Greeks thought was the centre of the world) and the clifftop monasteries at Meteora.
Somewhere between all these, I remember a stretch of road. I’m not sure where or for how long it lasted, but it rose and fell over mountains with fabulous views and virtually no traffic, empty long corners and plenty of time to enjoy it.
I didn’t go on to Mount Olympus when I visited but next time I want to, and from viewing it online, the road – a well-finished single carriageway – looks like a similarly great one to take. Greece has tranquil islands to visit, but travelling the mainland has always felt a little underappreciated to me.
Just hope that the ‘or similar’ part of the hire car agreement treats you well.
*Closer to home: Devon: *Hmm, there isn’t really one. Maybe Winchester to the Valley of the Rocks in Devon, via Stonehenge. Pick up the A272 for a good drive. Relax during the A303. Enjoy again when you get to the A39.
*London to Anglesey - Richard Lane*
The 300 miles between London and Anglesey – ground covered with reasonable regularity by road testers – can seem like a chore. In reality, this journey is anything but, and I miss it already.
Autocar’s typical 10am rendezvous in the pitlane at Trac Môn means I leave my home before even the Tube drivers have risen. The following five hours in the saddle tell you most of what you need to write a road test, if you avoid the sat-nav’s preference to waft up the M6 from Birmingham and then track the A55 across the top of North Wales and instead go north-west as the crow flies, shooting past Shrewsbury towards Bala and then Bangor.
With the cream of the big-engined GT class, you’re crossing into Wales before you know it. Spiky supercars can labour the motorways, noisily chewing the asphalt, but the softer machines truly seem to do Archway to Brum in one languid stride.
Once you’re scaling the B4391 into Snowdonia, the fun really starts and the best cars, such as the Porsche 911, display amazing duality. Whatever you’re in, the roads are something else. As if the emptiness and scenery weren’t striking enough, the surfaces are among the finest in the country.
After activities on track (and for such a fine track, the travel would be worthwhile even were it not so spectacular), the way back is just as epic. By the time I slip back into London, at night and with the darkness hiding 800 miles of road grime, the truly special machinery has left its mark like a Lamborghini in a Lada showroom.
*UK alternative: Northern Ireland:* Fermanagh and Leitrim in Northern Ireland are home to numerous mind-blowing B-roads that combine twists and troughs with long sight lines.
*Pikes peak at sunrise - James Attwood*
Spectating on the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb is a hardcore experience. There’s only one road up, so fans have to make sure they’re in place before 5am – and you can’t come down until after the finish 11 hours or so later. You’re exposed to the elements, with freezing cold, wind, rain, snow and hail all likely even in July – and, with the summit at 14,115ft, altitude sickness can be a problem. It’s brutal. But it’s absolutely worth it.
From near the summit, the view as the sun rises over Colorado is spectacular – and so is the motorsport action. The mix of machinery raises from high-tech prototype hillclimb machines to monstrous trucks and home-brewed custom conversions, all hustled around Pikes Peak’s treacherous switchbacks with scant regard to the huge drops and lack of crash barriers.
Of course, you can sample that road as well: aside from the day of the hillclimb, anyone can drive up the toll road. Even at greatly reduced speed, it’s a brilliant, challenging road to drive, with ever-changing views and topography to enjoy.
There are plenty of other attractions in the area, too, not least the nearby Penrose Heritage Museum, devoted to showcasing the history of the hillclimb. Nearby Colorado Springs offers a friendly, welcoming base, Denver is only a few hours’ drive away and you could easily add in a trip to the stunning Rocky Mountains National Park.
*Closer to home: Knockhill:* It’s a circuit, rather than a hillclimb, but Knockhill is set in the stunning and hilly Fife countryside, is surrounded by some fabulous roads and isn’t far from Edinburgh. Great driving, motorsport and culture, all in one handy weekend package.
*Calais to Como - Mark Tisshaw*
I love a grand tour as much as a great driver’s B-road, perhaps even more so. And my favourite summer holidays of recent years have independently covered both those bases: either driving ones through France over huge distances on the autoroutes or flyaways to the Italian lakes with day-trip drives in little Fiat hire cars up mountain passes.
This trip builds in all of these best bits in the most spectacular style. The destination is the Italian lakes, so head south off the ferry at Calais (and it has got to be a ferry, so you can tuck into your last proper bacon sandwich for a while) and plan for a good two days of Continental cruising.
Covering huge miles on empty autoroutes might bore some, yet I love the swift progress you can make on the French motorway network, even if your credit card will take a bit of a hammering at the toll booths. Have lunch in Reims, a late-afternoon stop-off in Metz and then an overnight stay in Strasbourg, arriving at dusk, making sure you take an early morning stroll in this beautiful of Franco-German city.
Head south through Switzerland and don’t stop until you cross the Italian border and hit Como. You could never tire of simply driving calmly around the lake, enjoying the tranquillity, but you’ve come this far, so head north to the Splügen Pass, a spectacular mountain road back into Switzerland that isn’t so far away for you to miss your lunch booking. I’m off to book it now…
*Closer to home: Lake District: *UK motorways aren’t as fast or fun as French ones, but they’ll ultimately deliver you to a destination just as stunning as Como: the Lake District.
*The Cotswolds to Aberystwyth - Steve Cropley*
When the plague is over, I’ll still want to head to remote places where the horde isn’t. It’s what I enjoy. So I’ll get up very early on the first allowable morning, don my comfortable driving shoes and use the first glimmers of light to point my McLaren from the Cotswolds towards Aberystwyth on the western coast of Wales. It’s 150 miles and three-and-a-half hours by the shortest route 170 miles by mine.
First, I’ll use the M4 motorway to cross the Severn Estuary, then spear north to Abergavenny, enjoying still-empty roads where at times you can see three corners ahead. I’ll press on to Brecon before the long, looping A470 carries me many an inspirational mile through Rhayader and Newtown (where I may take breakfast) and onwards to Dolgellau. A left turn will take me down the coast to Aberystwyth. I’m hoping to achieve all this before the school holidays, because caravanners get up early, too.
Why this destination? Because I had one of the drives of my life in a Porsche 911 on the A470, sharing the joy with a colleague who could really drive. And years earlier, I parked a Lamborghini on the Aberystwyth seafront to find in the morning that someone had written ‘Marry Me’ in dust on the driver’s door. It was a long time ago, but I remember those roads and that place very fondly.
*UK alternative: Goodwood: *To Goodwood, via the scenic A34 and even more scenic A272. I always enjoy it there, and the journeys out and back are a bonus. I don’t even mind if there’s nothing going on.
*Bonneville Speed Week - Matt Saunders*
Once travel restrictions allow, a US trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, ideally for Speed Week, is an absolute must for me. This is all Colin Goodwin’s fault. He wrote a spellbinding article about land speed record daredevil Craig Breedlove and the mad month he spent in 1965 swapping the ‘LSR’ with big rival Art Arfons. Now I’m itching to get out there and to stand on the salt on which those incredible records were set.
If I can make it for Speed Week, of course, all the better, although I suspect you’d do pretty well to find a hotel room in Bonneville in early August. This is when every speed freak within 1000 miles brings their home-made custom racer and competes in a class in which they genuinely stand a chance of a win regardless of what they can afford to spend. Sounds like proper motorsport to me.
I’m told it retains an open ‘club racer paddock’ vibe, so you can just wander along, getting up close with all the cars and chatting to drivers as you go. And then I imagine it’s pretty easy to find a nice ‘quiet’ spot to watch the cars and bikes howling along at 400mph over the famous measured mile.
Visiting the telegraph pole and the lake that contributed so tellingly to the provenance of Breedlove’s Spirit of America LSR car would be key. Investigating the quality of edible ballast along the way doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, either.
*Closer to home: Pendine Sands: *Pendine Sands, where Malcolm Campbell ran in Blue Bird, is the closest thing we have to Bonneville. Getting down onto the beach in your car isn’t easy these days, but there are great roads nearby.
*10 must-visit motorsport events*
The motorsport calendar is in a state of flux for 2020, but here are some key events – starting at a low budget and rising – to plan for in the future.
*The British Isles*
*Club racing: *For some no-frills entertainment, head to your nearest circuit or a national rally meeting. There’ll usually be lots of racing and a huge variety of cars.
*BTCC race meeting: *Britain’s top motorsport championship is a brilliant day out, with an action-packed schedule. The nine circuits on the calendar span the country; we’d highlight Brands Hatch and Knockhill as particularly good for spectators.
*Wales Rally GB:* Venture into a cold, muddy, dark forest to stand around for hours on end in the pouring rain? Oh yes. It’s worth it to see the world’s best rally drivers tackle Britain’s formidable forest stages. A great weekend adventure: sleep in the car for hardcore thrills or book a Welsh B&B if you’re soft.
*British Grand Prix:* Even if the racing is dull, the British GP is still a fantastic event. Modern Formula 1 cars are spectacular to watch at Silverstone and the crowd creates a big-event vibe. If you really insist that F1 was better in the old days, try the enthralling Silverstone Classic.
*European road trips*
*Belgian Grand Prix: *Spa-Francorchamps is a manageable road trip from the UK and the best track on the F1 calendar. Fickle weather often makes for a thrilling race, too. If you fancy a touch more culture, try the Italian GP at Monza.
*Monte Carlo Rally:* It’s chaotic and spectating requires lots of planning, but it’s worth it to see the World Rally Championship’s best put to a unique test.
*24 Hours of Le Mans:* It’s a week-long festival, but it’s the moments that will stick out: watching 200mph prototypes streak down the Mulsanne Straight at night or GT cars roaring under the Dunlop Bridge at sunrise. And, of course, eating frites avec mayo while watching some of the world’s top drivers do battle.
*Bathurst 1000 (New South Wales, Australia): *Clamber up Mount Panorama to sample big, brash, noisy Australian culture. Once you tire of admiring the fans, the supercars are also pretty spectacular.
*Indianapolis 500 (Indiana, US): *You could argue that the Daytona 500 Nascar event is now America’s biggest race, but the sheer pageantry and 119-year history of the Indy 500 sets it apart in our view. The incredible speeds of modern Indycars are mind-blowing.
*Dakar Rally (Saudi Arabia): *This will be an adventure. The epic rally will again be held in Saudi Arabia in 2021, making it marginally more accessible than South America to brave UK fans who fancy heading out into the desert. Best hire a 4x4 if you do.
*10 must-visit motoring museums*
Here are museums where you can revel in the rich history – and exciting future – of all things car-related, in ascending order of adventure.
*The British Isles*
*British Motor Museum (Gaydon, Warwickshire): *This covers the history of UK motoring, with more than 300 cars ranging from 1890s pioneers to one-off prototypes (MG EX-E, anyone?). It’s packed with British-built machines, including a plethora of Jaguar and Land Rover models.
*Jim Clark Motorsport Museum (Duns, Berwickshire): *This small but brilliant museum is a fitting tribute to Jim Clark, featuring cars, photos and exhibits that chart his rise from sheep farmer to F1 legend. Plus, Duns is a beautiful town near fabulous roads. For a broader motorsport museum, try the new Silverstone Experience.
*Haynes International Motor Museum (Sparkford, Somerset): *Complete a trip to Somerset with a visit to this collection of more than 400 cars. Exhibits span the whole range of the motoring world – and you can probably buy a manual on most to take home.
*Brooklands Museum (Weybridge, Surrey): *The car collection is absolutely top quality and the aeronautical exhibits are almost as fascinating. Make sure to scramble up the circuit banking. Pair with a visit to neighbouring Mercedes-Benz World.
*European road trips*
*Autostadt (Wolfsburg, Germany):* While most of the expo-style Autostadt is dedicated to the Volkswagen Group, head to the Zeithaus for a meticulously curated collection of significant cars that span multiple brands.
*Museo Ferrari and Museo Enzo Ferrari Modena (Maranello and Modena, Italy): *Two museums dedicated to one firm would seem excessive – except this is Ferrari. The town of Maranello is a near-pilgrimage for tifosi, and the museums offer the chance to admire incredible hypercars and racing machines.
*Cité de l’Automobile (Mulhouse, France): *Claims the largest collection of automobiles in the world, with more than 500 cars from nearly 100 manufacturers. Bugattis are a speciality.
*Toyota Automobile Museum (Nagoya, Japan): *This museum isn’t filled with ancient-but-still-working Corollas; it’s packed with cars that tell the history of motoring from a variety of makers.
*Petersen Automotive Museum (Los Angeles, California):* The building is spectacular, but the cars are the stars. Famous Hollywood machines include the DeLorean DMC-12 from Back to the Future and Magnum PI’s Ferrari 308 GTS Targa.
*Lada Avtovaz Museum (Togliatti, Russia): *It will take some effort to reach Togliatti, nestled in Russia’s Samara Oblast, and even more effort to find the Avtovaz Museum on the ground floor of a nondescript, Communist-era office block. But you’ll be rewarded with a fine collection of oddball Russian motoring classics. Riva Las Vegas.
*10 driving roads to tackle*
Here are some routes to consider when an adventurous journey no longer has to mean a petrol station stop en route to the supermarket.
*The British Isles*
*Rhondda Valley: *This would make a good first step for a tentative post-lockdown day out. The roads to the west of Pontypridd, on either side of the Rhondda river, are mostly great – but don’t miss the A4061 north out of Treherbert or the roads around the Bwlch-y-Clawdd car park.
*Yorkshire Dales: *The glorious Dales rarely disappoint on a fine day. The Buttertubs Pass is one of the best driving roads there and the Ribblehead Viaduct is very scenic. Leighton Reservoir is also a pretty spot if you’re on your way back to the M1 to go home.
*Kielder Forest: *Head from Hexham on the A69 north-west along the B6320 towards Kielder Water. There’s plenty of Hadrian’s Wall to visit and a trip over the border into Scotland if you fancy it. Then test your eyesight at Barnard Castle on the way home.
*North Coast 500: *Follows the coastal roads around the Highlands, leaving from and returning to Inverness. Quicker and more open on the east coast and generally narrower and more spectacular on the western side, it’s one for the bucket list. Applecross, looking over to Skye, is a treat on a clear day.
*European road trips*
*Route de Thorenc, France:* One of the most spectacular roads in Alpes-Maritimes is made up of sheer cliffs, winding corners and stupendous views. Don’t miss the Col de Vence and the Route Napoléon out of Saint-Vallier-de-Thiey or the beautiful Verdon gorges.
*Grossglockner Pass, Austria: *This Alpine pass goes up above 2500 metres at points and is probably the most spectacular of all – plus one of the better ones to drive. The Italian Dolomites are only a couple of hours away, too.
*Sierra Nevada, Spain:* Few places in Europe make it so easy to drive from the beach to a ski resort so quickly as here. From Granada, head for the A395 out of Canales. The infamous Ronda road is two hours to the west.
*Teide National Park, Tenerife: *The TF21 up to Teide National Park is a mega drive. It’s also a mecca for cyclists, too, so be careful. Don’t forget the observatory at the top of the mountain or to go stargazing yourself.
*Carmel Valley Road, California: *Highway 1 is overrated. Take this ribbon of asphalt instead, which wriggles along the side of the Big Sur State Park and ends up a stone’s throw from Monterey for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and the epic Laguna Seca raceway.
*Great Ocean Road, Australia:* This 170-mile stretch of coast road runs along Victoria’s southern shore and is about as far south as you can go in the country. If you’re going to do it, do it in a rented Holden, mate.
*10 top cars to experience*
Fancy trying something new now you’re back on the road? Here are some entertaining cars to drive, ranging from daily drivers to rare exotica.
*Ford Fiesta ST:* A champion of bang-for-your-buck motoring. The new three-cylinder engine isn’t quite as special as the old four-pot, but snappy handling and an incredibly agile chassis make for a masterclass in affordable fun.
*Mazda MX-5:* Seminal roadster is challenging but forgiving, is pure in its rear-driven handling and, slightly dull steering aside, connects the driver wonderfully well to the road. All the sports car you’ll ever need, pros and novices alike.
*BMW M2 Competition: *Feels every inch the E30 M3 for modern times, only it will do effortless, grab-yourself-another-gear oversteer almost on a whim. Makes a hero of its driver but is also usable day-to-day.
*Alpine A110: *One of the best sports cars currently on the market. It has super-expressive handling, punchy performance and character to spare, all wrapped up in a gorgeous retro design. Handling thrills don’t get much more accessible than this.
*Caterham Seven 270: *The entry point to the Caterham family may not have the neck-snapping accelerative punch of its bigger brothers, but the fidelity of its controls and immersive handling will remind you why you fell in love with driving in the first place.
*Ariel Atom 4: *The Somerset rocket has finally eradicated some fighty handling traits and now offers arguably the purest feeling of ‘man and machine’ short of driving single-seat racing cars. Sublime driving controls help tame its performance.
*Porsche 911 Turbo S: *The fastest point-to-point machine on the planet is back and needs no introduction. Gut-wrenching straight-line speed is almost matched by the rate at which the Turbo S obliterates corners. It’s out of this world.
*Supercars to sample*
*Aston Martin Vantage:* This bruiser hasn’t been the sales success Aston hoped for, but there’s a thundering V8 sports car beneath the aggressive exterior. Manual gearbox provides a rare level of additional immersion, too.
*McLaren 600LT: *One of the purest, most talkative steering racks out there, paired with an extraordinarily talented chassis. Its turbocharged V8 might not win too many hearts, but the 600LT is nonetheless a world-beating supercar.
*Ferrari 812 Superfast:* Any V12 Ferrari GT is endlessly special, but never has there been one so exciting to drive as the current 812 Superfast. A regal 6.5-litre engine and a stunning chassis combine to deliver a driving epiphany.
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