Does Puy-Notre-Dame mean anything to you? If so, it’s probably for the wrong reason, at least from an oil perspective. Of course, some of you may have recognized a French wine appellation. If not, don’t worry. I must admit that I had also never heard of the Grand Prix du Puy-Notre-Dame two months ago.
And that’s a shame ! Because this event includes everything that classic car fanatics like you will love. Located near Tours, in the heart of the Loire vineyards, Puy-Notre-Dame is one of those French villages of no more than 1000 inhabitants which once again organizes a major event. Lucky for you, it’s a driving force.
A pre-war Grand Prix in the streets of a small French town
Each year, the town hosts its own Grand Prix. Of course, there is no race track, but it doesn’t matter: four streets are closed to daily traffic, and straw balls are placed along the walls of the houses. There are no large stands, no tickets, but the public is welcome everywhere on the circuit.
The paddock looks like a big brothel, organized in the middle of the wood, next to the church and the town hall. Bugatti T35 and 37, MG Q types, Fraser Nash, all parked between trees, and soon covered in dust. There is no barnum to protect them. Cars will sleep outside at night.
The main attractions are located in the middle of the circuit. Since there is no tunnel or bridge to go from one side to the other, the public must wait until the end of each session to cross the main street. Several times over the weekend we even heard a message over the microphone indicating that someone had parked their car in the lane, urging them to remove it immediately. It seems difficult to be more authentic.
Both spectators and participants seem to enjoy this special atmosphere very much, as people come from far and wide to participate. Many car owners are English, Belgian, German. Few of them even play the game and drive dressed like they did in the 1930s.
Grand Prix du Puy-Notre-Dame: three wheels are enough to drive a car!
Among all the pilots, the three-wheeler guys, as they are called, are very recognizable because they put on the big show. The head of the peloton has pushed its cars to the maximum and we will end up upside down during the night session, hopefully without serious injury.
Bernard is another member of the gang. He is known for driving a Darmont on a daily basis, and for his particular ritual: he rolls his cigarette while waiting in the pre-grid, lights it at the start, and smokes on the track. It’s rock n ‘roll baby!
Talk about the pre-grid. Well, if you can call it a pre-grid. It’s actually more of a trail with ruts in the middle of the park. It is something that you must see once in your life. Some pilots put on a mechanical show here, turning their engine, pumping, pushing… The noise is everywhere, the cars roar as they heat up. And it smells like: castor oil I guess. It is hot because the heat emanates from the hot exhausts.
Harley-Davidson vs. Monet-Goyon at the Puy-Notre-Dame Grand Prix
The bike demonstration is also a highlight of the day. As there is no starter on these old two-wheelers, the whole group is pushed, at the same time, in front of the amazed crowd. It’s a bit crazy, because each bike has its own look. The start is given in a complete hubbub. This is what we love.
Although it is a Grand Prix, the event is not a race sanctioned by a classification. But that’s apparently no reason to slow down and most men and women do their best to be the fastest on the grid. There are so many slides and tricks around every corner that a Harley-Davidson will end up in the balls.
Then it’s time for the craziest part of the program: the sidecars. Yes, they are also part of the party with their passenger hugging the walls and sidewalks. As if that weren’t enough, some of them play with the audience and try to put themselves in the creepiest position.
A night session at the Grand Prix du Puy-Notre-Dame
The show ends late, around midnight. As a result, at eight o’clock a break is imposed so that everyone can go to dinner. Long tables are set near the cars and bicycles. Now is a good time to laugh with good old friends and meet new people. A disc jockey plays music as the teens start dancing and enjoying the evening ahead.
After sunset, the cars return to the track, and that’s a whole different scenario. The few lampposts are not enough to illuminate the whole place. So, as a driver, you alternate between dark areas and bright areas full of public, taking pictures with flashes. I have the chance to drive my special GAR 1100 gold bowl 1927 ex works.
These are moments that I will always remember. I couldn’t imagine that I was going to love it so much the Grand Prix du Puy-Notre-Dame.
See you for the next edition!