Zoute Grand Prix

October 2016

Location: Belgium

The Zoute Grand Prix. Ever heard of it? I hadn't but did read an article in a Classic Car journal whilst flying back from the states a few months ago. It read that the event was like a Belgium equivalent of our Goodwood Revival save the circuit racing. What an opportunity I thought it would be to see if we could get a Middlebridge assessed and invited to attend an International Concours d 'elegance. The list of International judges including Derek Bell representing the UK and Pebble Beach Judges all under the Bonham's leadership could only help our quest to have the Middlebridge story out there.

You can imagine my delight at receiving an acknowledgement and invitation. Sadly, I had omitted to read the bit about the cost. After all I am from Yorkshire and I thought the amount shown had put the decimal point in the wrong place. Save to say I went for it and booked the North Sea crossing to arrive on the first day of Judging, Saturday 8th October 2016. The weather could not have been better and the car was safely parked on board.

Saturday morning, we (Brother in Law, Tim) arrived at the sea side town of Knokke Heist by 10.00am. The venue was near to the centre and on a golf course. If you have never been to Knokke Heist imagine Monaco without the hills. The shops are Louis Vuitton or equivalent. The women are dressed elegantly, many with designer dogs in push chairs or in designer bags, with men in tow with crevettes, scarfs and red trousers. Get the picture. The cobbled roads blend into the pavements in a traffic calming fashion with alternative colours and each road is lined by trees and flower beds. A very high end destination a tax haven for the Dutch. The properties are huge and the garages and drives adorned with everything beginning Porsche or Bentley. Golf carts are the preferred mode around town and there was a quiet air of decadence to everything and everyone. Enter the owner of MB28 from Yorkshire. Access was initially denied due to the fleet of transporters emptying out their contents of Bugatti's, Ferraris and the like with owners not old enough to remember them ever on the road. Access achieved and slot 65 allocated for MB 28 twixt a Rolls Royce and a Fiat Dino Spyder. I worried about the quality of MB28 but was pleasantly surprised at how well she stacked up and superseded some of the exhibits. I was not at all embarrassed. In fact, on arrival and throughout the two days the Middlebridge received more attention than many of the others.

However, disaster struck. As the organisers placed in front of each car the obligatory matching picture frame notice boards for each vehicle, MB28 board was headed, 'Reliant Scimitar'. Having swallowed breakfast again I went straight to the organisers. I love the Scimitar and everything about it but the idea of the expense and commitment was to float the Middlebridge story. All of a sudden my broken English/Dutch accent prevented any sway in what had been done and it could not be rectified. They didn't have a problem accepting my money. Attention to detail. I was not a happy bunny. To crown it all off the red trousers and the dogs had eaten all the buffet and left only the champagne and red wine. As I was driving I thought better. That said I did find out that it is known locally as the 'Bubble Beach Concours d 'elegance' and I can see why now.

It would have helped if someone had informed me of the judging time(s) as although shown as 1100-1800 that didn't help with the opportunity to leave the site and look at the rest of the Zoute Grand Prix which consisted of the town centre and sea front closed off to traffic save the entry vehicles and adorned with straw bales and black and white chequered tree/lamp post guards. McLaren, Porsche, Bentley, Mercedes, Audi sport and all related manufactures had stands and vehicles on display. Old and new driving through the streets and sponsors marquees all over the place. I declined the Saturday night 'Surprise Gala Dinner' offer with my entry as the 250euro price tag + 21% Vat didn't appeal as much as the thought of a good bowl of local mussels. What I didn't realise stupidly was that between my Brother in Law and the rest of Knokke, unless you had a restaurant booked you were unlikely to eat anywhere. It was heaving. But we managed to get ripped off with a meal later that evening.

So back to the judging. 2.30pm and the three straw boaters with blue jackets, matching ties and light trousers/skirt arrive at MB28. What a bonus, Derek Bell is one of them. Straight away he kindly offered to be the interpreter between broad Yorkshire, Dutch and Italian and started off after the pleasantries with, "So tell us about this Middlebridge connection". I swallowed breakfast again and went into it. Genuinely fascinated and also by admission slightly embarrassed that he did not know the story having raced with Brabham and now saw the connection. I knew I'd earned the brownie points and capitalised on it. I didn't go to win a trophy, honestly. I merely wanted Middlebridge exposed. That said I was now filled with some confidence and knowing that MB28 out shone many of its rivals, hoped I'd be in the running for perhaps 'best mud flaps' or any minor award. An egg cup would do. Some 40 minutes later and we have finally closed all opening and available apertures on MB28. Bounced in the seat, queried the colouration of the rocker covers (its done 265,000 miles you Italian sausage!) and generally had a good old chin wag, the judges moved on. And so did my Brother in law and I. We went around the displays and events on the sea front. Secure underground storage was afforded overnight and at 6.00pm we tucked MB28 away.

Sunday morning and the instructions told us to be at the Royal Zoute Gold Club by 9.30. No problem, only a short drive from the storage but again through tree lined streets with detached housing set well back from the road behind trees, fencing and electric gates. The Golf Club was something else and a beautiful setting for the day's static show. Punters were charged on the Saturday and Sunday respectively at 25 euro each to gain a look at the cars. Is it me?

Lo and behold I parked up again and again they revealed the sign by pegging it in the ground in front of the car. How I prevented myself from doing a hand brake turn on the 18th beats me. The only saving grace was that breakfast was served which blended in nicely to canapes and then lunch and loads of free bubbly and wine. Great if you driving. Further judging took place of those cars left unattended on the Saturday and those freshly delivered by transporter that day. It was glorious weather and I was thrilled to be a part of it although very much perhaps 'out of my league'. Is it because of Brexit are all other European nations just rude people? Was it me or them or them because of me? Strange environment.

However, 3.00pm the food stops and the lights dim. The music starts and the Judges take to the stage. The huge cups, the silver salvers and the glass encased wrist watch are all highlighted and the giant TV screen at the back of the stage starts to light up with names, class awards and pictures as each class winner and trophy is announced. I am pleased to say that MB28 came up on that huge screen for all to see, not once, twice but three times in total and each time you could just make it out in the background. Not a sausage, not a mention, not an egg cup...not impressed. That genuinely didn't upset me even though I truthfully had half a wish that I might get something. What did shock me was that for every winner there was an introduction from the dais which identified a relationship between either a judge, car or recent event which gave association. In other words, it seemed like a 'club' and I together with a few others were not a part of that club, obviously. One winner couldn't even start his car. Others had lights that did and didn't work...something tested in judging. In fact, the car that won the group the MB was in was a deserved winner but not on a par with MB. I have an Alvis in the garage that would easily have given the Lancia a run for its money if 'used' to that extent is what they want. Surely filler that is not flat is not what you would want in a concours car. I'm sounding bitchy now so will stop but hopefully you will get the idea that the end flattened the experience somewhat. Not because I didn't win anything but because of this apparent 'closed shop' which came across. Naturally every car there was a winner in its own right and to get a Middlebridge into an International Concours d 'elegance like Mick has done in the past can do nothing but good for the marque.

The event closed with a Police escort procession through the closed streets with genuinely thousands and thousands of people present... not for us I'm afraid as we would have missed the return ferry had we stayed for that one. We left in peace fully satisfied that we had done well, met Derek, eaten some weird and wonderful stuff, met and witnessed some weird and wonderful people and returned on a nice calm crossing back home on the Monday morning. I have of course written to the organisers since return and to comment on my experience. Now where are those red trousers of mine. Many thanks To Jon Smith, Owner MB 28 from all of us. Oh and what a story!