Taking America’s cult car, the Mustang from Paris to Turin, Kartikeya Singhee enjoyed the drive of a lifetime.
A chilling thrill surged through me all day. To say I was excited would be an understatement. I’d already been lucky enough to spend a whole week with 10 classic Mustangs as they wove their way from Mumbai to Jodhpur (Autocar India, April 2009). So when I found out I’d get to drive a Mustang from Paris, France to Turin, Italy, I was over the moon. And I didn’t quite believe what was happening until I finally got to Paris and stood in front of them. Them being 12 gleaming Mustangs.
Equus Automotive’s plans to make the second installment of the Maharajah’s Road as grand as the first were quite elaborate. On the very first day, our motorcade of 10 Mustangs (two refused to get going and were left behind) had the privilege of driving past the Eiffel Tower, the astonishingly grand Arc de Triomphe and the Concorde monument. It was an unusual scene, as we drove past the monuments. All the people there turned their attention to the cars! And you can’t blame them. After all, 10 insane V8s, dating from the ’60s, bellowing and popping their way through Paris traffic was bound to draw attention.
The famed Parisian intolerance towards all things non-Parisian was surprisingly in short supply. The crowd and the traffic were courteous and friendly, letting all the American sheet metal quickly cut its way through the traffic. We cut lanes, honked (very little), stopped at roundabouts — not because we wanted to — but that’s how the traffic behaved.
I was driving the Boss 351, the biggest Mustang ever built, except for the current model. The only problem was that the Boss 351 wasn’t running too hot. I had to heel-and-toe just to keep it going. Thankfully, we quickly made our ?
? way out of the city and out on to the six-lane highway that can take you from Paris to Turin in a day. But the picturesque fields beyond and the rolling hills would just pass by in a blur. So quickly we turned off the busy highway and onto the beautiful country roads.
Our lunch halt was an idyllic cottage in the Milly-la-Foret that turned out to belong to Christian Dior. The calm, serene surroundings must have provided Dior with much inspiration and energy, but not as much energy as a host of Mustangs camping on his front lawn could!
I was fairly invigorated after that stop. Our destination for the day was a small village called Saulieu and we had to make it there before nightfall. But it was a bit too much to expect from these old timers. We lost three of the 10 cars; most could be fixed overnight but some were beyond repair. One car went out spectacularly and I had grandstand seats for the spectacle. I was right behind the Eleanor replica ’67 Mustang when due to an apparent lack of transmission oil the transmission overheated, ate up some gears and shot out the little remaining oil out of the exhaust straight at me! So, we limped up to Saulieu for the night.
The next morning, I came out of the hotel to find that the 16deg C temperature that I had experienced in Paris had plummeted to half that and there was a crisp breeze blowing. Our destination for the day, Megeve, was going to be even colder — two metres under snow to be precise. We were doing this route in cars without ABS and traction control. Suddenly, I didn’t feel too indisposed towards all the electronic ‘nannies’ I usually can’t stand.
En route to Megeve, the Maharajah’s Road posse drove through a thick envelope of fog on the single-lane B-roads that led to Beaune. The roads were lovely, and the quaintness of the little cottages that dotted their sides made me wish I’d done this trip on a bike. I probably would have frozen by the time I reached Beaune though, but there’s plenty there to keep you warm. After all, it is known as the Burgundy capital of the world. Since it wasn’t grape season though, the vineyards looked rather bare. But the wine they produce there can cost as much as Euro 5,000. Such price tags, and the fact that I was already high on life (I was driving through Europe in a Mustang!) made me stay away from the heady stuff.
While we weren’t clipping at 120kph, the Mustangs felt nice and, well, cruisy, but the tiny little Seat Leons and Volkswagen Polos made us look far too slow by just zipping past. The other cars could zip past faster for all I cared though, because even at 120kph, in the Boss 351 I
felt like God.
However, even divine intervention couldn’t help us make it to Megeve before sundown. We trundled along, making our way up the mountains in pitch darkness. I couldn’t see much other than the long hood of the Boss in front of me and the narrow road ahead. The lack of traction control and ABS aside, I was petrified thanks to the Boss’s steering. With the steering so light and direct, it was a white-knuckle drive all the way up. A light flick and I could switch two lanes in a flash — not a good thing. And the vintage wiring was prone to cutting out the lights, at times leaving me to navigate by the tail-lights of the car ahead of me. The signs by the roadside advising drivers to use snow-chains and all the hype about snowbound Megeve turned out to be a big hoax though. We reached without so much as a hint of snow.
Next morning was the final push towards Turin, Italy. There were two ways to get there — one straightforward, through the Mont Blanc tunnel. But that would have been a plain waste, when instead we could traverse the route the Romans took in the old days — straight through the Alps. Hallelujah! There are no roads like mountain roads. We quickly rolled up to the Alps and got down to making the most of the narrow, winding roads. The size of the Mustangs made things just a bit more challenging. Like I said before, except for the current-generation Mustang, the Boss 351 was the biggest Mustang ever built.
I never thought that making it up through the Alps was going to be easy and there were enough challenges on hand. To make matters worse, my Boss 351 didn’t like the mountains as much I did. The climb had it popping and pinging and I really had to rev it to keep it going. This meant I was frying the clutch at each and every corner.
We drove on and soon enough, except for the road, everything was covered in a blanket of white. The cool slopes were tempting and our convoy stopped for a bit. I even managed to turn my hands blue, thanks to a snowball fight with one of the younger members of the Maharajah’s Road group.
It had been one of the most beautiful days of my life. Things could only get better for we were now storming through to Italy’s auto capital, Turin.
There were many miles to cover, and since hardly anybody in Italy obeys speed limits, we saw no reason to either. We had a blast down the Italian highways. The highlight was the drive through the tunnels — the roar from the V8s drowned out any thought from our heads and we were left with a big grin plastered on our faces, whether we wanted to smile or not.
The sheer fury of the Mustangs’ sound and sight ensured that roads cleared ahead of us and envious stares followed as we blasted past.
The same attention enveloped us as we rumbled into Turin. We made a whirlwind tour of the landmarks and quickly headed to one of the most important automotive destinations in the world — the blessed design house of Italdesign and Giugiaro.
I even met Fabrizio Giugiaro, renowned designer and son of legendary designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. He proudly showcased his muscular and glowering concept of the Ford Mustang. The bright-orange Mustang concept surrounded by the cars that inspired it made it a perfect end for a dream trip of the Maharajah’s Road.
As I headed to the airport for the flight back home, I thought of the cold mountains, the crisp breeze and the Mustangs roaring through everything — an experience many would kill for.