Tour Norwegian Back Roads “On Days Like These”
Photography by Natalie Borgersen and Christer Lundem for Petrolicious
I think I’ve seen the introduction to The Italian Job at least a hundred times, and heard the song “On days like these” written by Quincy Jones and immortalized by Matt Monro’s languorous voice twice as many times. I feel the hair on my arms rise just seconds into the song. It teleports me onto imaginary twisting alpine roads with fitting accompaniment stemming from twelve melodious cylinders. Suited and booted, with fancy sunglasses and effortless style–I am Roger Beckermann (Rossano Brazzi) on his way to a very important meeting. This is about as good as it gets. I awaken, stirred by the light from my PowerBook. Ah well, daydreaming does make life more interesting.
In Norway, we are fortunate enough to have roads at least as spectacular as those in northern Italy. Even if the calendar reads spring 2014, nostalgia is very much alive and some people do more than daydream. These people do not allow themselves to be affected by something as trivial as the era in which they live. To overcome reality, they created a phenomenon called Norsk Gran Turismo Union (Norwegian Grand Turismo Union).
Actually, only two gentlemen are to blame: Mr. Bjarne Reistad and Mr. Johnny Kjartan Strand conceived the idea during a road trip to Geiranger. The experience was simply so wonderful that it had to be shared with other friends. So said so done, and in 2008 a bunch of motley classics pointed their noses towards the Norwegian mountains. The criteria were that they should drive either two seater coupes or convertibles, preferably classic, and the clothing style should match the car. Little did the men know that they had created a phenomenon, something to aspire to. The invitation was written by hand in a sealed envelope and sent via the postal service, just as it would have back in the day. So, if you want to join the Gran Turismo Weekend (the name of this annual event) you have to be recommended by someone just to get an invitation. There is no way around this whether with sharp elbows or bribery (although I suspect a note or two might help).
Thus as spring arrives some of us start waiting eagerly for the postman, hoping to be one of the few selected. My girlfriend has in fact acquired a taste for the rally and finds it both fun and spectacular to drive the Norwegian alpine roads. To my greatest surprise, she likes the smell of leather, oil, and gasoline as much as I do. And when at last the long awaited envelope arrived, the joy in our family!
Already on the previous trip, on the journey home we discussed what we should drive next year and which clothing would be appropriate. In our garage there are three two-seaters, but since we have collected vintage doctor and nurse uniforms for twelve months, we had to use the garage’s only suitable vehicle: our 1977 Giulia Super 1600. Diligently used by Italian officials as police, military vehicles, and ambulances. We had a suitable wrap made in pale white and mounted a working red warning light on the roof. The Giulia transformed from a classic family car into a full-blown ambulance for upstart Italian medics.
And off we went to meet in Dombås. The faces of the staff in a grocery store along the way when traditionally-dressed medical personnel entered was priceless, believe me and finally, in Dombås we were treated to the ultimate sixties and seventies experience at a small, local gas station: a massing of cars including BMW CSs, Citroen SMs, Porsche 911s and 912s, Fiat Dinos, Jaguar XJSs, Mercedes SLs, Alfa Romeos and Lancias in several varieties. And then there were the people! Women strutting around in elegant dresses and gentlemen discussing the vehicles in cigarillo clouds.
When the group was ready, we sped off towards Trollstigen, where the Northern Norwegian group was meeting us Southerners. Upon arrival, champagne was popped and the first challenge was announced, to be run in the morning. Trollstigen, like the Italian Stelvio pass only a little steeper and narrower, is a jewel of a road. The drop is brutal and the climb is hard for new cars and ruthless for classics. Several of the vehicles on the drive spewed water at the summit, but the Alfa was well-behaved and the temperature gauge never twitched. After the afflicted cars recovered, we continued to Geiranger. The sun was low and bathed us in warm yellow light, it couldn’t possibly have gotten better; there were swift turns, roaring engines, and spectacular scenery. The pace was very quick but it wasn’t a race, was it gentlemen?
Arriving at the Union Hotel, the tourers were spent but happy. Their previously ironed clothes were a bit wrinkled and shiny cars a bit dirtier, but nobody cared. Tired gentlemen still opened doors for beautiful women with their high-heels leading the way. There were some notable exceptions, where women themselves drove. Then the high-heels were replaced by classic driving shoes. Most have been driving for at least twelve hours now and after dinner, people are knackered. It was an early night.
The next day the other guests must have thought that they were in Monte Carlo during the Grand Prix. The sound of Webers sucking cold air and exhaust pipes screaming at the walls filled the courtyard outside the hotel. Of course, a proper warm-up was required. Oil levels were checked and insects washed away from windscreens. The journey began with the drive up to Djupvasshytta. Two years ago there were five meter-high snow walls along the route. This year we had a much milder winter and the walls weren’t there, only scattered snow piles remained. However, the scenery was just as wonderful. It smelled of fresh oil, clutch and high-octane gasoline. Everything was as it should be: engines singing and sometimes the needles were buried well above redlines. The summits were, of course, still white with snow that wouldn’t let go. Our car cut through dense fog and into sunshine on arrival.
However we were there to drive, not explore nature, so we pushed on. The swift pace was resumed. The old cars had forgotten all about their age, and after a few miles of what must be Europe’s most delightful roads including tunnels echoing sounds from an angry Ferrari 328 GTS towards Strynsjøen, we passed through Stryn, then out along the bay towards Hornindalsvatn/Grodås Kvivsvegen, and a detour on a narrow-out-of-hell pass to Rekkedal that ended the journey at a Rekkedal guesthouse. It was a charming farm with a family owned restaurant with positive distinct fascinations for Italy. We ate another fabulous meal, this time lamb and were then introduced to elderflower juice. It tasted exquisite and a small squirt of the stuff gave the prosecco an even better taste. After the meal, the Gentlemen Drivers Weekend board directed us out to the garden.
There were books piled on a table. We had an idea of what it might be but no one was sure. There was a spy hidden in our midst who documented the whole experience. Kimm Saatvedt produced a stunning photo book while we were still on the drive! In an entourage that never shuts up, the silence that fell was breath taking. The event and experience seemed more real at that point, as the story was suddenly immortalized in photos in an actual book. However, there was no time for nostalgia or reflection, the journey had to continue. We had to reach Alexandria before dawn. Apart from a small engine fire in a Porsche 912, the gang arrived in Stryn unruffled. Then it was time for the Jacuzzi, telling tales, and making up good lies. As it was the last night, nobody wanted to go to sleep as they were enjoying the camaraderie and personalities.
Saturday arrived way too early, and we all knew it was time to head home. Just one exciting stage remained, Strynefjellet–Grotli and finally to Lom to a car meet called Flåklypa Grand Prix. Once again the Jaguar and Maserati overheated, but with the efficient help of pure Norwegian mountain lake water and cheap Swedish spirits, the cars were quickly ready for battle again. We ate our last meal together at the Fossheim Hotel with a strong feeling of solidarity and togetherness. We were like a large family, all with a shared passion for sports cars and classic clothing. It was as if we were kids on summer vacation all longing for the next time, even though the trip had only just ended.
The wait will be long, with all participants again hoping that there will be a certain letter in the mailbox next year. To the Gran Turismo Weekend board: Sorry for our bad style driving a four-door car. We promise on our honour that it will not happen again. Drive with style, drive Gentlemen Drivers Weekend!