GRR Garage: Volkswagen Passat Alltrack ‑ to Europe, for some proper mileage
What were estates made for? Are they just for lugging children and gardening supplies around Surrey? Or are they in a very real sense the modern Grand Tourer?
That’s the question we’ve posed after another week with our long-term Volkswagen Passat Alltrack. Rather than pootling around the North Downs we loaded up the Passat’s quite frankly mind-blowing 1,700+ litre load bay with luggage and pointed it toward France. Headed directly for one of the most iconic abandoned racetracks in Europe (and some vineyards).
Reims is the capital of the Champagne region in the middly-northy bit of France off to the East of Paris. It was completely obliterated by the horrors of World War I but rebuilt as sympathetically as you can after such carnage has been rained down. In the spirit of refusing to let the horrors of the second decade of the 20th Century get to them the people of Reims also conspired to bring the French Grand Prix to town, choosing a triangular series of roads to the West of the city as their track.
It held Grands Prix from 1926 up until 1966, when financial difficulties hit the circuit and shortly before ultra-fast road-based circuits of its kind began to be neutered or deleted from racing calendars entirely. But, in the most French way imaginable, far from tearing everything down and forgetting what happened, the old pits and grandstands were left in place, now standing imperiously either side of a semi-busy rural road between Reims and the small town of Gueux.
As we were making our way past Reims to Burgundy it seemed silly not to stop off to see what all the fuss was about, so we pulled off the route the trusty Passat’s SatNav had planned out for us and made our way through the gradually increasing rain showers and under the leaden skies to this small bit of the past among the vineyards.
Sure enough, it’s an eerie place. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology we were able to bring up videos of Moss, Fangio et al thundering past these once packed grandstands, which have lain dormant for far too long, as we wandered among them. You can still walk through many of them, climbing the steps to the top of the pit buildings, imagining the crowds and crews cheering on their heroes through this incredible setting.
But it remains silent today. With a pit-lane marked out to separate those wishing to visit the remaining structures from the rushing traffic. Into this still, the quiet Passat arrived, unphased by its near-thousand-mile journey of the last few hours. We, its occupants, were still relatively relaxed, despite an early start the long journey. Even with the rain the Passat’s excellent climate control and heated seats soon removed the damp from our near-dripping clothes.
Off we went for the rest of our journey, still marvelling at the sheer size of what remains at Reims, imagining being in those grandstands to watch the legends of yesteryear attack those roads muscling their state-of-the-art machines round while becoming increasingly hot, filthy and sweaty. Meanwhile, the Passat churned away the miles without any kind of sweat being broken, happily eating up the tarmac on its way to warmer climbs, touring its way through France in the grandest of styles.