Destination Budapest! CAR republishes one of our greatest drive stories – an adventure behind the Iron Curtain, back in 1977 when a trip to eastern Europe was an epic trip. Especially in an old Jag with a tendency to return to Blighty in a cardboard box
CAR's great drives: Destination Budapest! Part 1
28 August 2008 17:00
Ian Fraser wrote Destination Budapest! – another of CAR's seminal drive stories, published in August 1977. We drove a Jaguar XJC down the Danube and behind the Iron Curtain, in the days before the Berlin Wall had tumbled. Read the full unabridged story over the next few pages at CAR Online
Although the boundaries are different, Rudyard Kipling’s belief that the twain between east and west would never meet seems as true now as it was when he penned those immortal words. Of course, he could never have visualised that the eastern barrier would start just a few miles on the other side of Vienna, that the Austro-Hungarian empire would be broken and that the concepts of freedom and democracy would be as malleable as an old lump of distorted putty.
At the eastern end of the twain the possibilities of meeting the western end are far more remote than the converse: the society, the economics and the politics see to that. However, the west can go east and, providing you behave yourself, you can steer the reciprocal course at your leisure.
We were told as we filled out the visa application forms that of all the communist-dominated countries in Europe, Hungary was the chosen one. Here, we were told, there was indeed freedom on an unprecedented scale and that the twin cities of Buda and Pest, our destination, were just like any other European city.
Such justification, we thought, had an eerie ring about it, especially as we had recently been told by a Romanian that his country was the chosen one and a Czech of little acquaintance had little doubt that his was the land in which to live. We were not in the position to make country-by-country comparisons, so we simply loaded up the Jaguar XJ5.3C and went to find out about the one that seemed to hold most appeal.
This journey of discovery was to be a two-fold affair: primarily, we wanted to find out as much as we could about the Jaguar, this being the first time we had tackled a very long European trip in the V12 and, secondly, to savour the twain, rather than merely pass through it as we had done in the past en route (by Range Rover) to Turkey.
The car intrigued us as much as the destination. Equipped with the new GM automatic transmission and fuel injection, it is in the centre of a trio, or even a quartet, of luxurious (or so the advertisements say) coupes, the self-adored BMW 633 and the Mercedes-Benz 450SLC being the prime contenders, with the de Tomaso Longchamps hovering in the wings as a kind of newcomer waiting for the stars to stumble.
Before we even contemplated the journey, though, we sat down with an electronic abacus to calculate the fuel consumption and the cost based on whatever knowledge we could scrounge about the latest XJ12’s thirst.
However, there was so much duff information floating around, especially in the pages of some of the other motoring publications, that we really wasted our time. Estimates of the XJC’s fuel consumption, both at the optimistic and pessimistic ends of the scale, were wrong and in the event we tended to cover the ground somewhat more rapidly than we had planned, and very much more economically.
Click 'Next' to continue reading CAR's original Destination Budapest! story from 1977