They say April is the cruellest month, but that’s ages off yet. January is here and now, and is generally drab and tedious. What better way to start the year off than staring at a load of old cars, and the village of Stony Stratford on the periphery of Milton Keynes provides just that opportunity.
Checking the weather forecast and finding a decent day in prospect, I controlled my drinking instincts on New Year’s Eve and greeted 2018 hangover-free as we hit the motorway early. Being disorganised we had no retro transport handy, so cruised down in the modern and hid it on the edge of town. Growing in size over the past 8 years, the twice annual Stony meetings are clearly popular as we had to improvise a parking space some way out and walk in, despite arriving just before the formal start to proceedings. The town crier soon made it official. The whole centre of town is given over to classic cars and bikes, with the market square being the epicentre but car parks and side streets are filled with vehicles, including the length of the high street. Walking in, the ratio of parked moderns to classics swung the right way, and the reasonably warm temperatures had coaxed many out ensuring a real variety in types and eras represented. Immediately of interest was a smart Sunbeam Stiletto looking very purposeful on black four spokes with a fractionally nose-up stance. Behind this was a BMW 325i Sport and across the road a K10 Nissan Micra, viewed as a pre-war Austin hummed past. All welcome here.
Although still before 11am, the high street pavements were packed with visitors – both canine and human. It was interesting to note the cars which attracted the most attention, with many of the more recognisable 1970s and 1980s cars getting the public’s attention. An occasional interloper in a modern “supercar” drew a few comments, but in proper classic company they just looked a bit daft to me. A long, sleek and very blue 1959 Cadillac was a clear favourite down here, filling the pavement like a chrome laden fish out of water. More familiar to most would have been the similarly coloured Austin Princess, a much more sensible take on family transport and a more appropriate scale for Buckinghamshire. It’s good to see these Harris Mann designed cars getting some recognition at last, in my view one of the very best looking shapes to come from BL during its troubled decade, and this particular one with four headlamps and AA Relay badge displayed was fabulously original. It also sported those clip on reflective door edge protectors for extra period chic, in fact the whole thing was very evocative, top marks. These wedges are quite scarce but real rarity was just across the street in the form of a Vincent Hurricane. This is not just a Spitfire with a funny bonnet, as was clear to anyone who read the notice bulldog clipped to the window stating: “This is not just a Spitfire with a funny bonnet”. Get told. It is in fact a GRP body that uses a Spitfire chassis and running gear, whilst simultaneously looking very much like a Spitfire with a funny bonnet. Other than giving new life to a rotten Spit, I’m not exactly clear what the point of the exercise may have been as you have to have a passing interest to spot the difference, but up to 90 examples are still in existence with this one re-bodied in 1985 using a 1296cc Spitfire engine. Perhaps the weight saving makes all the difference, and I suppose there’s less to corrode. A gap in my automotive knowledge it seems.
Into one of the car parks now to find an UR Quattro keeping a Mini company, just along from a smart Porsche 356 festooned with period looking enamel badges. I often wonder with such cars if they have been to the places the badges claim or if the owners have just raided the dressing up box, but this one seems to have had a busy 2002 in Austria, Sweden and Newport if nothing else. It also sported a 100,000km badge from the days when reaching this mileage was a landmark. Perhaps manufacturers should issue them again today if your new environmentally harmless financed bling chariot achieves such heights without DMF, ESC, DPF or injector failure or such. They may not need to commission many. As proof of how everything has got worse, a 1974 Buick Estate Wagon showed how an estate car should be built. It was quite difficult to stand far enough away to photograph and your computer screen is not big enough to display it accurately anyway. Suffice to say, the Ford Corsair parked next to it looked to have a 50/50 chance of fitting in the boot. The Buick sported a superb “do not wash” patina and was probably my favourite find of the day, but I’m odd like that. It had a face like a friendly dinosaur and I had to try really hard to resist the temptation to wobble it on its suspension like a big blue jelly. Also in this section was a comparably tiny Bedford HA van, once the default choice of British Telecom but now virtually extinct, seen here in electrician’s livery complete with a hefty padlock on the back door. The other retro commercial here was an immaculate twin wheel Transit Mk2 complete with lifting rear tailgate door. This was the preferred specification for rally support barges back in the day, and they were usually seen with a full length roof rack full of wheels and tyres. Somebody had clearly put a lot of work into getting this one looking so clean.
Some of you may have read my recent Opel Manta article and though no Mantas were present, the Cavalier Mk1 saloon was surprisingly well represented with, I think, three spotted. First was a light blue one, slammed to the deck but still sporting its chrome hub caps. A strange concoction this, fitted with a 3.0 24v Senator engine (interesting), a five speed box (good thing), limited slip diff (drifty), bespoke Spax suspension (maybe a little low), stainless exhaust (bet it sounds lovely) and all riding on… the most budget ditchfinder tyres imaginable. Defeat snatched from the jaws of potential victory, big time! Next I encountered the well used 1600 I last saw at Bicester Heritage i October, and was the last photograph my old camera almost took before terminally falling over. No such worries today, a gentle squeeze of the shutter and I’d successfully bagged it, like some kind of elusive Luton big game.
A little speck of rain hung in the air whilst I ogled a Commodore GS/E, very much Dodge Charger influenced at the rear three quarters I think, and then an actual Dodge Charger but not the one you imagine. This 1973 Nascar tribute model was a Signature Richard Petty edition. Street legal, packing 300 horsepower and an STP paint job, it also sported the flattest seats this side of a garden bench. High lateral G force may not be in its repertoire, but you might need a bit more support than that to keep you planted behind the wheel. Be fun trying tough. Its superb condition contrasted with the frilly Toyota Celica that was for sale for optimistically skip loads of money. Putting a sign in the window stating a car is rock solid when it’s visibly bubbling alarmingly all over the place only becomes believable if large quantities of prescription drugs are misused. We’ll move on.
The market square was where most of the pre-war cars were lurking, and the centrepiece was to be one minute’s noise at midday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Jim Clark. His Lotus Elan was in attendance, which also happens to be the first production Elan built. No sooner had the noise subsided however, when the heavens opened permanently. Within 30 seconds, owners scrambled, hoods were raised or umbrellas propped. The rain swirled around the rim of my hat. Our pockets filled with water. My socks became damp inside my waterproof boots. There was talk of collecting pairs of animals and building an ark. It was a monsoon! My one shot of the Elan therefore has a rain drop on the lower part of the lens. We’ve tried our best to hide it behind our ViaRETRO logo – deal with it.
ViaRETRO – getting soaked so you don’t have to.