Here in the UK – actually most of Europe – the winter just seemed to drag on and on and on. And ON! And… Okay, you’ve got the picture. And if you live in Europe and have a desire to get your classic car out onto some twisty backroads, then you’ve no doubt suffered with me all the rest of Europe’s classic car enthusiasts. But this last weekend was just perfect, with spring swooping in just in time for the nationwide Drive-it Day on Sunday the 22nd of April.
The Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs is the instigator of the annual British Drive-it Day, which in turn leads to many classic car clubs organizing local drives on this day, or even just individual enthusiasts making a point out of taking their beloved classic out for a local spin. Last year I signed-up for the Hagerty Drive-it Day, which was such a success that I saw no reason not to do the same again this year. To add to the social element, one of my very close friends – himself an avid classic car aficionado – flew in from Copenhagen one day in advance just to fill the passenger seat of my trusty old Verona red BMW 2002. As such, we set of from the High Peaks at ludicrous-o’clock in the morning, and enjoyed a brilliant cross-country drive down through the length of the Peak District to the new and purpose-built facilities of Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works just south of Coventry, where the Hagerty team had arranged for our drive to start.
Kindly, Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works opened their doors for us at 8am in the morning. I’m not entirely sure what we were expecting, but certainly not the treat we were in for! There was of course the mandatory highly stylish reception with a small and suitably varied selection of cars on display to portray the broadness and not least the history that lies behind the facility. From there we entered the workshop, which was frankly the largest workshop I have ever visited. It was also clinically clean and perfectly structured, with no less than 54 individual booths each the size of a small house, most occupied by either a Jaguar or a Land Rover at some random stage of build. I think I counted seven or eight of the brand new ‘continuation’ Jaguar XK-SS – some practically complete with others still very much in the process of being hand-built. Add to that, numerous series 1 Land Rovers being restored, several beautiful E-types and a handful of the nineties supercar XJ220, and you’ve probably got the picture. After a lot of oohing and ahhing, the next massive hall beckoned as this was the storage facility for their vast collection of historically significant cars – not just limited to Jaguar, Daimler, Land Rover and Range Rover either. I would guesstimate that there was probably close to 500 cars tightly packed on the hall, with roughly half of them being foreign marques. Everything from Hillman Imp to Iso Grifo. It would have been much too easy to spend most of the day here, so we had to remind ourselves why we were here again…
Back in the car park, we had time to appreciate the 100 classic cars that were doing the Hagerty Drive-it Day. I wasn’t the only one coming back for more, as there were several which I remembered from last year. Most of all the fabulous little turquoise Sunbeam Stiletto which again had me dreaming back to my Imp-owning days. But there were several others as well such as the Abarth 124 Spider, the Chevette HS and the Reliant Sabre. Luckily though, there were also plenty of newcomers to drool over. This year had quite a selection of classic Jaguars – perhaps tempted into the drive because of the visit to Classic Works? The aeronautically-inspired Bristol 405 was utterly lovely, as was the very early dark grey Volvo P1800 complete with wire wheels and Webasto folding sunroof. My personal favourite though, simply had to be the excellent Sunbeam Tiger – if for no other reason, then at least for the goosebump-inducing sound which it omitted whether at idle or charging down the road. However, my co-driver, Steen, just seemed thoroughly lost to the many Escort mk.1s and mk.2s, though I did also spot him gravitate towards the two slightly rough n’ ready MGC GTs.
We watched and listened to several classics depart on the backroad tulip book route, and eventually headed off in my BMW as well. This year’s route was approximately 60 miles long and thus a little shorter than last year. It also made due without a coffee break. Personally, I missed the extra miles from last year’s event a little, but in all honesty, it was probably for the better seeing as all of the participants spent longer at the departure this year as there was so much to take in a JLR Classic Works. Equally, our destination, Bicester Heritage, is constantly expanding as well, so we all wanted time there too. Still, the route took us down some captivatingly twisty roads, through stunning scenery, quaint little villages and past several places of interest such as Wappenbury Hall, the home of Sir William Lyons for many years. The tower at Castle Inn Edgehill was impressive, as was the drive down the steep Sun Rising Hill. Then past the 14thcentury Broughton Castle and onto to the ex-RAF base of the excellent Bicester Heritage in Oxfordshire.
As always for Sunday Scramble at Bicester Heritage, the whole venue was buzzing with activity and atmosphere. For this – their fifth anniversary – more than 6,000 visitors came through the gates, and there were classic cars everywhere – right from the mundane to the unique. It was my co-drivers first visit at Bicester Heritage, so I knew very well that it would make quite an impression. Yet, even though it was my fourth time at the venue, I think I might have been just as excited. We’ve written about this classic car Mecca before here on ViaRETRO, but it really can’t be emphasised enough: Bicester Heritage is amazing! All the old preserved red-brick buildings, the hangars and the myriad of narrow streets between them all add up to a truly magical environment. It is indeed a real gift – both for the 1920s RAF base and for the whole classic car scene – that this site has been given a second lease of life.
Regardless which direction you looked, something special, something interesting, something dream-worthy caught your eye. There were several new initiatives such as the AutoClassics Mart in the large events hangar where owners could sell their classics. It was the premier opening of the new showroom for Robert Glover Ltd, and Lubricant specialist Classic Oils launched their new “Fuzz Townshend’s Classic Oils”. Furthermore, it was a total sell out at Hagerty UK’s popular Valuation Arena.
And then there were the classic cars – this spring Sunday Scramble was attended by 45 different car clubs and more than 1,000 classic cars – that’s of course on top of all the beautiful machinery already on site with the various specialists, dealers and workshops which now make up the Bicester Heritage. Whether you’re into pre-war or youngtimers; British, Italian, French, German, American or Japanese; roadsters, coupés, saloons or estates; road cars or motorsport, your taste will be satisfied. There was so much on offer that both Steen and I found it virtually impossible to play the good old game “if-money-was-no-object-which-one-would-you-drive-home-in”. On the long drive back north, we had enough time to eventually both work out a Top 5, but we struggled to narrow it down any further. If you were at Bicester as well, please share with us what stood out the most for you. If you weren’t, then I hope you can at least enjoy all the pictures, and then try to pick your own Top 5 from them.
There are of course more events happening at Bicester Heritage throughout the summer such as the new and exciting Flywheel Festival towards the end of June. Their next Sunday Scramble will be on the 7thof October. If you haven’t already experienced this overdose on everything classic cars, you really ought to block that day in your diary…