Casual observers may have noticed that there is something called the Football World Cup on at the moment. It’s basically a big competition to find out who is best at football, like what used to happen most break times at school, except at international level. I assumed this had been settled years ago, but seemingly not.
Our local team, called The Ingerland, had gone all the way to Russia to play football against Paraguay, or Poland or Panama or someone. The radio predicted that 25 million people would be glued to their televisions at lunchtime, and there was a real and present danger that even proper pubs with no televisions might import a television especially for the occasion to see if The Ingerland were better than Portugal, or Peru or Pitlochry or whoever. This meant that securing a guaranteed no-football environment would be difficult. I would simply need to go and stand in a field instead. Perhaps a field with some cars in it. The annual car show at Carsington Water Reservoir in aid of the Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance provided such a sanctuary, and as luck would have it, we had booked a space within the Historic Rally Car Register display. Being a civilised club, the HRCR own a gazebo which would provide welcome shade from the beating sun. The popularity of the ball sport definitely had an impact on turnout but in compliance with the ViaRetro commitment, I stalked the baking hot arena so you didn’t have to.
Due to home loyalties, we’ll start this round up with the HRCR display. Obviously, there was a slightly careworn BMW 2002 owned by one of the most talented rally drivers of modern times, but that’s appeared often enough on these pages. Instead, how about an attractive Lancia Fulvia V4? The owner is something of an authority on all matters Lancia and has campaigned his Fulvia for many years, developing it into an effective car. With the V4 mounted ahead of the front axle these cars can have a tendency to understeer but this one is set up correctly and has no such problems. The interior is a case of period Italian style meets rally car functionality with a Brantz trip meter adorning the wooden dash. The packet of Trebor mints presumably improve crew performance and do not yet appear on the FIA list of banned substances.
If you prefer your rallying open topped, then the Sunbeam Tiger may be more your style. There were a surprising number of Tigers and Alpines at Carsington, all independent of each other, but this one is probably the hardest driven and has a long competition history. A different Tiger is currently used on HRCR Clubmans events and all that horsepower means I always make sure to linger well back if it’s starting a gravel test in front of us. Other notable HRCR cars include the Citroen DS that is competitively rallied (not as daft an idea as you may imagine) and a Daimler V8 which its current owner brought back from Belgium. The Daimler is used for scenic tours rather than regularity rallies and the excellent condition reflects that.
Onwards into the field, and we encounter the first of two Vauxhall Cavaliers. The first one is a 1993 2.0 SRi which served as a West Yorkshire Police car and is now in preservation. The force apparently purchased a batch to replace ageing Sierra Cosworths and I can’t help suspecting that budgetary considerations may have played a large part in model selection. The 2.0 redtop engines found in these cars have reasonable poke but directly replacing a Cosworth would have been a stretch. Maybe the funds didn’t run to the 4×4 GSi Turbo. It’s great to see this one preserved, however and it took me right back to nervously watching my rear view mirror all through the 90s. And here’s a thought for you: This shape of Cavalier is 30 years old this year. I bet that makes you feel ancient.
Nearby was an example of the preceding generation in convertible form. The cars were based on the two-door saloon model with the roof chop being performed by Hammond & Theide in West Germany. Only available with the 1.8 injection engine, this one also had the three speed automatic transmission. I always liked the Cavalier Convertible, even if it was a largely unsuccessful attempt to introduce some Mediterranean glamour to the range. It might not quite cut it on the Cote d’Azur, but it looked just fine in Carsington.
Long term ownership always interests me hugely, simply because I can’t imagine committing to one car when there are so many I want to try. I am particularly struck when the car in question is essentially unremarkable, which is the case with a 1.3 Cortina. However, in this case, such commitment has resulted in us being able to see a fabulously rare two-door saloon, resplendent in metallic bronze and a beige cloth interior. Two-door saloons never really caught on in the UK so sightings are often limited to the occasional imported Taunus, but this Cortina is a genuine UK car. We can be sure of this as it’s only had one owner, has covered a mere 44,000 miles and has never been restored – in fact it’s only on its second exhaust. The owner told me it was Ziebart rust protected when new and they gave him a five-year warranty. That would appear to have been money well spent! It may have started off being an unremarkable bottom of the range everyday runabout, but its survival against the odds made it into one of my stars of the show.
Another car with an interesting back story was the 1979 Mini 1100 Special, one of a run made to mark the Mini’s 20thanniversary. By 1979 the Mini was overdue for replacement and the Metro was hotly anticipated. Whether the model’s expected demise was the motivation for mothballing it is not known but the car was retained at a dealer in Leamington Spa and not registered until 1990. In a time when new car type approval regulations were less strict, it actually qualified for a 1990 year “G” prefix registration, so the 1979 “W” suffix number plate it wears is period correct but had to be purchased as an age-related plate. More incredible is the fact that it was sold with a full manufacturers’ warranty, even though it was already 11 years old. Unique to these 1100 Specials are the alloy wheels and body stripes which I’ve just realised aren’t really visible in my photograph. Look, a Ginetta was in the way and you’ve got Google haven’t you? Am I expected to bring you everything on a plate? You need to learn to occasionally fend for yourself…
The midday sun was beating down and I was tempted to follow the example set by the dogs and crawl into the shade under a bumper. I had consumed my sandwiches (today’s filling was Mystery Meat) so a beer break was required, but with no obvious source on site a short hike to the nearest pub was on the cards. Pubs offer shade and we lingered a while. Suitably refreshed we returned and with the excellent Junkyard Angels belting out the rock and roll, I summoned the energy to glaze blankly at more classics.
There was a strong contingent of Jaguar E-Types and you’ll notice I took precisely zero photographs of them for two reasons. Firstly, the whole “best looking car in the world” bar-room-wisdom is utter nonsense – I’ll dare to challenge common perception and instead claim that they are actually poorly proportioned and look like Sea Cucumbers. Secondly, I find little joy in spotting yet another E-Type or MGB when there are real cars to look at. How about a yellow Ford Fiesta with dabs of primer and an incorrect tailgate? Now we’re talking! Back in the 90s when everything was better, you used to often see decaying Mk1s sporting the smoother tailgate from the Mk2 following minor bumps or efforts to keep the rot at bay. It’s one of the lost cultural identifiers, the significance of which is underrated and may even be forgotten if historians such as myself don’t keep reminding people. This car was also wearing four spoke RS alloys, number plates with the correct font, and rectangular Raydyot fog lamps slung under the front bumper. I approve.
Whilst I am in an approving mood, I should also mention its near neighbour, a white 1600 Mk3 Cortina L. This wins by virtue of its fine condition and apparently total originality, complete with an ageing T.C. Harrison dealer sticker in the rear window. Fans of Derbyshire area number plates (as I know many of you are) will have already noted the local registration bearing the “CH” identifier. If you’re looking for lovely old local cars, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Having found the police Cavalier earlier, it was pleasing to find a civilian version of the definitive motorway traffic patrol car of the 1990s. The Vauxhall Senator 3.0 was a proper weapon in its day and many of them were bought by forces across the country. This one was in civilian spec, complete with dog dozing under the rear bumper. Senators are a guilty pleasure of mine. Actually, not guilty, maybe that’s just a reaction to thinking about the police too much. What’s not to like about a lusty DOHC 24 valve straight-six producing a smidge over 200bhp? Mated to a manual gearbox and slotted into a chassis delivering safe and secure handling they are a criminally underrated car. Badge snobbery meant they never sold as well as they should have and they are unfairly forgotten today, but I’d have one in a heartbeat.
Another forgotten car was glimpsed heading for the exit and very nearly missed entirely; a Matra Rancho had been in our midst and had almost evaded the camera. I can’t eulogise about the Rancho being criminally underrated, but I wish we had found it when parked up as it’s rare to have a chance to poke around one. Finally, a complete surprise which never even made it into the showground. Given that the show was free to enter, who turns up in a classic and just abandons it in the visitor parking – even more so if the car in question is a Lancia Montecarlo? With fewer than 8,000 Montecarlos of any type built, seeing a right-hand drive Coupé is not an everyday occurrence, and I struggle to understand the thought process of leaving it in the general car park at the mercy of the careless underclass and the swinging doors of their MPVs. Perhaps the owner wanted to keep it away from the water but Carsington has no salt content. Very curious, and people can make strange decisions. Me less so of course, and I’ve decided that my car of the day is that yellow Fiesta. Or the Senator. Or the Amazon I didn’t mention. The Porsche 924 Carrera GT is pretty good too…
The Ingerland beat Puerto Rico, or the Pitcairn Islands or Preston or somebody. Six-One I think. Is that good? I don’t know. I’ll stick to cars. I’m clearly an undisputed authority on those – especially Fiestas.