It’s been a busy few weeks and a glance at my diary shows I won’t have much of a chance to throttle back any time soon. Obviously, the worst thing you can do when you don’t have a minute spare is to take a day out for non-essential activities, but the autumn Sunday Scramble at Bicester Heritage proved too tempting.
Bicester isn’t exactly on my doorstep, but we’ve written about this venue before so regular readers will know that it’s something quite special and well worth setting the alarm clock for. Following a few days of distinctly autumnal weather, the car Gods decided to smile on Bicester. As the sun rose brightly over the M1, it was clear that our biggest issue would be low sun and harsh shadows trying to sabotage photography; not the worst problem to have in early October. As proven by the stream of cars pouring onto the airfield even before 9am, we weren’t alone in being tempted out by the splash of autumn sun.
Bicester keeps evolving and every time we visit there is further evidence of new developments. This place isn’t just a dormant old RAF base that serves as an atmospheric backdrop for shows; it’s a living breathing community of enthusiasts and specialists, all housed at what must be the most evocative motoring hub in the country. Nestling within the weathered brickwork are the experts devoted to keeping old cars alive. This is where vintage radiator cores are remanufactured and clothed in hand-made brass and nickel silver cowls, where worn magnetos are stripped down and rebuilt, and where new material and perfect stitching revives tired upholstery. You can have irreplaceable components 3D scanned for reverse engineering and a choice of fabricators can form and weld the strength back into shells. Best of all, these skills are being future proofed through the UK’s first historic vehicle restoration apprentice scheme with over 100 apprentices now having signed up. Bicester is swimming against the tide of all those who would have you believe that the skills behind our hobby are irrevocably dying out. In this corner of Oxfordshire, old cars are very much alive and kicking.
Sunday Scrambles give the visitor an opportunity to peek into this hive of activity and get right up close to fabulous cars, which are seemingly casually abandoned all around the leafy roadways and in every nook and corner. You may almost literally trip over the 1959 Aston Martin DBR4 Grand Prix car. If you want to see an ex-works Mini Cooper or BMW 2002 rally car, they’re right in front of you. If vintage Bentleys float your boat, then take your pick. But the variety created from allowing the cars resident on site to mingle with those visiting is what really makes it special. Where else can you see a Nissan NPT-90 Group C in the same place as a Citroen GSA Estate? Or a William Towns designed Hustler a few steps away from an ex Vickers-Armstrong 1940 Merryweather aerodrome fire tender? Or how about a Suzuki SC100 Whizzkid versus a Ford Ranchero? Actually, with the latter two you could probably fit one inside the back of other for even easier viewing.
I wasn’t the only ViaRETRO contributor stalking about, as our own Tony Wawryk was also in attendance, but I’m the only one writing this report so the photo gallery represents my picks of the day. If I was listening correctly I’m pretty sure that Tony is a big fan of brown cars from the 70s and 80s, and while we debated the brown and gold Vauxhall Astra, I did point out that I’d featured it in a previous article so didn’t want to repeat it just yet. Hopefully the superb Russet coloured Dolomite Sprint complete with gold detailed alloys and jet black vinyl roof will placate him, because I am deadly serious when I state that if a person doesn’t like that, there is something wrong deep down inside. I know variety is the spice of life, but some things are not up for debate. We align on a few of the Porsches, and BMW 2002s are safe ground for agreement. I would also be tempted by the Haflinger and be sure to take note of the plate on what passes for the dashboard, advising the maximum gear speeds when climbing whatever vertical surfaces that took my fancy. Choosing which Bedford Dormobile fits your requirements depends entirely on which scale you to happen to be, but choosing which Ferrari F40 you’d like would take a surprisingly large number of fingers to count on. Perhaps just slide home sideways in the rear wheel drive Starlet instead.
Anyway, did I mention I’m busy? You’ll have to pick your favourites yourself. I include my carefully curated gallery at no extra charge…