Brooklands, and the Brooklands Museum, is a venue I’ve visited two to three times a year for each of the past few years. As the location of the world’s first purpose-built race-track, as well as being a former airfield, Brooklands exudes motoring and aviation history. It’s possible to walk along the remaining sections of the historic banked circuit – it’s really alarmingly steep, and you can just imagine those old gentlemen racers thundering round at ridiculous speeds back in the years up to WW2. Along with its collection of period garages and workshops displaying historic racing cars, old as well as recently built new hangars (one housing the relocated London Bus Museum) and seemingly randomly parked old aircraft – including a British Airways Concorde – it matches Bicester Heritage as an evocative and atmospheric, as well as historically important, venue for classic car enthusiasts.
As such, it hosts a number of classic car events through the year, starting with its annual New Year’s Day Gathering on – you guessed it, New Year’s Day, an event I’ve attended a few times, and will do so again to see in 2019. It was also the site for one of the most spectacular events I attended this year, Auto Italia Day, which we featured here on ViaRETRO.
The venue also hosts occasional Brooklands Breakfasts each year, and on Sunday I attended their final, season-closing breakfast. As with all Brooklands events, your ticket also grants you entry into the Museum, which is always worth a wander round, for cars, aircraft and the bus museum. While there, it’s possible to walk over to Mercedes-Benz World to check out the current M-B range as well as – more importantly for ViaRETRO readers – a selection of classics from the company’s storied history; currently on display are a fabulous 300SL Gullwing as well as a 600 Grosser, among others.
A Brooklands Breakfast meeting however was a first for me, and I was already thinking about that breakfast as I set off in die Zitrone in the morning semi-darkness just after 07:00. Cars registered or produced before 1987 were invited (though there was some flexibility), with breakfast served from 08:00 to 09:45, and for the rest of the day the site was opened out to the public in the usual Brooklands way. I arrived just before 08:00 and parked up in the paddock in front of the Clubhouse, alongside a smart Jaguar MkII 2.4, and a minute or so later, a dark green Triumph Stag drew up on the other side.
First order of business was – obviously – to tackle the much-anticipated breakfast, served in both the Sunbeam Café and the Napier Room in the Clubhouse. It included tea & coffee, sausage, bacon, scrambled egg, mushroom, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, toast and butter, and was worth the price of admission alone. Thus fortified, I set off to see what delights my fellow classic enthusiasts had arrived in.
There were already a couple of hundred cars parked up in the now brighter morning light – it was hard to believe this was November. Looking across the paddock area I struck up a conversation with a chap called Clinton, who had turned up in a Ferrari 308 GTS, one of 5 classics in his stable, as it turned out; the others were a Ferrari 308 QV, a pair of Lotus Elans and a Porsche 996 GT2! All get used regularly, including a recent trip in the GTS to the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este on Lake Como – the way he described it, it sounds like an event I need to find time to visit!
In no way envious, I decided it was time to check out the morning’s arrivals…
Although the turnout was relatively modest compared with, say, a Bicester Scramble, or indeed Brooklands’ own New Year’s Day Gatherings, there was much to enjoy. Of course, there were the usual gaggle of MG’s, from TD’s and TF’s – including a lovely yellow 1949 TF 1500 – through to Magnette’s, MGB’s and the modern mid-engined version of the TF – still not a classic in my book – as well as Stags and TR’s from Triumph, a smattering of E-Type’s, and so on.
While cars such as these are almost ubiquitous at shows, the fact is that they are mainstays of the classic car scene and while they are often of limited interest to me personally simply because we become over-exposed to them, they’re all – MGB included – still way more interesting than the vast majority of modern cars.
Scattered around the site were a good number of rare and unusual classics, as well as the more everyday warriors of yesteryear. A beautiful metallic grey 1962 Lancia Flaminia stood out, and close to this beauty were two of the most unusual cars of the day.
The first was a 1978 GAZ-24 Volga, in excellent condition, and a genuine rarity, in this country at least, with less than ten Volga’s of all types on the road in the UK, according to howmanyleft.com. Because the badges were in Cyrillic, people stood around it with puzzled looks on their faces, though the RUS sticker on the back was a clue. It quite suited the non-standard Rostyle wheels, I thought.
The second… well, I don’t know what it was, and neither did any of my fellow bystanders circling the car. There were photos but no textual information, and the owner wasn’t around. I do know what it was first registered as – a 1973 Chevy GMC truck. Now, though, it is one man’s version of a classic (in the mould of a Panther), finished immaculately in a very pale mint green over darker green. Admitted, this type of faux-classic has never done much for me, but what really caught the eye, and got us all talking, was the one-sixth (?) sized replica on the trailer behind the car. This was in every way a perfect miniature, except for the interior, where there was a single cream leather seat for its young driver. This was a tiny electric version of the “original”, in exquisite detail. Someone had spent a great deal of time, skill and probably money, creating these two cars. Was it worth it? Well, not for me, but what a project!
Another car parked in the paddock, and not often seen in the UK, was a 1991 first-generation Toyota Soarer. This streamlined coupe came with a 4-litre V8 delivering 260bhp and could reach a de-limited 155mph. It was also, according to the information card in the windscreen, the first model to be sold as a Lexus (the SC400) in the US. A second rare Japanese import in the stylish shape of a Datsun Fairlady 1600 was also among the cars displayed. The Fairlady always reminds me of the MGB roadster, and is one of the few Japanese classics I really like.
As mentioned, luckily cars that spent their lives being the everyday heroes of yesteryear were also present and correct – a green 1979 Vauxhall Chevette that was in the process of being patched up, and a series of early 1960’s cousins in the shapes of a Hillman Minx, a Singer Gazelle and a handsome red Sunbeam Rapier Mk V could be found within a few yards of each other.
There was a fine example of the Michelotti-designed Triumph 2000 MkII, and a grand 1970 Vauxhall Cresta PC – haven’t seen one of those for quite some time.
More exotic fare could be found in the form of a couple of very tidy Jensen Interceptors, a car I’ve always admired, a quintet of ever-elegant Pagoda Mercedes-Benz, two of which were the slightly-less-elegant US models with the single exposed headlamp (I much prefer the European look), a breathed-on De Tomaso Pantera which boasted a claimed 602 bhp, as well as a handful of Ferrari’s. One of the latter was a very purposeful-looking dark red 365GTC/4 – only 505 were produced between 1971 and 1972, so this was a welcome rarity; I liked it a lot.
From the other side of the pond, a smattering of Mustangs as usual, including a particularly smart early red pony. Then there was the obligatory Cadillac Coupe de Ville, with this metallic blue example from 1959 demonstrating the height of the US motor industry’s obsession at the time with space-age design and symbols, and more unusually, a very menacing 1971 Ford Torino.
An interesting feature of the day was the opening of the Test Hill, a short – 352 feet (107 metres) – but very steep challenge, especially for older cars. The hill starts with a 1-in-8 gradient, which becomes 1-in-5, and for its final third, 1-in-4. I wasn’t brave enough to take it on in die Zitrone, but a fair few folks were prepared to put their classics to the test, so to speak, and of the ones I saw, most succeeded admirably, although one unlucky Stag driver lost all his drive (his words) within 50 yards of the start line.
By around 11:30, the car parks and paddocks were thinning out, and it was time to take the scenic route home after a thoroughly satisfying morning. If I could have taken only one car home, it would probably have been the stunning metallic dark blue 280SL Pagoda… just lovely. Or maybe the Flaminia…
Looking forward to the New Year’s Day Gathering already!