There really is no place quite like the UK when it comes to fully embracing our love of classic cars. Despite the less than ideal weather during the winter season, both Tony and Dave have reported on two excellent New Year’s Day meets with strong support from enthusiasts showing up with a huge variety of gorgeous classics. Where else in the world could this happen but in the UK? But it doesn’t stop there. Only six days later, Bicester Heritage opened their gates for their annual Winter Sunday Scramble.
So, (very) early last Sunday morning, I figured I might as well put my newly acquired Reliant Scimitar to the test. After all, if I’m to use it as a daily through the winter, it’ll need to put up with all sorts including a bit of grand touring. The big Essex V6 fired willingly and we burbled off through the dark and cold morning heading southbound through the Peak District. The melodic tunes of Cat Stevens seemed suitable as I casually flicked in and out of top gear overdrive along the flowing backroads. Then just east of Birmingham I joined the motorway, where the Scimitar truly shone with its high gearing making easy and relaxed progress at speeds which I’m hesitant to admit to in writing. Less than three hours later – including a coffee stop – I pulled up outside the gates of my favourite classic car venue, Bicester Heritage, where I meet up with close friend of ViaRETRO, Paul Hill.
We were among the first through the gates and parked up the Scimitar in a prime spot before wrapping up warm and venturing out onto the narrow streets of the charming old RAF site. There really are very few other venues that offer such atmospheric surroundings, and clearly I’m not the only one to think so as Bicester Heritage experienced record attendance on this chilly January’s day with 1,500 classic cars, 22 car clubs and more than 7,000 guests walking through the gates for the new season’s first Sunday Scramble! Needless to say, there was plenty of eyecandy on display, with classics from every era and every corner of the world scattered across the site. If you couldn’t find something here which caught your fancy, you would really have to question whether classic cars are at all your thing…
Starting off in front of The Wriggly Monkey Brewery, the little ‘town square’ was full of beautifully presented Stuttgart icons. A stunning 356 Carrera, a longhood 911 in the style of those rare ST racers and wearing a fabulous shade of olive-beige, a perfect 964 RS, a rare early-90’s RUF RCT, and much more. Truly dream worthy, but amusingly it was on the small track just behind these concours air-cooled legends that Paul and I came across a proper Porker! This swb ’65 Porsche 911 wore its patina with real pride – the faded and crusty paint telling stories which no restored beauty could ever match. This was the exact 911 which I would want to own, carefully preserving its timeworn condition while continuing to drive it hard at every given opportunity. With enough time and money you can recreate factory originality, but you can never recreate the endearing patina of a classic car which has lived a full and eventful life.
One fascinating classic after the other led us on through the vast arena that is Bicester Heritage. I’ve come across the quirky little René Bonnet Djet at previous Scrambles, but it never fails to put a smile on my face and was certainly worth a revisit. A yellow Hillman Imp on period Dunlop alloys brought back fond memories of my own Imp ownership several years ago – something I would love to revisit too. Hmmm… could I possibly justify fitting in an Imp between my Rochdale Olympic and the Scimitar? My train of thought was rudely interrupted by the cacophony of a flathead V8 as a fabulous Allard J2 pulled up just across the yard. Ouuuu… that was nice – definitely needed further inspection!
A freshly prepared egg and bacon butty accompanied by a warm cup of coffee did me well before Paul and I continued through the astonishing landscape of classics. Every cornerstone of our hobby represented right from the archetypical Yank muscle car, to TVR’s of various era’s, more classic Porsches of course, a stunning Volvo 1800ES to remind me that others did in fact manage the whole shooting brake theme every bit as well as what I had arrived in and then plenty of fast Fords.
But amusingly, among all those performance Fords – where I must confess that the Capri RS3100 made quite a visual impact – it was an early Fiesta which really captured my imagination. Just look at those clean, crisp and unadorned lines. I know it’s “just” a Fiesta, but it just looks so right – even more so in that period-defining gold metallic.
Another Ford which stood out in the crowd was the humongous Edsel Villager. If there had been a prize giving on the day it could have potentially walked away with several awards. 1) Taking up the most space. 2) Funniest window sticker with the neon-bent “Hotel Edsel. Sorry, no vacancy” in the rear window. And as Paul rightly pointed out, 3) By far the coolest exhaust tip of the day.
While all the attending classic cars are of course rather addictive, one really shouldn’t forget paying a visit to the various specialist shops which now occupy the old RAF buildings. Most are on site to open their doors on these Sunday Scrambles, and it’s great to see small specialist engineering workshops, which still employ the skills to manufacture and create in a manner which you would be excused for assuming was lost nowadays. Furthermore, Fuzz Townshend was on site to sell you a suitable oil for your historic vehicle, while Pendine will happily sell you the classic of your ultimate dreams…
If I were to criticise anything, the event has by now grown so big that it’s almost impossible to get around everything during the five hours that the gates are officially open. Yes, and that is of course quite a luxury problem to have. Nonetheless, Paul and I scuttled on and out into the fields which lie adjacent to the old runway, as this is where the many attending car clubs set up camp.
Both the Triumph and Lotus club were out in force. It was refreshing to see a BMW E30 in such unmodified condition – even more so, when I realised it was the rare 16V four-cylinder 318is. A bronze metallic Mercedes-Benz SLC looked truly astonishing parked up on the green grass not far from a pure white Jensen Interceptor. Somewhat more humble, but possibly even rarer today, was the Lada estate and a mid-eighties Toyota Carina liftback with less than 10,000 miles on the clock! When did you last see one? For a moment I almost thought our very own Claus Ebberfeld had made the long trip across from Denmark to pay us a visit in his Alpine A310 – then I noticed this one was wearing its original alloy wheels. However, the German number plates on the beautiful early FIAT 124 Sport Coupé suggested that this one had indeed covered some serious mileage to take part in the Scramble. I tip my hat to you Sir – sure does makes my three hour drive down from the north look like a mere stroll in the park.
Paul and I headed back towards the old buildings as there were still streets we hadn’t walked yet – which meant parked classics we hadn’t admired. Not one – but two stunning first-generation Nissan Skyline ‘Hakosuka’ stopped us in our tracks as they made an acute assault on our senses! It’s not often you see these outside of their homemarket, but here were two of them, perfectly presented and lined up side by side. I can’t say whether they were genuine GT-R’s with the glorious S20 twincam, 24-valve, straight-6, but I can say that they certainly looked the part.
Were the Skylines contenders for the one I most wanted to take with me home? Absolutely! But so were many others to be honest. The Lamborghini Espada seemingly blew every by-passer away with its alien design and huge presence – all of which was only made even better by its ‘driven-in’ appearance. After all, there’s only one thing in life which is better than sexy Campagnolo magnesium wheels, and that’s sexy Campagnolo magnesium wheels covered by a thick layer of brake dust. An immaculate hardtop-wearing C2 Stingray looked amazing in what has to be the glossiest and most pristine paintjob I have ever seen on any fibreglass body, while an early Esprit in full “JPS World Champion” décor was rather striking too. And who doesn’t love an elegant Touring-bodied Lancia Flaminia GT?
But it was another Lancia which stole my heart on this particular cold January day. Now I know there’s really not much sense and logic behind choosing a small van, when there are Espadas, Stingrays, Khamsins, a stunning Dino 246GT, and even a jet black Cobra with the most spine tingling soundtrack known to mankind, all laid out on a silver tray for you. But the charm of this beautifully sculpted Lancia Ardea Furgoncino from the very immediate post-war years just blew me away! Who cares about horsepower, speed and luxury when you could be sat behind the wheel of such a rare and wonderful little Italian creation, smiling from ear to ear. That’s where I would want to be if I were given the choice…
Even so, I can’t say that I was too disappointed as I made my way back to the Scimitar after another excellent Sunday Scramble. I said my goodbyes to Paul, and the Scimitar and I headed west into the Cotswolds to visit a passionate classic car enthusiast who has literally devoted his whole life to our hobby. A detailed tour of his atmospheric garage, more coffee, and plenty of tyre-kicking later, the Scimitar and I finally rumbled through the night on our way back north to the High Peak. Roughly 17 hours after leaving home that morning, and adding approximately 360 miles to the speedo, I switched off the Essex V6 again and sat in the cosy darkness of those velour seats while listening to the engine and exhaust discreetly tick as it began to cool. This lovely budget GT hadn’t missed a beat on our first proper drive. I’m confident that my time with the Reliant will be a good one…