I don’t particularly enjoy New Year’s Eve. I’m too grumpy to mingle with revellers. This time I fell asleep before midnight. That was just as well really, because New Year’s Day required an early start and a clear head. It was difficult to find any car related entertainment locally but further south there was an embarrassment of riches. Southern correspondent Tony Warwyk was already heading for Brooklands, so I chose the small town of Stony Stratford, venue for the tenth annual Vintage Stony meeting.
Stony is a small market town that has just about escaped being swallowed by the sprawling mass of anodyne mediocrity that is Milton Keynes. The original market charter dates back to 1194 and despite a couple of extensive fires, the English Civil War and Buckinghamshire’s urban planners conspiring against it, the locals remain welcoming enough to allow hordes of old cars to take over the town on New Year’s Day. It’s a good boost for business and the event raises money for a local hospice charity. Judging by the speed at which the outlying car parks fill up, the event’s appeal has spread far and wide. So with the weather almost playing ball, we ease into the crowds and go looking for the best that 2019’s Vintage Stony has to offer.
As the Vintage Stony name would imply, the emphasis is on pre-1940s cars for the January meeting. The Classic Stony meeting in June focusses more on post-war cars, but in reality pretty much everything seems welcome on New Year’s Day. That means you’ll find significantly more variety here than at a normal classic car meeting and whilst the town’s market square is devoted to vintage and veterans, cars of all ages occupy every street and alleyway. The town’s main thoroughfare lies on the route of Watling Street, the original Roman road north from London that predates even the oldest car here by around 1,900 years. It’s therefore fitting that our first find is an Italian car, parked on this ancient Italian motorway. It’s not every day you see an Alfa Romeo Montreal and this one is a show stopper. Powered by a 7,000 rpm dry-sump 2.6-litre quad cam V8 and bodied by Bertone, fewer than 4,000 were built and they are a particularly rare sight in the UK. With a list price in the early 1970s that was comparable with the average UK house price, contemporary Jaguar E-Types or Porsche 911s were cheaper but lacked the dramatic visual impact of a Montreal. From the purposeful headlamps partially hidden behind retractable grills, past the false NACA duct in the bonnet and back to the boldly slotted door pillar, it’s makes the Coventry and Stuttgart designs seem staid and conservative. I’d venture that the 911 and E-Type weren’t really competitors at all as they’re nowhere near adventurous enough. Perhaps instead consider the Montreal to be a bargain alternative to something like a Lamborghini Espada. Well can you think of a true competitor in the Alfa Romeo’s price bracket with the same visual presence?
Next up, you could be forgiven for thinking I am keeping with the Italian theme but what at first glance appears to be a Fiat 500 is in fact an Austrian Steyr-Puch 500. Steyr entered into a licencing agreement with Fiat as a cost effective way back into car production. They developed their own flat twin 16hp engine to fit into what was essentially a carryover Fiat body. Fractionally larger and more powerful than the Italian engine, the 493cc Steyr is reportedly smoother and better to drive than the original Fiat. The car at Stony was a 1959 model that was latterly imported into the UK and restored. Renovation complete, it was then driven all the way back to Austria last year to visit the original owner. That’s a long trip in any car but hey, it is the large engined variant I suppose…
Onwards to the unlikely pairing of a careworn Ferrari Mondial and an even more careworn Reliant Kitten. Whether they are owned by the same person, I could not confirm. Perhaps one is for the daily grind of commuting and the Kitten kept for special events? Until recently the Mondial was considered to be about as desirable as the Kitten, but values have risen sharply for all but the roughest examples. If I was to go Ferrari shopping on the cheap I might be more inclined to look at a 400, also found at Stony in a car park just off the High Street. It almost fills the role of a budget anti-Ferrari, guaranteed to disgust the Tifosi with its saloon shape and GM 400 slushmatic transmission, but it capitulates by being resale red in a vain attempt to claw back some appeal. However, it would be a confident man who took the plunge at the moment with values of even the more desirable Ferraris starting to soften. When an imperfect but much more sought after 308 GTSi only made £33,000 at Brooklands’ November sale and a smart three speed auto 400i in metallic grey sold for £22,640, maybe now isn’t the time to chance investing in a bridesmaid model.
Truth be told, the Ford pickup was what really caught my eye up this end of town. This supposed slice of Americana is actually Australian, built in Geelong with right hand drive for the local market. Correctly called a 1949 Ford Coupé Utility, it was marketed as a dual-purpose vehicle with room for three up front, “improved springing, Magic Action brakes and an improved V8 engine”. Considering it’s a commercial vehicle, a lot of attention was clearly paid to the transatlantic styling and you can see the influences of Detroit in the imposing front end, the curve of the cab roof and the generous provision of six windows. It’s debatable if whitewalls would have been commonly specified when new, but it gets away with it now.
Onwards to the car parks behind Silver Street, and more curiosities. Lurking in the entrance way we find a Mini based Scamp. The Scamp is in every respect the antithesis of the Alfa Romeo Montreal. Whereas the latter is intricately detailed and sculpted, the former is more influenced by a garden shed, but lacking the aerodynamic advantages of a pitched roof. Scamps came in many variants due to a chassis construction of simple square tube box sections which facilitated short and long wheelbases and four or six-wheel configurations. This was a boon to the home builder who could follow tried and tested designs clad with aluminium outer panels, or build something tailored completely to their purposes. I’m not entirely sure what we’re looking at here, but practicality seems to have been the order of the day rather than any attempts to gain an apprenticeship at Pininfarina.
For a more rounded take on the utility vehicle, how about an Auto Union 1000 Universal. The Auto Union GmbH parent company was re-established in 1949 and whilst the Auto Union, Audi and Horch nameplates became dormant, the firm set about providing the German population with affordable transport under the DKW brand. Based on the strangely named DKW 3=6, the 1000 was launched in 1958 and represented a short-lived revival of the Auto Union brand. A 981cc two-stroke three-cylinder engine was mated to a four-speed transmission driving the front wheels. Styling cues came directly from DKW but in the case of the Universal the insectoid appearance is softened by the estate rear bodywork, and although it’s not as distinctive as the saloons or pillarless coupés, it has a charm all of its own. Note the four rings of the Auto Union badge which have become so ubiquitous today. It’s surprising that Audi haven’t yet cynically resurrected the Auto Union brand for the likes of their R8 sports car, recalling the all dominant Grand Prix team of the 1930s. I fear it’s only a matter of time…
A quick scoot through this area also yielded a lovely Fiat 124 Spyder, an interesting Beardmore Taxi and a well-used Mk2 Ford Zephyr rally car. Other unusual finds included a Morris Minor with the rare option of a boot mounted N-gauge model railway and a Trabant 601 formerly belonging to the East German civil defence fire service. I was also thrilled to have a chance to share with my partner a nugget of trivia; that the Citroen GSA, which I artfully photographed by some bins, was the last production car to be made with facility for a starting handle. If you know better, feel free to keep it to yourself.
And so to the vintage and veterans, filling the market square and spilling over elsewhere. The oldest car attending was almost certainly the 1902 Clément-Gladiator, one of 1,000 cars the company produced that year of which over 800 were exported to England. Named KKK Katie after a song popularised in World War I, it was later seen happily zipping off back up the High Street, mingling with the moderns. The black MG TA found in an adjacent yard was a genuine ex-Lancashire constabulary police car. The police specification driving lamp, windscreen mounted search light and front mounted warning bell were state of the art law enforcement equipment for their day. With 52bhp coming from the twin SU 1,292cc engine, four forward gears and hydraulic drum brakes, there wouldn’t have been much on the road that could have outrun it. One car which had that potential was the grandly named 1932 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 5th Series Gran Turismo Compressore. With an 80bhp twin cam supercharged six-cylinder it would have been more than lively enough, but for many years this particular car went nowhere. Delivered new to Australia as a rolling chassis, it suffered a serious road accident in the 1940s and was laid up until the 1970s when a long and extensive restoration was embarked upon. The current body is not the accident damaged original but was latterly commissioned as a replica of the contemporary “Flying Star” style of coachwork. What matters most is that the result is both elegant and purposeful, and it was on display for all to appreciate.
A nice touch at Stony is the midday “one minute’s noise”, which commemorates departed enthusiasts through the medium of revving engines. This year we remembered the sudden loss of Classic & Sportscar Magazine’s David Evans, and stalwart of racing and rallying Barrie ‘Whizzo’ Williams. We chose to experience the tribute next to the snarling exhaust of Reg Parnell’s Challenger. The silver single seater was the result of Parnell’s belief that he could create a car that would be simpler and more competitive than the dominant ERAs of the late 1930s. Contracting Rubery Owen (later instrumental in the BRM story) to construct the chassis, it was originally planned to be powered by an MG influenced bespoke 1,492cc twin supercharged inline six, but instead it made its debut in July 1939 at Prescott Hillclimb with an ERA engine. This was quickly deemed to be insufficient so Parnell, a prolific racing car hoarder and dealer, borrowed a straight eight from a 1927 Delage Grand Prix car. However, before any more development could be undertaken the war intervened. When racing resumed, the car made its belated circuit debut at the 1947 British Empire Trophy on the Isle of Man where it proved to be uncompetitive, suffered magneto failure and retired. Sensing the project was going nowhere, Parnell sold the Challenger to an American and it disappeared from the British scene. The new owner converted it to V12 Lagonda power and fitted a two-seater body, but after a long period away it’s back in the UK, rebodied and back with ERA power. Clearly it’s not exactly original nor was it ever competitive, but it sounded the part in the market square.
Having spent the morning in a world of sensory overload, one of my favourite spots came as we were walking back out of town. Unassumingly parked by the kerb was a first-generation Honda City Turbo. Although extremely compact, the City was not quite small enough to qualify as a “kei” car, the Japanese category for the tiniest passenger cars and commercials. At 11.2ft (3.4m) bumper to bumper it was too long to be a kei car and far too wide, though coincidentally it sits right on the limit of the current length legislation. Although it missed out on the various tax benefits of kei class, the upside was not being restricted to the 550cc capacity limit in force at the time. Honda’s smallest car was therefore able to pack a much bigger punch with a whole 1,231 cubic centimetres and four cylinders. The Turbocharged model was developed in partnership with Mugen, who were later to become synonymous with fast Hondas, and a full 99bhp pulled the lightweight City up to 100 km/h in 8.6 seconds. Such performance would have rivalled the established European hot hatches of the 1980s but it was never imported to Europe in turbocharged form, and the normally aspirated models failed to make an impression. The one we found at Stony was a pre-facelift model that predated the aggressive flared wings and bodykit that made the Turbo II appear almost square; as wide as it was long. However, to adapt our ViaRETRO tagline, any Honda City Turbo is a good Honda City Turbo.
Vintage Stony is an excellent reason to limit New Year’s Eve excess so you can stride out of the house into the new morning with a purpose. The only problem is the risk of peaking too soon. I mean, to have seen such variety by midday on the first day of January? Once again, the rest of the year has a lot to live up to.