Over the past few years, Drive-it Day has effectively become the season-opening classic car event in the UK. That is, if you consider the classic car season to begin in late Spring and end in early Autumn – which, with the kind of weather we get here, probably seems reasonable enough for most.
While there have been classic events throughout the winter – both indoor and outdoor – Drive-it Day (DiD) acts as a kind of official reminder to all classic car enthusiasts to take the cover off your classic, or open the garage door and let some daylight onto your car’s paintwork, and to do with your classic what you’re meant to do – take it out on the road and drive it.
DiD was introduced in 2005 by the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (FBHVC) – an organisation comprising over 450 clubs and museums together with around 1500 trade and individual supporters – to help raise awareness of the large and important extent of the classic vehicle movement in the UK, and since then has traditionally been held on a Sunday at the end of April; this year, that was the 28th.
However, DiD is not just an excuse to get behind the wheel of your classic – there’s more to it than that.
One of the FBHVC’s key aims is “to uphold the freedom to use old vehicles on the roads without any undue restriction”. At a time when several major cities around the UK (and the rest of Europe for that matter) are introducing – or in the case of London, have already introduced – Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) and increased charges for older vehicles to drive into their centres on the grounds that they’re more polluting, this matters more than ever. As it happens, and thanks to a campaign led by Classic and Sportscar magazine, cars 40 years older or more are exempt from paying the £12.50 ULEZ fee (although when I tried to check this on Transport for London’s website, it didn’t recognise die Zitrone as a tax-exempt car, even though it’s a 1975 car). However, for the driver of a 1980 Audi Quattro, it will now cost £12.50 at any time and on any day, and another £11.50 between 8.00am and 6.00pm from Monday to Friday to drive into central London. Driving in and around our capital is already no fun in any car, and now it’s even less fun than ever in a classic.
The fact that classics are often better maintained than many older cars on the road and driven much less than daily drivers, thereby accounting for only c.0. 1% of all traffic, doesn’t seem to matter. Drivers of older cars are polluters and therefore not welcome on the roads of our major cities. How much longer before we can’t use them anywhere at all without incurring a charge?
So while DiD is primarily about enjoying our classics and taking part in a DiD event on the day, it’s also about our right to use them without being penalised.
On the day itself, classic car gatherings took place all over the country (last year some 250,000 historic vehicles were believed to have hit the road on the day), and the UK ViaRETRO team did its part by attending a couple of them. Dave Leadbetter has taken part in the Hagerty Insurance event which will feature in a separate report later in the week. Meanwhile yours truly made the circa 200 km roundtrip across the picturesque Cotswolds – the last dozen miles or so through truly lovely countryside – in the freshly and expensively serviced and fettled die Zitrone to the Classic Motor Hub (CMH) near the village of Bibury for a morning of coffee and classics, and as usual there was much to savour.
I first went to the CMH last year – located on an old RAF Fighter Command base and retaining its links to that time by using one of the original “blister” aircraft shelters for a showroom. On the whole, it’s reminiscent of Bicester Heritage, only quite a lot smaller. Advance registration is necessary, as the site is limited to a maximum of 250 cars, but it is free, and attendees can not only enjoy checking out the classics driven to the site by their owners, but can also browse the showroom and Cotswold Collection, enjoy snacks and drinks from the CMH coffee bar among other catering facilities, and all to the background of roots blues from the Mojo Hand duo. On a sunny morning, it’s a wonderful place to while away a couple of hours.
I arrived on the nose at 10:00am on a chilly but thankfully dry Spring Sunday morning (the glorious Easter weekend weather had reverted back to typical April UK weather) and parked up on the hard standing alongside a not particularly classic Porsche 996 and a somewhat more classic Triumph Herald. A warming cup of coffee later and it was time to check out what classic delights had made the trip.
One of the characteristics of a meeting at the CMH is the contrast between everyday classics driven by enthusists and some of the astonishing cars for sale in the showroom, not to mention the cars on display in the Collectors’ Hanger. This was perhaps best exemplified by the white 1988 FIAT 126 BIS parked just along from me – restored, no less, and with just 18,000 miles on the clock – and among the cars for sale, a glorious bright red Ferrari 365GTS, one of only 20 and price on application – naturally. You would struggle to find a greater disparity, yet the FIAT is only a little more common than the Ferrari in the UK, there being just 69 of the 126 BIS left, and less than 200 126’s in total.
A visitor’s time at the CMH for an event such as this, or one of their regular Coffee and Classics mornings, can be suitably split roughly between checking out the cars driven there on the day, the cars for sale in their showroom, and those on displayin the Collectors’ Hangar.
Since the car park was still fairly underpopulated – not least because the 40-plus participants in their 50 mile/80 km classic tour from Chateau Impney to the CMH were not due to arrive for another 45 minutes or so – I started my visit with a wander around the showrooms.
There are some breath-taking cars in these rooms, many with high six-figure price tags and a few where you have to ask – something I find somewhat irritating. Despite this, the impact of seeing cars as beautiful as a perfect mint green Aston Martin DB4, a stunning 1952 white on blue Vignale-bodied Ferrari 225S or the supremely elegant 1951 Lancia Aurelia B50 cabriolet never fades; these are jewels of cars and seldom seen anywhere except at concours events or museums.
There was also some serious motorsport history on display. How about a works team 1929 Aston Martin Le Mans LM3, yours for just £850,000, or a 1932 LM8 for an undisclosed amount? If that’s a little too rich, £600,000 will buy you the gorgeous little 1962 OSCA 1600 GTS with a one-off Zagato body – another Le Mans car. Though undoubtedly the most unusual racing car there, was the extraordinary – and I mean truly extraordinary – 1923 Voisin Type C6. Nicknamed the Laboratoire due to its experimental nature, this remarkable-looking aluminium-bodied prototype was unfortunately not a success. It even had a “quartic” steering wheel, several decades before the Allegro became notorious for it’s similarly-shaped wheel.
The Voisin was part of a row of amazing French classics – a superb 1937 Delage D8 120 which had featured in “An American in Paris” (on loan from the Mullin Museum), a beautiful metallic green Henri Chapron-designed 1960 Citröen ID19 Le Paris and a 1931 Bugatti Type 54, also from the Mullin collection.
Other eye-catching beauties in the showrooms included a fabulous RHD 1972 Maserati Ghibli with a mere 10,010 miles on the clock, and a spectacular 1939 Frazer Nash BMW 327 cabriolet. You could just walk around these rooms all morning, wishing you had a fat Swiss bank account, but by now the car park was filling up and it was time to take a look at more “real world” classics.
Various Zagato-bodied cars will be a theme we will return to occasionally throughout this 100th anniversary year of the Italian coachbuilder, and I’ve already referred to one glorious – and very expensive – example. Outside I came across a more common one – if one can say that of a model of which only a little over 7,000 examples were built – a black aluminium-bodied Lancia Fulvia 1600 Sports, the most desirable of all Zagato Fulvias, with only about 900 built. Next to it, a very different kind of coupé – a 1st-generation 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, not a car often seen in the UK. And while I’m on the subject of Americana, just around the corner, a huge 1969 6.4-litre Ford LTD. Both were red, the former with a white roof, the latter with a black one. I really liked the clean lines of the LTD, my favourite American car of the day.
Of course, more modest classics were also to be found; for instance, a tidy dark blue 1972 Hillman Avenger GT, one of it’s rear-engined Imp stablemates in metallic green from 1968, and a fantastically unexceptional beige 1984 Renault 4TL, among others.
Back in more lustworthy territory was a delectable 1963 Lancia Flaminia GT, and a lovely example of my favourite Ferrari, a Dino 246 GT, this one unusually in blue. I will always prefer the Dino’s delicately drawn lines to those of its more powerful bigger brothers.
It was good to not be the only BMW ’02 present – a lovely Inka orange Touring brightened up the morning, as did a vivid Giallo Fly Ferrari 308GT4. For the farmers among you, there was an impressive row of half-a-dozen Land Rovers of pre-1973 vintage. I’m not a farmer, so they tend to do little for me, but I must confess, they looked formidable lined up alongside each other.
After a couple of very pleasant hours, the car park started to thin out. I got the sense that there wasn’t quite a full turnout this time; perhaps some were put off by the lack of sunshine. But nevertheless there was much to brighten this dull cloudy morning, as I hope the photos will show. I was also encouraged by the number of classics I saw being driven both on my way to the CMH as well as on my way home – the Drive-it Day message had clearly been taken to heart. There was one sad sight – a Ferrari F40, no less, parked forlornly on the hard shoulder of the M40.
In any case, it’s always a pleasure to visit the Classic Motor Hub, and I hope to be back there at least once or twice more this summer.