Last weekend I took part in an archetypal local British classic car event, the Wallingford Vehicle and Car Rally. Archetypal because it took place in and around a small town, and was organised and run by local volunteers, with two main aims – to provide a classic days’ enjoyment for classic car enthusiasts and their families, and to raise money for local charities. Events such as these are the bread and butter of classic events in the UK, and dozens of them take place throughout the summer – not organised for profit, held on local village greens rather than the grounds of grand country houses, and while they sometimes attract some marvellous and even exotic cars, the majority of classics present tend not to be concours winners from Pebble Beach or the Villa d’Este. Importantly, they are all – even the oldest ones – driven to the venue by their owners, rather than trailered; these are classics that are used, not just stored and only allowed out on very special occasions.
Some of these events are quite modest, with just a couple of hundred cars present. Others, such as the Kop Hill Climb, are on a grander scale, with up to 1000 cars on show plus the hill climb itself. This Sunday, I attended another of the larger shows of this type – the Chiltern Hills Vintage Vehicle Rally, or CHVVR for short, held at Weedon Park just outside Aylesbury in an area of natural beauty, being the rolling hills from which the event takes its name.
The rally is organised by a group calling itself the Game Club, and like many of the best ideas, the seed for the Game Club was sown during a meeting in a pub, the Partridge Arms in Aston Clinton, back in 1985. About a dozen friends formed the club to raise funds to enable a young wheelchair-bound woman to take part in the Paralympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. Adopting the partridge as it’s symbol, the Game Club succeeded in getting Diane Coates to Seoul, and from then on, decided to hold regular fund-raising events, one of which became the CHVVR, which has taken place on the third Sunday in May for each of the past 25 years. In that time, over £350,000 has been raised to help local people and good causes – the classic car community putting its hands in its pockets.
Like many similar events, the CHVVR is more than just a car show, with all manner of activities laid on to make it a true family day out, including slides and rides, trade stalls, catering, live music and even a dog show. The classic car part of the event kicked off with a road run on a roughly 55 km route which started in nearby Aylesbury and finished at Weedon Park. I thought this might be fun, so got there in time for the start just after 8:30, joining about forty early-bird drivers, including a couple of well-presented Triumph Stags, an under-restoration Triumph Vitesse from 1936, an imposing 1968 Ford Torino and a terrific little 1937 Austin Special.
For much of the run I followed a pair of “fast Fords”, a smart white 1989 Ford Escort RS Turbo and an equally white 1971 Escort Mexico. Both drivers took advantage of any straight stretches to give their engines a few revs along beautiful country lanes and through picturesque villages on a lovely bright morning, eventually arriving at the main show site about 75 minutes later, by which time there were already many hundreds of cars lined up. For the most part, cars – and commercials and tractors; we were in the countryside, after all! – were parked in class categories, and the more competitive owners were busy polishing and buffing their cars up to a gleaming shine in the late morning sun.
There were 14 classes being judged in total, so I won’t list them all here, but I parked die Zitrone in the area for Class F – Cars 1971-1986; unsurprisingly, the biggest single class, with 103 entrants. I did not join the polishers and buffer-uppers, thereby immediately scuppering any chance I may have had of winning a rosette. Instead I chose to leave the dead flies I’d collected on the drive to Weedon where they had met their end – on the front of my car. This conveniently freed up time for your roving correspondent to start making his way around the site to see what classic delights could be found, and there were many. While doing so, I did my upmost to avoid the (mostly thankfully dried) cow crap in what was essentially a farmer’s field…
With over 800 cars on display, it’s obviously impossible to mention them all, but I’ll try to give you a flavour of the day.
The first car I spotted – just yards away – was another 2002tii, Lee Morand’s immaculate Chamonix white “Roundie” and just a little further away, a lovely Verona red 2002 Baur Targa. It’s not often I see more than one other ’02 at a show, but this was the second consecutive weekend that I did – maybe it’s the start of a trend!
One of the more unusual sights was a collection of Peerless GT’s – four in all, of the 50 known to survive, with the white 1959 example looking particularly good. Based a few miles west of London, Peerless only made cars from 1957 to 1960, utilising Triumph TR3 running gear underneath a purposeful-looking fibreglass body. Like many of the UK’s small specialist manufacturer’s, they never managed to really keep their heads above water and after producing 325 cars, the company went under. There was a short-lived revival under the Warwick name, and there was a 1961 example here, but just 40 cars and two years later, this too came to an end. There was one more chapter to this story, as Peerless co-founder John Gordon was later instrumental in developing the Gordon Keeble, putting an American 5.4-litre V8 in and an Italian designed body on the Peerless space-frame. Unfortunately, even this superb car failed to sell in sufficient numbers, and just 100 were made. Still, you have to admire John Gordon’s persistence.
Sticking to specialist sports cars, you’d be hard pushed to find two more different executions of the concept than a Fairthorpe Electron Minor and a Matra-Bonnet Djet. The Fairthorpe is another typical British effort, using existing running gear – again from Triumph, clothed in a fibreglass shell. The green 1959 example on show was one of the most produced models from Fairthorpe, with about 700 made. Indeed, Fairthorpe managed to build cars for almost twenty years, a relative success story. Interestingly, both Fairthorpe and Peerless were built within a few miles of where I’m writing this, in Chalfont St. Peter/Denham and Slough respectively.
The Matra-Bonnet Djet is of course another kettle of poisson altogether. On the face of it, another fibreglass body and a standard engine – this time from a Renault 8 – and a transmission from a van, no less, it sounds just like any number of British specials, and yet… just look at it! And that Renault 8 engine is placed amidships, making the Djet the world’s first mid-engined production car. Over its five-year lifetime from 1962 to 1967, there were a bewildering number of versions produced. The red, slightly frayed 1966 example at the rally was a Djet V, the most common (if I can say that about a car of which fewer than a thousand were made). Like it’s countrymen from Panhard and Citroën, looking at its adventurous, aerodynamic styling, you’d be hard pushed to believe it was a contemporary of cars such as the TR4, Spitfire or MGB, though it cost a great deal more than those cars then, and does so now as well.
Moving back across La Manche, there was a very cool line-up of West Bromwich’s Jensens, mainly Interceptors but also a couple Jensen Healeys and a very tidy 541. A bit further on was a row of Morgans which could have been built any time from 1940 (I don’t really get the cult around Morgans; if I want a car that looks old, I’ll buy a car that actually is old. Here’s a thought – perhaps Morgan have for decades been the precursors to the likes of the Eagle E-Type and Singer Porsche?), and the usual smattering of Triumph and MG sportscars and sporting saloons of varying vintage. A wide variety of classic Ford’s were out in force too. And it was nice to see a couple of my dad’s old cars, too – a grey Austin A95 Westminster registered the month and year I was born, October 1957, and a blue Morris 1800 “land-crab”.
Brown car fans (you know who you are…) could enjoy a 1980 VW Golf Mk 1, a russet brown Dolomite Sprint of similar vintage, and a 1977 Ford Granada 3.0 Ghia, the latter two complete with vinyl roofs. In fact, there was a strong display of Granada Mk.1’s, in both saloon, coupé and estate forms.
Everyday heroes of yesteryear were parked all around the field, as I hope the pictures will show, but before heading across the Atlantic, I just want to highlight a couple of other unusual classics, the first being a car I don’t recall seeing before, a dinky little 1937 1127 cc Ford Eifel made in Köln. Then there was a French-built 1950 Hotchkiss Anjou 20/50 3.5-litre with an electric gearbox and presented in totally unrestored condition with the same ownership since 1980. And no, I’m not forgetting the Tatra – it’s just that I’ve photographed and written about this particular car before. It still impresses with its modernity, though.
So to our friends on the other side of the pond, where cars are bigger and more is most definitely more. There was an entire category given over to American cars with some really cool stuff in among the usual Mustangs and Corvettes. I was particularly impressed by seeing three Edsels alongside each other, including a 1959 Villager Station Wagon, which seemed epically big. Then there was the even bigger, at 18 feet exactly, 1955 Buick Roadmaster in a bright shade of green, a lovely Colonial Blue 1953 Lincoln Capri Coupé and a 1960 Plymouth Belvedere fully decked out in drive-in mode, complete with food tray, menu and speakers! Prize for the biggest car there though went to all 18 feet 5 inches of a black 1968 Lincoln Continental, complete with suicide doors, 7.5-litre engine and 345bhp. Yet somehow it’s sharp design helps it looked restrained compared to some of its Detroit fellows.
There was muscle too, with perhaps the most ostentatious displays of it from a 1966 Oldsmobile 442 and a 7-litre 1969 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. But my favourite American car of the day was a super-cool 1969 Impala SS, complete with 7-litres and 390 horses – I particularly like the clean front-end styling.
To finish with, from one extreme to the other – and for our International Editor in particular – I wanted to mention the 1965 Rootes Works Rally Sunbeam Imp with a genuine rallying background. In 1967 this car was used as a “recce car” in the Monte Carlo, Tulip and Alpine rallies, as well as competing in the International Police and RAC rallies. Among others it was driven by Andrew Cowan and Brian Coyle, who the following year won the first London to Sydney Marathon in a Hillman Hunter. Not a bad pedigree!
This was yet another really enjoyable day out – a lovely countryside run, a great variety of classics lined up in the spring sunshine, thousands of enthusiastic visitors, an all-round family-friendly atmosphere and thousands of pounds raised for charities; sounds good to me, even if I did leave without a rosette!