Here at ViaRETRO we believe that any classic is better than no classic, but most of all we believe that whatever you own, it’s doing no good sitting in the garage. That’s why we’re also not afraid of publishing two separate articles both from Drive-it Day within the same week. After all, this one day just about sums up the entire ViaRETRO approach to enjoying classic car ownership.
The concept of Drive-it Day was instigated by the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs to promote awareness of the classic car movement. The Federation nominates a date each year as close as practical to the anniversary of the 1000 Mile Trial, first held in April 1900. Local clubs within the Federation are then encouraged to organise their own local gatherings and tours under the Drive-it Day banner. The result is an annual spike in classic gatherings every April, just in time for many cars to emerge from winter hibernation.
This year we were happy to once again join the Drive-it Day Tour organised by Hagerty Insurance, run in aid of the Air Ambulance charity and Starter Motor, an organisation which exists to provide young people with the skills necessary to find work in the historic vehicle industry. So while Tony tried on the Drive-it Day arranged by Classic Motor Hub, I joined the Hagerty tour which had secured a new and very special start venue at the Oxfordshire workshops of Tuthill Porsche, and rapidly filled its 100 places to capacity. Tuthill should need no introduction, but in case you have been living on the moon, it’s sufficient to say they are probably the world’s leading preparers of historic Porsche rally cars. Their race and road cars aren’t bad either. Not surprisingly, if you’re planning on shopping at Tuthill’s you’ll need pretty deep pockets, but the very best never comes cheap.
Rust doesn’t respect pedigree and old Porsches corrode like anything else, as illustrated by the bodyshell fixed to a rotating spit. The stripped shell is entered in the 2019 East African Safari Classic so is being seam welded to increase torsional strength and withstand the impacts of driving rough roads at speed. The body preparation will continue with upgrading the jacking points, engineering stronger engine mounts, rolling the wheel arches for additional clearance, adding mounts for roo-bars and making retainers for the front and rear windows. Add to that the fitment of a comprehensive roll cage and all the peripheral but essential fabrication required to facilitate the correct routing of pipes and cables, and you can see where the time goes. More than 800 hours will be invested in the body alone before attention turns to the small matter of the mechanicals. On the other side of the workshop was a rally car at a later stage of life, having come back in for re-prep but not of course needing to return to bare metal. Build it right and it should last a long time.
After a critical examination of my current finances, I managed to stretch to a bacon roll and a bit of daydreaming before we turned our attention to the key business of the day. This year’s route comprised of 70 miles of scenic Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire, before finishing at the Bicester Heritage Sunday Scramble. The organisers provided a Tulip road book to keep all the crews heading in the right direction as it’s an intuitive form of navigation suitable for entrants of all abilities. The tour is strictly non-competitive with no timing of any kind, so crews departed when they were ready and naturally grouped into a number of small convoys. We had driven down in my BMW 2002 historic rally car and initially fell in behind a Porsche 911 and Mercedes-Benz R107 SL. Unlike the historic rallies we normally compete in, tours are much more relaxed affairs and this extends to vehicle eligibility, so you can behold Group B road cars, vintage Austins and Vauxhalls, 1980s family saloons and improbably dimensioned pick-up trucks all in one place.
The weather had been pretty bleak for the preceding few days but the sun gradually yawned and stretched into life throughout the morning, becoming almost spring like by the time we drew near to Bicester. Being out early on a Sunday meant we beat most of the normal traffic and were able to exist in our own bubble, stamping our own interpretation of time onto the back lanes. Look, it’s just like 1934. Or maybe 1983. I mean 1977. Erm, 1959. Oh, it could be anything…
Hagerty had bagged exclusive use of a large hangar at Bicester Heritage, so our arrival was slick and we were directed straight to our own parking area. For someone like me who doesn’t count themselves as general public this was marvellous, and it’s always good to feel taken care of. The DiD Tour was a diversion from our usual activities, but we were pleased to find a lot of care and attention had gone into the day and everyone had clearly enjoyed themselves. If you fancy taking part next time, get your entry in early so you don’t miss out.
With the sun approaching the yardarm we just had time for a quick pint from the Wriggly Monkey Brewery at Bicester Heritage before overlooking the delights of the Sunday Scramble, itself also completely sold out. Having previously visited several times it’s inevitable that some cars will be familiar (rarely a bad thing), but new finds keep coming out of the woodwork. I’ll come straight out with one of my favourites and draw your attention to this fabulous Peugeot 202 commercial, which my photograph completely fails to do justice. Making its first appearance after a restoration conducted on both sides of the Channel, the owner confessed the wooden backed pick-up perhaps looked a little too good, and he plans to give it a helping hand with patina. What other vehicle can you think of that looks like a drunken owl, and is this practical too?
Keeping with the commercial theme, I was pleased to see an immaculate fourth generation Ford Escort van and would be very happy to run one as a daily. This is the second one I’ve served up to you this year, having also spotted one on New Year’s Day. Are you feeling the love yet? If Ford passenger cars are more your thing, perhaps this well used Corsair floats your boat. It’s even wearing slotmags. A Corsair V4 was the first car I managed to accidentally spin through 360 degrees. With the experience of the passing years I’d like think I could achieve at least 720 degrees these days.
This year marks 100 years of Zagato. While Tony also spotted some Zagatoness at the Classic Motor Hub, it seems equally appropriate to showcase their take on the Aston Martin V8. Eighty nine of these 430bhp monsters were produced between 1986 and 1990, with fifty two having the Coupé bodystyle shown here. It seems unbelievably anachronistic to consider the 5,340cc engine was carburettor fed but that was still good enough for 186mph. Controversial when new, the Zagato quickly came to be a key target for the investment feeding frenzy of the late 80s, with values rapidly growing by a factor of five before the market crash brought everything tumbling down again for a while. Whereas the styling once shocked the traditionalists, it now appears almost modest compared to current production cars, but its menacing presence is undiluted.
If the Zagato isn’t rare enough for you, when did you last see a Renault 19 16v? Or how about a Vauxhall Viceroy? Intended to plug a gap between the 2.0-litre Carlton and the 2.8-litre Royale, the Viceroy was based on the Opel Commodore C. Although boasting a 2.5-litre capacity 6-cylinder, intercompany politics dictated the engine wasn’t Opel’s well regarded fuel injected variant, which rather sabotaged the venture. Only 2,295 buyers decided they wanted a car that offered no extra space than a Carlton whilst being much more expensive with considerably poorer fuel economy, and the Viceroy was dropped after only two years of production. Its name however lives proudly on in the world of Indian restaurants. Or for a car that doesn’t look rare but actually is, how about what is reputed to be the only Ford Cortina 2.3S still on the road? Once brown and careworn it’s now bright yellow and immaculate, though part of me wishes the colour had been left original. You can’t knock the work that has gone into it though.
The award for needless persistence in the face of not much adversity unexpectedly goes to the owner of the black Mk4 Escort. Look closely at the crumpled half primer front wing and you’ll see two large patches have been approximately stitched on, seemingly without much attempt to straight it beforehand. I’ve checked and brand new wings are readily available for £79.99. I wonder how much could have been saved on welding rod and primer, let alone the time…
Sunday Scrambles never disappoint when it comes to variety and I’ll leave you to pick out your own favourites. Judging by the support for both the Hagerty Tour and the Bicester Heritage Sunday Scramble, the classic car movement is in excellent health and the summer stretches out ahead of us once again. In the spirit of Drive-it Day; whatever you own, just make sure you get out there and use it.