After my recent visit to one of motoring’s historically iconic (not a word I use lightly) locations, last weekend saw me make a return to the type of grass-roots event that makes up a substantial proportion of the UK classic car calender – a local show, organised and run by volunteers and raising money for charitable causes.
On Sunday, I took part in the Wallingford Vehicle Rally for the first time, although the event itself has been going since 2005. Since then, it has grown considerably in popularity, to the point where the entry tickets for last weekend’s rally sold out in just 23 minutes! This is partly explained by the fact that the organisers are restricted by space limitations, allowing no more than 350 cars to take part in the event, which combines a parade around the small town of Wallingford with a static display area, plus a mini-parade arena, the usual catering vans and entertainment in the form of live music throughout the day. Nevertheless, it’s an impressive feat! Access for spectators is free, but donation buckets are placed all around the site and the event has raised over £100,000 for charities since its inception, with the amounts rising each year. This kind of fund-raising is a wonderful by-product of the increasing interest in our classic car hobby and another aspect of its importance; long may it continue, and indeed I’m attending another one next weekend – more on that in a separate report.
Wallingford is located along the River Thames in Oxfordshire, about 21km south of Oxford itself, and a 55km drive west for die Zitrone. It was given its Royal Charter in 1155, and there are references to it dating back to Anglo-Saxon times and the town comes complete with castle, old churches and large market square at its centre, and importantly, a lot of pubs. With a population of under 12,000, it’s a typical small English market town, and very picturesque, as I hope the photos will show.
This was one of those rare events where my better half had deigned to join me, partly because she had never been to Wallingford before but primarily because it looked like there was a good pub lunch in the offing. We had to be on site no later than 10:00, with the parade due to start at 10:30, so we set off on a mild and beautifully sunny morning for a leisurely drive through what is now freshly green countryside as the summer approaches.
We rocked up at the designated starting point for the rally – a sports field – and joined the appropriate line. Before the parade was due to start, there was time to check out those classics that had already arrived, while others continued to file in. One of the great things about an event like this is that every car there had been driven to the venue by its owner, no dealers were there, just genuine enthusiasts in a wide variety of classics.
While walking along the lines of cars I was delighted to see not one, but two other BMW ‘02’s – a very tidy 1971 Colorado 2002 Touring and a lovely 1973 Inka 2002tii. Other delights to catch the morning eye were a very smart blue 1985 Opel Monza GS/E, a majestic gold Daimler Limousine – favoured for many years by Town Mayors and other dignatories across the UK, though in their case, generally in black – and a stunning 1959 Porsche 356B 1600 Roadster. Unlike many other “356’s” I’ve seen recently, this was the real deal, and therefore one of the highlights of the day.
Another highlight in our section of the field was a wonderful 1939 Alvis 4.3, originally built for Sir Alfred McAlpine, of the engineering and construction dynasty. This exquisite car is one of just two surviving examples, and is a Pebble Beach, Las Vegas and Angouleme Concours winner, according to the note in the windscreen – so by comparison, it was slumming it today!
The parade itself was fun – if a little slow to get under way, but with around 350 cars plus dozens of motorbikes and scooters to get out onto public roads this was hardly surprising. We were sandwiched between a Lotus 7 and an Alfasud Sprint and followed the crocodile of classics along a short route that took us all around and then into the town, with spectators lining much of the route, especially in the centre, where they were literally 8 to 10 deep. There was much waving and tooting of horns as families set up picnic chairs and tables along the roadside outside their homes, and it was a delight to see multiple generations embracing the event and our hobby. It was especially gratifying to see children – girls as well as boys – busy taking photographs of cars that were many decades older than they were; perhaps the next generation of classic car fans?
After the parade, a break for lunch and a glass of wine was needed, a requirement fulfilled at the Old Post Office – no longer a Post Office but now a pub and restaurant – after which it was time to check out the main showground. While heading there we came across perhaps the most unusual car of the day, and it wasn’t even taking part in the event – a 1992 Subaru SVX. I hadn’t seen one for many years, and it seems there’s a good explanation for that – just 50 are left in the UK.
At the showground, it seemed like half the town was there, with families out in the sun enjoying the fairground, stalls, parade area and the main showground, strolling among the lovely mix of high and low-end classics on display, ranging from a gaggle of Citroen 2CV’s and Mini’s through to an absolutely gorgeous green 1967 Mercedes-Benz 190SL alongside an equally stunning navy-blue 1962 Ferrari 250GTE – probably the most valuable car of the day. Imagine these two beauties side-by-side in your garage!
Americana was mostly – though not all – the usual mixture of Mustangs and ‘Vettes, with a metallic maroon 1967 C2 convertible standing out. But a nicely-patinated red ‘55 Ford Thunderbird looked like it got regular use, and perhaps the most unusual American car of the day was a 1919 Studebaker Light Six with a unique wooden boat-tailed body.
Speaking of wooden and unique, readers may recall a highly-original one-off Rover 75 Coupé at the Practical Classics show at the NEC earlier this year, built by Gerry Lloyd. On Sunday, Gerry had brought with him another of his takes on the Rover 75, this time, a pick-up. His attention to detail is such that, having decided he wanted to emulate the wood-look of traditional pick-ups, he even replaced the chrome body-strips with wooden ones, and crafted wooden door handles. For me, his 75 Coupé was a more successful and coherent creation, but there is no doubting the skill and craftsmanship Gerry applies to his projects. Next up apparently is a 75 Convertible!
Other cool stuff included some ultimate British Q-cars, in the form of a pair of Lotus Carltons and Ford Sierra Cosworth, while our “Spot the Zagato” season continued with another 1600 Fulvia Sports, this time a silver one with black stripe along the centre of its bonnet lid.
Among our beloved “everyday heroes” could be found an utterly unexceptional 1971 Austin Maxi 1750, a neat blue 1966 Singer Chamois, a gaggle of Mini’s including a cool 1275GT Clubman in bright orange, and another big executive coupé besides the Monza – a metallic bronze 1975 Ford Granada 3.0 Ghia Coupé. These were very imposing cars back in the day, occupying a sector that included Opel’s contemporary Rekord and Commodore coupés as well as Rover’s SD1, speaking of which, there were a couple of tasty Vitesse’s present, my favourite being a red 1985 example, and a less common 2300, of which there are fewer than 40 remaining in the UK.
After another hour or so spent wandering up and down the ranks of classics and trying – with some difficulty – to take some photographs without people walking across me, or deciding just then to stand and look more closely at the very car I was trying to get a clear shot of (it’s almost like they know!), we decided it was time to make our way out of this very pleasant market town and take the scenic route home under a clear blue sky.
On the way, we caught up with a red 1954 Jaguar XK140 FHC and ahead of that, a Fjord blue metallic BMW 2002 Baur targa from 1972. The three of us drove through the countryside in a stylish convoy for about 15 miles, and after the Jag had peeled off, we stopped for a brief chat with the owner of the Baur, David Coulton, who admitted to having thrashed his little BMW on more than one occasion but treats it with more respect these days! It turned out that this was the Baur I’d previously seen at Templar and Wilde, where I take Die Zitrone for any work that needs doing – small world!
This was a perfect ending to an excellent day of sunshine and classics, incorporating a scenic drive through a lovely part of England, and with thousands of pounds raised for charity – what’s not to like? Bring on the Chiltern Hills Rally next weekend!