One of a cluster of picturesque villages tucked just out the way of the London-Worthing road in Surrey, Capel is home to 4,000 people, various charming houses and the 13th century Church of St. John the Baptist. Once a year, in defiance of its small size, it also boasts a classic car show attracting several hundred exhibits. Being held alongside the annual horticultural show means that there are various other quaint village fête-type attractions, and I’ve always been pleased to pay a fiver for entry knowing that the money is reinvested in maintaining the historic church, though I was sorry to see that this year some of the money is now diverted towards some well-intentioned, no doubt, but totally misguided nonsense about carbon offsetting.
Each year, just to promote a bit of variety, I suppose, the Capel show celebrates a different type of vehicle, and this year it was the turn of Triumph (cars and motorbikes, despite being manufactured by separate enterprises from 1936) to take centre stage. Unsurprisingly, this included a healthy contingent of TRs, Spitfires and Stags, but the highlights for me were the lesser-spotted pre-war examples of the marque. This line-up included a 1936 Gloria and a 1931 Super Nine prototype. Most spectacular of all, though, was the 1940 Triumph Dolomite 14/65 drophead coupé. Waterfall grilles were the height of fashion during the Art Déco age in Europe and America, but none carried it off with quite so much grace as the Dolomite.
Greeting visitors as they entered the show was a long line of American classics, where some of the most unorthodox cars are always among the best. This year, the unusual was proudly represented by a customised ’72 Mercury Comet and a ’63 Chevy Corvair Monza, while the one that won my heart was a 1950 Buick Eight, from the twilight years of the straight-eight, with so much character afforded to it by its 70 years of patina. The Corvette Club UK was present with a truly huge display incorporating first, second, third, fifth and sixth generations, stretching all the way back to a resto-mod ’57 Corvette and a standard ’59. At the end of the row, sitting opposite a rakish 1923 Delage skiff tourer, sat a South African Ford Cortina pick-up, but this was no farm truck – the original 1.6-litre four or Essex V6 had been replaced by a great American V8, and the rear arches were tubbed, pro-street style, to accommodate fat rubber. If I’d been tasked with picking a best custom, this would have been it.
Rivalling the Corvette Club for numbers was a perfectly varied collection of Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, reaching back to a 40/50hp Silver Ghost of 1924 and thankfully avoiding any of the tasteless flying bricks that are to be the legacy of BMW. While it has to be said that I am most partial to the pre-war offerings from both marques, on this occasion my interest was piqued by what I originally thought was a questionable decision to fit a Rolls-Royce grille to a Bentley S3 Continental. The lines were, I thought, untypically sporting for a Rolls, but in fact it was a 1965 Silver Cloud III with elegant James Young coachwork, one of 26 to receive such a body.
The Jensen Owners’ Club pulled some interesting cars out of the bag. Not only an Interceptor convertible, but also a 1976 Jensen GT, a shooting brake version of the Jensen-Healey but without the Healey name, since the two marques divorced in 1975. Only 510 were made before Jensen went bust. Hanging around the 1970s, the Panther Deville, of which around 60 were built between 1974 and 1985, was an appalling conception in so many ways, but it was so shameless in its execution that one can’t help but admit a grudging respect. No one could say it’s not an interesting car. At the other end of the ostentation scale was a Morris Marina, but not just any Marina – a Jubilee model. Morris made 2,000 of these to celebrate its Diamond Jubilee in 1973, and all were TC four-door saloons in Citron (the first ever instance of British Leyland using the ’70s citrus shade) with navy seats, polka-dot headlining, black vinyl roof and Wipac foglights. There are now 16 known to survive.
As a Ford Sidevalve owner, I always enjoy a look at the 100Es and sit-up-and-begs that are guaranteed at any classic car show, but one in particular stood out, a 1937 Ford 10 convertible. Production of this, the 7W model, lasted for one year only and just 1,639 tourers were built, of which apparently six survive. Looking out for other examples of mid-century porridge, there was a smattering of Ford Consuls, a Vauxhall Cresta in typical rock ‘n’ roll colours and a real poppet of a Hillman Minx.
Since it’s billed as a bike show as well, it’s only right that we should give them a look, and there was a small selection of handsome old Brits, plus a gleaming restoration of a 1948 Harley-Davidson WL45. A 1937 Panther was a rarity, while a 1947 Velocette KSS 350cc took Best Bike. The Triumph collection included a Triton, an eternally desirable T120 Bonneville and a 1926 Model P, while Best Triumph was judged to be a 1950s Speed Twin with the old bathtub fairing.
Deciding to have a go at our own Tony Warwyk’s game of pairs, my first match was this 1940 Commer and 1956 Morris J-Type, the obvious connection being that they’re both light commercial vehicles that would have worked during the 1950s. Historic commercials appeal to me for two reasons: in the case of some, I am simply enraptured by the power and glory of heavy engineering; in the case of others, like these, their period signwritten liveries are not only beautiful but provide a fascinating insight into the social histories of the environments in which they worked (even if the Commer is clearly promoting a modern business).
A 1966 Triumph Herald convertible and Mini Cooper were matched for colour and year but there the similarities really end. Both the Herald and the Mini were released onto the market in 1959, but where the Herald was just another family car, the Mini was the progenitor of the compact family car; the small car that could do everything a big car could do, with transverse engine, front-wheel drive and all the things you’ve already heard a thousand times. And, of course, with a bit of Cooper tweaking it would become a star in rally and saloon car championships too. By contrast, the Herald was a bit of a plodder with swing-arm rear suspension not always making for desirable handling and it utilised (due to supply problems) the redundant method of placing a body on a separate chassis – I believe it was the last car still to do so when production ended in 1971. For summer cruising, though, the decision is easy: I’ll take the Herald – I mean, just look at it.
Lastly comes this pair of typically weird French things. Having made the acquaintance of a pair of Francophiles last year, their enthusiasm has really started to rub off on me and I’ve become a great fan of the weirdly wonderful designs of post-war Citroëns. In an otherwise Citroën-centric display, this Ami 6 was joined by a handsomely painted Panhard Dyna with its 850cc flat-twin.
As I turned around to leave the show, I suddenly noticed another car that had evidently been a late arrival and filled a previously occupied space. This was a 1914 Ford Model T, which turned out to be the oldest car of the show and sat resplendent in a fabulous Oily Rag condition. A dealer plaque placed its original home as Malvern, and a collection of plaques from 1950s Veteran car rallies adorned the dash. Sadly, the appearance was marred by the LEDs within the original lights which could be spotted a mile off, but one accepts that as an unhappy compromise that makes sense to keep these cars going through the hell of modern traffic.
After all that, the vehicle I would have taken home (and could have, since it was for sale), might come as an odd choice. Nonetheless, it was a scruffy 1985 Bedford CF van with all the period bolt-on accessories – slot mags, wide arches, skylights and a roof spoiler, not to mention the somewhat ill-fitting front bumper. Inside, an exposed Rover V8 poked through the bulkhead and floor into the passenger compartment, with the manifolds coming alarmingly close to where one imagines the occupants’ ankles might be. In short, to my warped mind, it was a stylish, practical load-lugger that would make a great everyday workhorse. Sure, some cars are prettier, some are more useable and most would be a damn sight less damaging to your health, but you just can’t have fun on a shoestring like you can with a street van.