Thursday May 31, 2018
When you are visiting a car show, the first vehicle that you immediately head towards often says a great deal about your classic-related tastes. On Sunday 20th May, I visited the splendid Chiltern Hills Vintage Vehicle Rally and my initial call was not to the Austin A110 Westminster, looking resplendently municipal, the Pontiac with the famous silver streaks decorating its bonnet. Nor was it to the Cortina 1600E, the Metropolitan 1500 or even the jaw-dropping sight of a Tatraplan in the middle of Buckinghamshire.
Instead, I made a beeline for the 1974 Bedford HA van for the very simple reason that it was a vehicle that I grew up with; in rural Hampshire during the late 1970s, it seemed that every market gardener had at least one light van based on the original Vauxhall Viva. Even at that time an HA did not represent the heights of automotive fashion but as cheap and reliable transportation for strawberry punnets it was much in demand. Four decades later, here was a prime example, complete with all the details that I recalled so vividly, from the 1963-vintage fascia to the way that the hazard warning light switch was mounted as a complete afterthought on the side of the steering column.
And further memories greeted me at the display of the Ford Transit Club where Peter Lee, who has done so much to preserve these iconic vehicles, was displaying a motor caravan so original that I swear that Peters and Lee’s Welcome Home suddenly began playing in the background. It even had that aroma of past holidays – that unforgettable essence of bottled gas and UHT milk – and who could have resisted a camper with an Electrolux ‘fridge and a cruise control?
Moving across the field, there were cars that the visitors were highly unlikely to encounter again – a Vauxhall Viceroy, that handsome and now very rare missing link between the Carlton and the Royale, or a Ford Escort Ghia Mk. II, that status symbol for all ambitious sales junior reps. A 1961 Daimler Majestic-Major looking primed to overtake all Zodiacs and Crestas on the M1, and a group of 127s, that brilliant small Fiat that was, alas, made from less than brilliant Soviet steel. A Ford Cortina 2.0GL Mk. IV instantly transported me (and many other show-goers of a certain age) to a time when owning a Soda Stream was the height of luxury and there was also – wonder of wonders – a car that I had last encountered in Mallorca circa 1982. That red SEAT Panda beach car looked primed for a trip to Santa Ponsa, as the Guardia Civil scowled from their Land Rover Santana.
These are just a few of the many and varied attractions of the show for there was so much to behold. The Isetta bubble cars would have the first experience of a BMW for many Britons in the late 1950s, a duotone MG Magnette Mk. IV “Farina” made me think of the BBC Home Service and nice cups of tea and the Metro Panda Car that looked as though it belonged on the set of The Bill. The rear-engine NSU TT was a reminder of this very well-regarded small sports saloon and the Austin Allegro just made me feel antique. The Vintage Vehicle Rally also featured a well-balanced mixture of cars, buses and commercials which personally I much enjoy in a show; after all who could resist the sight of a Leyland Tiger Cub, a Foden with the “Sputnik” cab and a Thames Trader basking in the sun?
Three final thoughts. Firstly, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the show was that every vehicle had its place. It mattered not whether it was an E-Type, an Austin A60 Cambridge, a Ford V8 Pilot, a Lancia Gamma Berlina or a Triumph Herald Estate– each was the pride of its respective owner. Secondly, the success of this event reflects the work undertaken by Adrian Fell and the other organisers, for a successful show day is the tip of an iceberg of planning, emails, telephone calls, stand-building, paperwork that can last for months. It is, I think, worth repeating that without enthusiasts such as Adrian, Peter in the Transit Club, Gavin Bushby of the Fiat Motor Club to name just three individuals, the classic movement would not exist in its present form.
And thirdly - my own car of the show. My joint prize goes to the MG Magnette - for representing the ethos of sensible hair, grey flannel suits - and Merton Park Studios B-Films and to the Bedford HA – for those images of a box-like vans chugging along the A32…