14 November 2007

The Last Car Weekend Of The Year?

You might, possibly, be aware that it rains occasionally in Britain. Obviously it’s not something we talk about much…

Clearly the rain is very good for maintaining the ‘green’ (if not the ‘pleasant’) in this green and pleasant land but it does mean that classic cars tend to disappear during the winter months. Most are stashed away in snug garages, although there’s a rumor that ‘disappear’ actually means ‘dissolve, never to be seen again’ when it comes to 1960s Alfa Romeos and Lancias. Ah well.

I think I’ve just witnessed 2007’s last weekend of widespread classic car use before the cars are put away, and it was great. The other thing about Britain that you might have picked up on is that it’s very small and densely packed, so just a short journey can take you past all manner of automotive events, which worryingly I find really exciting. That’s exactly how this weekend just gone was.

Between Peterborough and London (a mere 80 miles), I spotted numerous factions. First, the inevitable air-cooled Volkswagen posse, campers and Beetles slammed to the ground, at least one stranded at the side of the road accompanied by a dazed-but-respectable-looking family (air-cooleds are no longer the hippy drive of choice, they’re too expensive. Now they’re for middle classes 30-somethings reliving their youth).

Then come the masochists in their motley collection of Austin Maxis, Morris Marinas and similar otherwise unloved family saloons of the early 1970s. I was once asked not to sit in an Austin Allegro because it still had its original factory clear plastic protective covering on the passenger seat, and the owner didn’t want me to damage it. I gladly obeyed. I suppose the American equivalent might be an AMC Pacer, if only it hadn’t been given a modicum of geek credibility by Wayne’s World.

I’m all for people enjoying every kind of vehicle, but there is a curious mentality that goes hand-in-hand with these least-loved of British classics; an understandable ‘attack is the best of defence’ way of dealing with outsiders combined with an unforgivable anorakishness which means that owners are apparently unable to cope with everyday social situations (you know, like saying please, thank you, shaking hands etc) but do know exactly how many shades of beige were used between June 1971 and November ’72. They usually also know the paint codes for those shades.

Anyway, the 1970s family saloons were clearly heading towards some damp field or other in which to swap chassis number stories, while all the time avoiding eye contact with one another. Not so the little convoy of rumbling muscle cars and rasping European hot hatches with numbers chalked on to their side windows, their drivers looking bleary eyed and clearly on the way home after a previous night’s ‘run what ya brung’ at Santa Pod drag strip. I’m sure I could smell burnt rubber and beer as they passed.

Next up on the A1 motorway? Aside from the swarms of bikers, scooterists on Vespas and Lambrettas looking cold and vulnerable (and slow), and mad-eyed mudlovers in filthy Land Rovers, there’s the inevitable vintage machinery blasting along, grinning owners wrapped up in hats, scarves, goggles and overcoats. These guys are the winners for me. Their gung-ho wives and kids are in the passenger seats, their cars are full of character. They look like they’re having fun!

But actually it doesn’t really matter what the car or bike is. It doesn’t matter where they’re going. It’s the fact that there’s so much going on, so many people indulging in an automotive hobby across this small country, some of them highly visible but many tucked away in garages and driveways, deriving as much pleasure from wielding the spanners as others get from the driving.

Aren’t cars great! I can’t wait for the next sunny weekend, even if it is likely to be several months away…

David Lillywhite is managing editor of UK-based Octane magazine, and has been writing for classic car and bike publications for over 15 years.

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