20 January 2016

New Year’s Day at Elsted

A dull and overcast sky accompanied by temperatures that belied the stories of it being “the warmest Winter so far on record” ushered in the new year on the South coast. Consequently my wife’s opinion of the early start on New Year’s day wasn’t helped by the woefully inefficient heater in my MG BGT V8.  Having rendezvoused with friends visiting from Wales in a car park “somewhere in Petersfield” we, on the spur of the moment, jettisoned our original plan to strike North for Brooklands. Instead we headed for the annual VSCC meeting at Elsted, near Midhurst.

Although Brooklands is always a treat we were immediately rewarded by a relaxed canter along the winding Hampshire roads through bucolic villages, contrasting strongly with the monotonous drone up the A3 (bar the obligatory lowering of the windows for Hindhead Tunnel) that had been facing us. Admittedly we ended up at the Elsted Inn a tad early for the lunchtime meeting but even so we were beaten to it by half a dozen Triumphs, an MG TD and a Lotus Carlton. We parked and headed indoors for coffee accompanied by some of the best bacon sandwiches I’ve ever had. As the Inn is situated next to a small industrial estate, off-road spaces were, as always, plentiful.

Things were starting to get busy when we ventured out again into the biting cold. Both my friend and I had regularly attended the Elsted meeting a few years back but hadn’t been for a while. It was as friendly as ever, but there is now a notable move away from pre-war cars. In particular there were a number of “modern” Morgans – in so far as any Morgan can be referred to as such – and a veritable herd of Stags. As I’m rather keen on the between-wars era this was something of a shame for me but it was nice to have the variety. The minor point of my own car dating from 1972 might also be a factor in swaying my views.

As midday approached the classics started turning up thick and fast. Perhaps it is best to figuratively start at the beginning and what I presumed to be a Renault “dog cart”, given its coal scuttle nose and dash mounted radiator. It looked as if it hadn’t been repainted since the relief of Mafeking, revelling in an honest and utterly glorious patination. This was joined at the older end of the spectrum by an imposing Crossley, seemingly inspired by the Dreadnaughts that had fought at Jutland and a selection of comparatively delicate Alvises and Rileys. A 1938 Rolls-Royce and Railton drop head added an air of grandeur to the dozen or so other cars present from the vintage era. Undoubted stars of the gathering for me were a brace of low chassis S Type Invictas, one of them having belonged to Raymond Mays. However they were challenged for the crown by an altogether more modern pair. The first of these was a Gordon Keeble in a pretty light metallic blue, distinctive for the depth of paint and flawless finish, not only on the bodywork but also the wheels. In fact I was just losing myself to the fantasy of wafting around the Cote d’Azure in it when a 2-door Facel Vega turned up; uber-rare and cooler than Frank Sinatra sipping a Martini on an iceberg. The detailed design on these boulevardiers is astonishing and it is one of the few cars where seeing one really is an “event”.

The culmination of the meeting was marked by a local morris dancing troop entertaining the sizeable crowd of owners and spectators. From the photos it looks like Brooklands had an amazing New Year’s day but Elsted had the relaxed and convivial air that only comes with the smaller, local gathering. We may start alternating between the two venues as to miss out on either is a real shame.

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