20 January 2017

2017 – Hit the Ground Running

Sometimes you can plan things to the nth degree and it all comes to nought. At other times the planets seem to align and serendipity smiles her sweet smile down upon you. Despite the general wailing and gnashing of teeth heard from others, 2016 wasn’t at all bad for me, however purely through good fortune 2017 has started with clear intent to eclipse its predecessor.

New Year’s Day is a well-established excuse to get the classic out and motor around through the salt and dirty rain water. Thus, after ensuring my alcohol intake at midnight had remained modest I crept out of bed, dressed and set off early on the morning of the 1st. As Fury (my MG BGT V8) and I threaded north along winding Sussex and Surrey roads an immediate advantage to the early start became apparent: there was hardly anyone else around. Other cars were easily and safely passed, revealing swathes of tarmac with a myriad clearly visible apexes to be kissed and hills to be stormed with a full-blooded bellow. We had both the time and space to dance our way up to Brooklands accompanied by perfectly syncopated double-declutching and precise staccato up-changes.

The New Year meeting is always a treat. To start with, even without the gathering of such a varied collection of cars, Brooklands is always a fascinating place to wander around. There have been a few developments since my last visit: the monumental door to Barnes Wallis’ stratospheric chamber is now on display (as fine a piece of heavy engineering as you could wish to see) and most noticeably the WWII hanger has been removed from the start straight. Its old location still remains something of a building site at the moment but once the straight has been restored it will dramatically change the feel of the place.

The cloudy and wet weather could well have contributed to the noticeably lower than usual turn out, but there was still a lot of interesting machinery on display. Those who did make the effort were rewarded with drying conditions and a gradual rise in temperature as the morning wore on. The pre-war enclave in front of the Clubhouse always looks special but the main draw truly is the variety. A vast 1953, race prepared Cadillac provided a stark contrast to the delicate Lotus Elite it shared the banking with. That classic fare of the boy racer, the Escort RS2000 Mark 2 was represented by a pristine showroom example while the potential of the staid Vauxhall Cresta was revealed through a wild hot rod. A very pleasant and packed way to spend the first few waking hours of 2017.

Come forward a week or so and Saturday 7th saw a slightly later start to head across to Petersfield in Hampshire. This time it was for the inaugural open day at vintage Bentley specialist William Medcalf. Another weekend, another misty drive but at least this time there was free coffee and cake at the destination to reward the bleary-eyed. The vintage Bentleys were of course the stars but in the secondary car park I found a brace of MGs, a modern 3-wheel Morgan and an Aston Martin DB5. “Best of the rest” though surely had to be the astonishing post-war Delahaye.

Back in the pre-war car park, as people continued to arrive, the imposing line-up of Bentleys gained a couple of iconic ‘Blower’ 4 ½ Litres. It wasn’t all open sporting models as a couple of closed saloons also shared the oil-slicked tarmac (‘vintage car aristocracy’ is nevertheless ‘vintage car’ after all) along with a monstrous Itala. An inherently easy-going atmosphere helped to give a feeling of this being something more than the usual forecourt gathering of enthusiasts and I tried my best to take it all in as I stood chatting to the owners. Difficult as it was to tear myself away, I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to have a look around William Medcalf’s showroom and workshop.

The showroom was as clean and polished as you may expect, as were the cars within. However, moving through to the workshop populated by a number of examples of Cricklewood’s finest in various states of disassembly revealed a similar environment. To eat your dinner off the floor would be to unforgivably defile it. Apart from the general interest of seeing what lies under the bodywork this gave us all a chance to appreciate the artistry that is a Bentley crankshaft or differential. The complete cars are sublime but, as always, beauty is more than skin deep. The meeting broke up just after midday as a contingent headed north towards Brooklands, while I headed back home.

Two different events within a week and both were hugely enjoyable in their own way. If this is a taste of what 2017 has in store then I say “bring it on!”

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