As I write this, Drive It Day took place last Sunday, April 23rd. It's the day every year when all owners of classic cars are encouraged to take to the road and show the public what a significant hobby this is. Many road runs are organised all over Britain, and petrol-fuelled camaraderie abounds.
MAY 02nd 2017
John Simister: Drive It Day – Classics at Bicester Heritage
The idea came from the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (FBHVC, an organisation with strong lobbying powers to support our hobby and enable us to continue enjoying it), and we've had Drive It Days now for a decade or more. The date, always the last Sunday in April, commemorates that of the 1900 1000-Mile Trial, the first major British test of early motorcars' reliability.
How visible the classic cars are on the day depends much on the weather, but if the meteorology gods are on our side you'll see old machinery on all manner of back roads. This year, some friends and I entered a run which, like several others, ended at Bicester Heritage, that growing mecca of old-car (and old-aeroplane) restoration, sales and other activity set among the restored buildings of an unspoilt wartime air base.
Our run was organised by Hagerty Insurance. This is not a promotional plug for Hagerty, but simply a fact: the company shows an enthusiasm for its customers' treasures rather greater than that of some rivals, and I have never come across an insurance broker more accommodating and open-minded. Around 100 cars and 200 people gathered for the start at Towcester racecourse, among them journalist friend Richard Bremner in, again, his 1965 Chevrolet Corvair and past schoolmate John Moss in his nicely-backdated Porsche 911 in loud orange. John was bonkers about Beetles when we were at school, so his later-life graduation to rear-engined Porsches is hardly a surprise.
With my Stiletto, that made three rear-engined entries. A couple more would be found en route, after we'd been flagged off by Barrie 'Whizzo' Williams who had brought his newly-acquired Lancia Fulvia 1600 HF in red. It was much like the one I used to have, apart from having right-hand drive and a body not showing obvious signs of inept restoration.
Barrie, famous for his lurid racing style through the decades, regaled me with stories about rallying an Imp as he looked at the Stiletto. 'We had an off and the body cracked at the bottom of the windscreen pillars,' he told me encouragingly. 'At the service stop, I braked hard in front of the Rootes Group competitions manager, Des O'Dell, upon which the windscreen fell out, slid over the bonnet and cracked in two as it landed on Des's feet.'
He went on to tell me about an Imp he was racing in which a cylinder liner dropped, causing the rings of that cylinder's piston to hook themselves over the top of the liner. 'There was such a bang… the engine was blown to bits and there was a big hole in the engine lid.'
Hoping fervently that my Imp engine wouldn't do likewise, we set off and immediately sat behind a three-car classic queue inexplicably wafting along an open, empty road at 32mph, a Porsche 911 at its head. We nipped past and headed on Hagerty's excellent route into the Cotswolds, following a determinedly-driven Morris Minor 1000, stopping at the ancient Rollright Stones (as once sung about by 60s/70s rock group Traffic), skirting Chipping Norton and pausing at Daylesford Farm, suppliers of comestible loveliness to the rural well-heeled.
By the time we got to Woodstock – the Oxfordshire one, obviously – we were running in company with a Vauxhall Chevette 2300 HS in front, a BMW 2002 behind and, further ahead, another rear-engined car in the form of a Fiat 600, clearly much speedier than standard despite looking rather meeker than the officially-quick Abarth versions. And finally, after 82.4 miles, we drove onto Bicester Heritage's runway to join the hundreds of other classic cars and a dozen or vintage aircraft. We parked by a 1950s RAC patrol motorcycle but, with engine intact, we didn't need the Fourth Emergency Service's expertise.
The rest of the day was spent soaking up the wonderful vintage variety that is Bicester Heritage, returning home with a litre of frighteningly expensive Faher two-stroke oil bought from Classic Oils to use in my Saab. It's supposed not to smoke, or at least not very much, so I thought it worth the experiment. The Classic Oils man uses it in his Berkeley and swears by it. I'll see if I agree after the Saab's next fill-up.
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