I'm writing the day after the general election, to the backdrop of endless analysis and counter-analysis. We all know it was a very strange and fractured election, and I for one cast a futile protest vote against our headlong rush into the abyss even though the receiver of my ballot cross goes against much of what I hold dear in the motoring world. Oh, the angst…
JUN 19th 2017
John Simister: When classics emerge from hibernation
Contrast that with the calm and happy scene at the village green nearest my house just five days before. Ashley Green, between Berkhamsted, Herts and Chesham, Bucks, has an annual fête with an excellent classic car show attached. There are no one-make clubs staking out a tribal territory, no cordons, no 'Please Do Not Touch' or worse. It's inclusive, it's free, and this year a good 60 cars turned up. The wedding party at the adjacent village church were delighted at this unexpected extra entertainment; seldom are car-show visitors as well-dressed as these were, Cartier Style et Luxe excepted of course.
There is no better way to get the public engaged with the classic car hobby than by showing off the cars in a free event on their doorstep. That's how those who might never have thought of owning a classic get hooked. It's also amazing what treasures have been lurking locally behind closed garage doors, suddenly to emerge. Another recent local show was joined by a Chrysler-engined Ghia L6.4, a rare and extraordinary piece of coachbuilt extravagance made famous by the mid-1960s Corgi model that was the first to feature opening everything. And here was the real thing, utterly immaculate, and it lived near me. Who knew?
Diversity is a modern buzz-word, but there was plenty of it here. At one extreme was a Mini Scamp kit car, out of whose load bay emerged a miniature replica of a Willys Jeep built on a quad-bike base. At the other were vintage and post-vintage Rolls-Royces and Lagondas. I arrived in my trusty Stiletto (again) followed immediately and coincidentally by friend Bryan in his 1961 E-type roadster. Another friend, Jonathan, celebrated the sunshine by bringing his Triumph Herald convertible, joining two similar Triumphs.
There were Morris Minors, MGs of all ages including a lovely mint-green ZA Magnette, a fine Jensen C-V8 showing that even in 1966 glassfibre could be made as smooth and precisely-fitting as steel, a deliciously correct MkII Mini-Cooper, a beautifully-restored 1969 MG Midget which I coveted quite a lot. And there was Americana.
Britain is home to more classic American cars than you'd ever guess. Judging by the length of the gold Ford Galaxie 500 convertible, with a boot long enough to have a bowling alley in the back (as Eartha Kitt once sang of a rhyming Cadillac), you'd wonder who has a big enough garage. Nearby was a menacing Chevrolet Camaro Z-28, behind it was a 1963 Buick Riviera which I once drove for a magazine feature on extremely stylish coupés. On the far side of the green loomed a massively-befinned 1957 Cadillac with bumpers like the centres of jet-engine turbines.
And there were not one but two Chevrolet Corvair Corsa coupés, one belonging to my friend Richard and previously glimpsed in this column, the other to friend Stewart who used to own the Riviera. Until recently a third Corvair Corsa also lived nearby, making three-Corvair Berkhamsted a highly unlikely nexus for the rear-engined, air-cooled, flat-six machine whose original version consumer lawyer Ralph Nader pilloried so ragingly back in the 1960s.
Other delights? Show organiser Malcolm Rimington brought along his 1964 Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti, one of the first to be sold in Britain and now used for historic rallies. Next to it was his friend Audas's very rare (just 50 made) Giulia 1600 Rallye, assembled in South Africa and unique to that market. He'd picked it up only yesterday and it, too, is prepared for historic rallies. A fine pair they make.
And then, because I'm not only local but a motoring journalist of whom some people have apparently heard, Malcolm asked me to choose the 'car of the show'. With what criteria? 'Well, whichever one you'd most like to take home with you. Apart from your own car, of course.'
Well, that was easy. I've always admired Lancias, and have owned a couple of Fulvia HFs. The Lancia Lambda was one of the most technically adventurous cars of its between-the-wars time, and there on the green stood a fine green example from 1929. Its narrow-angle V4 engine, its sliding-pillar independent front suspension, its chassis-less construction with the lower body sides creating the strength, all were plain to see.
Even better, long-time owner Mike Guest uses it, a lot. 'It's been to Italy several times,' he says, 'and it's never been restored.' Just painted, loved and used in a World War Two escape. And it has a rare go-faster cylinder head, with twin outboard exhaust manifolds, inclined valves and hairpin valve springs. That's important in Lambda-world, and Turin tuners Ramignoni & Pirotta were responsible.
It won, and Mr Guest duly received his Shard-like trophy. Now he says I can have a go in it. I can't wait.
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