DEC 26th 2014

Thank Frankel it's Boxing Day: Pre‑war Jersey motors off the leash

Boxing Day. To you and me it is a day of clearing up, left-overs and wondering which presents to keep, which to pass on to others and which won’t make it past the charity shop. But to me it always used to mean something else entirely.

There are some worse places on earth to exercise a classic car than the island of Jersey, but not many. There’s Greenland, the Darien Gap and Guernsey, but after that I’m struggling. Yet this tiny island, just nine miles by five with its maze of tiny lanes, a speed limit no higher than 40mph and often as low as 15mph is covered from coast to coast in old cars. So much so that, to this very day, the Jersey Old Motorcar Club organises a very different Boxing Day for its lucky members with pre-war machines.

“The people were even better for, despite its geographical limitations, Nigel Mansell and Derek Warwick are not the only drivers to have made their homes there. Stumble across one of them on your route around the island and you knew you were in for some fun”

It’s called the Twelve Churches Cavalcade and, as the name suggests, it’s meant to be a gentle stroll past each of the dozen parish churches on the island. To a family of car-crazed Frankels, however, it was a once-a-year chance to exercise some elderly machinery without the usual fear of the law lurking under every hydrangea bush. I’m not saying there was any formal agreement that the police should all be happening to face the wrong way when we came steaming past, but I will say we somehow usually managed to enter half a dozen cars, all of them driven as their makers would have intended and in all the years we took part – starting in 1969 and ending in 1996 – not one of us even got a talking to, let alone a ticket despite it being the biggest annual motoring event on the island and the route not changing from one year to the next.

I first actually drove in one 32 years ago today in a 1929 Alvis Silver Eagle, having been in proud possession of a driving licence for precisely 12 days, retiring after snapping a half shaft trying to outdrag a Derby Bentley away from some traffic lights. I finished every other one I entered.

“The cars were wonderful – not just Bentleys and Rolls-Royces but the odd Railton, a V16 Cadillac, a Type 57 Bugatti and some quick Astons too”

The cars were wonderful – not just Bentleys and Rolls-Royces but the odd Railton, a V16 Cadillac, a Type 57 Bugatti and some quick Astons too. But the people were even better for, despite its geographical limitations, Nigel Mansell and Derek Warwick are not the only drivers to have made their homes there. Goodwood legend Michael Salmon still lives there, as does former Chevron ace Digby Martland and Neil Dangerfield, who claimed fastest lap in the last race on the last day of what everyone thought was Goodwood’s last meeting in 1966. Stumble across one of them on your route around the island and you knew you were in for some fun.

Of course, Jersey has a rich racing heritage from the non-championship F1 road race that used to attract the likes of Reg Parnell, Duncan Hamilton, Tony Rolt and Louis Chiron, to the Bouley Bay hillclimb that has been part of the British Hillclimb championship since its inauguration in 1947. But for me it has always been about today, Boxing Day, and driving slow old cars at slightly naughty speeds. I hope all those taking part today have a wonderful time.

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