lassic car season came a little late in 2020. Nonetheless, the COVID-compliant Drive-in Day was perfectly timed to capitalise on the perfect early autumn weather and just falling short before the latest announcement of the next wave of government restrictions. This brand-new event caters to enthusiasts, owners, film lovers and families alike to indulge into all things automotive, with the added bonus of live-action motorsports, clubs and stalls housed within the confines at the accessible Bicester Heritage. Advertised as a Drive-in Cinema, the main attraction was actually the enthralling display of cars literally going hell for leather around a specially created tarmac circuit. We’ll leave the film stuff to Barry Norman.
Held over the weekend of the 18th to 20th September, many sensed that the event is likely to be one of the last big events of the year. With that in mind, it was a case of trying to cover as much ground and aspects of the show as possible. We will start with the main attraction which starts with vintage, sports, rally and touring cars powering around the circuit in a non-competitive fashion. Visitors familiar with the venue will recognise the tarmac area in between the hanger with big rusty doors and the main hanger to be the setting for the makeshift paddock.
The first impression you sense in the paddock is the wide variety of types of vehicles brought in to represent an almost complete history of motorsport. Cars dating from the early days of the motor industry, parked alongside post-war classics, up to Formula One racers filled the temporary arena. The tantalising prospect of those senses that one ingests when these machines are powering around the circuit offered a welcome and much-missed aspect.
Each car was allowed two laps to race around a specially prepared circuit. Each section was split into four 45 minute sessions all on a tarmac route which happened to suit all types of cars. As to be expected, the marshalling was meticulously carried out by the always dependable volunteers of Silverstone’s Marshalls Team, who ensured the safety of both the public and competitors. After each session, the crowds were allowed into the paddock to investigate the cars and chat to the receptive owners.
Five examples of Colin McRae Subarus were the main attraction for many. Five examples of his cars were also being given an opportunity to stretch their legs to commemorate the 25th anniversary of McRae’s standout achievement of being the first Briton to win the World Rally Champion. There was no levity in watching the energetic Subarus hammering sideways around the corners; these cars were created to be used and to see them in full action is a perfect tribute to the man himself.
The thrill, noise and excitement of the live-action was broken up by a more typical representation of the venue. There were plenty of opportunities to let your senses recover as you could drift in and out of the two main grassed areas consisting of some very desirable cars with a scattering of eclectic classics. Lurking in the public classic car park were several cars that caught our eye. First up was this imported Colt Lancer Turbo, the model was imported into the UK from 1981, and was one of the earlier turbocharged family saloons. A handful of original UK cars survive, thanks to the efforts of the owners but sometimes your best bet is to seek out a fully restored import.
This was another delight among the usual classic cars parked in the area. Not a Lada, but the original vintage 1966 Fiat 124. The car was imported three years ago and completely restored by owner Jeremy Brown. As often the case with these cars, his parents owned a similar example when he was young, but he admitted finding an early one that had survived the damp climes of the UK was impossible, so sourced it via its original country of origin. It was a pleasant reminder of how advanced these iconic little cars were. When originally released it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the 124 set the template for the modern family car, its FWD packaging, spacious interior wrapped in a clean attractive body endeared it to millions of Italians. However, its true success came later as the car was made under license in other countries and in the process started car industries for Russia, India and Turkey.
One of the most vibrant, friendly and varied stands was the Afro Classic Register. Typically, in the case of a collective group of mixed cars from 5 decades, it’s not necessarily the car but the owners that have the story to tell. Amand, who has owned his Fiat Uno Turbo for over 20 years has subtly modified his car, with top speeds capable of embarrassing supercars of the period. We won’t disclose what speeds Amand has taken the Fiat up to but let’s just say he had to uprate the brakes to accommodate Fiat Coupe discs and Wilwood calipers.
Slightly more sedate, but with equal presence was Colin Danton’s Triumph Stag. The car has been documented in a printed magazine recently (remember them?) but we should use this opportunity to focus on Colin’s background rather than his immaculately prepared Triumph Stag. Colin runs an organisation which provides apprenticeship training to the Motor Industry, allowing youngsters to get their foot into motor mechanics, body repairs, paint spraying, business administration and customer service, this chimes in with the efforts at Bicester Heritage who also provide the same opportunities to tomorrow’s petrolheads.
Bristol, the purveyor of the gentleman’s carriage used the show to display a magnificent array of cars, all influenced by aeronautical-influenced detailing. By the ’70s the styling had become upright and square-edged but still imposes an image of decadence and opulence. The club was established in 1920, with the grandson of the original founder, Sir George White acting as the current chairman. One of the advantages of joining the Bristol Owners Club is the excursion and adventures organised for club members. Not doing things by half, the club organised a trip in which the cars were flown out to Australia. As event organiser and the owner of this car, Turplin Dixon discovered that if any mechanical issues came up on their cars, Australian members were quickly on call to help out.
Major events also provide the opportunity for car auctions to also make the most of Bicester Heritage’s facilities to display vehicles for sale. The market is surprisingly buoyant, considering the shaky economic climate but the classic car market has generally been supported by ‘old money’, meaning owners who sell their cars often invest in another car. With the mid-range material from the ‘60s onwards doing well, Bonhams can expect a reasonable flow of interest via the absentee bidding. Our picks if we had 10K to spare would either be this 48K mile 2-owner 1973 Volvo 144 or a wonderful 1955 S1 Land Rover which was literally dragged off a Scottish Estate. It sold for just over 8K.
Several organisations were on hand too, with long-established clubs and societies doing their thing to encourage the industry in what are unprecedented times. The Vintage Sports-Car Club was established in 1934, dedicating its efforts on track days, meets and get-togethers. The organisation is very active at the key sporting venues in the UK and naturally had several members participating in the live-action. A wonderfully friendly reception greeted your event reporter, who will admit that pre-war cars are slightly out of his remit, but it was a great opportunity to learn more about the heritage of Britain’s motoring past. Keep an eye on their developments online at https://www.vscc.co.uk/
We wrap up the review of this wonderful little universe with these parting shots and words. It has been a very difficult year for all aspects of the motoring industry, everything from manufacturing to event catering has been effectively decimated. Some will recover but many won’t. It’s important to keep the momentum going by doing as much as we can to support it. There are glimmers of hope to suggest events like this will return but things may never be the same again. We have to adapt, accept and take responsibility for our actions if we want to enjoy things like this. The example set by the organisers, staff as well as the public was exemplary, and it gives us a little hope that big events with mass crowds can work if we all play the game.