The secret behind the Spring Classicby Andrew Frankel on 26th April 2016
For some time now I have wondered why the Motor Sports Association ‘Spring Classic’ run for cars both old and not so old was so incredibly popular. This year as last and the one before that, the 100 places on offer sold out so fast you’d think it was a Beatles reunion on offer, not a gentle potter around some of the more scenic parts of our island. There’s no racing, nor any kind of regularity element to it. You get a route book and a card that gets stamped at various checkpoints, but there’s no competition, no prizes or penalties awarded for arriving on time, late, early or not at all. Introductions to navigation rallies come no more gentle than this. But I have friends who do it every year, and who love it. Friends with interests like mine and jobs like mine yet when I have asked them to describe its appeal, they've gone uncharacteristically coy and said, "it’s hard to describe unless you’ve done it". So now I have. I write this on Sunday afternoon, having just returned from a weekend during which my wife and I got to see lots of rural Monmouthshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire and my trusty little Peugeot 205 GTI got another 400 miles on its odometer. It was a delight but I find myself now in the same position as my chums when it comes to explaining why. But presuming you won’t be fobbed off with ‘it’s hard to describe unless you’ve done it,’ I shall at least give it a try. In its basic form, it is just a drive in the country, a pleasure affordable to anyone with a driving licence and some kind of conveyance. You don’t need to pay some hundreds of pounds to do it. But were you just to head out with a road map you might find yourself running up quite frequently against the harsh realities of life on the road in almost all parts of the land: traffic, roadworks, speed cameras, big towns and so on. The Spring Classic spares you this. Soon after you start using the immensely detailed route book you realise just how much work has gone into working out not just where you are going, but which roads you are going to take to get there. And you’ll discover that even on a sunny spring weekend, you can enjoy long periods on near enough deserted roads, just so long as someone else has conducted a painstaking recce first. Also, and cleverly, you never stay on one road for more than a few miles: this not only keeps the navigator occupied it also means that if you do get stuck behind some dawdling farm tractor or a peloton of pedallers, it won’t be for long. There are always interesting cars to look at and because the rules not only allow cars as little as 20 years old and because, in any event, the rules are not very strictly enforced, there’s a vast span of ages, this year from a 1933 Railton to a brand new Morgan 3-Wheeler. I found myself most captivated by a completely unrestored Lotus Elan Sprint, still boasting its original chassis and looking perfect in every way which was sold to its current custodian earlier this year by its one former careful, 82-year-old lady owner, with just 27,000 miles on the clock.
But to me as someone blessed with getting to see all sorts of very interesting machinery quite frequently, the real appeal was the pace at which the whole event was run. Without exception, every form of motor sport in which I take part both personally and professionally involves doing nothing almost all of the time, punctuated only by moments when you leap into action, shred every nerve and fibre in your body, usually for a very short period of time, and then return to doing nothing again. The Classic is the antithesis to this: you have a starting order, but if you don’t stick to it, no-one cares very much. There is a route, but if you don’t stick to that, no-one will know nor would they care if they did. There’s no hanging around, but nor is there any need to hurry. You can of course, take it as an opportunity to go skidding around the countryside as fast as your licence will allow – and in the 205 that’s always a temptation – but in fact almost everyone chose to adopt the same stress-free gait as that with which the entire event is run. It’s as relaxing as sitting around a hotel pool, but with rather more interesting and variable scenery. So now I know why the Classic sells out so quickly: it asks almost nothing of you save the ability to write the cheque and drive the car, and offers in return the best organized, most chilled motoring mini-break you could wish.
Of course even my tenuous grasp of schoolboy economics tells me that when something sells out so quickly, you either make more or put prices up, but the MSA’s current view is to leave the Spring Classic as it is and add an Autumn Classic so more people can do one, the other or both while keeping each within manageable proportions. Nothing is certain yet, but current thinking is that 2017’s Spring Classic will be in Devon and Dorset, with an Autumn event possibly based around the Yorkshire Dales. For me, I still need the adrenalin fix only access to a race track populated by a bunch of like-minded idiots can provide and will happily do all the waiting required to get it; but as a once a year antidote to all that, I not only understand why people start to look forward to the next Classic the same day the last one ends, but find myself among their number too. Images courtesy of Nigel at EDP Photo News