January 1st

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The VSCC’s idea of a National Celebration of Fifty Years of the Vintage Car, on New Year’s Day, must have meant that nearly every licensed pre-1931 car, joined by other pre-war cars, took to British roads on January 1st. That is, judging by the unexpected turn-out at the celebration I attended, at “The Verzons” Routier just outside Ledbury in Herefordshire. It is impossible to be everywhere at once, as it were, lacking a helicopter, but if the attendance was average, that over the entire country was impressive indeed and could be said to mark not only the widespread interest that prevails among both enthusiasts and the public in historic cars, but a fitting celebration of the abandoning, by the DoT, of the proposed Tax on all old vehicles, whether used or awaiting restoration.

Anyway, at Ledbury there arrived first a certain 1924 Calthorpe light-car, that had crossed the Welsh Border, averaging some 28 m.p.h. and 17 m.p.g. Next to appear was a flat-radiator Morris Light Van, the only arrival to come on a trailer. which ran perhaps 40 yards under as own power. After that they came thick and fast. Frazer Nash, HRG, an Edwardian Straker-Squire two-seater parked so that it could leave before dark in spite of its impressive Rushmore headlamps, a 1932 MG F1 Magna, a familiar Rolls-Royce Twenty all-weather, the Vernon-Derby from Newport, and three Austin Sevens from Rhayader, comprising a Nippy, a Chummy and a 1904 Opal two-seater. These were joined by a fine open 3-litre Lagonda with swivelling searchlight on its windscreen pillar, two stripped-for-action, quite-immaculate Grand Prix Bugattis, Garland’s 30/98 Vauxhall and another very smart blue 30/98 with plastic upholstery. The three-wheeler Morgan contingent was very well represented, from an early and pristine i.o.e. water-cooled Family-model to the rortly sports jobs, six Morgans in all. Two cars that were running for the first time that day after rebuilds were welcomed, a cream Austin 7 Ulster, and a rare Austin 10/4 Arrow sports-tourer from Newport.

Two more recognisable Austin 12/4s, an AJS two-seater from deep in Wales, a Ruby Austin 7 tourer from Ross-on-Wye, with a sprig of holly mounted on its prow – the celebrants seemed never-ending.

Bentleys were there, in the form of a 3-litre and a big open 6 1/2-litre, contrast to them was provided by a left-hand-drive black-radiator Model-T Ford tourer on Trade-plates, looking just as it might have done in that part of the countryside in the early 1920s, and later a Riley Nine fabric saloon joined in. By now the large car park was so crowded that an open 4 1/2-litre Bentley had to park outside on the grass verge of the A438, where a dismantled hot-air balloon was also parked — unfortunately the wind was deemed too gusty for it to add to the entertainment. The post-war-car period was represented by a couple of RM Riley saloons, and motorcycles included a vintage chain-drive Diamond two-stroke with vast belt-rim rear brake and gas headlamps, from Stow-on-the-Wold, and a BSA. In all, some 40 cars were present. Is was all very nicely wound up when a well-known VSCC member took off in his Currie Watt biplane from a near-by field and treated the assembly to some low fly-pasts, a loop, and even a flour-bombing display.

The Phoenix, at Hartley Wintney on the A30 near Basingstoke, is where the VSCC was founded in 1934. The Club has met there regularly ever since, and it is reported that the turnout on New Year’s day was quite staggering. 2-litre Lagondas, four of them, had occupied one corner of the park, while a large number of Austin 7’s ranging from 1924 to 1932 examples lined one side. The middle soon filled with delectable machinery such as 1750 Alfa Romeo, 30/98 Vauxhall (complete with 17-year-old lady driver and L plates), 3-litre Bentley sans headlamps, 14/40 Vauxhall, 12/50 Alvis, Talbot Saloon and a massive Hispano Suiza limousine. A Delage tourer, a couple of Sunbeams, another 30/98, a 12/50 Special and a Morris Minor all struggled their way into the rapidly filling car park, and still they came — when my informant left, there were over fifty pre-war cars assembled. We also hear that the turnout at the Shears at Collingbourne Ducis, between Andover and Marlborough was most impressive for this small, but regular meeting place — examples of supercharged 1500 Alfa Romeo, blower 4 1/2 Bentley in beautifully travel-stained condition, radiator shrouded to keep out the cold, Humber 14/40 complete with near vintage pram, Alvis, Austin 7, Austin Ulster, Sunbeam saloon, Model A Ford seen more often on trials hills, an attractive 3-litre Bentley tourer on b.e. wheels, and a magnificent 1904 6-litre Berliet with Roi de Belges body amongst others.

It can be said, I think, that the 1981 vintage season has opened with quite a flourish! — W.B.

[See page 183 for colour photographs]

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