A concours Ford Zodiac, early Volkswagen Beetles and a £300 Rover 110. It’s amazing where the internet can lead…
It was a spur of the moment choice. Being unexpectedly at a loose end on a sunny Sunday I googled classic car events. Well, you can’t blame me if my scanning eye did a double-take at something called ‘Crotchcooler Classic Car Sundays’. So I thought I’d investigate.
Yes, I can hear the VW people among you saying ‘Doesn’t he know what it means?”, and everyone else saying “Do I want to know what this means?”, so I’ll get the name out of the way. ‘Crotchcooler’ is VW slang for front-wing vents on early Beetles that let fresh air into the cockpit. Okay?
Not that this was a Volkswagen gathering. In fact this one (there’s one a month in summer) was British day, so it was frustrating that the MkII Jaguar was still at the menders. (Over-eager horn led to finding worn steering column bushes plus a rotten jacking point… You know how it goes.) Instead I parked the modern transport shamefacedly away from the classics, among choppers and low-riders with doughnut rear tyres and doughnut-eating bearded riders in leather and tattoos. One trike had a chromed V8 between the rider’s legs and handlebars as long as tree pruners. You just couldn’t steer round corners.
This isn’t a concours; there are no classes, no judging, no competition, and no charge either. Just one rule – a 1990 cut-off. Just roll up, park your classic and sit in the sun talking engine rebuilds and lucky eBay finds. The British theme was fairly widely stretched: I don’t recall Buick Electras or Lancia Fulvia Zagatos being a notable output of UK industry, but hey – no-one was judging, in either sense.
Whether a concours-prepped Zodiac with all the period accessories – visor, swivel spotlamp, picnic trays – or a VW rat hunkered down on its whitewalls sporting rust as proud as show rosettes, there was space for all on this grassy slope. Must have been 300-plus cars at peak – low-riding Buicks, Allegro panda car, a row of TR6s and MG BGTs, a ’57 Chevy Bel Air Sport, a gleaming Rover 110 bought from a breaker for £300.
Top spot for me was a ’51 Buick sedan with a mesmerising accidental paint job. When the owner began sanding down the panels, the various old colours began breaking through the blue top coat in mysterious swirls – silver, white, metalflake purple – like some psychedelic sea creature. Now he thinks he’ll stop sanding and lacquer it. Good choice.
And sure enough, Crotchcooler leader Nigel Lewis turns out to be a VW man who felt his scene was getting a bit insular and decided to broaden the metallic gene pool. “We’re not a traditional club with a committee,” he says, “we’re simply a bunch of car nuts who just get on with it. It began with roving runs, but it was hard to find destinations with enough parking. But this is perfect.” He waves around at the hub of the event, the Departure Lounge café (it’s in wooded country near Alton, Hants) which boasts retro décor, signs and furnishings. “Room for hundreds of cars, and we only gather from 2pm so it’s good for a leisurely Sunday. Our name? I just thought it would be memorable.” It is, Nigel.
THERE’S A LOT of talk about what startling price 2 VEV, one of the pair of Aston Martin DB4GT Zagatos once raced by John Ogier’s team, will garner when it comes up for auction at Goodwood Festival of Speed. It reminds of a moment at a small supper party at a neighbour’s house. Sitting beside me was an older lady who asked what I did. “Oh, my husband was a car enthusiast too,” she responded. “He had an Aston Martin.” I asked what type, thinking it most likely to be a DB6 or DBS. “I can’t remember what sort it was,” she said, “but I do remember the number plate. It was 1 VEV.”
SLOW PROGRESS ON my newest garage filler, the Sharknose BMW 635CSi. The good news is that I’ve been cheerfully using it and finding to my pleasure it all seems to work – electric seats, windows, air-con, even the power aerial. It rides stably if firmly, snarls on kick-down and pounces with that straight-six urgency that turbos just don’t have. Low mileage doesn’t always mean an absence of problems (this 1989 example had 74,000 miles and only one owner when I bought it last year) and in fact Barney Halse at Classic Heroes, a Sharknose specialist, advised me to downplay the miles and look for a car that had had its “first birthday” – when an enthusiast owner has tackled the first round of the usual trouble spots. But I was seduced by this one, so now it’s squeezed into my garage and raring to go.
But I can’t drive it. Or at least only slowly. I’ve mainly enjoyed it from the passenger seat as I haven’t got the hand controls fully sorted.
Problem one was finding someone who could supply the type of hand control I like – the ideal set I have on the XF is no longer made. Luckily one of the long-term experts in mobility conversions, Steering Developments, sourced an equivalent, so I went up there to be measured up. We got a hand control planned – it’s a single lever for throttle and brake – but production manager Grant Harbour pointed out that we’d need to cut away a trim panel for the control rod. More luck: on eBay I found some 635 interior trim so we were able to cut and fit a stand-in while the original can go back if wanted.
But I was fooled by the steering. My injuries from a car crash mean I have reduced arm strength and need significantly lightened steering. You can’t imagine what a complex and expensive job that can be, so I was surprised to find I could turn the wheel of the BMW while parked. “Leave the steering, I’ll manage,” I boldly declared. But that was pre-hand controls so I couldn’t try in motion. (My minder did offer to sit in the back and prod the pedals with a walking stick. I declined.) This is the risk cycle if you’re disabled: can’t test the car without hand controls; can’t fit those without buying it, so you’re £2-3000 in plus the whole cost of the car before you know if you like it.
Came the first short test. SD had installed just what I wanted on the control lever, so off I gingerly set. Boy, did that famous 3.5-litre motor feel quick under my right hand, even with an auto box. Around the industrial estate the steering felt heavy but manageable, so I had the car brought home. It was only on ranging farther afield that I found how much the assistance drops off with speed. Over 50mph I can hardly hold it straight. So it’s back to Steering Developments who will have to tackle the unusual booster system that also pressurises the brakes. I hope there’s an answer that doesn’t give me Citroën-style on-off stoppers.
One other job I’ve done: when it takes you several minutes to get out of a car, the prospect of fire is that bit more alarming. And old cars have old wiring. So I’ve had both the MkII and the BMW fitted with a clever system called Firetrace. Instead of spray nozzles there’s a long tube running wherever you want, around the engine bay and even behind the dash. It’s pressurised from a hefty gas bottle, and the clever bit is that any flame quickly ruptures the tube, jetting extinguishant exactly where the fire is. It’s automatic, self-policing, simple and neat. Makes me feel that bit safer.
LAST MONTH I mused on a device that flashed cheery messages to other drivers. Now I’ve had a press release about another Kickstarter project, one which could inflame road rage to Mad Max levels. You say what you think into a tiny microphone and it spells out what you say on a rear display screen. The PR material illustrates messages saying ‘Thanks!’ and ‘Have a nice day!’. Fat chance.
If I’d had one while negotiating the Bank Holiday A3 throttled by middle-lane dreamers…
Long-time staffman Gordon Cruickshank learned his trade under Bill Boddy and competes in historic events in his Jaguar Mk2 and BMW 635