Competition events apart, another fun aspect of the vintage-car movement is the private party to commemorate, even celebrate, some occasion in the career of a particular motor car. One would have to delve far back into automotive history to discover who first organised such an occasion. The Emancipation Run from London to Brighton, to mark the lifting of some of the more onorous restrictions which had been imposed on the newly developing horseless-carriages, perhaps? That, however, involved a pretty strenuous run in 1896 in fog and over poor roads. What I am thinking of is the static gathering of cars and those who enjoy them in a more private capacity. I have no idea when the first such meeting to see and appreciate an individual motor car occurred to its owner. There was a bit of a function after Louis Coatalen’s 3-litre side-valve Coupe de L’Auto Sunbeams had finished 1-2-3 in that race in 1912 at Dieppe.
Nor was this gaiety confined to Sunbeams. The victorious 12/50 Alvis returned to the factory in Coventry on a horse-drawn dray so that the workers who had built it could greet the car with which C M Harvey had just won the 1923 200-mile race at Brooklands — as the 12/50 Register remembered and again celebrated at Prescott and elsewhere this year. Of other get-togethers for a much-appreciated car, I recall Anthony Heal having such a party for his 1919 racing straight-eight Ballot just after the war, and, much later, another for his well-used twin-cam 3-litre sports Sunbeam. Before that Sam Clutton gave the 1908 GP Itala a birthday treat at Silverstone. And so on…
Then there have been more recent firing-up parties for rebuilt vintage cars, Angus-Sanderson, Austin Twenty, Austin 7 Ulster, Mercedes-Maybach, and Newton-Ceirano, for example. A similar happy gathering took place at Ivan Dutton’s place in the picturesque Oxfordshire village of Ixford on September 18, to mark the 80th anniversary of David Heimann’s 1913 5-litre Bugatti “Black Bess” being delivered to the French airman Roland Garros.
The centre of attraction was “Black Bess” herself, looking as immaculate as I hope she did when Garros first stepped into her all those long years ago – so immaculate that no-one ventured to drive her. This rare Bugatti was backed up by a breathtaking display of smaller Bugattis in Ivan’s pristine workshop, mostly GP models, and the road-equipped Type 59 which caused much interest at Prescott recently. There were other cars, too, including a £50 bog-standard Ford Escort (but with locked axle) to drive round a large field, and clay-pigeon shooting for those addicted to it. Lord Raglan’s Type 51 Bugatti was on its trailer, because with keeper Mark Garfitt and others it was off afterwards to Hethel, where another party was being organised to underline the take-over of Lotus by the new Bugatti Company.
David Sewell, who has set himself up as a consultant on Bugatti information and history, was on his way to the VSCC Light Car Section Driving Tests on the morrow with the delectable ex-Kent Karslake Bebe Peugeot ” Joujou”.
As an afterthought, “Black Bess” was delivered to the aviator Garros in 1913 and in 1924 another pilot, F/O W M Plenderleith, who accompanied Squadron Leader MacLaren on an attempted round-the-world flight, bought a four-seater Brescia Bugatti with the pear-shaped radiator, from Auto Auctions in Westminster, SW1 .
Silencers, shock-absorbers and tyres constitute expendable items on the most durable of cars. A big industry and retail trade revolves around this, a thought which came to me when the notably dependable editorial Ford Sierra 4×4 EFi, while not needing a new silencer or shockers (it’s going strong after 45,000 miles), was found at its last service to have all but illegal Pirelli P600s at the front. A patch on one was apparently due to faulty tracking. The rears were but 0.4 mm over the legal tread limit.
The solution was to pay another visit to Kwik-Fit, Hereford, where a new set of ‘boots’ was fitted with commendable speed (the spare, a Dunlop SP Sport, was barely used, and was left alone). The wheels were balanced and the steering retracked. The P600s had lasted 25,220 miles; whether or not they had been swapped around in that time I don’t know.
For replacements, I was given the latest Michelin STL MXV Pilot tyres, and I’m quite happy to be riding again with the blessing of Mr Bibendum. Michelin says of these tyres that they are intended for the long-distance, high-speed driver (flattery, in my case) and that the MXV low-profile radial (tubeless) ensures “outstanding braking, precision handling and excellent grip, with rapid water dispersal to prevent aqua-planing”.
Well, that was reassuring, which was just as well, remembering that each of these Pilots cost over £150. They have an 8 mm tread depth and are safe for 150 mph.
My first impression of these 195 x 60 V14 covers is that they feel softer than the Pirellis, causing a mild wandering sensation when the steering is in the straight-ahead position. Maybe they just require running in.
Never mind. New tyres are beautiful things, and give a driver the impression that he can approach any police roadside check with immunity (at least in that department). At one time, car owners were continually writing letters to motoring journals about their tyre experiences. You seldom see such comments now, so satisfactory, it seems, are today’s products.