IHAVE A CONFESSION TO MAKE. UNTIL THIS LAST MONTH I HAD never had the Prescott experience. Not the swashbuckling bloke who inexplicably became Deputy Prime Minister. No, I mean the country estate belonging to the Bugaffi Owners’ Club.
How could I have stayed away from such a wonderful experience? I have no idea, except that hillclimbs have never turned me on. I like to see cars racing side by side. I remain lukewarm about cars climbing hills but I loved being at Prescott on a summer’s day, surrounded by a sensational collection of prewar racing cars. In today’s tumultuous world, there is little harm in sifting under a Prescott oak, soaking up the scenery. The cars lined up in the sunlit orchard. The smell of Castrol R. The musical throbbing, sating and popping of so many different engines. And that vaguely drowsy pleasure of just wandering around, watching a few cars on the hill and then returning to the paddock where there’s only enough asphalt for a push-start before graunching into gear and heading out.
In early August the faithful make their pilgrimage along the Gloucestershire lanes to worship at the annual Vintage Sports-Car Club meeting. This is a precious piece of old English motor racing, preserved by the passion of the VSCC and the 8000 equally passionate folk who help make this a special occasion. You could spend all day in the car parks. It never ceases to amaze me just how much of our motoring heritage is still rolling along our roads. For the VSCC, which describes itself as the ‘club that sparked a passion’, Prescott is the pinnacle of its summer season or, in the words of club secretary Mike Stripe, “a very large jewel in the historic motor sports crown”. And there’s no arguing with that, the entry hugely oversubscribed, and 260 wonderful cars filling the paddock. A few more could be squeezed in but then there wouldn’t be room between the cars for a picnic, or space to stand and stare at the machinery on display. I had never before
wanted a Bugaffi as much as I did after an hour at Prescott There is a magic about them. But you already know that, I’m sure.
This year’s event included a low-key but touching tribute to Bill Boddy, whose status in the history of our sport is unique and can never be replicated. Motor Sport’s Founder Editor was remembered in the only way possible with a parade of cars on Prescott hill, including a Zust and a if Humber which WB had found in a garage in Cardiff. I’m sure the man himself was there in spirit, as curious and attentive as ever.
Barrie Williams, without whom no historic meeting is complete, was at Prescott celebrating the day, 54 years ago, when he made his first competitive outing on this very hill. Back then, aged 17, Barrie was at the wheel of a ‘special’ based on a Singer Le Mans with an Austin A40 engine, a Ford 10 grille and cycle wings. Yes, I know, but this is Barrie. This year he was in a real Singer Le Mans, recently restored and owned by VSCC PR manager Gillian Carr.
“The first time I came here I only went about a foot,” said Barrie. “A half-shaft broke on the line and I burst into tears. This time, on my first run, I sent the cones flying because nobody told me we were using the ‘short’ hill course. But it’s a wonderful event, always was and still is today. This is the friendliest form of motor sport same as it was in the ’50s. But I do notice there are more women driving now just seen a nice young lady in racing overalls climbing into an Austin 7. Great stuff.”
What’s so good about a VSCC weekend such as Prescott is this: back in 1934 a bunch of young men feared that the golden age of motoring was passing. So they formed a club to preserve their passion for old racing cars. Now, thanks to them, and at a time when the golden age is long gone, we can still revel in the sights, sounds and smells of these thrilling cars.
Who was fast, who was slow? Does it really matter? If you were fastest on the day it does. But being there is what it’s all about.