A Postcard from Petrolhead Paradise

Classic car drawing
Public Domain

A Postcard from Petrolhead Paradise

Well, Stone the crows! A sunny Saturday in September saw a bit of a surprise.

Although we’d noticed the colourful banner advertising the event often enough as we wandered hither and yon from home to the centre of our little town, somehow the date had slipped both my memory and Mr S’s. Today was the ‘Stone High Street Classic Cars Event’.

To say it was well attended is a bit of an understatement. Something like sixty splendid classic cars lined the High Street. Their proud owners were more than happy to tell you about their prized possessions… interspersed with sipping coffee and chatting with other owners.

People of all ages wandered between the gleaming vehicles: little kids excited by the unusual shapes and colours, sounds and smells of these beauties, and the rather more mature amongst us (a.k.a. big kids) happily heading down memory lane.

The first car we encountered needs no introduction. An economy car she may have been, but a true classic by anyone’s standard. This was Alec Issigonis’ Morris Minor, ‘Moggy’ to her friends.

One of the most popular cars built by Morris Motors, this particular car was in the same soft green as the one my Uncle owned when I was a kid. The iconic ‘bull’ badge, showing the ox crossing the River Isis, proudly announces its Oxford birthplace.

Figure 1: The Morris ‘bull’ badge
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She wasn’t alone, as there was a Series III Morris Minor 1000 right behind her. This one in a sage green, with the chrome ‘eyelashes’ (OK, peak shades) I remember so well, giving her a decidedly flirty, come-hither look.

Figure 2: Morris Minor 1000, Series III
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Across the road was a car which was less familiar to me, though the name brought back some memories. This was a Ford Prefect, but a 107E. No wonder she didn’t quite look like the little car I adored as a nipper. She was a later model than our car so, although lovely, the design had altered a little. Just enough for it not to look quite right.

Figure 3: Ford Prefect 107E
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But I didn’t have long to wait before a ‘proper’ Prefect said hello. Not a primrose hued darling like my beloved ‘Yellow Peril’ (my Dad had a weird sense of humour at times). This girl was a ‘Black Beauty’ instead, but her body shape matched my memory to a tee. This was a Ford Prefect 100. A real poppet.

Figure 4: Ford Prefect 100
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The next car to catch my eye was a bit of a rarity, and certainly one I’d never seen before. Not too surprising as she predates me by quite a few years and, though built in Slough so right-hand drive, is of pre-war Parisian ancestry to boot. Ooh là là!

This sprightly lady was a 1927 gleaming wine-red Citroën 12-24 two-seater roadster. In immaculate condition, she had a little extra je ne sais quoi that I’d not expected. For one thing, a Dickey seat (the Americans call these rumble seats) which folds out to allow a couple more passengers to be carried. A useful trait, as before she joined her present owner, she transported five generations of the same family for nearly eighty years!

Figure 5: Citroën 12-24
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But that wasn’t all. I was particularly taken with the strange artefact above her double chevron badge (this a beautifully enamelled cobalt blue and gold). Again, something I’d not ever consciously noticed before, this was a Boyce MotoMeter, a clever device to indicate the temperature of the radiator.

Figure 6: Boyce MotoMeter
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Quite a sophisticated gadget, particularly when you compare this technology to the surprisingly sparse-looking interior bits and bobs.

Figure 7: Citroën 12-24 driver’s view
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Another red car caught my attention, a Swedish lady. This time a fire-engine red sleek Saab. I believe that she’s a 1950s Saab 96, but I couldn’t find anyone to ask.

Figure 8: Sleek Saab 96
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With the bonnet popped, I had to have a look the engine, which seemed a little unusual, to say the least. This could be the famed two-stroke, three-cylinder, I3 engine, interestingly with the radiator set behind the engine. Whether it is or isn’t, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cleaner engine compartment.

Figure 9: Saab two-stroke, three-cylinder, I3 engine
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This wasn’t the only Saab at the event. I believe that the other was also a Saab 96, but a rather more up-to-date version, maybe 1970s? I think this one is likely the Saab 96 LV4, with a four-stroke V4 engine, but my knowledge of these is minimal, quite frankly.

Figure 10: Saab 96 LV4
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Bringing us rather closer to modern cars, the next gem was a mere ten years old and an absolute beauty. A two litre Morgan 3 Wheeler roadster, all the way from Worcestershire, being hand-built in Malvern. It’s a tiddler, but by far the smallest car here.

This is a car which looks great fun, albeit in a let’s get hypothermia and destroy that hairstyle sort of way. In fact, this little car is a vehicle which Top Gear absolutely hated (they gave it the 2011 ‘Not-A-Car’ of the year award), which makes it look pretty damn good to me.

Figure 11: Morgan 3 Wheeler
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Over the road, a couple of MG T-types, both stunning cars in superb condition. Rather appropriate that they were at this event, as this year marks MG’s centenary, a landmark which has been being celebrated around the globe, starting with celebrations at the British Motor Museum in May.

There were a good number of different model MGs scattered though the High Street, including a very nice looking MG RV8, but as to these lovely cars, is this golden girl a 1950s TF 1500 Midget?

Figure 12: MG TF 1500 Midget
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The next classic is a bit of a giggle, an Austin Maestro 600 L van. A classic workhorse.

Whether Plod ever did use this old girl is debatable, but she’s happily keeping the peace anyway. Those of you with sharp eyes will notice that she’s being aided and abetted by our very own Mayor. I’m really not sure who ‘Rogue’ refers to… but like my Dad, he’s ex-RAF so I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Figure 13: Plodmobile
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The next car was a complete unknown to me. I’m embarrassed to say that I had never heard of the Bedfordshire car manufacturer who built this tiny jewel of a car in Biggleswade, but I really fell in love with this little lass.

Another three-wheeler model, and a miniscule one at that, she’s a Kelly-green Berkeley T60. Built in 1960, there aren’t many of these around, as they were only in production for a year. They were very popular at the time though as they could be driven on a motorbike licence without needing to take a car test. Fittingly, she has an air-cooled transverse two-stroke Excelsior Talisman engine.

Figure 14: Berkeley T60
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No classic car event would be complete without a Morris Traveller, the estate version of the car this piece started with, and here she is. Again, that iconic dusty green and ash wood frame invites a thousand memories of our neighbour’s van. He was a fireman and a keen trout fisherman, and his Traveller was often filled with a fascinating wealth of fly-fishing paraphernalia, and we occasionally benefitted in trout for tea if he’d had a particularly good day on the water.

Figure 15: Morris Traveller
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As yet, we haven’t seen a Jaguar, but outside the 18th century Crown Hotel which dominates the High Street is a beast of a car. A Jaguar XK150 fixed head coupé which oozes sophistication, luxury, and power.

We heard this car arrive before we saw her, and I can assure you that she purrs like the big cat she is: a deep, throaty, growling purr, commanding respect.

Figure 16: Jaguar XK150 fixed head coupé
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Another big beauty stands over the road from the Jag. This one has seen better days and will take some work to bring her back to her former glory, but she’s still worthy of a mention.

A 1961, 3 litre, blue (sadly sun faded now to nearly green) Vanden Plas Princess. She’s a hefty old girl, and will, I suspect, be a real showstopper once fully restored. The neon sign behind her reads ‘Life’s Too Short To Be Unhappy’, which seems quite appropriate.

Figure 17: Vanden Plas Princess
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Our next car is a real contrast in scale. The diminutive Fiat 500 L, in coral red, is a car we used to have when we lived in Bradford. This girl, dating to 1972, is very like ours. We were always astounded that she managed West Yorkshire’s hills, even in winter, without a whimper, but she did. She may have been small, but she was mighty.

Figure 18: Fiat 500 L
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On the subject of Italian cars, the next one was a real eye-opener, and speaking to her proud owner made her even more so.

This rather unassuming (to my eye) grey car is a 1989 Lancia Delta HF Integrale 16V. The gentleman stood next to it is a walking encyclopaedia of all things Lancia (and other Italian manufacturers).

He was delighted to tell me about the amazingly impressive sporting pedigree of the Integrales (e.g. six World Rally Championship wins in succession). Those of you who know cars will not be surprised to hear that he is no fan of Esther Rantzbag!

He isn’t only interested in the cars; he regularly competes with them too. I must admit that, since speed scares me witless, all this rallying stuff sounded rather intimidating to me (OK, pretty exciting too). He went on to describe a pictorial navigation system for rallies that I’d never heard of too. Tulip maps, which sound eminently sensible.

Even more interesting to me, this lovely gentleman spent ages talking to me not only about this car, his other cars, and rallying, but also the bright, dedicated and far thinking man behind the Lancia company, one Vincenzo Lancia.

Figure 19: Lancia Delta HF Integrale 16V
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To be honest, he got me really interested. Vincenzo sounds like a man for a future article since the wealth of innovations he developed over a relatively brief life sounded mind-blowing. In some ways, he brought to mind another incredibly talented engineer, about whom I have already written, Reginald Mitchell. The Integrale’s owner has loads of books on this topic and, when I said I was very interested in this extraordinary man, very generously said he’d be happy for me to borrow same. It could be an interesting winter, so watch this space.

Earlier, I mentioned that 2023 was the centenary year for MG cars. Well, it’s also the 60th anniversary of the Mini Cooper. Though, by now, way too many people were milling around for me to take a decent photo, there was a cracking collection of these cars lined up outside the Library. There was even a brand spanking new metallic British Racing Green 60th Anniversary model. Whilst a nice car, this amused me no end as it dwarfed its older companions.

Triumph has a notable anniversary this year too, their 70th, and it was good to see a fair number of these lovely cars. Sadly, no sign of a Triumph 2.5 PI Estate (there have been two of these in my past, and I love the things), and no TR4 either.

However, there was a stunning, bright red TR3 (I think the TR3A). A fun fact about the TR3A is that the car was so popular that the original panel moulds had to be replaced on the production line, as the originals simply wore out!

Figure 20: Triumph TR3A
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Also representing Triumph was the Stag. In fact, there were a number of these stunning cars. One was a beautiful pale jasmine, a truly lovely car. I’m not 100% sure, but I think she is a Mk 1.

Figure 21: Triumph Stag Mk 1
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Another standout was a gorgeous saffron yellow girl, not too dissimilar to the car Sean Connery as James Bond takes across the water on a hovercraft in ‘Diamonds are Forever’ (although that was a Mk I and the one we see here is the Mk 2).

Figure 22: Triumph Stag Mk 2
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I love these cars, not too surprising as their design derives from the original Triumph 2000, tweaked and sportified somewhat by Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti. Still popular amongst Triumph enthusiasts, there are said to be around eight and a half thousand of these lovely cars still out and about in the UK.

Triumph was extremely well represented all round, as there were several gorgeous Heralds, a splendid convertible Vitesse, and a door-wedge TR7 (sorry Triumph, I never did take to these angular, beak-nosed monstrosities).

Figure 23: Triumph Vitesse
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Figure 24: Triumph TR7
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One more Triumph surprise was a Triumph TR 2 ‘long door’. There aren’t many of these left, so it was a joy to see.

Figure 25: Triumph TR2
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Another car caught my eye as we began to come close to the end of the parade of lovely ladies. This time a Ford, a Consul Capri, a beautiful big boat of a car, which again brought back childhood memories.

Our car was a Classic bodied Consul, not the Capri, and she was a deep, shiny blue. I think she’d belonged to one of my uncles, a publican, before she came to us, and I seem to recall that she replaced my beloved ‘Yellow Peril’ Prefect.

Sadly, this lady didn’t last long as far as I remember. As we were off on our annual holiday, we were surprised to see a car wheel overtake us. Even more surprised to find that this was followed by a jolt and the loud graunching sound of an axle dragging along the tarmac. It had been our offside real wheel!

Figure 26: Ford Consul Capri
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Despite this traumatising event, Dad stuck with Fords though, and we went on to have a number of Cortinas over the years. My favourite of these was a Ford Cortina Mark I four-door saloon in Lagoon Blue. Funny how I can remember that after so many years.

This was the car I spent happy hours of my childhood ‘mending’ with Dad. I’d been involved on the periphery before this with various cars and motorbikes, handing tools mostly. But my brother was now older and busy with his own stuff, my sister was not in the least interested, so I got stuck into all sorts of maintenance and repairs to help keep ‘Big Blue’ on the road. Ah, the Haynes Manual years…

We later had a Mark II which I didn’t take to at all, but I remember a Mark III for another reason. My sister, older than I, had a boyfriend who drove one very like the slinky model shown below. A serious bird puller, that car. Hmmm, I wonder…

Figure 27: Ford Cortina Mk III
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I think I said something about a lack of Jags. Well, I was wrong. After all, we couldn’t go home without an E-Type, surely? Nope, there was a 1967 4.2 litre Jaguar E-Type Series I Roadster.

This lady has an incredible history covering periods of time in the States and in France before heading back to home turf. It might not surprise anyone to hear that she was sold for c. £84,000 in 2021.

A gem of a car, with rivetted body panels, which surprised me a little, but she was restored in the style of 1960s Lightweights. Here she is, though frustratingly I couldn’t manage a halfway decent picture.

Figure 28: Jaguar E-Type Series I
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The immaculate bodywork can better be seen in a close up of her stylish tail end.

Figure 29: E-Type bodywork
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One more Jaguar, as there was also this fantastic feline, her flowing lines in a frosty blue. I think she may be a 4.2 litre 2003 Jaguar XKR convertible. Her creamy leather interior was absolutely spotless.

Figure 30: Jaguar XKR
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The last couple of cars included a real humdinger, and its colour alone turned heads, before you clock the exotic styling.

This is a 1972 De Tomaso Pantera, a 5.8 litre V8–powered real shark of a car. Is this one the Pantera L ‘Lusso’? Quite honestly, I have no idea.

The Pantera was capable (in its day) of zero-to-60-mph in just 5.5 seconds. Not too sluggish for a car some fifty years old and, just for giggles, the speedo goes up to 200 mph.

Figure 31: De Tomaso Pantera
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A stunning car, but would I want one? No. Give me that sweet little Fiat any day.

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