So, it’s Saturday night in the UK, and while families nationwide wallow in the festival of charged socio-political fireworks that is the Eurovision Song Contest, I thought I’d post what I meant to last night – before I spilled most of a can of cider over my laptop. 24hrs and a session in the airing cupboard later, we’re back in business.
The event was the annual Ipswich to Felixstowe run, which is open to any vehicle registered more than thirty years ago – this cut-off rolls so I’ll be able to take part in 2027 in the Rover. There’s always an impressive array of machines in attendance, including a bunch of historic buses, bikes, military vehicles and two Stanley Steamers. Unfortunately, the crowds thronged heavily enough to obscure most of the cars, most of the time. I got lucky occasionally, though, so here’s a selection of the stand-outs.
Regional, weekend events like these figure highly in the diaries of those who love to polish their cars and show them off a bit, but are loathe to travel very far in them. That said, some of the participants had travelled the length of Britain to be here, and there were more than a few foreign-registered machines, too. Still, it comes as no surprise that British cars make up a fair old percentage of those in attendance.
It was refreshing to see an ordinary MkII Ford Escort. RS2000s and Mexicos seem ten a penny these days, even if they routinely change hands for baffling quantities of cash. Oddly, the strong values enjoyed by the faster, motorsport-compatible models has trickled down and even this modest four-door GL is now seen as a genuinely desirable classic car. All this despite the fact that the motoring press universally celebrated the MkII’s passing in favour of the front-wheel-drive MkII in 1981.
The Triumph GT6 is a stalwart of the British classic car scene, and is of far more interest to me than the little Spitfire on which it’s based, if only for its sweet little straight-six two-litre engine. It’s a lovely shape, too, and BL’s Magenta hue of the period is vibrant enough to have you wondering if your white balance isn’t severely out of whack.
The GT6 is a diminutive car, but the Ginetta G15 is absolutely tiny. This one was parked, appropriately, ahead of a Hillman Imp, a car that shared an 875cc all-aluminium Coventry Climax engine with the Ginetta. Introduced in 1968, the G15 was initially only available in kit form, but factory-builds were offered later, and were put together in Witham, just 20 miles or so from where I am right now.
The Ford Cortina was absolutely devoid of forward-thinking technology, but was the family saloon that everybody wanted in the 60s and 70s, and was Britain’s best selling car for several years. This 2.3-litre, V6 Ghia version represents the absolute top of the range in 1978, with added driving lights for extra outside-lane motorway credibility.
The Vauxhall Victor was slightly too big to compete directly with the Cortina – only once the Opel Ascona-based Cavalier arrived in 1976 did General Motors UK branch have a real equivalent to Ford’s family favourite. The above was the entry level Victor, the 1800 – you could get a 2300 and a 3300. A 2300 was the first car I ever travelled in – my Dad’s ’72 example took me home after birth in ’81. I’ve always thought the nose styling of these owes a hat-tip to Bill Mitchell’s ’71 Buick Rivieras.
The Aston Martin V8 needs no real introduction – a 1970s British muscle car for the very most landed of gentry. I have always loved hat front end styling, and it only got prettier, culminating with the exquisite closed-grille Vantage, which makes me quiver a little on sight.
As did this! Any of you who visit www.autoshite.com at all frequently will know that unloved, forgotten and maligned are what that forum strives to preserve. The above is one such treasure. Inestimably rare, it’s a Ford Sierra 1.6. Were it a 1.3 three-door, it would be the lowliest model of Sierra ever offered, but this has the slightly bigger 75bhp engine and a brace more doors. It’s still the entry-level trim level, though – not even given a designation such as L, GL or Ghia, this was simply Sierra. Only the earliest had this grey front panel, which was seen as taking penny-pinching economy just a step too far, and later became body-coloured.
Here’s more of the early Sierra in The Carchive.
Here’s another rarity (and another Carchive resident), the Bedford HA van, from GM’s UK Truck division. Based on the HA-generation Vauxhall Viva (built between 1963 and 1966) the van was built right up to 1983 and was enormously popular among publically owned UK utilities companies. British Gas and British Telecom each had huge fleets, as did Royal Mail. I’ve no idea on the history of this incredibly rare survivor, but it’s in astonishing condition. However, if those non-period plastic wheeltrims were bio-degradeable, I’d strongly suggest its owner throws them in the sea.
At the very opposite end of GM’s UK scale in the early ’60s is this Vauxhall Cresta, a ‘PA’ model as offered from ’67-62, and among the very most flamboyant cars ever built on these shores. Its dogleg front and rear screen surrounds and rear fins were deliberate nods towards US style, and this strong transatlantic flavour makes it a big favourite among rockabilly types to this very day.
Rather more sober is the Mk1 Ford Granada, which must have been one of the very most neatly styled cars that Ford of Europe could offer in the 1970s. Those concave rear lights have a strong American flavour to them, too, and are among my favourite of all Ford styling features.
Heading into Europe, I didn’t expect such a strong Alfa Romeo turnout. The first of two Alfasuds I caught on camera was this 1978 example. ’70s Alfas aren’t known for their resilience to corrosioon, but at least this one was future-proofed to a certain extent by being painted the colour of rust to begin with.
This three-door 1983 example is no less pretty, and it had been a long, long time since I saw an Alfasud in such showroom-fresh condition, Certainly not on the road, moving under its own power.
Right, lets head Stateside, and take a look at my favourite of the C3 Corvettes that were in attendance. I know that my impression of driving one of these was more ‘memorable’ than ‘exhilarating’, but they still make a hell of a head-turning sight on a sunny British seafront. It may be the most maligned of ‘Vettes, but its extreme scarcity here makes it perhaps more appreciated than in its home territory.
A ’77 Chrysler Newport really isn’t an obvious classic car preservation candidate in the UK, and my eyes rather bulged to see it lumbering down the road as I made my way to the promenade. Credit to its owner, it really does seem straight as a die.
As did this Galaxie Sunliner, which was apparently supplied from new by Ford UK, back when they actually imported US stuff if you asked the right person and fanned out a hefty wad of notes. The paint is all original, and it wears 58 years of gentle patina with commendable grace. It just reeks of history, this car, and was mentioned in the Ipswich Evening Star in 1971, when bicycle-mounted policeman cited its driver for dangerous driving – he ‘thought it was going to overturn’ when the driver negotiated a roundabout at speed.
Attention-grabbing in its own right is the ’71 Mustang. However, splendid as it is, the tiny 302 Windsor V8 engine looks rather lost lurking in the back of that vast engine bay. And why must there be so many 2nd-generation Mach 1s over here?
Finally, as if to demonstrate that literally anything goes, as long as it meets the age criteria, here’s a 1973 Morris Marina saloon, complete with the patina that comes with years of hard family work.
But the fun doesn’t finish at the show itself. Felixstowe has some relatively salubrious areas, and you get the feeling that some residents could have partaken in the festivities but chose to stay at arms length instead. As a result, I caught this immaculate W123 Coupe while walking back to my car, and it rounded the afternoon off rather nicely.
Next time, I hope for drizzle. Not only will it keep some of the crowds at bay, but will be rather more fitting in a British seaside resort in early May.
(All images Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2018)