Going Clubbing: East Coast Retros

You’d like Michael “Trigger” Carpenter. I’ve only met him a handful of times, and he’s such a very modest and personable bloke that I’ve come to number him among my friends. His exploits, though, deserve global recognition – particularly his services to the universe of unloved, unappreciated, underdog transportation.

He’s a serial owner and restorer of that kind of car that was barely tolerated when new and is roundly ridiculed by ‘normal’ folk today. Not that we’re normal folk, of course; who among us doesn’t feel sharp pangs of lust for Trigger’s gloriously basic Morris Marina Estate (winner of Best In Show at this year’s Hagerty Festival of The Unexceptional)? 

Hero-worship isn’t my thing, though, and I’m here to share something else that Trigger (along with his mate Reuben “Roo” Ward) invests time and passion in: the East Coast Retros car club – which Practical Classics magazine has recently voted the UK’s Best Classic Car Club. I went along to a recent meet to see just what makes it so special.

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I’ve never really fancied the idea of being involved in a single-make car club – the idea of devotion to a single marque or model, and the exaggerated loyalties and single-mindedness that can result, seems better to be observed from a safe distance than experienced from the inside. More generalised clubs have more appeal to me, and East Coast Retros is more generalised than most. For instance; at their gatherings, my own Rover is welcome and it’s “only” 22 years old and barely worth more than its value in mixed metals.

What makes my car welcome is that I’m passionate about it, and that’s a thread that unites every car and owner that has anything to do with East Coast Retros. Essentially, if you drive something that’s faded from the public imagination somewhat – the kind of car that either failed to capture the public imagination when new, or was once abundant but indifference and fashion has seen the ranks dwindle in numbers over the years – chances are you’ll be welcomed with open arms.

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That’s not to say that any of the cars that turn up are anything less than droolworthy (from our own knowledgeable, appreciative perspective). The first thing that strikes you when wandering around the rows and rows of cars that turn up at a typical meet is the sheer diversity models represented. And, while the recognised classics you see wherever you go will never be turned away, they’re far less numerous than they tend to be. In their place, you’ll find cars of the kind you’ve not seen in the flesh for decades. 

Where else can you find a Mk1 Vauxhall Astra parked next to an R31 Nissan Skyline? An E21 3 Series next to a ’76 Corolla? A Rover SD1 next to an R129 Mercedes SL? And if you’re a fan of the kind of Japanese cars that slipped from the wider public consciousness years ago, this is the place to be.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet the owners of most of these – they were mingling, as they should have been. On future visits, I certainly will, though. Particularly the dude who runs this Datsun 260C, from whose gravity I was powerless to escape for several minutes, and it sucked me back in again when I passed it again half an hour later.

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Those who live somewhere wall-to-wall and knee-deep with Mitsubishi Starions will forgive me for going all weak-kneed when I bumped into this one, forcing me to capture it from every angle in case I never saw one again.

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Significant feelings of longing also swept over me when I caught a glimpse of this Datsun Laurel, which I had never imagined on Lotus Eclat alloy wheels, the fitment of which I now reckon should be mandatory. In fact, they should be fitted to every car on the road (and they share a 4×114.3mm stud pattern with my Rover, as it happens).

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Some of the cars in attendance had clearly been lavished with every possible attention over the years, while some had clearly been more recently saved from oblivion and kept alive by a new enthusiasm. Witness this Metro, which has seemingly survived against all odds. Once-ubiquitous, the Metro became disposable family transport long before such waste was fashionable, and to see one that’s as old as me is a rare sight indeed.

It’s high time, though, that I stopped yammering and let the pics do the talking. I’m pretty confident that you’ll find at least something you like among them.

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You can probably now see just why East Coast Retros collected that “best club” silverware. Practical Classics magazine said it was because “every car is welcome, every owner too”, and for a vibe that’s “almost that of a festival”. 

For me, it’s deserved for the clubs ‘anything goes’ mentality. “If you love it, we’ll all love it”. Not so much a club as a support group for esoteric automotive fetishes.

(All images RoadworkUK / Hooniverse 2019. Thanks to Trigger for, well, doing good things)

About RoadworkUK

RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.

28 Comments

  1. “(winner of Best In Show at this year’s Hagerty Festival of The Unexceptional)”

    The next time you see him, please pass along a hearty “Poorly done! Poorly done indeed!” on my behalf.

  2. A core Hooniverse post, to my mind. Lots of cars to like here, but I am especially fond of the 60s and 70s Japanese iron. They had such a surprising amount of style, tiny copies of American design of its time.

  3. The yellow coupe just before the 7-Series that looks vaguely Pontiac-ish… is that a Vauxhall? Whatever it is, I like it.

  4. Hmmm… the white sedan looks like a Nissan Stanza. Right down to the tape stripes it looks very like one my Father owned.

    (Great photos Chris!)

    1. Thank you! ‘Phone cameras have come on in leaps and bounds of late.

      That car essentially is a Stanza, albeit with Nissan Bluebird badging and built at the Nissan UK plant in Sunderland.

      1. My father’s car was definitely badged as a Stanza — I’d always thought of the Bluebird as a larger car, based surely on memories of the following generation (Wikipedia tells me ours was a ‘T11’ rather than the minicab-of-choice ‘T12’ Bluebird). I don’t think my father liked it much, but it really was not a bad car. Comfy, leggy and tidily styled; when it was replaced with a Triumph Acclaim it felt like a step backwards.

      1. You know, I’ve never asked. I assume he doesn’t walk around armed, and that it’s an “Only Fools and Horses” reference, but, in a way, I’d like to be wrong.

        1. Hey — if you ARE wrong, I think “he knows about oscilloscopes” would be the coolest outcome…

  5. “(winner of Best In Show at this year’s Hagerty Festival of The Unexceptional)”

    The next time you see him, please pass along a hearty “Poorly done! Poorly done indeed!” on my behalf.

  6. Please tell me you got more photos of the NSU RO-80 in the title pic.

    A mate has one – literally in his barn sans engine (the original rotaries were notoriously unreliable). I’d love to see one driven, or, at least with a functional engine. I’m guessing that this one is running a Mazda rotary?

  7. Please tell me you got more photos of the NSU RO-80 in the title pic.

    A mate has one – literally in his barn sans engine (the original rotaries were notoriously unreliable). I’d love to see one driven, or, at least with a functional engine. I’m guessing that this one is running a Mazda rotary?

      1. They certainly have the best steering of any Audi product since, except maybe for the Ur Quattro and the first R8, I suspect the dead hand of Dr Piech being the reason for the lost knowledge on how steering can really work.
        I really must get another one, my last one had a 12A conversion that went quite well. A 13B would be better and a 20B too much. In fitting the Mazda powerplant the transmission must be fitted with a pressure reducing valve as the trans shares the engine’s oil pressure for actuation purposes, and if not fitted, the three speed + torque converter blows it’s seals. Don’t ask how we found out. A Subaru five or six speed manual would be nice too, now that they are readily available. Mine had the quad light version of the headlights, no doubt developed for the very rare US versions and in typical German overengineering, the housing was made of cast aluminium holding the 5&3/4″ headlight units. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/66a292d2667f7053ef7e4f81397d2857b30f28c17d2c79be86a3271e56353da3.jpg

  8. “…the idea of devotion to a single marque or model, and the exaggerated loyalties and single-mindedness that can result, seems better to be observed from a safe distance than experienced from the inside.”

    Amen. Group gatherings can be painful. It’s good to be acquainted with these communities, though. If only for the obscure parts and arcane knowledge.

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