Just outside Basildon, on the A127 arterial road linking London with the coast, there sits a pub and roadside eatery which, it feels, hasn’t really changed since the early Eighties. This made it the perfect venue for a weekend meeting of the South-Eastern chapter of the UK’s notorious group of aficionados of The Worthless Car. Autoshite, as it’s otherwise known. When you spend a lot of your time exchanging views with other people digitally, it’s nice to occasionally interface with blood and flesh and put faces to the internet psuedonyms. This last Sunday I seized the opportunity to mingle and bask in the glory of the inglorious. I’ve met some of these cars before, and I’ve spoken to some of their owners on previous meets, but some were completely new to me. Such as this Vauxhall Victor, proudly wearing its original (and hard to replace) Lucas headlamps. I seldom use the phrase “Magnificent Vauxhall” but I feel it appropriate in this instance. A Victor was the first car I ever travelled in. I was collected from the maternity ward of Colchester General Hospital in just such a machine, but in metallic green with a beige vinyl interior. Though that example was only about eight years old by the time I was hatched in ’81, it was already in an advanced state of decomposition and I have vivid memories of my father welding in repair patches made from tobacco tins. I’ll always have a soft spot for these increasingly scarce machines. I’ve always thought that the very prow of the car bares a passing, but mentionable, resemblance to the early ’70s Buick Riviera, particularly around the grille, which extends to south of the bumper, just like the Riv. If you squint. Parked next to the Victor is a chap called Seth’s Hillman… …which, with its lowered ride height and completely authentic state of overall shabbiness has quite a road presence. Although this car HAS been lowered, and I usually get all angsty when people do this to cars for the look or, worse, for the sense of belonging to some kind of “scene”, I don’t feel like I want to criticise things here. This is a car which has been loved and preserved by its owner for a long time, and the lowering is reversible if he really wanted to. And making an old, beige Hillman which wouldn’t usually draw much of a crowd, into something that people actually find interesting or inspiring isn’t really a bad thing, is it? So, what does this Hoffmeister Kink belong to? The “D” gives it away. It’s a very rare Triumph Dolomite 1500 SE, one of the limited edition models produced towards the end of the production run. These were given more upmarket interior treatments with MOAR WALNUT, as well as sleek bodyside stripes and wheel rim embellishers. I have the brochure for this somewhere in The Carchive, I must mount an expedition and fish it out some time. These were a fascinating car, when you consider that the Dolomite (which was supposed to be fighting the BMW 3 Series at the end of the ’70s, still used the same hull as the Triumph 1300 from 1965, which itself had been available variously in FWD and RWD throughout its tortured existence. Incidentally, the guy with the 924 S brought a box of old cassette tapes which he was flogging for a quid each out of the trunk. Seriously, the ’80s were alive and well in Essex that day. No messing around, our next confirmed classic was Deluxe. But what was it? Yep. What line up of much-maligned cars would be complete without a Morris Marina? This is a ’73, the first iteration of the British Leyland legend who’s main task in life was to take on the Ford Cortina using recycled Morris Minor oily bits under a contemporary exterior. Don’t tell anybody, but I always quite liked the way these looked. If you got really drunk, and then squinted really hard, you could tell yourself it looks a little bit like a Plymouth Barracuda from the front. This is another well-loved machine, made somehow all the more palatable thanks to its heavy patina. Ironically it’s owned by a chap whose forum moniker is CortinaBoy, who does everything he can to keep it clear of falling pianos. Another notable presence was Nigel’s 1980 C30 Datsun Laurel 2.4 Six, which spent all morning attracting admiring glances and generally being fawned over; and that was just the outside. Inside is a world of velvety beigeness dressed with chocolatey brown plastic. It’s a good deal more appealing than it sounds. Whisper quiet, too, aside from all manner of belt-related goings on from underhood. The exhaust exhales softly and the L24 keeps itself to a murmur. Those who drove it said that it felt like a car ten years newer. Like a Lexus LS400 or something like that, though maybe the reverse is actually true? Nigel later produced two large boxes of mixed brochures and car magazines for our perusal and purchase, and the assembled throng picked through them like a vulture attacking a wildebeest. ‘Twas a strange sight for the normals, a group of grown men standing around throwback cars that time and memory all-but rejected, frothing at the mouth at the prospect of a 1985 Ford Accesories brochure. Most unsavoury. I loved it. (All images copyright Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2016)
Retro Heaven on the A127
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.