On the course and in the paddock you see a beguiling assortment of pre WW2 sports and racing cars. In the car park on Sunday morning a jaw dropping variety of of Bentleys, Lagondas, Alvis’s , Rolls-Royces and similar thoroughbreds of the same age, worth tens, possibly hundreds of millions in total , which turn up in their hundreds. Can there be a bigger gathering of such quality motors anywhere in the world?
But that’s only half the story. On Saturday evening, when the car parks are empty and competing cars in the paddock are covered over (or not , as the case maybe), while the restaurant is humming with life and off-duty marshalls, there is a little informal champagne gathering up at the Bohham’s auction, among the half dozen prized lots due for sale at Goodwood in a month’s time. The flutes clink, the hog-roast sizzles and a lot of cheeks get almost-kissed and hands very firmly shaken. Curiously early we are gently ushered out by the security people who want to secure and tidy up the area for tomorrows event.That’s the cue to head across the road to check out the camp site. An this is just a surreal experience.
Scattered among the long grass and the cow pats, the festival tents and the camper vans, the trailers and barbecues are Bugattis, GNs, Alfa Romeos, Alvis, MGs, Rileys, the odd Atkinson lorry and even a Mini ‘Monster truck’… Smoke drifts, children ride bikes, bottles clink and people laugh. An Austin seven racer trundles past, a J.A.P V-Twin engined special throbs along the road on it’s way from the paddock to a nearby pub.
I’m taking a photo of a pretty little Salmson when a head pops out of a small tent “Simon?” enquires a voice with a familiar Ulster accent. It’s Prescott regular Dermont Johnson who always brings something interesting along to this event. Previously it was an Alfa 6C 1750 which has been in the family from near-new . This time it’s one on their two Salmsons. And in the back of his van was a JAP speedway engine which he’d brought over to get rebuilt so it could be fitted into yet another car within the collection , an early F3 Kieft.
The evening sun bathes the nearby hills and the nicely positioned Dixton Manor in soft warm cosy light. As it descends towards the far off Malvern hills, the patchworks fields and fluffy trees become a picture postcard England in microcosm slowly diffusing into a purple dusk. A little music drifts in. The occasional throaty engine gargles. Otherwise it’s just the tranquil hum of conversations. Nearby an abandoned looking T35 Bugatti nustles among the tents next to a couple of Bentley’s and down the way after a little drool over the ex Prince Chula Voisin I join some friends who are rustling up a culinary spread for a gathering of fellow competitors – mostly from the North East of England . Deck chairs are drawn up in a circle, – hemmed in between two camper vans and a couple of car trailers, while a fancy German-made BBQ unit is rapidly and brilliantly roasting lamb joints with a mere handful of charcoal in some clever way. We all gather round as these are brought to a table laden with fresh bread, salads, potatoes and bottles of wine and beer. “Help yourselves!” declare the hosts, Durham dentists Jon and Nimi as the meat is carved.
We eat and drink as the moon rises with surreal speed over the hill tops. Conversation ebbs and flows back and forth across the circle. Not all of it concerns cars. Someone in the circle (you know who you are ) has just acquired a pair of Jimmy Choos and the ladies in the party ooh and ahh over these while the gentlemen mostly shake their heads until it’s pointed out the they go on feet…. That confirmed, talk returns to a recent head gasket failure.
It’s completely dark as I leave the party, bottle in hand, legs a little wobbly, and saunter back to the Marshall’s club house for a late can or two and ribald jokes in the company of some ‘orange army’ stalwarts. Conversation drifts from place to place while the music from the restaurant fades away at the end of a blissful evening in a truly lovely part of the world among some wonderful machinery. It really is a kind of very civilised Glastonbury for the vintage car set. It only happens once a year so can’t help making the most of it!
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