Early October. Mornings are dark and often both wet and getting a bit chilly too. The season which we classic car enthusiasts so love, is sadly coming to an end. To make the most of what’s left of it, there was no way I would miss out on 2017’s last Sunday Scramble at Bicester Heritage!
This summer has truly been a cornucopia of great classic car events – often lined up for us to enjoy one weekend after another. There have even been a few weekends with multiple events within reasonable driving distance, leaving me in the difficult position of having to prioritize. First-World problem – I know. But as September passed, the number of classic car events started to dwindle, and Sunday the 1st of October saw Bicester Heritage host their last Sunday Scramble of the year. While a 300-mile roundtrip is perhaps a bit steep for a half-day event, I knew it was just something I had to do. If I didn’t, I would soon enough find myself sat indoors in the thick of winter, wishing I had… So at 5:30am I backed my old BMW out of the garage and into the lashing rain, and headed south to pick up ViaRETRO’s guest writer, Dave Leadbetter, and then onwards to Bicester Heritage where we arrived a smidgen before 9am just as the gates had opened.
This was only my second time at the old RAF base in Bicester, and after my first, expectations were high. I obviously knew that there wouldn’t be as many classics on site as during my first visit which you can read about here: Drive-it Day 2017 with Hagerty . The weather would naturally see to that and furthermore this Sunday Scramble wasn’t tied in with the annual Drive-it Day, which of course has most classic car owners out on the road anyway. Nonetheless, after parking up my NullZwei (as we call the BMW) in a prime spot right in the middle of all the charming old RAF buildings, Dave and I still managed to spend multiple hours just strolling around, soaking up the atmosphere and admiring all that was on display – both from the many specialists who have home at Bicester Heritage, but also from all the enthusiasts who had their classics out for an autumn run.
If you haven’t yet visited Bicester Heritage, you really ought to place it high on your things-to-do list for next year’s season. The derelict RAF base is simply the perfect venue for this all-encompassing classic car epicentre. I suppose in many ways, it’s the British version of the German concept Meilenwerk (now renamed Classic Remise), which has proven very popular within the German classic car scene for roughly 15 years now. However, in Bicester it’s not all under one roof. I suppose it thereby lacks some of the astonishing visual impact you get from the impressive grand halls of the Meilenwerk concept – especially the Düsseldorf architecture has always been among my very favourite. However, what Bicester might lack in visual drama, it makes up for with its more down-to-earth, cosy, warm and welcoming atmosphere. The many smaller and fairly randomly scattered buildings of Bicester Heritage give it much more of a grass-root feel, instead of the huge corporate vibe you immediately get from their German counterpart.
Various specialists have moved into the old RAF buildings and sheds. The fascinating thing is that these aren’t just static displays either. Quite the contrary, they are active machine shops and workshops, showing their abilities through ongoing projects. It’s highly interesting wandering from one workshop to another, with the largest assemble of vintage Riley’s I have ever come across at Blue Diamond Riley Services, all in varying stages of repair, right from very rough and untouched barnfinds, through partially assembled restorations, to vintage racers proudly presenting their battle scars, and stunning concours attendees as well. But there’s so much more, with Pendine for instance displaying a drool-worthy selection of classics for sale, with the main focus being on post-war road cars, and the likes of Classic Performance Engineering being more focused on race-prepared classics such as Jaguar’s, Lotus’s or similar. Atlanta Motors are a lot smaller with their two-car workshop, but you would struggle to come up with two cars displaying more breath-taking lines than those fabulous pre-war Atlanta’s! While there wasn’t a single car in sight at Heritage Engineering, I must confess that their workshop was probably my favourite of them all. The old-school engineering skills on display there were truly impressive! With the type of classics currently in my garage, I’m probably unlikely to need their services, but I love the notion of companies like this existing, keeping the ways of yesteryear alive, and catering for a very small community of mostly pre-war classic car enthusiasts, where spares are hard to come by, and will usually have to made up from scratch by one of their engineers.
The variety among the many gorgeous classics parked both between the many buildings and sheds, but also on the vast grass field next to the runway, was equally impressive. To choose a favourite here would be utterly impossible – there were just too many goodies! But a pre-war Alvis Speed 20SC Charlesworth Saloon was particularly appealing with sleek and rakish lines and style in spades. A very purposeful-looking Ford Falcon Sprint immediately had me dreaming of a big burbling American V8, while at the other end of the spectra and beautifully preserved early Peugeot 505 STi had me daydreaming back to the days where I still owned my slightly later 505 GTi. While I must confess that a Vauxhall Astra will rarely get my pulse going, I was drawn in by an early 80’s Astra 1.6S EXP in funky two-tone brown and gold. When did you last see a boxy Astra in perfect condition – let alone the very rare top-of-the-range EXP? While on the subject of rarity, out on the grass field there were three Fiat 131’s parked up alongside each other, with two of them being sporty 2-door versions in the form of a 2000TC Supermirafiori and a 2000TC Racing just to up the game even further. Simply amazing!
So the last Sunday Scramble of the year was indeed a lovely day out. Will it see me through the winter though, without the usual onset of winter depression from lack of classic car exposure? Hmmm… unlikely. At the beginning of this year, Bicester Heritage were out early though, with their first Sunday Scramble happening on the 8th of January. It would have no doubt been cold, and I expect fewer classics show up, but I’ll still keep my fingers crossed that they plan for an equally early event next year. I’ll certainly be there…