Tuesday 10 August 2010

Double Gloucester

Prescott, near Cheltenham is one of those places where the eccentricity of the English is on full display and my goodness it takes many forms. I should explain. Prescott is the venue where over the course of a weekend in early August the Vintage Sports Car Club (think cheese-cutter caps, Tattersal check shirts, plum colour corduroys and well worn brogues) holds a hill climb for members owning suitable cars. The event is held at the hill owned since the 1930s by the Bugatti Owners Club, and as I have described before is in an idyllic setting. The paddock for the competing cars is an orchard and each small 'equipe' sets up base around the individual vehicles. Most devotees have been attending for donkeys years and choose to camp in the considerable acreage set aside for such an uncomfortable pastime. They are rewarded throughout the evening by impromptu jazz sessions, outdoor cinema shows and talk of cylinder heads, superchargers and magnetos. A sort of internal combustion Glastonbury. There's a fine mix of accents to be heard too, from the decidedly cut glass "phar phar phar" of the PSBs to the "eeh lads" of the bluff Yorkshiremen to the "well oyl be's" of the West Country farmers. This is a place where millionaires mix with mechanics and some are both. There's an overwhelming sense of appreciation of the way in which these arcane vehicles are put together and the skill and verve with which they are driven. People get as much satisfaction competing in a home-built Austin 7 special as a pristine Grand Prix Bugatti and the lack of sponsorship means that it's individual effort that counts. The car above captures perfectly the spirit of the event. It was built prewar by Basil Davenport and consists of an early GN cyclecar chassis with a powerful V twin Vitesse engine. As you can see it carries the scars of decades of competition and wears no front wheel brakes, its uncompromising aluminium bodywork carries the driver in the most narrow of seats. Despite its spindly and what might by some to be considered 'unkempt' looks, it still has a remarkable turn of speed and is capable of competing with far more modern machinery. It is the essence of the spirit of the pre-war amateur driver and constructor and will always be associate with that other mecca of speed hill climbing, Shelsley Walsh in Worcestershire.

If you decide to make the pilgrimage to Prescott don't forget to visit The Bugatti Trust as well. A superb facility tracing the design and production of Bugatti cars, but also the furniture of Carlo Bugatti and the sculpture of Rembrandt, Ettore's brother.