There are some events that you can attend where you just know it’s going to be a great day even before you even arrive. The UK’s Retro Rides Gathering, held again this year at the beautiful Prescott Speed Hill Climb, was one of those days. I find it’s all to do with location and the manner of your arrival. In the UK, anything involving the M25 or M1 motorways usually involves a miserable travel experience to the destination, but the rolling countryside that led to Prescott was a joyful thing. Driving on my own precluded endangering myself and other road-users by waving a camera around whilst at the wheel, but also I was too busy enjoying the roads. It was perfect B-road cruising country.
The day before Retro Rides I’d attended the Rallyday at Castle Combe – another circuit tucked down in this south-western corner of the UK – setting the scene and showing that I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of these two great meetings held within an hour of each other over the same weekend. For instance, these rally cars had been skidding round the Clubmans Stage the day before.
Organiser David Murphy and his orange-shirted crew had arrived on site bright and ridiculously early on Sunday morning to direct all the club arrivals into their assigned areas, and continued to work tirelessly all day marshalling the Run What You Brung signees up and down the hill.
This quick-time video gives a compressed view of just how many cars came through the gates!
The car clubs nestled under the trees in the orchard at Prescott, just below the start-line of the hill-climb itself and perfectly positioned to take in the stunning backdrop.
One of the nicest things about the Retro Rides Gathering is its lack of cliques: this is not a place to come if you have a narrow-minded approach to your automotive joy. Japanese, American, British, French, German: everyone is welcome, which made for a fantastically friendly atmosphere.
Although many marque clubs pulled together single-brand models, the general car clubs were the places for magnificent counterpoints. Just how many different continents, body styles and approaches to power are represented in this picture?! Most pleasing.
The focus is on enjoyment. Plenty of families could be seen wandering around, and this is exactly the sort of place where young kids will get their first taste of how exciting automotive culture is.
For me it was the South Bank and the paddock of Brands Hatch that first set up my love of cars; following Retro Rides I can see a lot of new-found fans of S30s, rust-style, Alfas, air-ride, Datsuns or, well… all the above I hope.
Limited camping was available near the site – always sold out well in advance – and there was a line of VW Campers on the rise overlooking the orchard that included this awesome dropped ‘n’ rusted van.
A disciplined approach was needed in the face of all this joy: line by line, I would try and take it all in.
Some owners had apparently come a considerable distance as well to show off their machines. This E36 had nicely-blended rust treatment that worked well with the duck-egg green paint and had some great detailing all over the car – like the shotgun shells on the bonnet intake.
It was proving an animal: so much so it needed to be chained up! Maybe it doesn’t play well with the other kids.
More rust-u-like, this time on a slammed Golf, again on German plates.
I spent a couple of hours wandering along the lines of cars, soaking up the contrasts on offer. It was truly a broad church, where even intra-club variety was encouraged. A pristine 3-litre turbo Supra sat happily next to its stripped-out compatriot…
…where almost everything removable had been sacrificed in the name of… Well. I’m not sure what, but it’s likely unholy.
A row of Alfas was drawn up around this Alfa Romeo SZ, the coupé sister of the RZ.
Next to it, a long line of wedge-shaped 155s was topped off with this BTCC-liveried example. The 155 may have seen the introduction of blasphemous front-wheel drive on an Alfa saloon, but when you plumped for the pumped-up Q4 – essentially a Lancia Delta Intergrale underneath – the later wide-body version, fitted new wheels or, even better, dropped the car the 155 became a different beast.
Around the corner, a display of similarly long-nosed Open Manta Bs from the Opel Manta Owners Club. The last in the line of Manta-badged coupés from the German arm of GM, Retro Rides rounded up a large collection of the limited-edition, tuned-up i200 model.
The Gathering was definitely a place for Datsun love, with a strongly-supported club area.
The Datsun Club UK showed off a whole raft of proto-Nissans: coupés, estates, saloons and convertibles.
The Sunny was well represented, with this B210 140J backed up by examples of most of the car’s many variants. Maybe it’s age coupled with how immaculate they all were, but these cars have grown on me enormously. As a kid I wouldn’t have looked twice! Now, I feel myself more and more attracted to them. What’s happening to me?!…
Chrome bumpers might not have ticked the strict US safety regulations, but the international-market shiny wrap-arounds always looks a whole load more attractive.
The jewel for me was this 120Y coupé, with its chin spoiler and Mustang-alike fastback styling.
Maybe the rear is a little too long, and there’s as much space in the engine bay as the boot, but it’s still a great car.
Then there’s this Fairlady Roadster, easily a style match for contemporary European drop-tops (and usually better built).
Though it’s not like the Swedes couldn’t do it either: the Volvo P1800 is an achingly attractive car, spanning the ’60s and ’70s in both style and the period of its manufacture. It’s a great low-line coupé, with old-fashioned fins at the back but more modern cut lines down the sides.
Counterpoint two: Mercury to Volvo 122 to Opel Manta. Maybe it’s because I’m just more aware of them, but I’m seeing more and more Amazons around.
It’s not quite on the level of pure Americana as the Mercury, but I think that the Mitsubishi Sapporo coupé (née Galant) does show hints of Mustang and US sedan style.
Newer Mazda RX-7s were flanked by this RX-2 coupé: rotary goodness from the 1970s.
Like buses, you wait ages and then two come along: I’d spotted the orange Matra Murena on the hill-climb course, but back down in the corrals it was parked up next to its sister.
These lightweight, spaceframe coupés had the unique feature of three seats mounted side by side in the cockpit. The mid-engine layout and sleek profile gave the car supercar looks – a far cry from what the Matra factory went on to produce next: the Renault Espace.
This dropped Golf was showing signs that it had been pushing it on its RWYB runs up the hill.
Getting this kind of weathered look right is pretty tough, but I think it works here.
The red and filler-grey next to factory-fresh fixtures and the deep rims did look good on this E21 320 that was nestling in the grass.
On the other side of the paddock was a restored Ford Anglia Deluxe, stalwart of contemporary touring-car racing, which had also been taking runs up the hill.
Marc Huxley brought along the KE70 SR20DET in which he’s been finding so much success this year.
He also brought the 1967 Mustang Drag car that his team have built up, which has an 8.2-litre big-block Ford engine pushing out 700hp. Now, I would have liked to have seen this try and go up the hill!
Some cars showed off more than their style. For instance, their knowledge of other cars…
…the tracks they’ve visited…
…or the race series they’d like to be in.
Back over by the assembly area for the Run What Ya Brung sessions was another good place to get close to some of the runners, like the Zurawski Motorsport S14. That’s a whole lot of air intake at the front.
Early afternoon was the time to hand out prizes for the day: glass spark-plug trophies for the cars voted best in class across various categories.
Whilst the afternoon’s batch of RWYB cars lined up, the crowds gathered to see the trophies awarded.
This 2002 Touring won the Hardslam award: there were lower rides and more extreme wheels, but the judges thought that this BMW just looked ‘right’. The Concept Racing VW van won the Best Engineering prize, the Best Club Stand went to Gloustershire Old Ford and Dare To Be Different was given to a Chrysler Horizon.
Unsurprisingly, one of the most popular winners – and general head-turner of the day – was the unique air-ride Lotus Esprit which won the Retro Rides Gathering Car Of The Year trophy.
The 1981 2.2-litre model has been preserved in pretty much stock condition as far as the body is concerned – why mess with something so right? But the wedge-shape and slanting sides of the Esprit have been accentuated with the new suspension.
It’s the subtlety of the ride adjustment that makes it deserve the award, if not an actual medal. 16″ Compomotives work perfectly with the Esprit’s style, with the camber set at the lowest ride height to follow the line of the Esprit’s sides. Perfection.
I think this picture sums up the variety of the day. Counterpoint number three. And to think that these two used to race each other in touring car series during the ’60s! Variety is best. Eclectic taste rules. Retro Rides Gathering scores.
Then as the day came to an end you knew you were heading back out into this. With the sun shining and the windows down, I left with the sounds of every engine imaginable filling the air as the convoys of clubs made their way back home around me and an ever-expanding wish-list of cars in my head…
666B pmhkitchen Thanks! Anyone have more specifics about the car itself? Year? Maker? Owner?
pmhkitchen 666B It's a TA22 Celica from around 1970 these were the First celica's. The Liftback "RA's" were from 1973 onwards
Glad to see you are coming round to the Datsun world Mr Moore! There is nothing wrong with you, you are just finally seeing the light... ;) Btw, that red Datsun 140J is not a B210, it is a 710 series model. That 120Y Coupe is stunning, love seeing the different tail lights on the overseas markets compared to the models sold locally here... Thanks for a great post!
That Celica Supra is popping up all over... but im not complaining cos it looks great.
It would be great to see more of the prizewinners, the 2002 and the Esprit. I was surprised to see so few gasps of horror from the the purists over that one... but all the beef seems to have been reserved for the ratty e36s. Personally i don't mind em, and i drive a (non-rat) e36. My 10p's worth.
Also that 5-door Talbot Sunbeam looks bad arse.
ooh that vw bus is awesome. i just saw a volvo p1800 on a recent trip to portland, or! i was surprised to see such a sporty volvo to say the least
Damn a Delorean was done up like the Esprit that will be bad ass....only if I had the money to fuck with something like that...
Lovely day out. I took a few cars up, including the P1800 in these photos.
I hope to see you all there again next year.
I'm sure I don't understand the whole rust trend. It's one thing to build a missile out of a rusty car, or a rat rod, or something of that sort. But to purposely rust your car for the sake of style makes no sense to me and it doesn't look good. It just looks like you don't know how to take car of your car.
Those early pics are British cars with german-style plates - not travelled too far! I get the rust look, run a very marmite rat rod too, but that E36 is really just waiting to be cubed. Horrible...
Thats my Celica supra in the First Photo! Thanks a lot, you made my day! Great Coverage as ever & See you all at Trax this weekend ;)
Straight swap = Sold! haha, i drove a GT86 about a month ago actually. Damn good fun and made the supra feel it's age, but Supra's more practical as Got A bigger Boot and weighs about the same! 53/47 weight distribution too so was pretty familiar driving style once you find the 6600rpm peak torque :O More on the car at Driftoy forum.- http://driftoy.proboards.com/
A nice write up with great pictures.
Loved this show and felt proud to have been invited as one of the limited guest cars.
Will never fully understand the rust and sanded down look on european cars. That Golf and 328i are in fact British cars but on dodgy (read: show) numberplates.
Simon R benisasnail bit of an odd thing to see in the UK must be the only one?
what made you bring one over? are you an aussie?
@benisasnail @Simon R No, not an Aussie, but after spending 18 months over there, I started to think like one!! I had friends over there into their classic V8s and I loved it. When this one turned up, I jumped at it.
Would love to see you guys cover a round of the British Hillclimb championship at Prescott or Shelsley Walsh. The V8 and V10 Formula 1 engined single seaters you get in the championship are just incredible and you get to stand about 3 foot away from them as the blast off the start line
MicksGarage The RRG organisers arranged tickets for campers to go see the Saturday practice runs at Shelsley, it was a great way to compliment the madness on Sunday!
That S14 looks like it doesn't have an engine and instead, only has a giant intake, haha.