So you’re into the VW scene. Or modified MX-5s perhaps. Iconic British sportscars? Or souped-up classic Fords? Or hot rods? In normal circumstances, you’d think yourself lucky if there was one specific annual event to cater for each particular love, but the idea of everything – and anything – all being in one place at the same time? Not likely, huh? I thought the same until a friend reminded me that the Bromley Pageant Of Motoring was on, and how about hooking up to check it out. It turned out that this was all those car shows in one day, in one place.
Two things could likely put you off, I realise. The place and the name. Yes, Bromley. It’s not exactly Los Angeles, I know. And a Pageant could indicate dusty nostalgia. But it turned out that a considerable amount of America and so much more had come to this quiet corner of Kent.
Bromley, perched on the periphery of south London, is not the first place that springs to mind when you think of an automotive mecca. With its leafy neighbourhoods, church steeples and quiet streets (at least outside the one-way horror of the town centre), you might expect the smell of a gently brewing cup of tea and perhaps a self-conscious Union Jack fluttering in someone’s front garden. But not this.
Not the sight of thousands of cars from every genre and sub-genre you can imagine, sprawling across two huge fields. Nor us Brits enjoying the cars, the coffee, the ice cream and even the sun-burn that would inevitably follow from the mass exposure to the strange yellow orb in the sky.
The Bromley Pageant Of Motoring was automotive joy, a deep breath of oil-tinged air that presented the best of (insert marque, style or whatever you fancy here) with total disregard for fashion or inferred cool. Just a lot of people enjoying a lot of great cars.
Most embarrassing for me is that Bromley’s only about 10 minutes drive from where I live, yet I’d never been before. I’ve driven past the park it’s held in for years – I’ve even seen the signs for previous Pageants (which was first held back in ’77) and made mental notes to check it out. But it always ended up being filed beneath other assignments. Note to self: ignore the obvious choices.
It’s ridiculous really. I’m always catching myself being envious of people who live in wherever I’ve just seen another awesome event covered. California seems cooler than Croydon. And yet…
Even as I arrived at the gates of Norman Park, the sound of burbling V8s cut across the fields, draping itself over the massed Mazdas, the Alpines, the Fords…
Organised in technical terms if not life, I tend to metadata the hell out of my images to help with future projects, and just splitting up the day’s shoot into marques took long enough. I got past 50 before realising I needed to be more generic at this stage, and not even think about models.
That’s why I love this kind of show. The Bromley Pageant is huge – the largest one-day car show in the world, it turns out – and eclectic, but low key and modest at the same time. Automotive elitism this is not.
I like cars. It’s a general thing, I’m not ashamed to say. I’ve never been part of a particular scene (though my first car was a Beetle, so I do have deep-rooted affinity for VWs), and I’ve always liked racing cars as much if not more than street cars.
Combine the two, and I’m in orbit.
But this gives me an advantage in a way. It’s a bit like football, but not supporting a team. I just want to see a great match – I don’t really care who wins. It’s also nice to not take things too seriously.
So something like Bromley is perfect for me – and for many thousands of other people, given the turn-out on a (say it quietly) beautifully sunny British summer’s day.
I love that I can see cars where the front and the back can’t be in the same picture.
The Brits have an unsurprising love for classic Americana, with cars that (to us) have utterly ridiculous proportions, guzzle fuel like it’s going out of fashion (which it wasn’t then, but it is now) and are so the complete diametrical opposite of typical compact European fare.
Ten feet away you can have something that looks like the same style of car with the middle sectioned…
Under the bonnet, what do you want? Four German cylinders with twin 40s?
A stonking all-American V8 with a built-in fairground?
The rib-cage intricacy of an Italian V12 laid bare? I want all this. It’s just not that often I get it all!Hot Rods To Hillmans: Pack It Or Jack It
There was plenty of vintage low-slung Americana on view, all looking immaculate. There was even proof that nothing is ever new – this Buick’s studded grille pre-dates Mercedes’ modern nose styling by a good 50 years.
Even these Caddy tail-lights were shocked at the revelation.
The two fields at Bromley both overflowed with machinery of all kinds, and trying to circulate either without getting distracted was virtually impossible. Near on 1,000 cars were packed into the one-make field, and another 600-odd in the club area. Everywhere you looked, next door there was something else to pull you in.
In the case of this over-sized Chevy pick-up, complete with chopper-carrying trailer, falling in was the problem, especially after seeing the immaculate V8 gleaming away in the spotless candy engine bay.
There was wide representation of hot rods and customs, which took the British awe of big American machines to another level. You’d want to be in the cockpit of this Ford hearse though, rather than the back…
Out front was a different matter, though. Although ‘Thriftmaster’ and V8 are two things that don’t seem that compatible.
But the most joyous thing was the amount of machinery that was jacked up at the back.
Some in more extreme forms than others.
But it did show that pretty much anything can have an injection of awesome by adding on the vertical inches at the rear.
Even a humble Morris 1000 could get the treatment and be transformed from ugly duckling to peck-your-eyes-out swan.
In regular guise, you’d expect a Morris 1000 to be trundling around at 5mph, holding up the traffic. I guess this Morris would hold up the traffic for other reasons.
Mainstream British-built cars of the ’50s and ’60s typically get a bad rap – and that’s before we get to the appallingly constructed cars of the ’70s and the effective death of the British car industry. But seeing things like this pickup conversion, it’s a positive reminder that there’s a lot of interesting starting points if you want to be different. The Morris was the British answer to the Beetle, after all.
Another positive about those days gone by was how ineffective Police pursuit cars were. Seeing a Morris Marina in the rear view wasn’t exactly going to make boy racers of the day quake in their boots.
Another car I consider massively under-rated is the Hillman Imp. Tiny little go-karts, these were the staple of a burgeoning UK tuning scene as the ’60s came to an end. It’s the same story with Ford Anglias, as seen in the lead image. My dad and his friends were doing the same to these cars as anyone is now: lower, add power. It’s the classic formula.
Similarly, NSU’s TT shares that terrier-stance – and you can see where BMW’s Neue Klasse designers might have been cribbing from.Brit Badges Of Honour
Although there was a global presence (and people had travelled from far and wide to attend), there was an essential Britishness about Bromley. The cars that I might have sneered at in my youth I can now better appreciate and even actively covet. I even like the idea of metal bumper badges as the original version of stickers. Maybe we should do some metal Speedhunters badges for vintage builds?
There’s a whole era of British cars that, it turns out, aren’t rubbish! There was even a late-’50s Vauxhall (a Cresta) that had real American-influenced style and poise. Humber produced armoured cars during WW2, but also some pretty impressive big-boned staff cars, like this wide and low Pullman. Another great starting point for a very individual project?
It took a couple of double-takes to work out what was different about this Bentley. Are they normally this low? Classic Mercedes seem to be all the rage, but I could see a Bentley working (and there is that insane Rolls build in, of course, Scandinavia).
The Aston Martin Owners’ Club had a large display covering a good 70 years of models. I’m sure it’s not deliberate and there were perhaps some disparaging looks from the cognoscenti, but the all-over cracked patina on the paint of this DB4 gave it real character!
Triumph barely made a bad car – at least aesthetically – in period and Bromley showed off the cream of the crop, with several older Vitesse and newer TR7s and 8s book-ending this lovely GT6 Mk2. Italian design house Michelotti often had their pens at work for Triumph, and this coupé was another of their… triumphs. Ouch.
The Interceptor is the better known of Jensen’s output, but this fibreglass-bodied C-V8 is right up there. As with many British sportscars it has a definite Italian edge to it – this maybe crossed with an Aston Martin. The slant lights were considered ‘challenging’ in period, but I think they give it quite a modern aspect.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Marcos Mantis M70 is almost enough to make me fall out of love with the quirky marque. Marcos’ only four-seater, just 32 examples were made in the early ’70s. It’s a car only its mother could love…
You want quirky? Then how about the Bond Bug: 394kg and 700cc, it was the ‘sporty’ version of the much maligned Reliant Robin and over 2,000 were built. I hadn’t realised so many were constructed. Its claim to fame? A chassis was used as the base for the Land Speeder in Star Wars!
If you wanted not just inspiration but reassurance that modifying or even building your own car is possible, then the kit car stand was the place to go. This road racer, inspired by post-war Alfas and Maseratis, was home-built from scratch for less than £6,000. An exciting alternative to a Caterham perhaps?The MX-5 Factor And Shaking The Bug
Japanese machines were out in strength at Bromley, the expected Skylines and so on. But also a fine line-up of Lancers, including this pristine Tommi Mäkkinen edition Evo VI.
But an army of MX-5s dominated – including some great variations on the theme. This aero-screened roadster was easily the pick of the bunch and an on-going project started two years back.
Owner Dean has got this far with a deliberately tiny budget, proving that you really don’t need to have the cash to make a fantastic project – just the dedication to create a beautifully detailed build.
The next stage will be to extract more power, but there’s already a decent amount of grunt from the more recently installed turbocharger.
The Volkswagen brigade had staked out their own sunny spot, and styles new, old and older happily sat side by side, enjoying the spectator attention.
There’s something reassuring about VWs – a friendliness and openness about ownership that guarantees a good atmosphere.
This MkII Golf stood out for me: the combination of the metallic blue and glorious period-style halftone dot graphics with the de rigeur BBS rims… Perfect!
As the afternoon turned late the cars started departing for wherever their respective homes were, but that just meant that even as the fields emptied attention could turn towards the queues for appreciation and comparison in profile.
In the end the friend who nudged me about Bromley couldn’t make it; he missed more than he imagined – even motorcycles falling from the sky…
So what do you get to take away from a show like Bromley? Well, certainly plenty of photos of classics and rarities that you’d never normally get to see, plus a whole load of inspiration and maybe an armful of spare parts.
Even better, one of the most popular modified scenes represented at Bromley was the ice cream van. The 99 Flake is one of Britain’s most undervalued inventions, second only to perhaps the McLaren F1.
You also learn valuable lessons. That sometimes attention to detail is lavished in the wrong direction, and that a basic love for cars is difficult to argue with.
This is the thing: wherever you are in the world, there’s always something going on involving cars. Something relevant, something that people near you have put their heart and soul into, that deserve respect and celebration. There’s likely the equivalent of a Bromley Pageant Of Motoring going on in your country, and you should tell us about it!