Soaking up history at the Veteran Car Club's HQ

| 21 Oct 2012

When I received an invitation to the Veteran Car Club's HQ in Hertfordshire – and more importantly was offered a nose around its famously well-stocked library – there was no way I was going to miss it.

Zipped up there in the Lotus Elan +2, was treated to a hearty lunch – pie and mash was perfect for the occasion – and then given some briefing on current and future plans before heading home.

All in all a very gratifying and very satisfying experience.

Not only is the clubhouse itself – converted from a derelict barn and tastefully fitted out for the 1300-odd members of the VCC – rather splendid, but it is kitted out fantastically.

There's an original F Gordon Crosby on one wall while any wallspace are festooned with historically important items such as the flag from the pilot car for the Emancipation Run.

Everything is in its way fascinating, even the stuff without any motoring content such as pictures of the club's first annual dinner way back in 1932.

But the library… wow!

Any enthusiast who has spent a lifetime accumulating magazines (sadly many of mine have now gone due to space constraints) would be bowled over by the immense runs of Motor Sport, The Autocar and The Motor.

But, as you work your way through the shelves stacked with literature, it is often the shorter runs of long-dead or overseas publications that hold the biggest draw.

Librarian and archivist Simon Moss is a superb guide to these historical publications with their wonderful and exotic names referring to horseless carriages et al.

The bank of standard office-issue filing cabinets (above) at first sight offers little clue of the treasures within, but when you pull open a door randomly and find no fewer than 10 original brochures for Metalurgiques you know you are on to something special.

According to Moss, the club holds such files on nearly 4000 Veteran cars.

A vital resource for anyone restoring or dating a car (the latter big business now as Brighton Run eligibility could double a Veteran's value), there is loads of info on the computers as well.

But who wants to stare at a screen when original stills, medals and other memorabilia from the original Emancipation Run in 1896 are strewn across the table?

It really is a quite magical place.

The trophy cabinet wasn't half bad either, but the jewel in the crown is SF Edge's Gordon Bennett Trophy replica.

An imposing bit of sculpture in its own right (at least I thought it was imposing until I saw the Ilfracombe monster on the news), for me the chief wonder was the row of plaques on the bottom celebrating the winners.

Edge himself, of course, but also Charron, Giradot, Jenatzy and Théry. What legendary names.

It is little wonder that so many people who have never owned a Veteran (nor probably ever will) join and support this club and help to preserve its history.

After all, we not talking about a model or marque here, but a big slice of motoring history, and arguably the most important slice at that – the one to which all our cars owe their existence.

All I have to do now is sort out that still-elusive (though the subject of hint-dropping with all the subtlety of a falling Baumgartner) first drive of a Veteran.

Any volunteers?

Hand-written letter from Gottlieb Daimler