Britain’s hottest July day on record drew a sizzling range of machinery to Classics in the Walled Garden last Wednesday evening. Everything from vintage tourers to modern supercars – about 500 vehicles in all – gathered in the relaxed setting of Luton Hoo estate.
Muscle cars were out in force, including a Sam Posey tribute 1970 Dodge Challenger (above) and the ’66 Pontiac GTO that former drag-racer Paul Mander bought about five years ago.
“After I’d finished racing,” Mander recalled, “I decided to buy the first American car that I ever had a ride in back in 1977. I had the Goat, as I call it, shipped from a dealer in Flint, Michigan, down to a friend’s house in Florida. I went over and test drove it, realising that it was a beauty on the outside but a bit of a clunker mechanically, so I purchased everything that I needed to make it drive nicely – steering, suspension, brakes, rear axle, transmission. It now sports a high-performance engine, plus it and stops and goes around corners.”
Alongside the Pontiac was the exactingly refurbished Dodge Polara 500 that brothers Robert (on left) and Stuart Lane bought in 2004. “At the time, it was the only ’63 in the UK,” Robert explained, “and we thought that we would only have to tidy up the bodywork but we’ve had to do pretty much everything else. It took a year to get to the bottom of the engine’s problems and went through a complete overhaul, but using as many of the original parts as possible. It had a 361 when it was new, but we think the 426 has been in there since it was about 10 years old. We had it rebuilt to standard spec; it gave 450bhp and 500lb ft on the dyno, which, thanks to careful assembly, is slightly up on the factory 415bhp.”
The varied line-up – illustrating the event’s wonderful mixture – featured an early Triumph Vitesse, the lovely Slate Blue ’64 Ruddspeed Volvo 122S that Geoff Gordon bought in 2008 and two Vauxhall 30-98s. One – a 1925 OE model with a Velox tourer body – had spent its life in Australia (40 years with the previous owner) until coming back to the UK in 2003.
Walled Garden regular John Worth brought his family in the other 30-98, also a 1925 tourer that had only three previous owners when he bought it last October. “My first drive was down from Dublin: 250 miles down the A5 in five hours,” he enthused. “It went like a train. And I had to do Bangor to Shrewsbury via Snowdonia in top because I couldn't work the gearbox.”
Vauxhalls from all eras featured around the grounds, in fact – the venue being only three miles away from where they were made – including a gleaming line-up from the Heritage Centre, which has supported the event since it began in 2009.
David Gregory brought two superb saloons: a 1938 MG SA and a ’51 Riley RMA. “I realised that it was going to take me a long time to rebuild the Riley,” he explained, “so I bought the MG in the meantime. It was restored by the previous owner after it had spent 20 years – painted custard yellow – on top of the RTS Motors building in Bristol.”
A fine turnout of Morgans included ‘Pumpkin’, the lovely 4/4 that retired RAF medical rehabilitation officer Joyce Smith bought new in 1972. “We’ve had some adventures over the years,” Smith recalled. “I don’t go trialling any more, but I still drive the car as often as I can and rarely put the hood up. I’ve taken to carrying a spare gearstick, though – it’s a Cortina item – because it once came off in my hand when I was coming off the M1 onto the M25. So I waved it around in the air and everyone kindly slowed to let me move onto the hard shoulder.”
Nearby was the rather nice Golf yellow BMW 2002 that Brett Israel has owned for 21 years. “It’s a 1972 car,” he explained, “but is on an R-plate because it was bought by a soldier who brought it back to the UK in ’77. It was ordered new with a five-speed dogleg ’box, a limited-slip diff and a factory steel sunroof, which is unusual for a standard ’02.”
Luton is home to the London Land-Rover Experience, which displayed several vehicles from the Dunsfold Collection. Its 1948 Series I 80in Landie – built in October, just four months after production began – was pulled from a shed on Dartmoor in ’88 having been standing since the owner died in ’62. It had covered only 32,000 miles when rescued and needed no welding for the refurbishment, which retained the original chassis, engine, gearbox and body panels. It has served as the tow-lane vehicle at Goodwood Revival for many years.
Alongside was a famous 1970 Range Rover Velar – YVB 166H – that took part in a new offroad motorsport event in 1971 and helped to establish the model’s reputation. Roger Crathorne, who was a young engineer on the team, took part with Vern Evans and they won outright. In ’72, it was bought by Crathorne who ran it as his daily driver until ’79 and, several owners later, the dilapidated Velar was saved by Dave Mitchell, who was persuaded to part with it by the Dunsfold Collection.
Here are some of our other favourites from around the event:
Unusual 1932 Morris Minor Eight is 13in longer than normal, making it a rare four-door
Hot hatch trio – two Vauxhall Astras (a GTE and a GSi 16v) with a Ford Escort RS2000 – all had immaculate engine bays and drew lots of attention
A nice pair of rapid four-seaters: ‘Aerodyne’ Bristol 403 and distinctive green Ferrari 400
Fabulous Riley 12/4 Falcon special looked absolutely spot-on
Barry Twitchell’s stunning Champagne metallic Iso Grifo was the ’71 Earls Court show car
Little and large: much-campaigned Dellow with fabulous Ford Thunderbird convertible