Classics swarm into Harpenden extravaganza

| 1 Aug 2016

There’s nothing quite like Classics on the Common. Each July the heaving mid-week charity festival draws an almost unfeasibly broad range of machinery and about 10,000 spectators to the otherwise quiet Hertfordshire town. Where else, for example, would you see three immaculate Ford Escorts – an early XR3i with a pair of RS Turbos – with a trio of delightful Austin Seven Pearl cabriolets? 

Nigel Slatford tracked down his 1935 Pearl (in the centre) 14 years ago. “Then,” recalled Franco Ricaldone, “he phoned me about a week later to say that he’d found one for me [on left] after I’d mentioned how nice his was. So went up to Stoke to fetch it.” Completing the set was the ’37 model [on right] that Jim Perkins bought as a project and painstakingly restored from the ground up. They’re all members of the Beds & Herts Vintage & Classic Car Club.

Classics on the Common always attracts plenty of transatlantic motors, including the gleaming ’63 Ford Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe that Dennis Voller tracked down two years ago. “I was looking for a Mustang,” he explained, “but you see those a lot and this was a bit different. It’s smaller than you’d expect so it’s a usable American car. It has the same 260cu in engine as the Sunbeam Tiger and there were a couple parked behind it earlier on.”

There’s usually a fine turnout of commercial vehicles, too, such as Linda Greensmith’s fabulous 1941 Foden STG5. “It’s a model that was around in the ’30s,” explained Doug Williamson. “They were ordered by the Ministry in batches of six or 10 to help with the war effort.” Linda added: “Doug saw it and that was it; we had to have it!” The Gardner-powered STG5 was designed as a timber tractor but they were used for general heavy haulage.

Nearby was the fascinating Lotus MkVI special that Historic Lotus Register stalwart Jack Taylor sympathetically refurbished about 10 years ago. It had both ends open to reveal its MG XPAG engine and de Dion rear suspension beneath the Williams & Pritchard coachbuilt bodywork. It was featured in C&SC in October 2010.

There were rarities from all eras, such as this gorgeous 1971 Opel Commodore GS/E, which was built from a complete knock-down kit at the firm’s Bienne factory in Switzerland. All sorts of Opels were assembled at the plant from 1934 to ’73, and carry a ‘Suisse Bienne’ VIN plate.

Until recently, this ’83 Colt Cordia 1600 Turbo was the only one on the road in the UK. “I’ve known it from day one,” enthused owner Mick Findley. “It was bought new by my boss. About 14 years ago he had a stroke, so it was left in his underground garage until about three years ago. All it needed was four tyres, plus I’ve had a stainless-steel exhaust fitted and had some bits of bodywork tidied up. I was chuffed when it was invited to the Fesitival of the Unexceptional last weekend.”

It’s hard to imagine, given its fantastic condition, but this glorious 1924 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost only just escaped being scrapped in the 1940s. It was bought for £40 with the intention of being converted into a hearse, but the garage proprietor changed his mind and just took the wheels off. The rest was dumped in a timber garage where it remained until 1975 when it was extracted from the ramshackle lock-up and restored.

Anthony Fisher’s magnificent Buick Model 47 Master Six Sedan is just a few years younger. It was imported new in 1929 by the now-defunct West End dealer Lendrum & Hartnum for diplomat and writer Nahum Sokolow. It sits on hickory artillery wheels with detachable rims.

Citroën BXs are getting increasingly scarce so it was good to see a couple at CotC. This lovely 19TGD, nicknamed Myrtille (French for blueberry), was bought for just £250 in August 2014. It needed only an engine core plug plus the replacement of some poorly repaired accident damage to transform the appearance. The Olympic Blue colour was offered only for a year, 1989-’90.

Citroëns were well-represented, in fact. Rob Moss, who runs specialist Chevronics in Hitchin, had brought a couple of cars including his ’77 GS Pallas and the lovely Ami 8 Break that he bought a couple of years ago. “It was basically a one-owner car,” he explained, “but I found that it had front and rear accident damage so I went right through it.” His collection also includes a Singer Vogue a front-drive Triumph 1300 and a Rover P6.

Some of the other highlights from around the two commons…

Lovely Austin Mini Cooper looked spot-on

A nice pair of Daimler SP250s next to a gorgeous Riley

Little and large: Triumph Stag alongside a superbly turned out Bedford tipper lorry in Charles Webb & Son tarmac contractors livery 

Evocative commercial line-up, with 1949 Guy Wolf and a Scammell flanking an immaculate Bedford CA

Another immaculate pair: a maroon Reliant Scimitar GTE on Wolfrace alloys with an early Jensen FF

Gorgeous early Lancia Flavia Coupé spotted just before it went home

And apologies for including one of the C&SC fleet, but I followed this rather nice Porsche 912 onto the common so we had two air-cooled flat-fours together

A spokesman for the organiser – Rotary in Harpenden – said that last Wednesday’s event was on course to raise £30,000 “a wonderful result”. Click here for more information