There’s something about an Austin Healey

There are two reasons why I’m posting this now – (1) February 2 was my  dad’s birthday and (2)  it is also my Spanish sister-in-law’s birthday. She is called Candelas and was given that name because in the Christian calendar Feb 2 is Candlemas – and, depending on which country you’re in, this religious holiday is variously known as the presentation of Jesus at the Temple, or the Purification of the Virgin Mary, or simply a Festival of Candles – I prefer the last one – getting together and lighting lots of candles to chase away the  mid winter gloom of February is a great idea –  and if you were Spanish parents of a certain generation ‘Candelas’ was the perfect name for a baby girl born on that day.

However, my English grandparents didn’t think along the same lines when their baby was born on February 2nd – but then he was a boy !  They christened him Douglas !

Dad&Jalopy

Douglas grew up to like fast cars and all things mechanical so many of his  weekends were spent tinkering with engines or watching motor racing. He followed the fortunes of people like Graham Hill and Stirling Moss, Nikki Lauda and Jack Brabham.  There’s one of them going past in a blur in the rocket below! – a far cry from today’s sleek computer controlled machines.

images[6] As kids my brothers and I got to know most of the racetracks in England – Oulton Park in Cheshire, Brands Hatch  in Kent, Donington Park in Derby , Silverstone in Northampton , and Goodwood, of course, near the south coast, and, when my brother, Steve,  took up motor bike and side car racing, we got to know some of the smaller ones too – they tended to be airfields like Staverton – plenty of room for the odd unscripted detour into the surrounding wall of tyres! Steve was the sidecar man, aka ‘the passenger’ , and his late pal – known as ‘ Ivor the Driver’ piloted the outfit around the track. sidecar2They did well, picking up trophies at various meets and were sponsored for a time by local cider company, Bulmers – hence the brand ‘Strongbow’ emblazoned on the fairing and the matching leathers and helmets in a fetching shade of canary yellow. Doug (or Dad as we knew him!)  was chief engineer and all round miracle worker, and loved every minute of it. Most of their outings involved setting off at the crack of dawn on a long drive in an uncomfortable  van crammed with spare parts, tool kits, usually 4 or 5 adults, (a couple of whom would dive under a tarpaulin to avoid paying the entrance fee onto the circuit), oh and then there were the  bike and side car themselves, of course. The journey home involved a detailed post mortem if success had evaded them – usually due to some mechanical disaster –  or a celebratory plate of steak and chips, washed down with lots of beer, at one of their regular watering holes if they had bagged a trophy (or even if they hadn’t, come to think of it.)

Now I quite like the sound of fast cars and motorbikes myself – there’s just something about the smell of hot engine oil and the pulsating roar as all that horsepower explodes into life! So in 2012  I fulfilled a long held ambition and went back to Goodwood racetrack for the Revival. My son Simon came with me – he didn’t take much persuading when I said I was thinking of hiring a 1962 Austin Healey for the 4 day trip. I had my reservations because the Goodwood Revival takes place in September, albeit in the balmier south of England, but still  – a 250 mile round trip for us and, given the vagaries of the English climate – well…….it could mean getting very wet….or…driving a convertible with the hood up (what a waste!) Of course, we could just strike lucky and get some sunshine. I am also what they call ‘nesh’ in these parts – I feel the cold, so I didn’t relish shivering for 4 days  in an open top car.  But do you know what? The sun shone on us for the whole trip!! HealeyDashboardAnd another thing I didn’t know about the Healey is that (dare I say it?) due to bad design i.e.  the location of some very hot pipework in the footwell under the dash, there was never any danger of being cold because once the engine’s running there is hot air blasting up at you all the time!

But before we picked up the car we had to get ready for the event. If you’ve been to the Goodwood Revival you’ll know it is ‘de rigeur’ to dress the part – anything from the 1940s, 50s or 60s, really. Of course, what I didn’t know was that you can get all togged up when you get there because there are all manner of shops selling authentic outfits, as well as shoes, hats and bags –   you can even get your hair and make-up done a la Rita Hayworth  (…..suits you, sir!)

GoodwoodOutfitLuckily,  I unearthed a few things from my wardrobe which looked a bit 50s so all I had to find was a leather jacket for Simon

so he could go as a greaser and he then did a fine job with some safety pins and studs to customise it.

We rented the car from a place just outside Bath which specializes in classic car hire – the only limitation was that it had to be red (the phone conversation went like this: ‘Can I have a two tone blue and cream one?’  ‘Well, we’ve got red …….or red.’  ‘Okay, I’ll have red.’) Don’t get me wrong – it was a great place to hire a car from – the owner took the trouble to explain the controls and told us there were blankets and cushions in the boot (ah no….    these were to pad out the driver’s seat because the pedals were quite a long way away if you happen to be a short-a*** like me; also, when you’re used to a modern car with seats that actually glide on their runners, well,  let’s just say that it’s just as well Simon did come with me because I would never have moved the seat on my own. There were a few other minor irritating features like the static seat belts, the hot air from the pipes under the dash and the fact that unless you pulled the choke out (the choke! remember those?) when you came to a roundabout or junction you were in danger of stalling the engine – NOT what you want when you’re showboating. Oh, and a petrol gauge which was worse than useless – the needle just flickered about. Given that the car had a 3 litre engine I was a bit worried we would run out of petrol but we did what the man said – made a note of the mileage and bought our next tankful after about 100 miles.

BUT ………the engine!! Just the SOUND of that engine more than made up for those few minor irritations.

On the open road the Healey came into its own. Needless to say, Simon was itching to put his foot down and the car obliged – it went like the wind and turned a lot of heads. I don’t know if the beautiful weather just meant people were in a good mood but the sight and sound of the car made them smile and when we arrived (noisily) in a car park people admired it, walked round it and asked if they could take a photo. These old cars are held in a lot of affection – that much was clear.

On our journey to the south east we stopped off at Stonehenge (the monument itself was disappointing, being behind that ten foot high fence, but it’s an excellent comfort stop with the toilets and a little sandwich bar in the car park opposite.) We motored (you don’t ‘drive’ in these – you ‘motor’!)   down  past Salisbury and Winchester and made for our first night’s accommodation in a leafy residential area in Romsey. Next morning we got changed into our 50s gear and slunk out to the car early  – no point frightening the locals! I looked more like Dame Edna than Rita Hayworth, but hey! you can’t say we didn’t enter into the spirit of things.

At the entrance to Ticketsthe Goodwood Estate  you’re given a goody bag with a map and a programme, some earphones for the race
commentaries and a few other bits and pieces. Of course, I also had my camera at the ready –  I was hoping to practise my panning technique!! – but it seemed that every other person there was toting a fancy camera with a huge telephoto lens attached, so when I stood up to take a picture so did 20 other people right in front of me.

But what a great day out!  – above us Spitfires trailing coloured smoke across the sky as they performed their aerobatics  and all around us magnificent vehicles in every size and shape and all in gleaming, immaculate condition – you just had to stroke them and they purred back at you. There was a ’50s dance band in one huge marquee, and a massive food hall catering for hungry punters in another.  But, of course, the main attraction is the racing  – a wander round the pits  and towards the starting grid and you’re transported back to a very glamorous era – it’s like being an extra on a film set.

The racing included motor bikes, one of which was taken very gingerly round the track by actor and self confessed bike fanatic, Ewan McGregor, who apologized profusely for doing the slowest lap ever recorded on a vintage motor bike – he said he was petrified, in such exalted company, of stalling it or breaking it or, worse still,  falling off.

SilverCar   Race11

Race6     Race3

AmericanClassic   ACCobra

BlueConvertible   Jeep

There were Bentleys, Rolls Royces, Jags, Jeeps, AC Cobras, double deckers doubling (geddit?!) as cafés, a row of vintage motorbikes (not sure if it was the Harley Appreciation Society – what do you think?) with their riders and whilst we enjoyed looking at them

they enjoyed watching the dance troop performing a 1940s swing number.

    dancer  

At around one o’clock we went in search of the restaurant marquee. The sides were decorated with items from past race meetings – grainy photos of veterans like Stirling Moss, old programmes and posters and the like, and the table cloths were maps of the surrounding area- like the one below – some very ingenious decor and the attention to detail was what made everything so special.  It must have taken years to amass the racing memorabilia on display here, and everywhere else on the Goodwood estate – and it was absolutely fantastic.

But we had parked our Healey up in a field all day to see this spectacle  –  it was time for a reunion and to go in search of our accommodation for that night – a hotel somewhere in the New Forest. Now there is one other snag with a classic 1960s car which I forgot to mention – it doesn’t take a Sat Nav.  This didn’t matter to Simon – he has a mobile, equipped with GPS  – although he had to admit there wasn’t really anywhere to rest it in the car – except in the hands of his short-sighted and technophobic mother!  But I didn’t really want to drive the Healey after dark so I had to grasp the nettle – or rather the mobile – and track our progress through the country lanes of Sussex – or was it Dorset by then?

Eventually we found our hotel, parked up, had a well earned drink and went into the village on foot in search of supper. The car park, tucked away in a lane at the back of our hotel,  was empty when we arrived, apart from the odd New Forest pony standing about munching. But next morning the Healey was sandwiched between these two beauties – a Jag and a Corvette.

     

After breakfast – i.e. in the daylight –  we went for  a spin through the New Forest and drove slowly past some more beauties – as well as the forest to graze in, these lovely ponies had the run of the village we stayed in, and sauntered around in small groups taking little notice of the human element.

NewForestPony1

But it was nearly time to return the car. With the weather still glorious,  we sped along the south coast towards Sandbanks, stopped to admire the most expensive beach huts in the land (apparently),  had some lunch, watched a re-run of Hitchcock’s The Birds (well, that’s what it sounded like when we came across these fishing pots!) CrabPotsand then we headed back up country  towards Bath.  A great four days.

And Dad, you  would have loved the Healey.

One for the scrap book.

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