(Cover Photo: Rob MacDonald)
Sleepy Herefordshire market towns aren’t what you’d readily associate with speed festivals – though I suppose neither are grand country piles (though Lord March of course had the benefit of the heritage offered by the racing circuit). Well who needs heritage, when you have a man taking his dear old mum to the shops in a Mini? As a start to the Commentary year, it was certainly a decent one!
Either way, there was a wonderful carnival atmosphere for this season opening event in Bromyard. The event attracted a varied array of 140 cars headlined by the monstrous 350 BHP Sunbeam – the very first car to which Malcolm Campbell gave the epithet ‘Bluebird’. As always with these things the 5000 strong crowd that lined the street were captivated by this particular piece of rolling thunder, which became the first car to pass 150 mph, 91 years ago.
That wasn’t all there was to be enthralled by –the genuinely unusual sight of single seat racing cars heading up the narrow roads, with drivers sans helmet at some times, has an old school appeal all of its own – and one that clearly appealed to the spectators who stood three deep along the length of the High Street to watch the action.
From the single seater racing cars to a large group of classics, Austin Healey’s and modern supercars like the Lamborghini Gallardo there really was something for everyone. The variety wasn’t confined to the entered cars either, with the course cars including a Morgan 4 seater, a 300 bhp ‘Costello’ MGB and a Jaguar F-Type ‘Project 7’ (the seriously exclusive D-Type homage).
There were two more stars to the show aside from Bluebird. The first was the aforementioned gent taking his Mum to the shops. The first batch of runners was lead round by local racer Barrie ‘Whizzo’ Williams – still a mainstay of the historic scene even now late in his late 70s – in the Mini in which he won the Welsh International Rally in 1962 – this time with his 100 year old mother taking a proud place in the passenger seat as he hustled the car around. Anyone who has seen the Le Mans Classic or the Goodwood revival will be familiar with Whizzo, who specialises it seems in taking on much bigger, more powerful cars like an excitable terrier, something predictably reflected in his idea of a ‘demonstration’ run!
He was also at pains to point out, incidentally, that this was the car in which both he and Mini took debut international victories (sorry Paddy) before the first of the famous Monte Carlo triumphs.
The other special guest was the Morgan Motor Company who, though now long associated with Malvern, were in their very early days proud sons of Bromyard. So rich is the company’s history that they had their own dedicated class of runners that opened the festival. This showed all manner of cars from the company’s history, from the complete 8 decade time line of the Plus4, to the modern Plus8, which is one of the lightest production V8 cars in the world. Most eye catching for the crowd however were the variety of 3 wheelers. This, what was technically a cycle car, was a staple of the company in its early days when HFS Morgan founded his firm in Bromyard – and they have gone on to define the brand. From the charming ‘family’ three wheeler with rear seats sufficient for small children to Ewan Cameron’s amazing tuned example (no one knows a V-Twin like Ewan, and he unleashed his with enormous crowd pleasing burnouts) the history of the brand was on full display. Of course no line up of Morgan’s would be complete without a modern 3 wheeler, the run-away sales success that has re-defined how driving enthusiasts see ‘fun’ motoring all over again.
The Bromyard Speed Festival has an awful lot to love about it. There was early spring sunshine in a lovely rural location, a large crowd making the best use of the town’s local businesses and plenty of smiles, laughter and fun.
One suspects they will get another go at it. I hope they do, they deserve it.