Drive it day 2016
With classic car values soaring, it’s easy to forget that their original purpose was to move us from A to B as frugally, as fast or as fashionably as possible. Drive-it day seeks to remind us of that.
Each year, on the nearest Sunday to the 23rd of April, classic car owners are encouraged to dust off their pride and joy, blowing away the cobwebs on the open road to usher in the start of the summer show season.
Drive it day commemorates the thousand mile trial of 1900, in which the Royal Automobile Club participated in a round trip setting off from London and travelling via Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Derby, Kendal, Carlisle, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, and Nottingham before finishing back in London.
Unlike the original event which was spread across 19 days, the celebration is confined to just one day, with runs and rallies organised countrywide — and that’s where I’d be.
Dad and I would be joining the Lancashire Automobile Club’s St George’s Day run, taking in the best backroads East Lancashire and West Yorkshire have to offer.
We’d be taking part in Dad’s 1969 Lotus Elan, with him in the driver’s seat, and me crunching the numbers and using my legendary (ha!) prowess as a navigator.
Upon signing on, we received our run plaque, some notes on the route (including the bizarre story of the Sabden treacle mine), and directions presented in tulip road book style.
After fuelling up on bacon and coffee, we were ready to set off in the Elan, joining an automotive melting pot of vehicles classic and modern, popular and priceless, all taking to the roads in the pursuit of nothing more than a good drive out. Aside from some characteristic April rain showers and some uncharacteristic April snow showers, that’s exactly what we’d get.
While the organisers could do nothing about the weather, their preparation with the route and the accompanying paperwork was such that we were confident of an easy afternoon’s navigating.
After a short time queuing we reached the start line and the marshals waved us on our way with the union flag.
Despite the organisers staggering the starters, it wasn’t long before any slower cars at the front of the pack were caught, and a convoy of classics developed — much to the amusement of the locals, who waved and smiled as car after car passed by.
After the relatively sluggish first stint, the rest stop at Helwith Bridge gave us a chance to change tack.
We’d been one of the last cars away at the start line, hoping that letting the others gain a bit of ground first would give us a clear run — not so. As we pulled into the car park of the Helwith Bridge Inn, we realised we could kill time more creatively.
Whilst drivers and navigators piled into the pub for coffee and cake, Dad and I patrolled the car park and sized up the other entrants. Having caught up some of the first starters, we had a fair bit of extra time to look over the cars, weighing up the variety of the entrants.
The run is by no means a serious competitive event — more a fun way to spend a few hours on a Sunday, but there were some serious machines on display.
A prized Ferrari 330 GT +2 sat a few paces away from a Volvo Amazon whose dashboard was cluttered with all manner of rally instruments for measuring miles and keeping time. A pre-war Rolls Royce shared the car park with an equally immaculate Mini Clubman, resplendent in its oh-so-70s Tundra green paint.
With the poor weather predicted, it’s a credit to the owners that so many of these valuable cars were brought out and driven, when they’d likely be mollycoddled as collectibles by many others.
As Dad and I finished our circuit of the car park, the other entrants began emptying out of the pub, ready to start the second leg. With that, we went inside, pulled up a couple of chairs and sat down to a lunch of coffee and cake to put some space between the main group and ourselves.
When we eventually resurfaced, the Elan stood alone in the car park. Success.
The roads of the second leg weren’t unlike the first — the only difference was the speed at which we’d be taking them. With mile after mile of clear air ahead of us, we hustled the Elan around the twists and turns of West Yorkshire, before dropping back down into East Lancashire.
On the way down, we encountered switchbacks on the steeper sections — the like of which you’d expect to find on more continental roads.
The terrain levelled out, the roads widened, and the pace increased — it was only a matter of time before we caught a few of the stragglers which courteously waved us by, allowing us to go on unheeded.
After getting our eye in with the first leg of the route, it was pretty easy to pick up where we left off, tackling the 30 mile return leg without any drama.
We pulled into the car park, greeted by smiles and waves from the same marshals who had waved us off at the start.
Whilst Dad and I were happy to lap up any adulation, it only took a look over our shoulders to realise where the praise was due. In the previous owner’s hands, the Elan had managed only 50 miles per year – we’d broken that record by the time we’d reached the rest stop at the Helwith Bridge Inn. The little Lotus, now ticking itself cool, had completed the 80 mile run without complaint.
Sure, this hardly compared to the Mille Miglia or the Targa Florio, and I’m sure none of us taking part would expect to be treated like the daredevil mavericks taking on these gruelling events, but over the 80 miles we’d covered, we’d all proven that in less than perfect conditions, our cars were not only capable of being driven, but enjoyed too.