VBOA International Meeting 2009 - May 29th to 31st John Maclurcan, Australian International Meeting participant
This year, at the invitation of Bernard Ridgley, of Vauxhall Heritage fame, I was able to attend the 2009 International Rally of the Vauxhall Bedford Opel Association, held in the UK over a 3 day weekend. Bernard called me last year and invited me to join him and since I was overdue for a decent holiday, it just seemed possible. The timing was excellent with the completion of a work contract in April and the opportunity to avoid some of our winter was irresistible.
Bernard owns a 1934 ASY Light Six, name of “Rose”, in excellent condition of course, with the exception of a swollen and broken gear lever knob and a fluttering ammeter. The former was dealt with by “International Knob Deliveries Inc” owned by Adam Vella and personally delivered by courier (me) – a superb replacement in great condition and with a brown fleck finish, much better suited to the interior of “Rose” than the original. The ammeter was noticed by myself on the run and I suitably chastised Bernard, telling him that for a pedantic VX 4/90 owner, that was hardly good enough! Bernard treated my comment with suitable contempt.
I arrived at Bernard’s home on Friday, 29th of May at lunch time to be greeted by his wife Marj who had cooked a fine lunch for us. Marj was pleased to see me because by taking the passenger front seat in “Rose”, I had relieved her of the burden of “another car rally”. We set off to Wyboston Lakes, a convention centre just south of Bedford and the base for the weekend. This was only a 20 mile run for us so “Rose” was merely warmed up but ran sweetly.
When we arrived in the car park and before we had even parked, I was greeted by Kay Morzda from Sweden, an acquaintance from the 2003 Rally. Kay passed me a package from Sven Gunner-Larsen who had been unable to join the rally but learnt of my attendance. The package contained a DVD of Sven racing cars and a set of ear plugs, a joke relating to my sister’s enthusiastic chatter in 2003 when Sven’s right ear bled after she joined him for a leg in his left hand drive PB. Sven’s gesture was a preview of things to come. As the only Australian in attendance, I was able to renew acquaintance with so many people from 2003 who fell into 3 categories:
• Those who had been to Australia and loved it, including a few who raved about the AUS effort from Adam Vella last year
• Those who wanted to come to Australia
• David Dumpleton who said “Gooday Blue. I’m not coming to Orstralia, not with all those shielas chasing me”. David was as funny as I recalled.
I was so pleased to see Bob and Pat Holmes whose 14/40 suffered a major engine collapse in 2003 but this time sailed along. Previous 4/90 owner, Nigel Gray was there too, with his charming wife Chris. Nigel now owns a much travelled 30/98 and I was able to do a leg in it which was a highlight. Incidentally, Nigel owns Motorbodies, the big Vauxhall dealership in Luton which was opened only a few months before the 2003 rally. I am pleased to report that the business is as immaculate as it was in 2003 and a tribute to the exacting standards of Nigel and his team. I hired a Corsa and an Astra from Motorbodies during my visit and the service was impeccable.
President of the VBOA, Ian Coomber, did a magnificent job organizing every detail of the rally. A comprehensive set of instructions was in the goodies pack. Replicating the standard of 2003, Ian had issued Newsletters prior to the event and I was particularly grateful for the wealth of information provided about the districts through which we travelled. One of the things about travel in the UK is that every nook and cranny has a wealth of history and you could trundle along not realizing the significance of the surroundings. With Ian’s detailed notes, there was no chance of this happening.
At dinner time, we enjoyed a barbecue in the evening in the grounds of the base which allowed everyone to mix. Given Bernard and I had enjoyed Marj’s lunch, we held back from the feast and went to bed fairly early.
Saturday took in a day’s touring around the countryside. Bernard gave me a shirt to match his own and we set off at 9.30am, behind all but a few. “Rose” was the perfect vehicle for the route. Being comfortable at 45 to 50mph and travelling on A and B roads, we were able to keep within the speed limit and I enjoyed the luxury of being a passenger, seated relatively high and able to easily view the surroundings. The highlight of the day was an opportunity to drive around Millbrook, Vauxhall’s world standard proving ground. All cameras were banned as this is a high security operation. The directions around Millbrook took us over the simulated Alpine Route. As Bernard went up the very steep short hill and changed down from 4th to 3rd, 2nd then 1st, I asked him if he had another gear! “Rose” made it much to our delight. Then we travelled around the High Speed Bowl, a perfectly engineered marvel whereby the banking ensured that at the right speed in the correct lane, all hands could be removed from the controls and the car would drive itself. As “Rose” rushed around on the flat inside lane for slower cars, it was a hoot to see a black E series Cresta, flash past us at least 80mph.
In the afternoon, we headed back to Luton to the “Vauxhall Heritage Centre”, Vauxhall’s in-house museum. For Bernard, this was an emotional visit since everyone was speculating on the future of the Marque with the parlous state of GM’s finances (not Vauxhall incidentally). I was able to locate the photo of my car which I presented to Bernard in 1997 and the curator kindly allowed me to remove it to give to him to take home. With its reference to Bernard’s comments about VX 4/90s (“The’re all clapped out”), it seemed out of place now he was no longer there so he has it in his study, perpetually visible to remind him of my tongue-in-cheek response (“Not all of them Bernard!”).
In the evening, we enjoyed a spectacular medieval banquet. A professional troupe, dressed in the days of Robin Hood, entertained us with song and banter celebrating the ancestry of the Vauxhall name. Many of the participants dressed in clothing of the era and if you would like to see some of the outfits, go the VBOA.org website and look in the gallery of photos for the rally. I was caught in one game when the music stopped and issued orders to say a poem. All I could think of was my father’s favourite limerick so I stood on a chair and said:
There was a young girl from Madrass
Who had the most beautiful ass
Not soft round and pink
As you possibly think
But grey with long ears and eat grass.
The following day, Sunday, May 31, we trundled through Cambridgeshire to Duxford, Europe’s premier aviation and military museum. A spectacular range of Vauxhalls were put on display with many of the UK clubs turning up for the day, joining the entries in the rally. The funniest moment for me was when Mick and Barbara Clarke, whom I had met in 2003 and the owners of a pretty series 2 F Victor, greeted me enthusiastically with profusive thanks for helping them 6 years ago. “How did I help you? I don’t recall”, I said. “You helped us solve the problem with the remodeling of our bathroom because we could not agree on a colour until we saw your car!”
The museum is overwhelming. I was particularly interested in the World War 2 displays and the award winning building which contains the American planes is spectacular. Planes are hung from the ceiling low enough so you duck under the fuselage. Bernard and I spent hours wandering through the hangars, mostly silent, absorbing all the information and for me, deeply moved by so much of what I read.
After an easy drive back to base, the farewell dinner was held in the nearby Golf course. Tongue-in-cheek trophies were distributed and everyone agreed that Ian Coomber and his team had provided a magnificent few days for all of us. After breakfast the next morning, we said our farewells and “Rose” headed home, having covered about 250 miles, using no oil to speak of and averaging 26mpg.
I am grateful to Bernard for inviting me to join him. We enjoyed total compatibility and rapport, his car was a gem and I relaxed completely – what more could you ask?