VBOA Matters 3/2007 - The VBOA National Rally, Billing 2007 Ian Coomber, VBOA Chairman
What a week! After the wettest June in the UK since records began in the mid eighteen hundreds, most of the country was in the grip of floods and certainly Billing Aquadrome was living up to its name. Some club forums were already running pictures of flooded fields and predicting that the show would be cancelled.
When show manager John Ankerman and I went there on the Wednesday morning for a “pitch inspection” our hearts sank. Many of the fields had large patches of standing water, whole areas would not bear the weight of a car and the field scheduled to host the arena and special display was a lake complete with geese and ducks. As we went round with the Park Director she pointed out areas that we didn’t normally use but looked possible in terms of ground condition. She also offered to clear a large number of mobile homes off of a large tarmac area down by the fun fair and to take up field fences if that allowed better access to useable parts of the site.
With the weather outlook still uncertain we made the decision to hold the show and tried to drive home with fingers and toes firmly crossed. With no arena field and vehicle movements discouraged it was obvious that the special display of Luton built cars and the normal Sunday events, such as the club parades and the Chairman’s Cup competition for best cars in show, had to go. As I set off to unwind all that and get the word out that the show was still on, John set to on the Herculean task of doing a new show layout using areas of the complex for which even the Billing management had only sketchy plans.
On Thursday the usual working party assembled to line out the autojumble and club pitches, headed by the invaluable Mike Booth with his long experience of ground keeping. To say the team was gloomy was an understatement, but John had produced a brilliant solution overnight. The autojumble would be held mainly on the funfair tarmac apron and the clubs had all been allocated useable ground, albeit in some cases they would be very tight for space. Meanwhile we tried to keep the clubs, autojumblers and visitors informed as to what was going on, the VBOA website proving invaluable. By Thursday evening as the first people started to set up, the task was done, but it all looked pretty sad and soggy. And then it started raining again, hard. But at least the weather forecast was promising better things for the weekend.
As the show built up on Friday John had a constant stream of problems to solve and in this he was ably helped by Park Manager, Roy, and his team. Gravel was moved, sand spread, areas cleared, water pumped, vehicles moved and fences taken down. At least the sun was now shining and the worst of the standing water was receding. Autojumblers being autojumblers they quickly either gratefully settled on the rather splendid tarmac area or for those who needed grass to pitch their stalls, created a sort of mini refugee camp around the go-kart circuit and a fair way up the exit road. This looked quite good but brought a lot of safety issues as traffic built up. A popular new addition was a display of owls and there were lots of smiling children holding one on their arm to stroke.
Clubs too had to adapt and evolve their displays. Even getting members to the right stand was a nightmare as the programme layout was totally invalidated. But with the sort of “Dunkirk Spirit” that often seems to prevail when things are tough it appeared to me that many people were actually enjoying all the unexpected challenges. My personal view is that some of the club displays were actually better for being squeezed in a bit. Less room and the need to avoid the odd water feature led to “out of the box thinking” and certainly by Saturday the show looked pretty good. By Sunday it really looked very good indeed. A lot more clubs have invested in gazebos, flags and bunting and it all came together very well in the end. Indeed some clubs were so happy with their “temporary” homes that we will certainly consider at future VBOA Committee meetings if there are viable alternatives to our traditional Billing layout. At the very least we know we have a wet weather contingency plan that works.
The show itself was blessed by strong sunshine and soft breezes and continued to enjoy sponsorship from Classic and Collectible Car Insurance Limited, back for the third year in succession. We also welcomed Total Vauxhall Magazine who joined this year as media partners. Vauxhall continued to give us their usual high level of support and the VX-R and Irmscher display and retail shop was as popular as ever.
2007 sees a number of anniversaries and it was good to see clubs taking these on as themes for their displays. For the VBOA the big event was the 25th running of a Vauxhall related show on the Billing site. The Vauxhall Victor Owners Club started it all with a meeting in 1982 and Neil Bonner can claim to have been the only car and driver combination present at both events! Twenty five years later, the Victor Club had a huge display of F-Type Victors to celebrate the golden anniversary of the Victor. To commemorate this they had commissioned a beautiful jigsaw of a Mk 1 Victor with, of course, 50 pieces. They also had a splendid cake which was cut on the Sunday as members gathered around Howard Thomas’s car, number 63 and built on the very first day of production, to toast their hero. Who says they didn’t last! Next door the Vauxhall Cresta Club was also celebrating the 1957 launch of the iconic PA Velox and Cresta models. Bravely they had set out to assemble 50 PAs and the excitement grew throughout Sunday as new cars arrived until the count stood at a tantalising 49. Eventually a PA was seen in the distance but no amount of running after it could deliver it to the stand. However, quite correctly the club felt morally justified in claiming the 50 up! The VX4/90 Drivers Club and the FD Register were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the beautiful David Jones styled FD Victor and VX4/90 ranges. The former set up a 60’s garage scene on their stand complete with spares and bits and pieces of the day. A row of VX4/90s lined the “forecourt”, all marked up with their launch prices. But the piece de resistance was club members dressed in 60’s kit, including Dave Boon as a dodgy looking dealer boss in a sheepskin coat and a hippy with platform shoes and CND medallion. For this they were awarded the Best Stand trophy. The Viva Owners Club was also in anniversary mood having been established for 25 years. They put on a good display and tea and cakes were in plentiful supply.
By Sunday things were sufficiently normal for the traditional draw to be held, with VBOA Treasurer Anne Norris supervising as usual. Superb prizes were on offer such as a full hospitality trip to the final round of the British Touring Car Championship at Thruxton in October and a year’s free subscription to Total Vauxhall Magazine. Clubs were asked to sell tickets and champion salesman by a mile was Timmy Custard of the Vauxhall Sports Car Club who helped them reach over 300 ticket sales! The draw is important to the VBOA as all the gate money goes to Billing, although at least this year they had to earn it!
Pictures from Billing have been posted on the VBOA website (www.vboa.org.uk) and these will be added to as and when new ones are received.
Despite all the problems leading up to the show it seemed that every club was determined to make the best of it and I think they succeeded. Congratulations should go to every club for coping with all the issues with a will. But top honours must go to show organiser John Ankerman who got about 3 hours sleep in 72. John really does put so much into Billing and unfortunately it’s him who gets called out in the night if and when something or someone goes wrong. Without John it’s doubtful that there would be a Billing show at any time. Certainly without him in 2007 Billing 25 would have been washed down the drain of history by the British summer. Thanks from us all. John willing, next year’s show will be on July 12th and 13th.
Our next event is the VBOA Heritage Centre Open Day on Sunday October 7th. Once again we will have a high quality hot and cold food wagon in attendance, side shows and expect the usual bumper attendance of club member’s cars to compliment the Vauxhall jewels in the Heritage Centre itself. It starts at 11.00am, it’s free and if you want to see what happened last year visit the gallery section of the website. That’s followed by the VBOA Spring Parts Day and Autojumble at the Sports Connextion conference centre in Ryton-on-Dunsmore near Coventry. Following the success of this year’s event we have swallowed a bottle full of brave pills and booked both of the undercover halls on site for March 9th so we won’t have to compete for car parking space with a car boot sale as happened this year. It also means we will have nearly double the inside space. We will continue with the highly popular “clubman’s package” to encourage individuals to get their stuff out of the lock-up and turned into cash by making someone else’s day.