The weird and the wonderful British cars

While the term “British Car Industry” might now be somewhat of an oxymoron, there was a time when Britannia ruled the motorways.

So many passionate, innovative, beautiful and downright weird vehicles have come from such automakers as Jaguar, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Jensen, Marcos, TVR, Bristol, Austin, MG, Aston Martin, Morgan, Rover … well, the list is endless, really.

Jokes of leaking oil, terminal rust and bad electrics aside, the automotive world would be a lot less interesting were it were not for the Britsh.

Every September, this notion is reinforced on the fields of Bronte Creek Provincial Park in Oakville, where hundreds of vehicles congregate for the annual British Car Day. This year marked the 34th anniversary of the event, which is hosted by the Toronto Triumph Club.

Approaching the meet on Sunday, I joined a convoy of roadsters that was puttering its way to the park.

What’s up there on the side of the road? An immobilized Triumph Stag with the hood up. Odd, that.

I followed Dr. John R. Hewson of Burlington in his lovely red 1939 MG TB, resplendent with a wicker picnic basket on the back and a set of golf clubs that he says are “probably from 1934.”

Bill Schorse drove his 1955 Jaguar XK140 the 400 km from Corbeil, Ont. to attend the show. Not such a big deal for him, as he’s owned the car for 45 years and it has 217,000 miles (350,000 km) on the clock. No trailer queen, this.

I asked him if he’s rebuilt the 3.4-litre DOHC straight six.

“I’ve rebuilt everything on the car at least once,” he said. “In fact, I just had to rebuild the steering rack. When I told my wife I thought I’d just done that, she informed me the fellow who had helped me last time has been dead for 30 years.”

Schorse has a 1959 Jaguar MK1 sedan as well, and was sniffing around for an old MG while at the show.

Strolling into the Rolls-Royce and Bentley area, my nostrils were hit with the unmistakable smell of vintage British leather. Standing out in this crowd was a stately 1938 Rolls-Royce 25/30 limousine brought in by Ken Magerson. His father, Alfie, had bought the car (in pieces) in 1978 as a family project. It took them 12 years to get it on the road.

For bike fans, there were several odd-ball vintage British motorcycles, including a 1947 Vincent HRD with sidecar and Ron DeKoter’s rare “barn find” 1937 Rudge Rapid.

For those in the market for some vintage U.K. iron, British Car Day is a great place to shop. Many of the cars are for sale, and I saw everything from a pristine Morgan and a Daimler limo to a beater 1970s Rolls on a trailer that looked as if you’d need a serious roll just to get it rolling.

Tugging at my heartstrings was a 1974 Mini pickup. Like a cute puppy begging me to take it home, I wanted to whip out my chequebook then and there.

Then I remembered I learned how to swear under the hood of my ferrous ’68 Mini Cooper, and the urge quickly passed.

It takes the right kind of person to care for an old British car, and many of those passionate souls bring their charges to British Car Day every year.


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