Danny and his dad take an old Vauxhall straight to the heart of government
Editor Hopkins takes a Royale to the heart of Parliament.
The All Party Parliamentary Classic Car Group’s annual run is the trip in question and once invited, the first thought was – what car? It had to be a Vauxhall… but which one. My dad is the current MP for my hometown, a car manufacturing constituency, Luton North. Luton is home of the Griffin, still makes the Vivaro van and houses the magnificent Vauxhall Heritage Collection.
I ask dad what he would like to take on the run, this being a father/son-type day out. Dad is also a lifelong classic car fan, so it’s no surprise that I have an unnatural interest. As Vice Chair of the APPHVG he has had a lot of involvement in safeguarding the use of classic vehicles, representing our interests in parliament and, alongside Sir Greg Knight and other car loving MPS, making sure our voice is heard. Dad knows the Vauxhall collection well, too.
‘I think we need to borrow the Royale,’ he says. Dad’s particular classic poison is big six-cylinder Vauxhalls. Over the past twenty years he has owned two Senators (12v and a 24v) and a 3.2 V6 Omega. ‘Fantastic cars, even though not strictly Luton products.’ So the Royale it was – 40 years after it was launched as an Anglicised version of Opel’s Senator and Monza models. Aside from the front grille and badges (plastic, glued on) they were identical to their Opel counterparts – but an anniversary is an anniversary.
The Heritage Centre’s gold Royale coupé is waiting bright and early for us behind the current Vauxhall HQ, Griffin House. The Heritage Centre is about to move away from the current location, 25 years after it was established, but will be staying in Luton, potentially at a new home in Stockwood Park
‘Auburn to MGB… our convoy is taking shape and the diversity is good’
about a mile away. Permanent staff Andy and Terry will be kept on to look after the cars, great news for the future of the brand and for the town itself.
Dad takes the first leg, driving the Royale through empty Luton streets and onto the M1. This is the natural habitat for the big GM sixes. It’s no accident that their club is called Autobahnstormers because few contemporary classics can feel so competent in the fast lane. The 2784cc six-cylinder engine provides 138bhp in this carburettor-fed form – plenty enough to transport a father and son in their ginger velour environment (it is VERY ginger in the cabin) to the rally rendezvous at Bicester Heritage.
On arrival we pull up and park in line with the other vehicles. There is a very healthy cross section of classics, from the very expensive to the ‘everyman’. The group’s chairman, Sir Greg Knight MP, has turned up in his 1961 Studebaker Hawk, a rare RHD export model that was originally shipped to South Africa and eventually turned up in the UK in 1981.
Sir Greg is the third owner and a very proud custodian. ‘It fits well on British Roads and, as a Raymond Loewy, design you can see hints of Sunbeam Rapier about it,’ he tells me. ‘As it lived in South Africa for so long it has no rust at all and its 4.7 litre V8 is in great nick. European at the front but outlandishly American at the back. I love it.’
As we chat a P5B coupé pulls up, then an MGB followed by a Land Rover Series 1… the convoy is taking shape and the diversity is good. Dad and I are secretly pleased that, as an Auburn glides past, in a high-end Vauxhall of the late Seventies, we are firmly at the everyday classic end of the car park!
A guided tour of the hugely impressive Bicester Heritage site follows. We drop in on specialist after specialist. Dad and I spend most of the time with Lord Steel, former Liberal leader and a man who lives and breathes classic cars. He was instrumental earlier this year when I was negotiating with Ford to save a Standard 10 from their scrappage scheme and is well known for his, persuasive interventions on behalf of classic car owners. Something you learn when you hang out with politicians, most of the important conversations happen outside the chambers. Influence is most effectively exerted in meeting rooms and quiet corners. I’m glad Lord Steel is on our team.
After covering the whole site, dropping in on its brilliant specialists, we gather ready for the off. It’s a really hot day today and the main worry is that some cars will fail to proceed in the centre of London. The briefing is attended by all the participants including dealers and auctioneers such as Derek Mathewson, owners club luminaries such as Mark Alfred, chair of the Bristol Owners Club, MPS and even the odd… Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate (and
his Eighties Porsche 911 Targa) being the one I happen to be standing next to as Sir Greg rallies the troops.
Then we are off. As dad and I head south through the Chilterns towards Metroland I ask him why the group exists? ‘Well we work very closely with the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs,’ he says, and in a way we are their partner organization. Our aims are the same. To secure our rights, in the future, to use the vehicles we cherish without being inhibited.’ I ask what that means in practice. ‘Well, if Sir Greg and I find out something is in the pipeline that will effect classic car usage we can get a meeting and help influence outcomes. It is vitally important for this industry, for enthusiasts and for tomorrows’ engineers as well.’
We head into the congestion zone, Royale purring and keeping its cool behind the Auburn and ahead of a rather warm Triumph Roadster. As usual, everywhere we go we get plenty of smiles and waves… the Royale causes an argument at the traffic lights on Parliament Square. ‘It’s a Monza,’ says Man One. ‘No it’s a Vauxhall mate. It’s a Carlton,’ says Man Two… as I drive on I hear the expletive. ‘It’s a b…dy Royale!’
Classic cars in Westminster
Royale follows Porsche 356 into the Speaker’s courtyard, through the tightest security I (or the Royale) have ever been subject to. Suddenly Westminster is full of classics and familiar political faces start appearing. Everyone has a story, including Prime Minister Theresa May, who, with very little encouragement from Sir Greg and myself, is only too happy to take a seat in Ray Pickett’s Rover P5B coupé, thus emulating her predecessors for whom the P5 would have been prime ministerial transport.
Whatever you think of politics and politicians, there is no denying that having this run every year or so can only do the hobby good. David Whale, the boss of the FBHVC agrees: ‘We and the All-party Group, fight all year to keep laws off the enthusiast’s back. On this run we prove to non-classic literate parliamentarians that we put into practice what we preach.’
Enjoying heritage, is what it’s about, and turning the Royale Palace of Westminster into a classic car park had a fantastically subversive feel to it. Long may the tradition continue.
Beautiful ministerial-spec Rover P5 is very much ready to go to Westminster.
Golden girls in the underground car park at Westminster.
Into parliament: Porsches 928, 356 and a Royale.
Sir Greg sits the PM in a P5 for the first time since Thatcher.