Team Ad­ven­ture

Danny and his dad take an old Vauxhall straight to the heart of gov­ern­ment

Practical Classics (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS AND PICS DANNY HOP­KINS

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.

Start­ing point

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.

Bril­liant Bices­ter

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.

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