A Classic Car Weekend

When I encountered Moss Motoring‘s editor Ken Smith at the 1996 Triumphest at Big Bear Lake in 1996, he kindly suggested that I might try conveying some impressions of the British sports car scene here in the U.K. in a series of articles for the magazine, maybe with particular reference to Triumph TRs, my own speciality. What follows, therefore, is a brief look at one of our big events. Hopefully readers in the U.S. can get the flavor of a big U.K.-style major show, showing both the differences and similarities in the way in which events are run on both sides of the Atlantic.

As I saw was the case when I was in the U.S. in both 1995 and 1996, so too in Britain there is something good on every weekend of the summer for the classic sports car enthusiast. In fact, many things most weekends, a true embarrassment of choice, and too much to take in, but all pointing to a healthy classic car scene. The latest trend is to extend the season to cover the whole year, with winter parts and restoration shows held inside large warehouse-style venues, leaving the poor amateur autojumbler outside with teeth chattering and hoping that it won’t rain as well!

However, weather was very definitely not the problem in July 1997, when the TR Register organized its annual International TR Weekend. We had three days of 90° heat and sun, without even the traditional thunderstorm that usually accompanies any such display of good weather over here! This show is the world’s largest Triumph TR gathering, eclipsing in size anything found in the U.S., for we attract 750 or more TRs of all sorts, and I do mean all sorts. We had TR250s and carbureted TR6s, plus an Italia and Francorchamps TR2 coupes, none of which were ever marketed here. More than 2,000 club members, potential members, and friends attended, as well as club officials, traders, and personnel employed by the venue, so it was quite a car show, especially considering the fact that it catered for only one section (TRs) of one particular make.

The event usually takes place in lute July, but next year it is in late August (1998), should anyone be planning their vacation around a visit. Public entry commences at 2:00 p.m. on the Friday and runs through until prize-giving at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. Unlike the bigger U.S. events that I have attended, we can go through to the late afternoon on Sunday and still allow people time to get home, due to the relative lack of traveling distance involved. Few people attending a show will normally have traveled more than 150 miles. Having said that, International TR Weekend, is perhaps an exception, as it truly deserves its name, for hundreds of enthusiasts visit (some with their TRs) from continental Europe—Germany, France, Holland, and Italy. This involves a crossing by ferry of the English Channel, an expensive and time-consuming operation. Many of these continental TR owners therefore choose to incorporate visiting the show with a longer summer vacation. In addition, we always have a sprinkling of longer distance visitors, for there are usually a few from North America, South Africa, and even Australasia, one of the latter always winning the distance prize!

As the show can utilize the whole of the Sunday, rather than packing up after breakfast (as sometimes has to happen in the U.S.), we do not have to start so early, so the big influx of visitors does not occur until Friday evening, many having come straight from their work. The show buildup has of course taken place over several days previously, with the TR Register’s General Manager, Rosy Good, being on-site much of the previous week. Planning and organization, you will not be surprised to hear, goes on all year.

One of the major problems now is to find a venue with sufficient size and facilities to cope with the club’s requirements, for with over a thousand people camping on-site, 750 TRs plus lots of everyday cars, 50 trade stands, and a hundred or so amateur autojumblers to accommodate, not just any town park will do. Having rapidly outgrown several venues in its 25-year history, the show is now restricted to utilizing only the largest agricultural showgrounds. Even here, not all showground managements want 750 sports cars and their occupants charging ’round their premises all weekend, so in practice, only a handful of venues arc actually suitable.

For the past few years, the International TR Weekend has been held at the Royal Bath & West Showground in the county of Somerset in England’s southwest region, about 140 miles from London. Although this venue is not ideal in that it is not centrally situated in Britain, it is convenient for continental visitors as it is near the south coast, and also the large majority of the British population lives in the southern part of the island. The search to find a more centrally located venue continues, to suit our more northerly members, but nothing with the ambiance, space, and facilities of the Bath & West Showground has yet materialized at an affordable price.

A couple of convoy runs (via local pubs) are organized, these usually comprising around 60 cars in each, and covering 50 or so miles. Unlike some U.S. events, these do not take place pre-breakfast, but at a more civilized 11:00 a.m. or so, usually on Saturday. The fact that a very high proportion of visitors actually camp on-site tends to mean very late flights on Friday and Saturday, and hence not very early mornings! A number do elect to stay in local hotels, but irrespective of the cost-saving involved, the great majority prefer to say on-site to capture the full flavor of the whole event, and also so they do not have to worry about drinking and driving laws when returning to hotels after the evening’s festivities.

The timetable of organized events commences with a get-together with both old and new friends on Friday evening, in one of the large halls with music by a band, sometimes a jazz band, but this year a rock band led by a Dutch IR member. The ale flows as more and more people arrive, set up camp, and come to renew acquaintances. Barbecues are lit and yarns are told. The traders, meanwhile, are busy laying out their TR wares in the largest hall, which is locked and guarded overnight to prevent any temptation. The trade stands open to the general membership from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day, and if you can’t find it there for your TR Triumph, then it doesn’t exist! Moss (U.K.) sports the largest stand, not surprisingly, as the principal suppliers of new parts for the cars.

Saturday morning usually sees a rush to the trade stands when they open, for any bargains, with the convoy runs departing mid-morning. A coach or two is laid on for non-enthusiasts to go on either a mystery tour, or to visit some local area of historic or other interest. A gymkhana or autofest runs through the afternoon in the main show ring, and in addition, many local groups will organize their own events, open to all comers, such as tossing the crankshaft, or tug-a-TR, where a team of six pullers see how fast they can tow a dead TR around a given course. The kids have a properly organized creche plus lots of on-site activities, treasure hunts, bouncy castles, etc., and the bars and food vendors do brisk business throughout the day. By late afternoon when the trade hall shuts, the barbecues are coming to life, the first wine corks are being drawn, and a garden party atmosphere prevails. All the while, new arrivals are presenting their TRs at the gate, and paying a mere $12 for a wonderful weekend’s entertainment.

During Saturday evening, a giant video screen comes to life with feature films for the children and the more staid visitors, while the young at heart get fired up for one of the greatest TR institutions, the five-hour discotheque run by Andy Canning, now in its 20th (or more) year. First, however, there is an overseas visitors’ reception, where the TR Register committee invites all overseas guests to a glass or two of wine and snacks, plus an address from Ian Evans, the chairman of the club. Don’t miss this hour-long chance to fraternize with TR owners the world over if you ever come to International TR Weekend from the U.S. By 9:00 p.m. the disco is really warming up, barbecues are dying down, and we 40- and 50-year-olds are pretending it’s 1968 again, although there is plenty of later music for young folk as well. Unlike some U.S. events, there is no attempt at any type of formal dinner. The sheer number of people would make this impossible, so the speech-making waits until prize giving time on Sunday.

Early on Sunday, concours cars are assembled in one of the main halls, and the final polishing begins prior to judging. Concours seems to take a smaller and smaller part in the proceedings these days, and this year there were no more than 20 TRs entered in total, not many as a proportion of the 750 cars present. Indeed, some classes had no entrants at all! Having a good time with friends and talking TRs is the order of the day, which is not to say that there aren’t a lot of superb condition TRs on-site—hundreds, in fact. What seems to be happening is that people are no longer interested in the competitive aspect of concours, and won’t enter. Something else we have is an anti-concours known as the wooden spoon prize. This is always hotly contested and goes to the TR in the worst condition that actually manages to be driven on the road to the event!

Sunday is a day for further autojumbling, inspecting the hundreds of TRs in the car park, and more autofest and gymkhana-type events, as well as lots of local group events. There really is a lot going on—much too much to be able to take it all in! One thing we don’t have, which is a pity, is an auction. Maybe we’ll get this sorted soon, as I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve been to in the U.S. However, we have recently instituted a treasure hunt, and a photo rally should soon follow, both ideas I’ve seen in action across the Atlantic. Prize giving starts at 4:00 p.m., usually hosted by our president, Graham Robson, and it can take up to an hour as there are prizes for almost everything. Once this is over, it is time to dismantle everything for another year, though an increasing number do stay over until Monday morning on an informal basis. By Sunday evening, I usually realize that I have been on my feet for almost 48 hours except for a bit of sleep, but it has all been more than worth it. For Rosy Good and her very professional team have put on a superb event, one which gets better every year—if you’re a TR enthusiast, you should try it sometime!

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