Putting the Trunk to Use: London's Classic Car Boot Sale
Here in Britain a recent phenomena, especially so during the last 15 years, has been the growth in popularity of Car Boot Sales. These are a bit like extended yard sales - with a group of like minded folks gathering in a field and selling possessions and goods out of the back of a car boot (trunk to you guys and gals who declared Independence in 1776). Sales happen almost everywhere, every weekend, particularly in the summer.
Recently Central London saw a mixing of this activity with the Retro style revival and the Classic Car movement. The Southbank was the location for this experiment in cultural fusion; cars, fashion, leisure, design, style and retail all mixed up in a heady cocktail with a strong automotive flavour...how could I stay away? Actually, the whole affair was way better in reality than in anticipation - an opinion expressed by several of those I spoke to.
The location was in harmony with the exuberant aims of the event. The Southbank Centre was built along the South Bank of the River Thames, initially for the Festival of Britain in 1951. London, in common with the rest of the country, had suffered greatly during World War II. In the aftermath, the shortages of almost everything and the continuation of rationing sapped the population's morale. The Festival of Britain was an attempt to lift the nation's spirits. By and large it succeeded, according to contemporary accounts, giving a view of the progress and prosperity that was to come. A recent addition to the attractions of the area is the London Eye, which can be seen in the background, as can St Stephen's Tower now known as Elizabeth Tower, housing arguably the most famous clock in the world, Big Ben.
As I approached the queue to get in, itself a welcome sight, there were a few special cars parked outside the event. This Alvis TE21 Drophead dates back to 1964 according to the registration. It was the penultimate model from this pioneer of the British motor industry, though production of their military vehicles continues to this day.
This Ferrari 365 GTB/4 is absolute classic, the last in the long line of front engined V12 Grand Tourers from Maranello in the 50's and 60's. Nicknamed the Daytona, which is now how it is universally known, it enjoyed a stellar record in the GT classes of endurance racing during the 70's.
Once inside the arena, I was struck by the amazing number of mobile food providers gathered to satisfy the hunger and thirst of visitors. The Cheeky Italian caught my attention, in particular the 'Berlusconi Burgers' though they are thankfully Bunga Bunga free according to TJ, the charming, and presumably cheeky, chef. The actual recipe remains a secret, more than can be said of Silvio's orgies.
A good number of the vendors were housed in Citroën H Vans, suggesting either common ownership or someone doing a roaring trade in conversions. The distinctive corrugated bodywork was apparently based on the Junkers JU52, a German aeroplane of the 30's. This solution offered increased strength without increasing weight and was cheap to make. Perhaps the French connection with their undoubted culinary prestige is sending a subliminal message.
Worst/Best pun of the day... this pizza food truck.
Perhaps a more conventional base for a kitchen is the humble Volkswagen Campervan, this tidy splitscreen example dating from the 50's...lobster and Chablis anyone?
Another VW, this from the 70's and fully customised, was this fine example of drinking and driving, though not, of course, at the same time.
The attention to detail and design style that the three young owners of Beetle-Juice exhibit in their VW is rewarded in the high level of business they do, from parties to weddings. Harry "from leafy Surrey" was doing a good trade in their non-alcoholic cocktails - it was a bit early for a snifter for most folks, even me.
If cocktails were not to your taste, then a Routemaster Bus Bar would get you to your destination - additionally, for those with excess energy there was the disco upstairs for al fresco bopping. I cannot recall commuting in London being this much fun, but perhaps I was on the wrong route.
Another very British experience is the Ice Cream van, and this regular of London's tourist venues was doing a brisk trade as the crowds enjoyed the last sunshine of the year.
Away from the epicurean temptations of the mobile kitchens, there were cars to be seen. This mint Bond Minicar Mark C was dubbed the Family Safety Model when it was sold in the mid 50's. The economical three wheeler was popular in post-war Britain, with nearly 25,000 made between 1949 and 1966. The Minicar had substantial tax advantages over more conventional cars and could be driven on just a motorcycle licence that did not require passing a driving test. Power came from a 197cc Villiers single cylinder, two stroke engine, developing a mighty 9hp by 1955.
Always popular is a Pink Cadillac...a 1957/58 Eldorado Biarritz if I am not mistaken, not common on this side of the Pond.
A world away is this Vauxhall Viva from the mid-60's, marking the General Motors UK subsidiary's return to the small car market segment. This particular car forms part of the stock of an enterprising group who hire out classic cars to the general public, it also is a handy display unit.
A truly classic car, this late model Porsche 356 is used almost daily and still runs like clockwork. Probably gets my vote as car of the day.
The two wheeled brigade were also present in force, scooters having a particularly strong following here.
This pair of police cars demonstrates that not all cops drive like Frank Bullitt.
There were fashion items everywhere, most at very reasonable prices considering the quality.
Extending the automotive-meets-design concept were these clever little suitcases, modeled on a simple Jerry Can (aka Gas Can).
And if after shopping for accessories a little brush up is required, then the answer is at hand inside Lipstick & Curls' airstream trailer.
In conclusion the Classic Car Boot Sale was a worthy addition to the London automotive scene...these lads certainly thought so.