I’m a bit of a classic car fanatic and make no apologies for it. I’ve always found the sensuous curves and roaring fume-belching engines of mid-century sports cars totally intoxicating. Its a hereditary trait that I’ve picked up from my eccentric father, now well into his 70s, who spends practically every waking moment battling with old wrecks in his Olympic sized mancave. As the only male in our household, this love of bygone automotive achievements is usually kept strictly separate from family life, but occasionally I concoct a cunning plan to mix the two.
Having greedily soaked up several magazine articles on it, I was eager to find an excuse to visit Bicester Heritage, a former RAF bomber base in Oxfordshire. This huge pre-war airfield had been laying derelict until it was resurrected in 2013 as a centre for historic motoring and aviation. Now a hive of activity, it is host to over 30 independent businesses, all providing different services for the classic car and plane buff. From the photos I’d seen of the architecture (most of which is from the 20s & 30s) it looked absolutely breathtaking. The sympathetically restored red brick hangers and support buildings are a perfect fit for the ethos of the centre, and provide a romantic backdrop impossible to create in a modern industrial unit.
The excuse I needed to combine a family day out with a good nose around this fine destination came in the shape of the second annual Flywheel Festival. A celebration of automobiles, aeroplanes and vintage culture for young and old. Surely this was the perfect opportunity to fill up the picnic basket and spend a jolly good family day out in our old Daimler!
With everything prepared and packed the night before, we bundled everyone into the car first thing Sunday morning and set off on the 90 minute journey. Travelling with young children tends to lead to anxiety of emergency toilet stops and frantic mopping up of travel sick, putting a potential dampener on any day out. But thankfully, today passed without any such issues. The car was also in fine fettle, its v8 engine burbling along the M40 easily keeping up with modern traffic and shaming them with its superior beauty.
We arrived in good time and found a spot in the classic car enclosure. Our 3 year old daughter Dot immediately spotted a pink Cadillac and demanded a photo, before jumping in elation at the sight of the vintage fun fair. The festival is laid out on the airfield, with a makeshift figure of 8 track for motor demonstrations, off road area for tank rides and grass runway for the light aircraft. Static WWII displays, vehicles & planes run the length of the field with a flea fair, period music tent, silent cinema and paddock separating the classic car park from the action.
From the paddock you can gain access to the main Bicester complex and stroll around freely. A long tree lined avenue runs from one end to the other with smaller lanes intersecting it. On this occasion we weren’t able to enter any of the buildings, but wandering around the place was more than enough to stoke the emotions. Individual vintage motors scattered around the virtually deserted site gave the strangest sensation of literally stepping back in time.
On returning back to the airfield we were just in time to witness a fabulous synchronized aerial display from a swarm of Tiger Moths. This was followed by flypasts from a Hawker Hurricane, Spitfire and a very impressive mock dogfight complete with anti-aircraft fire and smoke.
Full access to the paddock was also granted, giving the chance get up close and personal with the cars. A feast of automobiles ranging from very early veteran cars like a 1901 Toledo through to iconic 1950s racers were lined up ready for action. Action that came in the form of a makeshift track surrounded by hay bales. Each car screeched off the line one at a time, pounding around the figure of 8 to the cheers of onlookers. Commentators
housed in the original 1934 watchtower competed with untamed engine roar, trying to guide the uninitiated through each vehicles’ merits.
Before heading off Dot fancied a go in the miniature aeroplanes provided by the Joystick club. 50p secured her some bright yellow wings. She pedaled around in a circle for while making her best engines noises while we tried to ignore the swastikas on the side of the plane!
I came away eager to write up the event and spread the word, my only regret being that I didn’t take more photos. But I will return, you can count on that!