• JF MacPherson

It's hot in the city

It was early morning on a late August Bank Holiday Saturday. The sky was clear. It was going to be a scorcher.

My work bag and a packed lunch were already in the car. It was 7a.m. Time to go.

British traffic being what it is, come any Bank Holiday I tend to hole up and forget what the car keys are for. Allowing for a brief stop en route to buy a liquid restorative (I don't do mornings), my destination was two hours away. For at least four hours in holiday traffic, this had better be worth it.

A still, blisteringly hot day in a city doesn't usually hold much appeal, but this was a special case. After reading about where I was headed, I'd even pulled seniority to get the job. Oodles of veteran, vintage and classic cars, motorbikes, light commericals, a special steam train, and even some of the original cast of 'Allo 'Allo. Yep, if anyone at It's My Classic was going to visit Gloucester Goes Retro, it was going be yours truly.

Suitably provisioned, fuel tank and chiller box packed with sufficient liquids to cope with holiday traffic delays, I sallied forth into the heat.

Finding the carpark in Gloucester was vaguely entertaining. My sat-nav didn't cope well with the city road closures necessary for the event, and visitor/event signage was conspicuous by its absence.

But that was the only issue. Parking (once located) was ample and reasonably priced (the coffee and scones in one cafe I visited midmorning, however, were neither but that's another story).

Parked away from the sun (I didn't fancy returning to a four-wheeled oven), I made my way to where the four Gate roads converge. A sign in the centre of the junction pointed visitors to the vehiclular decades on offer - 1900-1949, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970's-80s, each on their own street. I started with Westgate Street and the oldest representatives of motorised personal freedom.

Oh, wow! Despite my eclectic interest in heritage vehicles of all kinds, I don't consider myself a anorak (I'm more into the whole culture than the comparing-cylinder-capacity, top trumps kind of obsession). Gloucester Goes Retro, however, introduced me to a few even I'd never come across before, and one or two I'd only seen in books.

There was the Stoneleigh Chummy to start with, then there was a rather nice Donnet G2 Torpedo parked outside the rocks shop (minerals, not the sticky sweets, by the way). There was also a little Scootamobile - I've only seen those in pictures. Plus I thought I was pretty familiar with BMC's offerings, but I'd never even heard of an Austin Apache.

Cotton motorcycles I'd definitely come across previously, but to see an entire display was great. I suppose I should have expected them, given that the Cotton Motor Company was based in Gloucester, producing road, off-road and racing bikes. If you'd like to learn more about them, make a visit to the Cotton Owners & Enthusiasts Club. These lovely people are a positive fount of all things Cotton.

I'd anticipated the cast members from 'Allo 'Allo (who seemed to be enjoying the earliest vehicles in the morning sunshine), but was a bit amused to hear the unmistable mechanical tones of Darth Vader as I paused to admire a gleamingly red, huge Hudson.

I doubt that the Dark Lord has ever had such a warm reception as he and his Stormtrooper guards found in Gloucester. I did admire his tenacity as the group strolled amongst the crowds, pausing here and there for conversations and photographs with their fans. He must have been absolutely baking as the sun rose higher and hotter.

Back up the street, turn into Northgate, and it was time for the fifties, fins and drive-through meals. I rather enjoy this era of car. They're not as rarified, perhaps, as their older bretheren, but they have the advantage of standardised driving controls that make them more accessible to those who grew up with modern cars.

Coffee and somewhere to sit beckoned by the time I discovered the sixties. The sun was high, the streets were getting full, and my feet were starting to object to hot pavements. After poking my nose into a couple of cafes, I settled for one near to the market hall that provided comfortable seats and didn't want a fiver for a scone.

Suitably refreshed, it was time to make my way towards Southgate Street and timewarp to another decade. I find cars and bikes of the seventies interesting, the eighties not so much. Once into the nineties, I struggle to regard them as anything other than middle-aged. I'm not much of an advocate of "modern classics".

I found one little car that I particularly liked, sensibly parked in the shade with his young owner. Meet Hugo, a Fiat 500L. This great little car even has a Facebook page.

By the time I reached the American police cars at the bottom of Southgate Street, I was starting to flag. The sun was high overhead, the thermometer had inched into the thirties and there was barely a hint of a breeze. Phew. There was still more to see.

Down at the docks there was a display of more Italian cars old and new than you could shake a packet of pasta at. I took an admittedly brief look at some of the older ones before admitting defeat in a the face of overwhelming opposition. My feet, despite comfortable shoes, were definitely objecting to the abuse I was subjecting them to. Such petty discomfort was unintentionally humbled by a cheerful group of Gloucestershire squaddies.

Dressed in WW2 uniforms, burdened with the equipment their D-Day counterparts would have carried for the landings, anyone would have forgiven these guys for being decidedly less than chipper. They were happy to stop for a chat, even under the blaze of a an early afternoon sun, and explain about their uniforms (period correct, right down to the heavy textiles, rifles and shovels) and the history of the regiment. Gentlemen, I salute you!

An array military vehicles were parked at the foot of the Museum steps at the northern end of the Docks. These included a determined-looking little Austin 7 (with rifles strapped to its boot) that was totally dwarfed by an imposing Buick tank.

Dock duty done, I headed back up the steps to a side-spur off Southgate Street that I'd missed on the way down, finding a Rover 2000 and a couple of Citroën 2CVs amongst the later classics. I have mixed feelings about 2CVs. On the one hand I have childhood memories of a family member who had one, and whose driving style somewhat unnerved me. On the other, they are definitely quirkily characterful (and much loved by my dearly beloved). I just can't make up my mind.

By 2.30pm I'd spent five and a half hours looking at vehicles, talking to their guardians and, quite frankly, I was done for. Figuring I could see the steam train another time, I headed for the carpark (which still had empty spaces) to revel in a comfortable seat and air-con. According to my car, It was 31 degrees in the shade.

My feet were still tingling the following day, but this is one event that I wouldn't have missed for anything. My compliments go to the organisers of Gloucester Goes Retro, and to the owners who braved the sun to give us all the opportunity to enjoy such a kaleidoscope of historic vehicles.

I've already given advance warning to family, friends and colleagues at It's My Classic. Count me out for next late August Bank Holiday plans. I'll be in Gloucester.

If you're planning on going next year (brilliant idea, by the way), just a few points:

  • Westgate, Southgate, Eastgate and Northgate Streets are filled with displayed vehicles and turned into pedestrian-only areas. There are also displays around the Docks. See a city map here.

  • If you want a good view of the vehicles on offer, be prompt. Events start around 10am, but I'd suggest arriving earlier to make it easier to park and get a look around before the streets get really busy.

  • I found parking on Longsmith Street. There's a multistorey one one side and an open-air carpark on the other. Four hours in the multistorey was £4.50, or £6 for the whole day.

  • Do visit the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum down at the Docks. Even if you don't go in to take a look around, they sell good value ice-creams and have an outdoor seating area with a great view across the Docks.

  • There are immaculate toilets on the first floor of the Mall. I found them from SouthGate Street, but there are several access points.

  • Wear comfortable shoes!


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