Driving like Mr. Toad.

Driving like Mr. Toad. Introducing a mate to the thrills of screen down motoring.


My pal, Duncan Green, has just bought a brand new Audi A6 Tdi.  300 bhp of German mechanical sophistication. He needed bringing down to earth. I had just bought a pair of Second World War, French Airforce goggles on ebay. I needed some screen down motoring to try them out!


Picking Duncan up at 6.00 pm on a warm spring evening I slung him my old goggles, and we headed out to the monthly gathering of classic cars and bikes in Ashby Folville, a half hour drive away. It’s a very pleasant run out of the city and barely touches any main roads. The hedgerows were in full bloom and the overhanging trees made a superb green canopy with shafts of low evening sunshine streaking through. The really great thing about screen down motoring in an old Land Rover is the sensation of speed. Top whack on mine is about 50 mph, but this feels like at least 100 and tempts a more sporting driving style. Elbows are stuck well out in a Mr. Toad driving position and bends are taken in, what some would call, a racing line with any terrified passenger hanging on tight to the grab rail.




As we approached Ashby Folville we became aware of others on the same course. An Austin 7 ‘Top Hat’ saloon, from the 1920’s, gave us something to overtake, a couple of big 1960’s motor bikes appeared behind us and then were gone in a roar of straight through exhausts. A huge 1950’s, open topped, Cadillac wallowed along at about our speed, it’s driver in period costume, a female passenger with ‘Beehive’ hairdo sharing the wide bench seat in the front. And there in the centre of the village a steam Traction Engine gently fizzed and chuffed, the big flywheel majestically turning and looking as if nothing could stop it.


We handed over a one pound coin to join the cars parked on the village green opposite The Carrington Arms and stepped out of the Land Rover to survey the scene. Probably 300 cars and a similar quantity of bikes had assembled, their owners swapping tales with anybody who showed an interest. Much of the conversation was along the lines of, ‘I used to have one of those, bought it for a fiver and scrapped it a year later....... Wish I still had it. Worth a fortune these days’.



Upholding the  Land Rover honours were a very neatly modified Range Rover sitting on some huge tyres, a tidy 90 SWB sporting a 2 inch lift and a set of Mud Terrain’s and a nice old Series 3 Station Wagon in standard, and remarkably good, condition. I had a brief chat with the owner of the 90 and was most flattered that he actually recognised my 80 inch from the pages of this magazine and found it hard to believe I had driven it, in this condition, to Italy and back a couple of years ago.


What is so wonderful about this event is the way it all runs so smoothly despite, or perhaps because of, an almost total lack of organisation. A few lads from the village are drafted in to direct cars to park in some kind of order in the field and The Carringtom Arms lays on a beer tent. The whole event has an air of total Englishness. A cross between a Church Fete and a Motor Show, but devoid of all commercial interests, apart from the bar. It gives those of us of a certain age an opportunity to dress up as we might have liked to in our youth and drive, or ride, things we probably couldn’t afford back then. A group of Mod’s pitched up on Lambretta’s and Vespa’s looking as though they were straight from the set of Quadraphenia. It was only when they removed their helmets and sun glasses you realised that the average Mod now has a bus pass.



By 9.00 pm. the sun had lost it’s warmth and the less hardy started to drift off in a haze of blue smoke and spluttering engines. A few needed a push, others were asking if anyone had a set of jump leads, but one by one everyone left the site to rounds of applause from fans who gathered at the roadside. We opted to put the screen up for the return journey as, by 10.00 pm., it was actually quite cold and, as usual, neither of us had thought to bring any warm clothing. Half an hour later the Land Rover was gently ticking as the engine cooled down and we were home discussing what a marvellous evening we had had and all for about a tenner’s worth of petrol, a pound to park and the cost of a couple of pints of bitter.


May 2008