In Praise of Pre-War
By James Page
Tucked away in the Cotswolds above the picturesque village of Bibury, the Classic Motor Hub has become a popular destination for enthusiasts since it opened a few years ago. For obvious reasons, in 2020 it has been unable to host the busy themed events that it has in the past, but the hangar-cum-showroom is always worth a look, and on a recent visit it was the pre-war machinery that caught my eye.
Although one of the attractions of cars of this era is the variety of coachwork to choose from, I’ve always had a weakness for saloons. Derby Bentleys can be particularly elegant, and at the back of the hangar was a very early example – a 1934 3 1/2-litre that was the first Derby Bentley to be fitted with a Gurney Nutting body.
The vast majority of pre-war cars are likely to have been rebodied at some stage in their lives and such was the case with the Bentley, which received Vanden Plas saloon coachwork in the late 1940s. Amazingly, when a subsequent owner decided to replace that body 40 years later, he managed to buy back the original Gurney Nutting coachwork. The reunion happened by chance – only when he got the panels home and found the identifying numbers did he realise what he’d found.
On the subject of coachwork, quite what could take place in a Honeymoon Coupé is perhaps best left to the imagination, but not far from the Bentley was a Lagonda 2 Litre wearing just such a body. Constructed by Weymann, it made for a very handsome machine but was slightly upstaged by another car from the Staines marque – a magnificent 1937 LG45 Tourer, built during the period in which Lagonda was owned by Alan Good and benefitted from the considerable talents of both WO Bentley and Frank Feeley.
Nearby was a Springfield-built Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost that had been ordered new by ER Campbell from the eponymous soup company. It was wearing one of just four Piccadilly Roadster bodies produced by the Massachusetts-based Merrimac coachbuilding firm; one of the others was commissioned by eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes.
For a long time after the Second World War, cars from the 1920s and 1930s would have been in regular use by people who had grown up with them, were used to the particular demands of driving them and were happy to do the tinkering required to keep them going. These days, there’s a smaller pool of enthusiasts willing to take them on, which seems a shame. Some of my most memorable drives have come in pre-war machinery, from tackling the autumnal Cotswold Trial in an Austin Seven to hustling an Alvis 4.3 short-chassis tourer in the 1000 Mile Trial.
As for what I’d have taken away from the Classic Motor Hub, as much as I loved the two Lagondas it would have been hard to choose anything other than the Gurney Nutting-bodied Derby Bentley, which would have been a majestic way to sweep back down to South Gloucestershire. Let’s hope that in 2021 owners of pre- and post-war cars alike are able to once again come together at the former RAF Bibury.
Books by James Page