Monday 19 June 2023

Britain's Bonneville

Everyone's heard of Bonneville Speed Week. Flat salt pans, HotRods (& other things) modified by heavily bearded blokes in sheds for that one sublime record breaking run.

The UK has something similar. It's different, but it's good & it's gaining a reputation.

Pendine in south Wales is a small village quite a long way from anywhere, but it has two clams to fame. Three rocket sled tracks, one used to test ejector seats & seven miles of very hard packed smooth golden sand ideal(ish) for driving very very fast on. So it's all about the speed in Pendine & it has a museum to prove it.

Once a year when the tide times are right, the Vintage Hot Rod Association comes to town to run speed trials up the beach. It all gets a bit special because there are rules controlling both the "Vintage" & "Hot Rod" parts of that, so you're going to need a car made before the 1940s & for preference you're going to need it powered by a flathead V8 with the right transmission & suspension.

What all this means is that it's pretty certain that most teams could go faster if they ran the tow car up the beach, but that's not the point. It's all about the heritage & the early land speed record attempts mixed with a little Bonneville spirit, and this year I heard the twang of American accents, so hopefully those people enjoyed it - it's a long way to come.

But the event doesn't disappoint. There's no razamataz. The VHRA are there to run the cars, if the public want to watch, that's fine as long as they keep to pretty much one rule - KEEP BEHIND THE TAPE.

Plenty of visitors arrive in interesting cars, so they are parked up in one line (if you wish) for the public to see, so I took the Stylus as I wanted a pic of it on the beach to go with the one I took of the Fury in 2019.

There were plenty of people, but somehow the village never seemed crowded, I'd gone with a good friend & we went into the very nice ice-cream parlour on the prom & only waited a couple of minutes to be served, it was all very relaxed.

But you don't want to red all that, you want to know about the cars.

They split relatively easily into a few groups for descriptive purposes:-

Immaculate late '30s saloons - not too many this year, if you had one, would you run it over a sand / salt water mix?

Hot Rods in the classic sense. Road going cars with proper paint, interiors etc. The above also applies here.

Hot Rods in "less original" condition. There's a rust theme here, not rat rods as such, but bodywork that's very much only there to keep the sand out.

Original race cars from the 20s & 30s

Streamliners - specially built from original pre-40s parts & enclosed in an aerodynamic body - traditionally made from old aircraft drop tanks, hence their other name - "belly tank racer".

It works like this:-

As soon as the tide has retreated past the track zone, the competing cars are gathered in the pit area & come out one by one, are waved off by the flag girls - who always seem to be having more fun than anyone else - & accelerate up the beach to a speed trap that measures their speed over 110 yards, then they slow & the next car runs, simple. Except that these are mostly engines that won't rev over 5,000 rpm & have the original three speed gearbox, so they have to be geared REALLY high, so getting them off the line is a skill in itself. Then accelerating hard while keeping the back behind the front, on sand is also a bit of an art. The fastest cars are clearing the trap at around 120, most won't get over a ton & some struggle to see half that. But it really is the being there & taking part that's the thing & while watching some old cars accelerating quite slowly won't be for everyone, there's other things to do & the cars just keep going up & back, so you can wander off, have a drink & an ice-cream, look at the constantly changing "interesting car" park & wander back to soak up some more atmosphere while wondering at the fact that this sort of thing is even still allowed today.

It was also good to see that the village had benefited with a re-built museum, new prom with beach showers & loos, these things make it a more attractive destination when the events aren't on, so helps keep the money coming in, though the electric car charging points didn't see any use at all that I noticed in 2 1/2 days 😂.

We spent the first day wandering up the track photographing the cars at various points until the last runs of the day after which everything has to be packed up at lightning speed, all the cars, the pit fences, the tapes & supports, timing gear, EVERYTHING - because the tide IS coming in. The following day it all has to be set-up again as the sea retreats. The second day wasn't as sunny, we watched the cars, looked along the display line (several people asked me about the Stylus) & went in the small but well laid out museum, then it was time to pack up & go home. 

I'd collected a bike frame from repair on the way, but it wouldn't fit in the the car with the roof on, but it'd be fine - it wasn't & I suffered biblical rain on the M4 on my way home, but necessity is the mother of invention & after finding a petrol station to hide in, I found that actually, if a little cleverness was applied the frame would fit in a horizontal fashion & I was able to put the roof up & continue my journey. 

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