Hever Castle 1st Aug 2020.

Never in my life have I lived and worked through a pandemic. I have read about them and taken in the horror that was the Ebola epidemic but really could not relate it to a personal experience. All of a sudden in March 2020 we all found ourselves in a situation whereby we were not allowed to go out except for an hour’s exercise a day. I can recall cycling ten miles along a dual carriageway in Kent, one of the busiest road networks in the U.K, and not seeing a single car except for one or two emergency workers going to or from their shifts. You could tell when the channel tunnel and the ports off-loaded their lorries as groups of them would pass you by in convoy. Such was the early experience of lockdown, and the daily news briefings didn’t inspire confidence either. The traditional greeting of, “Are you well?” took on a meaningful significance and neighbours started having conversations from respective doorways. Even total strangers would strike up a conversation in extended queues outside shops. So for the next couple of months life was working from home, going out on the bike and maintaining sanity by doing little jobs on my Alfas, which incidentally have never been shinier. Little projects such as getting the radio in the S4 to work, rebuilding the speedo ready for replacement and slowly but surely making the engine bay spic and span. The MiTo wasn’t  neglected either and, as only one family member was allowed into a supermarket, it wasn’t the first time I was seen applying some shiny car product in the supermarket car park for an hour. If I’d had thought about it I could have made a fortune.

Then if you fast forward to June things were a little different and legislation and government guidelines were relaxed somewhat. People were still understandably nervous as you would expect. This country had, in living memory, never really operated and tried to be relatively normal in the ongoing context of a pandemic. Most of us had cancelled any thought of attending a car show and most organisers had cancelled events earlier in the year. One or two had kept arrangements in place in case legislation and guidelines allowed and on the 24th of July the government obliged in the face of dwindling COVID numbers to strike a balance between safety and getting the economy back up and running. People still needed to be relatively safe and provision was made for gatherings of over thirty persons that needed a risk assessment and a plan which needed to be approved by respective councils.

The Hever Classic Car Show met the legal requirements and for once the section did not have to painstakingly organise the event as this was taken up by Hever Castle events staff at the end of 2019. We have organised many events at the castle including one Southern Alfa Day a couple of years ago and know full well the amount of work involved to put on any show. This was likely to be the first and largest classic car show to be organised under COVID legislation this year, even with the reduced numbers attending, and allowed under the risk assessment. The show was scheduled for the 1st of August and it was forecasted to be a glorious day. Forty one members attended on the Saturday; Hever Castle had our names and the section secretary had all the contact details of members attending. Everything was set for a good day, having not really done anything car wise for almost a year following the winter.

Hever Castle is an amazing and tranquil place set more or less at where Kent, Surrey and Sussex meet. Since most commercial passenger jets are not now routinely landing at Heathrow Airport it’s even more tranquil.

The oldest part of the castle is the walled bailey and drawbridge dating to 1270. The second period was when the castle, then in need of repair, was converted into a manor house in 1462 by the Boleyn family. They added a Tudor dwelling within the walls. The third period of repair and renovation was in the 20th century, when it was acquired by William Waldorf Astor.

Geoffrey Boleyn’s grandson, Thomas Boleyn, inherited the castle in 1505. He lived there with his wife Lady Elizabeth Howard and their children George, Mary and Anne (the future wife of Henry the VIII). Henry VIII often used the nearby Bolebrook Castle to conduct his courtship with Anne.

The property came into the possession of Henry VIII after the death of Anne’s father, Thomas Boleyn, in 1539. He bestowed it upon Anne of Cleves in 1540 as part of the settlement following the annulment of their marriage. Hever Castle still has one of Henry VIII private locks, taken with him on his various visits to noblemen’s houses and fitted to every door for his security.

The property subsequently passed through various owners. During this latter period of ownership, the castle fell into a poor state of repair, during which time it was leased to various private tenants.

In 1903, it was acquired and restored by the American millionaire William Waldorf Astor, who used it as a family home. He added the stunning Italian formal garden to display his collection of exhibits and rare statues. In 1983, the Astor family sold the castle to Broadland Properties Limited which brings us more or less up to the present date.

Henry VIII bedchamber at Hever.

Normally at a car event I would swiftly make my way to the food van but, times being what they are, there was no way I was eating in the castle restaurant. I felt safer preparing my own bacon sarnies, BBQ lunch and coffee the night before. It is, after all, about minimising the risk at this particular juncture of relative freedom. It’s a picturesque drive in the Series Four Spider with the top down from the east of the county and I made the most of the country lanes and B roads to get there. The sat nav told me how fast I was going as the speedo is still not working and I was still judging speed by comparing what gear I was in to the rev counter. Yes and that’s another job that needs doing, luckily as time goes on there’s less of these jobs to do, although the quarter lights will need to be restored to working status at some stage.

Arriving early at a show always puts me in a good frame of mind as I can sit and eat my bacon rolls and refresh with the obligatory coffee, otherwise I’m just not worth talking to at that time of the morning. Slowly and surely the rest of the section turned up and I counted forty-one Alfas from the section, as well as around forty from other makes. We were allowed in by group, at the allotted time slot in a very well organised fashion that ensured social distancing. This bode well for a well organised and safe event. It was a good day and exceptionally well organised by “Jess” from events management.

Some of the members hadn’t seen each other for over a year and to walk across the breadth of the displayed Alfas took me over two hours as it was good to catch up with people I had not seen in ages and get to discuss one or two of the cars.

Now Fred Baker, accompanied by his granddaughter Laura, always has a smile as wide as the grille on his white GTV 2000 and is always a pleasure to talk to. Fred, in his day, was quite an accomplished competition moto-cross motorcyclist and still has quite a collection of bikes at home including two Velocettes (1958 and 1964) a 1982 Moto Morini and a stunning BSA Goldstar. He used to compete at the highest level in trails from 1946 until the mid 1970’s  Fred still maintains his own vehicles and when you see him silently gazing into your own vehicle’s engine bay you can rest assured you will receive absolute spot on knowledge about it as well as what is and isn’t needed to be done.

Fred Baker and Laura.

Fred is now just in his nineties and you would never know it. He retired in 1999 as a driving instructor and started working a few days a week for classic Alfa in the used parts dispatch department. These days, Fred admits he does not break old Alfas anymore as Classic Alfa realises how valuable these vehicles are.

Fred has owned the 2 litre GTV from it being two and a half years old and originally buying it for his wife for school runs and shopping. It was bought from the eminent surgeon Mr Whalley from Redhill Hospital who had sold it because his wife had bought him a 308 Ferrari for Christmas. Fred has self maintained the vehicle over the last forty years fitting GTA alloy wheels, a stainless exhaust, a new clutch, head gaskets, timing chain, rebuilt the front suspension, two universal joints, prop shaft and alternator. The seats were re-trimmed and a new interior carpet was fitted. The car was repainted in 1985 and has had two new door locks and master servo. He changes the oil and air filter every 3,000 miles. Eventually he recognised the car as a classic in the early to mid 1980’s wrangled the car off his wife by buying her another in the form of a 1600 Giulietta Super and the same model as the vehicle displayed by Willie Clapperton. New rear springs were introduced to the GTV as the OEM ones tend to sag after a while and fitted Monroe shock absorbers all round. In terms of the body work the GTV has had two new sills that were fitted in 1985 and not surprisingly the need for renewal was discovered when the vehicle was re-sprayed in 1985. The GTV itself has twin choke Dell-Orto carbs. This is one of three types that can be fitted to the vehicle including Webbers or Solex but describes the Dell-Ortos as being slightly better built although there is again slight increased performance from a Webber set. Fred balances the carbs himself at the same time as checking the points, which are changed every 10-12,000 miles. Fred has a pet theory that after 40 years a classic car does not require an MOT because modern technicians do not understand how carburettors and old style tuning works as these days’ a mechanic plugs in a computer. The GTV has a five speed gear box and all four corners have a disc braking system that was introduced before the car was born in 1963 and came as standard with this model when it was built in 1974.

Fred has been a member of AROC since 1972 (48 years) and once showed me his membership card that read member number 1647. AROC itself has been in existence since 1964. Fred is one of those unassuming knowledgeable people that you really ought to get to know.

Not far up the line was Willie Clapperton’s 1300 Giulia Super and it’s amazing what the present day evolution of this vehicle has morphed into. Willie has now established himself firmly as the other section member who will regularly produce a complete restaurant of several courses from his boot complete with dining table and which reminded me it was time to find some shade under the many trees and eat my home cooked BBQ. I don’t care what government incentives there are to eat in restaurants cheaply, not me and not yet. Anyway I was more than ready for my piri-piri chicken and salad.

Willie Clapperton’s Giulia 1300 Super.

When you consider the Giulia then and what it has now become now, you can appreciate how people felt about the 1300 Super then and the present reincarnation now. One fine example being the Giulia Veloce owned by another one of our newer members – John Hufton. I have never seen even a hint of dirt on this Alfa.

John Hufton’s Giuilia Veloce.

There was also an Alfa that you rarely see at shows and this was Doug Field’s Red 2600 Spider. So it would have been rude not to wander over to take some pictures. I personally have only ever seen one picture of this car from a sprint meeting report from, what is now left of, the Crystal Palace racing circuit and from an era well before my time with the club. The 2600 Spider was one of the several body styles available in the Alfa 2600 range, which offered a Berlina sedan, Sprint coupe and this the open-top Spider. The Alfa 2600 was Alfa Romeo’s six-cylinder flagship which was in production from 1961 to 1968. This specific model was the last Alfa Romeo range to be fitted with an inline six-cylinder engine with twin overhead camshafts, instead of the four-cylinder engines that later became more common due to the economical mass-production of Alfa models from 1950 onwards. The Spider is a four-seat-convertible that is described as a very enjoyable and exciting touring experience. Alfa Romeo produced approximately 2255 units of the 2600 Spider up to 1969.

It was also nice to see one of the youngest active members of the club in the form of Phil Coussey with his MiTo. It’s done 44,000 miles and as Phil is a mechanic at a main Alfa dealership he has maintained the vehicle himself. Phil is looking to sell this model to buy a manual QV version. I did tell him how much adaptive suspension would cost on the QV to replace but he was adamant with what he wants … he is looking for the one that is just right. Phil has a very good head on his shoulders in this respect and is very knowledgeable from his experience with working on this rather nice little car.

John Third had been itching to get out for months and decided he would rather like to take the GTV6 out and this car gets shinier every time I see it. Prior to the pandemic it was taken on a grand tour in the Andiamo a Milano 2019 Final Tour. This was a 16 day tour of all the best bits the previous tours had undertaken and only needed a fuel pump replacing on the whole trip. I’m always one to listen to advice – so a fuel pump has been added to the spares box in the boot of my Spider.

Then we had Bernard Lien-Lambert, one of our newer members, in the red S1 1600 Boat tail Spider. It’s certainly an Alfa that you do not see very often and I thought that the driving gloves were a nice touch of style to arrive in.

Peter Boarer also attended in the much photographed Montreal and it always turns heads and is much photographed at every show and event I have seen it at. Peter is always approachable and always has time for a chat and offers a very realistic and pragmatic view on restoration.

Graham Duplock, as always, enjoys his events and when there is not a pandemic – the odd ice cream or two. Graham is a retired nuclear physicist and brought the GTV 2 litre Bertone at a car auction having initially been outbid but later receiving a phone call from the auction company offering it to him.

We did rather think it would be a good idea this year to do a prize for the best presented Alfa at the show. This time with a twist, that it be judged by a person who did not necessarily have knowledge of Alfas but to pick out the car that appealed to them the most. We had a pair of excellent quality Lead Crystal engraved Hi-ball glasses that John Third had commissioned last year to offer as a prize as a memento of the event. Jess, the event organiser, did a fantastic job in this respect and picked out the most stunning red GTV 1750 with a blue nose that was fitted with a roll bar and was owned and driven by Anne Giles. This, in my opinion, was the car begging to be picked out and a thoroughly well deserved prize.

Victory Pimm’s anyone?

You just can’t end the first big show of 2020 on this high note without acknowledging that the younger generation are appearing more and more at club meets, shows and gatherings and in possession of their cherished Alfas. We all add our stamp but inevitably these are the young people that will in future years be shaping our club and indeed running it, so we ignore them at our peril. So I really have to end here by having a look at Daniel Kent’s 147. He has done a lot to this vehicle and it presents brilliantly. Few of us would have been as bold as to do what he has achieved with the design of this vehicle. Even the wheels are presented as a reflection of the Italian Flag. I did urge him not to go back to anthracite grey but “hey” that’s the young for you and we need them now and in the future more than ever.

Ciao everyone and hope to meet and chat with you next time whatever the future brings.