On 19th July 2007 I was invited over to an old military airport in Wiltshire for a photo shoot for Practical Classics magazine. The photo-shoot is for a 'Comedy Classics' group test feature, focussing on six vehicles that are perceived as comedic, and explaining why they get the last laugh. It is to be written by Sam Glover with Chris Barrie of Red Dwarf fame as a guest editor. The plan was to take Ole Blue (My 1972 Reliant Regal Supervan III) for the shoot but to drive it 120 miles with an average sped of 45 - 50mph would have taken forever and so my brother (Geoff) kindly volunteered to tow Old Blue on a dolly behind his bus.
Leaving Tamworth at around 7:50am, we eventually arrived at the airfield at 10:20am, which was superb timing as the shoot had a 10:30am start time. When we arrived there was already a couple there with a Fiat Gamini painting to resemble the car from the Noddy cartoon series. As we unloaded Ole Blue a Trojan 3-wheeler arrived, and then a Zaporozhets that was closely followed by a 3-wheeled Berkley and a 4-wheeled Bond Bug. The strange thing was that by sheer coincidence, apart from the splashes of red on the Fiat, all the vehicles with either yellow or blue.
After the introductions and an explanation of the action plan, we all drove onto the runway. With the photographer hanging out of the back of a Citroen C5, we all had to drive in a V formation behind him at 30 - 40 mph, this instantly concerned the Berkley drivers as they said their car preferred 30mph. We all started our engines and off we went until I looked in my rear view mirror and saw that the Zaporozhets was still sitting in the same spot. It had a problem with the float chamber and just wouldn’t start. The photographer then had a great idea, “We’ll tow it and edit out the rope” and so as I was at the front, we changed positions, his car was hooked up to the photographer’s Citroen and once again we all started off in a V formation, the Zaporozhets now being towed, as the photographer took a number of shots.
Then in pairs we drove up and down the runway following the photographer. Once we reached the end of the runway, people would turn round and then charge back down it at full speed back to the other end. Ole Blue isn’t fast compared with modern vehicles but as she charged back down the runway, I got out and several people commented, “I did’nt think Reliants were that fast”. Her sound was further depend as the tail pipe(off a Triumph Stag) had slid off the silencer, we quickly pushed it back on again with some exhaust assembly putty but it slid off again as it needs a new U bolt to hold it in place. As Ole Blue was still running fine I left it off in the end and the car seemed to roar up and down the airfield.
Once the photographs were taken we then all drove to a local indoor Go-Cart track and then as the photographer sat in the lead car facing backwards, we had to all race around the Go-cart track. That was so much fun. We all took it in turns to be in the lead for the camera. There were some tight turns and the 3-wheelers were being cautious as they approached each corner but the 4-wheelers were showing no fear and with tyres screeching they were giving it all they had. With Ole Blue essentially having no tail pipe, her tones filled the aircraft hangar that the Go-cart track was built inside. When ever I switched off the engine there would be a sudden silence and a couple of chaps commented on how sporty Ole Blue sounded. After a number of photos we then stopped for some lunch and Geoff took the opportunity to do a couple of laps of the Go-cart track in Ole Blue. Lunch over, we all returned back to the airfield for close up shots of each vehicle.
Sam Glover asked if he could drove Ole Blue and so I said, “Sure” and with that he jumped it. Straight away he showed surprise at how quickly and smoothly Ole Blue pulled away and with that put his foot down and charged around the air field. He asked, “How easy are they to tip over?” and I explained that it is a bit harder than folks think but on a sharp corner at speed it will go. Later Reliants have an anti-roll bar and smaller wheels than the Regal so I imagine they are harder to roll. I think he wanted to test just how far it would go as on the last corner we had to whizz around cutting the corner for the camera and as we went I felt the whole car twitch. Having two people on board all three wheels stayed on the ground but had only the driver been in the car and with it being a left hand corner, I think that corner would have seen Ole Blue on two wheels and a door handle.
Before we left we asked Chris Barrie if he would like to drive the Reliant and he said he’d love to. Despite all the vehicles he has driven with the “Massive” series of TV programs, he explained that he has never driven a Reliant before. He is a fairly tall chap but as he sat in Ole Blue he asked, “Does the seat have any sort of adjustment?”. I said, “I’m afraid not, I’ve it bolted down as far back as it will go for my long legs”. Luckily this wasn’t a problem and with a turn of the key we were off, he then commented on the speed the Reliant takes off at. This seems to surprise most people, it is actually relatively slow but being so low down and with all the noise, the illusion of speed must seem greater. I had not long added more fuel into the tank and as the petrol can was in the back of the van he mentioned the smell of petrol. I said that the Reliant usually smells of something, petrol, oil, engine fumes, I’m not sure where they enter the car but on long journeys, what ever the weather, you need to have at least one window open. As Chris worked his way through the gears we flew around the airfield and he took onboard the controls around him and we talked about the Reliant. When we finally came to a halt he got out and with a smile said that was superb and then passing over his camera, he asked if he could have his photo taken with Ole Blue. He said with a smile, “This will be for when I write a book of all the cars I’ve driven”.
The subject of “Delboy” came up from the BBC TV series “Only Fools and Horses” and we mentioned that one of the original vans sold at auction for £44,227 ... and unlike my van, that wasn’t in good condition. People must be used to only ever seeing scruffy Delboy type Supervans as I had a few people comment on what a great looking car Ole Blue was.
As things came to an end, we loaded Ole Blue back up on to the towing dolly and trailered her back home. Geoff was running late for work though so as he lives in Birmingham he dropped me off with Ole Blue on the M5 and I enjoyed a slow 35 mile trundle back home.
I am told the this article will be in the October 2007 edition of Practical Classics that will be available from 12th September 2007.
Elvis Payne. July 2007.
Update September 2007
Click here for the article that appeared in the magazine.