When I think of Great Britain, images ranging from fish and chips to Big Ben to the Union Jack to the Beatles all run through my head. When I think about British weather, my mind turns to grey skies and rainy days. Thankfully, when the Toronto Triumph Club arranged to have over one thousand British cars gathered for British Car Day they managed to pick a warm, sunny day. This made it all the more enjoyable as I watched the fields fill with some of my favorite cars and even a few cars I’d never hear of before.
One car that took me by surprise was the 1952 Alvis TB-21. I’m not sure how a car maker that won at Le Mans and produced so many fantastic cars has escaped my notice for so long. Alvis made 31 of these beautiful cars and only 23 of them are known to still be running. The original buyer of the car imported it to California in 1952 and kept it running for 25 years. In 1977 it was purchased by a Texan film director who started a total restoration in 1978. Sadly, he died before he could complete the restoration so it remained unassembled until the current owner purchased it in 2007. It took him almost three more years to finish the restoration to get it to the fantastic condition its in today.
Knowing the time and effort that goes into a proper restoration impresses me when I see it done right. Something that impresses me even more is when the original owner of a car can keep it running and on the road for almost half a century without restoring it. That’s what I found when talking to the owner of this 1964 Jaguar MkII. His previous car was an MG but with children on the way he thought a saloon car would be more sensible. Since then, this Jag has been a part of the family even after the kids moved out and the rear seats are no longer needed. He was proud to point out that aside from a repaint of the front half of the car after a fender bender, the car is all original.
Moving on from there I came across another car with all of its original parts. This really isn’t a surprise given the car is less than 20 years old but it is exciting because the TVR Cerbera wasn’t originally sold in North America. Thanks to laws in Canada that allow collectors to bring 15 year old cars in from other markets, I got to enjoy seeing this car up close. The Cerbera stands out as being the first TVR to use an in-house developed engine rather than the previously used Rover, Ford or Triumph plants. One of the features that stands out on the car is the door release. The designers didn’t like how traditional door handles interrupt the lines of the car so they incorporated a button release under the side view mirror.
There was another innovative import from the 90s present at British Car Day. While the car is right hand drive and rare on these shores, the Suzuki Cappuccino was out of place being a Japanese car. This car is actually on my short list of cars I believe that I can own some day and I have a model of it on my desk at work. When I tried engaging the owner to learn more about how he imported the car and how he enjoyed driving it, he simply placed a magnetic For Sale sign on the car and walked away. In addition to being out of place for not being British, the owner was out of place being the only car show participant I can remember who didn’t want to talk about his car.
If you want to single out an owner to talk about his car, then look for the bright yellow 1965 Merlyn Mk4T. These cars were originally known as low cost alternatives to the Lotus 23 and can still be found racing around tracks around the world. This particular car was just a fiberglass body in 2009 and the owner built the frame himself. What makes this car stand out from any other racer from this era I’ve encountered is the fact that he chose to run with an electric motor. This blend of a classic race car with modern technology under the bonnet makes for fascinating discussions about both the build and how it drives.
These short tales are a small sample of what I encountered talking with car collectors at British Car Day this year. I plan to return next year and spend more time learning the stories behind the cars on display. Until then, I get to enjoy this gallery of photos I shot showing a fair sample of the cars in attendance.