Grand Old Timer Rally 2020

Kent & East Sussex
31 August 2020

The Grand Old Timer Rally is one of those late season gatherings that we all try to get to as Michael Stainer, the organiser and owner of The Grand, always allows all our club cars, classic or otherwise, into the display. It is one of those events that you just try to attend. There is only one way to describe it and that is – class!

When I first joined the club I used to take my brand new MiTo QV line TCT turbo. That vehicle is now half way through its fourth year and in recent years I have chosen to take my 1992 S4 Spider which seems to sit better with the ambience of the event and all the other vehicles attending. The show is however an ideal way to get new members with more modern Alfas to wet an appetite to show their vehicle, be included in section activities and to be included in an event that is memorable every year for its grandeur.

Members have of course attended many previous “Old Timer Rallies” but one of the endearing memories is that you can, under normal times when there is not a pandemic, pre-order breakfast and lunch from the A-la-Carte menu at NOT Al-la-Carte prices in the Conservatory, “Palm Restaurant.” The prices make it accessible to every member with elevated views across an ever changing natural light show of the narrowest part of the English Channel. I have on one or two occasions eaten lunch there to the accompaniment of the long time house pianist and mulled over the magnificent display of sometimes over 600 classic vehicles in front of the restaurant on top of the white cliffs and against the back drop of the sea – Just lovely!

This year things were different and it took an influential third party to intervene in the council’s rejection of the risk assessment submitted by the organisers. We only learned that the event would go ahead two weeks beforehand. Around two-hundred vehicles attended in a reduced show to allow for social distancing and the one way system introduced for safety. The model and blueprint of this event has, despite this earlier rejection, been taken up by many other organisers as one of the most COVID compliant show strategies to ensure public safety.

I could have eaten breakfast in the restaurant, I could have eaten lunch in the Palm Court conservatory but I am still not ready to go into anywhere with a roof just yet with people I do not know even despite Kent having the lowest infection rates for COVID-19 in the whole country. It looks like I am just as risk averse as the Council, so I can also appreciate where they are coming from. Even when the restaurant is part of the “Eat Out to Help Out” and the Government 50% discount scheme. Home prepared sausage sandwiches, brown sauce (if you please) and a flask of tea has been the fare of all the shows that I have attended this year. The benefits of red sauce against brown sauce being a whole different discussion and reserved for future argument.

Anyway the section met up early and the only member to be seen to completely miss the R.V was Fred Baker who has often been observed totally driving in the opposite direction to everyone else. Today was no exception despite us all waving at him. He has a habit of turning up at the right time anyway so none of us were worried.

Attending members were myself in the Series 4 Spider, John Third in the attention grabbing 4C, Jeff Kaby and Jane in the rare 159 TBI, Fred Baker in the two litre GTV (which we have covered extensively in a previous article at Eastbourne in 2019) Then we had Giovanni D’Avanzo and Jackie in their 1750 GTV. As always thank you for all the food from the amazing Italian mobile restaurant produced from his boot. Giovanni is a most welcoming and typical part of the Italian ethic of socialising and eating with friends. Peter Boarer in the electric coloured and much photographed Montreal, Mike Catlow and Liz (not forgetting Oscar the doggy) in their Brera. You should never discount Richard D’Cruz and his partner Jackie in the 156 Sportwagon V6 2.4 Litre 24V Busso. This particular Alfa has a Q2 gearbox with automatic transmission. Then we had John Dray (the human encyclopaedia of everything Alfa) in his 4c accompanied by his sister Sandra.

Incidentally, you may not know this but John Dray supplied the Berlina rear diff and half shafts for my S4 Spider when it got smashed up. 1972 parts for a 1992 car that fitted perfectly bolt hole to bolt hole. Such is the way with Alfa, that parts will fit all sorts of models. Many feel that the Berlina diff was far superior to the stock 1992 rear axle assembly… but again that is another red or brown sauce and animated discussion for another time.

Anyway here is the line up for this year:

Jeff Kaby & Jane with the 159 TBI (now quite a rare beastie)
John Dray and his sister Sandra. You can tell a 4C owner as they only have space in the boot for a foldup stool.

My S4 and chatting to Jeff Kaby and Jane.

John Third and his 4C giving thumbs up for the proceedings.

Fred Baker’s 2 litre GTV.

Fred Baker (What an amazing chap & we all love him)
Graham Duplock and his GTV 2 Litre.

Giovanni and his wife Jackie preparing the boot restaurant.

Peter Boarer and his Montreal.

Gratuitous Montreal arty shot.

.. and the Montreal in all its blue glory.

Michael Catlow, Liz and Oscar with the Brera.

Richard D’Cruz and lovely partner Jackie.

Richard D’Cruz and his partner in the 156 Sportwagon V6 2.4 Litre 24V Busso. This particular Alfa has a Q2 gearbox

Well that was the line up for this year’s motley crew and once I’d made sure I’d got everyone (I do get into so much trouble if I miss anyone) I went for a bit of a wander. There was a Pininfarina Fiat Spider, I remembered that I’d covered one of these at Herne Bay last year and although this was a rather lovely white one with a lot of shared mechanicals to my S4, I went in search of something that really hit the mechanical and proverbial “G” spot. Last year it was a, “Bulldog Drummond,” Bentley Blower that wasn’t all that it purported to be, albeit beautiful. This year I went in search of the ultimate in classiness and something that was original and every inch genuine. Something that defined and complimented it’s owner and devotee. It did not take long and I introduce to you Johanna Whyte and her driver and engineer David Harman. Johanna is every inch a Lady and the proud owner of and some may even say, “The owner,” of a Mercedes 300 SC 3 litre convertible. 

Johanna Whyte and David Harman – with the totally original Mercedes 300 SC 3 litre 6 cylinder.

Just recently one of these vehicles was auctioned at Sotheby’s on the 6th February 2019 for $449,375The 300 SC has an OHC inline six-cylinder engine with Bosch mechanical fuel injection, four-speed manual transmission, independent front suspension with telescopic shocks and coil springs, single-pivot rear swing axle also with telescopic shocks with coil springs and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes.

This is one of the distinctive personal luxury cars hand-built in very small numbers by Mercedes-Benz between 1952 and 1958 and the one that a Mercedes enthusiast would aspire to own.

The 300 SC was the logical conclusion of the first phase of the Daimler-Benz recovery strategy when the company was allowed to begin making cars again after the end of World War II. The strategy had three major elements: make an affordable range of automobiles for buyers such as small business owners, taxi drivers, and professionals who needed practical transportation, then revive the racing program to regain global publicity for the quality of the company’s products. Then build luxury automobiles that would re-establish the company’s claim to be the brand of choice for the wealthy and influential.

Accordingly, at the first post-war Frankfurt Auto Show in April 1951, the company displayed the imposing series 300 limousine on the W186 chassis and suitable for heads of state. Only 113 of the hand-built 300 S left the factory in 1952. 353 were produced in 1953 as the model began to be used by celebrities and the influential. However, as other luxury manufacturers began finding their feet in the improving global economy by adding air conditioning and high-powered V-8 engines to their offerings and caused demand for the 300 series to be reduced and only 92 examples of the 300 series were delivered in 1954.

To sustain demand for its more luxurious but less well-equipped 300 series, Mercedes-Benz introduced the 300 SC with an almost six inch reduced wheelbase, it was 13 inches shorter and 300 pounds lighter than the previous 300 series models. It was premiered at the Frankfurt Motor show in September 1955. Even with the technical improvements, only 200 of the 300 SC would be delivered (49 cabriolets, 53 roadsters and 98 coupes) Production of the 300 Series and SC line ended in 1958 and this is how rare this vehicle is!

Everything that makes a Mercedes-Benz desirable is wrapped up in the 300 SC: prestige, presence, and performance. It was the modern successor to the great supercharged cars of the late 1930s (such as the Bentley Blower). In Johanna’s ownership, the 300 SC has been carefully maintained by David Harman. I estimate that there are about 200 BHP available and explains why this car loves petrol! This car was Handmade for celebrities. Production costs were nearly limitless and interior options included buyers’ choice of wood, veneers, leather and wool. The boot even came loaded with two custom leather suitcases for extended journeys. The 300 SC was designed to give you both performance and luxury combining the traits of the two other models in the 300 series and a mechanical fuel injection system which lifted the power of the vehicle even further.

In line OHC 3 litre engine with Bosch mechanical fuel injection.

Johanna showing me pictures from various publications featuring her car. Incidentally, also taken at The Grand on the Leas.

This vehicle is totally original and I rather think parts would have to be specifically made unless like me you have a secret stash of parts that you would imagine to be the ones that will wear out. However when you only complete around 800 miles a year I don’t think they will have to be changed that often.

Johanna Whyte and David Harman.

I’d just like to say thanks to Johanna Whyte and David Harman. The car definably compliments the Lady and I am sure she won’t mind me sharing a Pimms with her on the Leas, or her memories as a young school girl of being flown out un accompanied in a private aircraft (as was the way in those days) to school holidays in Le Touquet. Or even her tales of extensive foreign travel over the years. What a lovely, approachable, friendly and down to earth person who owns a totally original Mercedes-Benz 300 SC!

All good things come to an end and as always before I know, it is time to go home. I always enjoy a bit of top down on the way home and that made the day complete to the promise of a perfectly cooked roast dinner – weekends don’t get much better than this!

…. before I forget, if anyone has any good stories please let Jeff or myself know and we will publish it here once we had edited and arranged the pictures. It would be good for other members to write stuff on their experiences as well and would be most welcome.  

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