– by Larry A. Lewis
What is it? Only the best classic car flea market I’ve ever seen, that’s what! Better than ten Super Bowls and a night with the 1949 Sophia Loren! Cor Blimey is it something! So much good stuff there it made my brain sting! It’s situated in a southwest part of Hampshire near the channel coast of England, west of Southampton and east of Bournemouth in an area called “New Forest” which means that the entire area is one giant park. It’s on the estate owned by one Edward John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 3rd Baron of Beaulieu [pronounced BYOO lee.] Who is this joker? He’s a former politician and renowned classic car collector who inherited the whole joint at the age of two in 1929 when the second Lord keeled over. The deuce was the guy who designed the Rolls-Royce “Spirit of Ecstasy” radiator mascot if anyone is interested. During the fifties he opened up his 7,000 acre estate as a public park to help pay for the estate and his 500 year old homes upkeep as British taxes went up astronomically back then to help pay for the post-war recovery not to mention the socialism that came in when Attlee was elected. I’m all right, Jack.
The National Motor Museum was opened here in 1952 and remains one of the main parts of the estate and there was an exhibit on of all the cars used in the Bond films but I didn’t have time to see the museum. I wonder if the crushed 1963 Lincoln from Goldfinger was there. There is a zoo, ornamental gardens, an amusement park with rides and a monorail tying it all together. The New Forest area is obviously protected from development as there are no strip malls, fast food joints or much of anything for miles around and the roads are all just two narrow lanes. No Interstates, no IHOPs, no Bob Evans with 30 kinds of sausages. You could drive by the estate and never know anything was there. They say England is a crowded place. No, it ain’t.
In early September there is a massive “autojumble” as the Brits call a flea market which blew me away and no fooling! If you own a British car, there is everything you can imagine for sale here. Upholsterers, chrome platers, tires, engine rebuilders, you name it! Cars are for sale. No fifty-seven Chevrolets, but a 1920 De-Dion Bouton was available as well as a Lancia Aprillia, an Invicta and a 3 wheel Morgan with a brand new aluminium body for only 40,000 pounds. What’s an Invicta? Picture a 1929 Mercedes SSK with right hand drive and that’s about it. There was an early twenties Rolls-Royce limo that was totally unrestored but ran perfectly. One of those “too nice to restore” kind of cars. Another interesting item was a right hand drive Mehari. This one was fully restored with a well-done looking roll bar and according to the for sale sign, it had a Visa engine. Yours for 9,000 quid! One man I spoke to for quite a while was selling a mint Triumph TR 250 to a man from Germany. He said that the car came from Oregon as Britain got the TR-5. I liked that guy. He had true mechanic’s hands with calluses and old grease in every crevice. There were lots of Germans there as well as French people all looking for classic British iron. Funny how physically fit all the people looked. No Bob Evans, I guess.
One of the stupider things you have to look at when you go to Hershey and just about any other North American car show are vast amounts of vendors selling tin signs and stupid 50’s nostalgia crap. Coca- Cola, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Boop, James Dean and of course, Elvis. Signs saying “What Happens in the Garage (or mancave whatever that is) stays in the garage.” They’re just the thing for infantile, irrelevant men.
“He’s in his mancave.”
“Oh how cute”
You see none of that at Beaulieu or very little, anyway. What tin signs there are have stuff that is actually interesting, like British type “Petrolia” and ads for the London and North Eastern Railway, the Flying Scotsman, and so forth. One person had a twenties Citroen radiator, minus the badge. Car dealer signs from every European make. Unbelievable radiator mascots, some for over 3,000 pounds! An original poster from the 1954 movie “Genevieve” for 2,500. “Try to find another one,” the man said. What a place this is
Most car shows will have someone flogging old model trains and Beaulieu is no exception only they are usually made by Hornby, not Lionel. Live steam trains are often sold as well as steam powered model boats, one powered by a turbine! One vendor was selling a jet engine, another was selling a turbocharger from a Lockheed P-38 that crashed in France in 1943. Another guy was selling a propeller from a 1910 Bleriot monoplane. A Bleriot was the first aircraft to cross the English Channel in 1909, by the way. That prop had to be ten feet long! There was the frame of a car, a 1923 Gerin Aerodyne, made in France by an affiliate of Gabriel Voisin. This is an early Dymaxion type of vehicle which viewed from above looks a lot like the teardrop shaped Rumpler. It has a Duralumin (!) frame, a Renault four cylinder engine in the rear and a front suspension that I couldn’t figure out. The people at the booth said that it was never finished but it was sure interesting. There was a display at the booth showing pictures of a Dymaxion as well as several Tatras and some cars designed by Paul Jaray. Videos of the Gerin are on You Tube so check it out! Google it with your Googler!
What else is being sold? Lots of classic English motorcycles and anything you need for them. You can’t move ten feet without tripping over old MG and Triumph parts. One vendor was selling a 1935? BSA sports car project. This is a bit smaller than an MG TC and has front wheel drive. It would have made a nice project if I could have safely stowed it in my overhead luggage rack on the airplane home. There were any number of vendors selling vintage lights, many of them made of brass. I bought a decent Marchal fog light and a reversing light for not a lot of money and vendors will bargain with you if you treat them like adults. Many had those British taillights that look like a diver’s helmet. Original tool kits, manuals, accessories of all kinds, odd looking superchargers all made in Europe. There were every possible item made by Lucas, Smith’s and SU! Some American stuff, not much but what they had was fascinating like the Stanley mountain car that was sitting on a trailer. There were quite a few semaphore turn signals there, both the kind that are flush with the body and the kind that are in an external box that sits near the windshield. I don’t know why but I’ve always liked those things.
In area, I would say that it is larger than Carlisle but smaller than Hershey. Almost none of it is paved and just when you think you’ve seen the whole show, walk behind an earthen bank and it sprawls on for almost a mile. Most vendors have tents which should be no surprise given the climate (perfect weather when I was there) and the vendors spaces seem to be smaller than we are used to and they sure are closer together. There’s the usual Chinese-made tools and equipment and other Harbour Freight kind of stuff. Every so often you come across a portable bar selling pints of real ale. You can walk around with it if you want unlike in some countries I could name. Food available includes the usual burgers and pizza but also Cornish Pasties and something called Halloumi which is sort of like a Gyro. Tasted good, whatever it was. Most vendors do not camp out at their spaces but an area full of RVs and what they call caravans is adjacent to the show grounds.
To get to Beaulieu I stayed in a small hotel in Bournemouth which is easily reached by rail from Waterloo station in London and then by train to Brockenhurst. From there, I took an open-top bus to the show grounds. The first bus left he rail station at 10:30 and the last bus was at 4:30 so I really didn’t have time to see the entire show. It’s a two-day event for sure. I’ve never had the desire to drive a car in Europe as I much prefer to travel by train but this is a case where driving is the best way to get there. Next time, I’ll rent a car in Bournemouth and go that way. I’m not about to learn to drive on the left in London traffic and that’s a fact. Am I going back? Try and stop me!