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From classic to supercars: Herts Auto Show

PUBLISHED: 10:00 17 May 2016

A shy and retiring Chrsyler at last year's show (Photo: Teresa Whyte, Studio 66 Photography)

A shy and retiring Chrsyler at last year's show (Photo: Teresa Whyte, Studio 66 Photography)

(c)Teresa Whyte @ Studio 66 Photogragraphy

May is an important month for car lovers as the county hosts a day devoted to magical motors. This year’s Herts Auto Show promises to be the most impressive yet with a vast array of vehicles from vintage to supercars. Doretta Sarris Hogan discovers the story of the show and the allure of fine motoring

Vintage Bentley (Photo: Studio 66 Photography)Vintage Bentley (Photo: Studio 66 Photography)

It started with a humble beige Ford Fiesta. Now, Neil Castle is the proud owner of a replica K.I.T.T car, which fans of the cult 80s TV series Knight Rider will instantly recognise as the impressive Pontiac Firebird with a 5-litre V8 engine. Neil is also the man behind the annual Herts Auto Show, which has had enthusiasts flocking to Stanborough Park in Welwyn GC since 2013.

‘I always loved cars as a child. I wanted either a Ferrari F40 or a Lamborghini Countach. I had posters of them on my bedroom wall.’

So it’s a dream come true for Neil to be the mastermind of an event which feature the likes of these boyhood crushes, along with classic Jaguar, Cadillac, Bentley, hot rods and even steam engines, gathered in one place, and all for a good cause.

‘My wife Lisa and I first thought of setting up the show in 2012, after attending many shows with our car of that time, a Maserati. We saw a clip on social media of a teenager who always wanted to drive in a Bugatti Veyron, which the charity Make a Wish Foundation kindly arranged for him. After doing some research into this fabulous organisation, which works for children and young adults with life-threatening diseases, we decided to hold the event in aid of them. Never having done anything like this before, needless to say it has been a steep learning curve, and I didn’t quite realise the amount of paperwork involved! But I can honestly say we’ve enjoyed every minute. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response, and this year is looking like it’s going to be even bigger and better than ever. Even though the show takes a year of planning, it’s definitely worth it when you see the long line of show cars queuing to come in.’

Graham Shirley's 1969 Mustang 428 Cobra Jet (Photo: Studio 66 Photography)Graham Shirley's 1969 Mustang 428 Cobra Jet (Photo: Studio 66 Photography)

Juggling such a huge task with his career with a merchandising company, as well as hiring out K.I.T.T for weddings and special events, is no mean feat, but the 42-year-old is clearly driven by his passion. A self-confessed ‘petrol-head’, he has travelled far and wide for his hobby.

‘We have even been to the Yas Viceroy in Abu Dhabi, which is a hotel on a racing track, where they host Formula 1 every year. I managed to fulfil one of my dreams to drive a Formula 3000 car around the track. That was definitely a big tick in the must-do box, driving around in a single-seater race car with a Cosworth engine screaming behind your head. It was great! I have also done a hill-climb in the Maserati, during which Lisa screamed with fear all the way up the hill, and on the same day we got to drive around the Mercedes Benz world track showing off our car to hundreds of spectators – to which there was yet again more screaming! But Lisa is a bit of a petrol-head now too and she knows this is my hobby and my passion. ‘

American muscle

Graham Shirley and his 1969 Mustang 428 Cobra Jet have attended every Herts Auto Show and will be there again this month. ‘It’s great to meet up with so many different people, and see so many different cars,’ enthuses the 65-year-old. ‘There’s a great social side to owning a classic, and I’m a member of the Damn Yankees Car Club, we have regular meetings and attend shows.’

Graham’s car is a beauty, and it’s clearly his pride and joy. ‘It does attract lots of attention. I’m always willing to speak to anyone about it. When I’m driving I often notice people looking at the car, smiling and taking photographs.’

The Mustang is left-hand drive, with a manual gear box, and is in its original colour, Silver Jade – not exactly the typical motor you see cruising the streets of his hometown Potters Bar.

‘I’ve always liked American cars and the desire to own a Mustang stemmed from seeing one when I was 19. I actually spent a year looking at different models. I finally bought this car 13 years ago. Everything about it appealed to me – the style, colour, the sound, and having a manual gear box, which is rare. I also have a Jaguar XJ8, which I use on a daily basis, but I drive the Mustang as much as I can, weather permitting, but mostly through the summer for leisure and for car shows.

Graham says it does take a lot of time and money to keep a car like his in good condition. ‘But I think that buying a classic car is a fantastic experience. The last few years have seen more and more people buying classics. The car insurance is a lot cheaper than people think and, if you buy a car at the right age, there is no car tax either. Also it seems that your money may be better off invested in a classic car, because prices have increased so much. It’s better than money in the bank and a lot more fun!’

Refined roadster

Richard Saunders frequently turns heads as he drives out from his home in the village of Stapleford. A dapper gent he may be, but the car’s the star. ‘It does seem to attract those who witness its stately progress through the streets and lanes of Hertfordshire,’ Richard says. ‘And at shows it is sometimes obscured by spectators when other, possibly more worthy, vehicles are ignored. It is such an eye-catching shape, which is why I bought it initially. And with its huge headlamps, lots of chrome and a bonnet big enough to land a helicopter on, it was sufficiently odd to appeal to my individuality.’

The vehicle is a beautiful 1949 Triumph Roadster 2000 sporting silver-grey metallic bodywork and maroon upholstery. It set Richard back £120 when he bought it in 1969. ‘This model is the first Triumph built by Standard after they took over the name, and is unique in being the last production car to be built with two dickey seats in the boot. These have their own pop-up windscreen, being part of the split boot lid. When closed there are two incongruous windows peering up to the sky! Unusually, because of its width it can seat three abreast in the front seat. It enjoys three windscreen wipers too.’

A retired creative director in advertising, Ricahrd has lavished time and money on his precious vehicle. ‘I used it as a daily driver for the first decade or so, travelling to Scotland, Wales and Cornwall in it.’ Some many, many thousands of miles and pounds later, the car was still good enough for a Top 12 Award from the Triumph Roadster Club.

‘I still use it at least once a month for a classic car meeting at The Goat in Hertford Heath. I’ve been going to that meeting since the 70s in the same car. I also attend many other local meetings throughout the year, including Tewin, Knebworth, Datchworth and Hoddesdon. And I joined the Herts Classic Car Club to keep me up to date with events as they occur.’

But more than a hobby, Richard’s classic car is a treasured member of the family. ‘I used the car for my wedding to my wife Janie in 1979, and then for that of my eldest daughter, Emma, over 30 years later. Personally, I consider my vehicle in much the same way as Janie’s love of horses. It moves, it breathes, it needs food and drink, grooming and constant tender loving care.

Herts Auto Show is on May 22, 10am-4pm at Stanborough Park, Welwyn GC. Adults £5, children £3, under 5s free. See hertsautoshow.co.uk

Knebworth House hosts Classics in the Park on May 29-30. See knebworthhouse.com for details.

Neil Castle and K.I.T.T will be at the Howard Centre, Welwyn GC on May 14. See Hertfordshire Knight on Facebook.

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