Breathing life into historic motoring classics

David Williams, national motor journalist and road safety award-winner

We’re so used to our disposable lifestyle – and that includes our cars – that it comes as a bit of a shock to realise that real, highly skilled craftsmen are still actually mending things.

If your car goes wrong, the chances are the offending part will be ripped out, binned, and replaced with a new one; with all the environmental costs that entails. That’s especially true if it’s an electrical part, as they can be hard to fix, and often sealed.

It’s the same with household gadgets; people will frequently discard instead of repairing them.

How refreshing, then, to meet Carl Kenney, the magician of the magneto. He’s just one of the latest in a long line of skilled technicians to move into Bicester Heritage, a remarkable project based at former RAF Bicester in Oxfordshire, about which you’re going to hear an awful lot more over the coming months.

For years the 348-acre site lay derelict, the pretty, brick-built fuel depots, officers’ rooms, workshops, hangars and guardroom slowly succumbing to vandals, neglect and nature. The only people to use the time-capsule site since it was finally locked up in the 1970s were members of the local gliding club.

But in 2014 property investor Dan Geoghegan heard about this sleeping beauty, got the keys, took one look – and fell in love. He pooled resources with investors and bought it, and is now turning the pretty tree-lined avenues and buildings into what he calls a ‘marina for old cars and planes’.

I visited recently and the quality of the restoration work is a marvel. So too the quality of the names he’s attracting to lease the refurbished buildings. There’s an upholsterer, a car detailer, a firm specialising in historic oils and a handful of experts selling beautiful, often rare, automobiles. There’s even a 50,000 square-foot 300-car storage hangar, where the bombers used to sit. It’s all very exciting for a petrolhead and, what do they call those into flying; airheads?

Already they’ve started holding hugely well attended Sunday Brunch Scrambles, and other events are planned, including the regular Flywheel Festival (June 20/21). There are grand plans for a hotel and motor-manufacturer-back heritage site, too.

But what I like is that each of the specialists will be breathing new life into old machinery, so that we don’t just have to discard it – and it will be there for the next generation, too. It’s a lesson for life.

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