2015 Oily Rag Run


Oily Rags at Bicester

Weatherbeaten panels, cracking paint, creaking hinges – a lifetime of use proudly on display. A description of a typical Oily Rag motor car? It could just as well be the description of the Motor Transport yard at the former RAF Bicester. The group behind Bicester Heritage are ‘our’ kind of people, and we jumped at the chance when they offered to open their doors to The Automobile for our fifth annual Oily Rag Run.
Typically, by the time the editorial team had cajoled their misbehaving Berkeley into the site, most of the other entrants had long since arrived, and the line-up of Oily Rags was a sight for sore eyes. Ranging from the cherished and mellow to the downright disreputable, with an almost even mix of pre- and postwar cars, both utilitarian and glamorous, it is clear the Oily Rag ethos spreads far and wide in the old-car world.
After a guided tour of the site and a light lunch, we took a scenic drive over the border to Oxfordshire where we gathered at Nuffield Place, the former home of Lord Nuffield, preserved much as he left it by the National Trust. A most civilised location to end the day, and an excellent example of preservation in the non-motoring world.

Riley Nine Monaco

Riley Nine Monaco

Panhard Dyna X86

Panhard Dyna X86

Hudson Super 8

Hudson Super 8

1936 Riley Sprite

1936 Riley Sprite


Rolls-Royce with Voisin-style coachwork

Dodge Coronet

Dodge Coronet

Lagonda two-litre dhc

Lagonda two-litre dhc

1930 Talbot 90

1930 Talbot 90

Panhard Dynas at Nuffield Place

Panhard Dynas at Nuffield Place

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An Oily Rag Pop

A glutton for punishment, The Automobile‘s Publisher has invested in perhaps the archetypal example of post-war British ‘grey porridge’. Acquired at Brightwells’ sale in Leominster in November, it is a 1954 Ford Popular 103E saloon – an Oily Rag example if ever there was one.

As Douglas says, like it or loathe it, the Ford Pop is the car that put Britain on wheels after World War Two. Developed largely by stripping out even quite basic fittings from its immediate predecessor, the Anglia E494A, the Popular was introduced in 1953 as the cheapest car on the UK market, retailing at £390 including purchase tax. Selling in opposition to dearer but much more advanced Ford models such as the three-box ohv 100E Anglia and Prefect, the Popular soldiered on until 1959, selling so well that Ford had to move production from the main Dagenham works to a smaller Briggs body plant nearby. In all, 155,340 examples were built and sold.
The latest, 60-year-old addition to the Oily Rag fleet was acquired after spirited bidding for £2600 plus commission, interest centring (we were told) on its transferable period number plate, MCJ 114, rather than the car itself. We had been attracted, as usual, by its history. With only 40,000-odd miles recorded, it had had but three owners, all of them living in rural Herefordshire and the last in possession for 47 years, having acquired the car aged 15 before eventually putting it away in a barn.
Cleaned of many years’ worth of straw, bird droppings, dust and detritus, the car turned out to be delightfully original in all respects. The paintwork, almost unblemished, responded well to a coat of T-cut, and the filthy interior, cleaned up, showed no signs of wear. As we write, Richard Naughton of Naughton’s Garage in nearby Knighton is going through the electrics and mechanicals from stem to stern. He has found nothing amiss – even the 6v battery was replaced by the last owner before sale – but the car does need new tyres and attention to its original plywood floorboards and rear seat backrest, which have succumbed to woodworm attack.
We can’t wait to drive it…
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The Oily Rag Run 2013

The Automobile magazine head North

“North Yorkshire,” declared our Publisher.

“We’ll hold this year’s Oily Rag Run in North Yorkshire.”

There was method in his madness, however. In a show of extreme generosity, brothers Daniel and Toby Ward had offered to open their private collection of important early cars to us, and provide a slap-up lunch, too. Knowing just a few of the treasures stored within their ample barns, the thought of a 600-mile round trip suddenly didn’t seem quite so strenuous.

After a week of on-off fettling The Automobile’s Ford V8 Woodie, at the last minute we elected to take our 1937 Lincoln-Zephyr instead, banking on its two-speed rear axle and cavernous interior to provide a relaxed cruising car for the journey along the painfully dull but mercifully direct A1. Three-up, filled with luggage and drinking petrol at an alarming rate, the V-12 more than proved its worth and we arrived in the charming spa town of Harrogate in good spirits.

The following morning we emerged from the Old Swan Hotel to watch the first cars arrive. Soon enough the whole car park was overrun by the decrepit, dilapidated and downright disreputable motor cars of the Oily Rag fraternity. With the full complement gathered, we embarked on the first leg of the journey and headed towards the Wards’ collection. Nick Bell took the rôle of lead car in his delightfully scruffy Alvis 12/50 Sportsman’s saloon, followed by George Stanton’s 1924 Humber 8hp which went on to win the coveted prize for Most Feral Car.

he Ward brothers’ collection did not disappoint. Their intelligent selection of truly interesting cars, encompassing everything from a 1892 Peugeot to a 1934 Rolls-Royce 20/25 and housed in a purpose-built two-storey barn decorated with period automobilia, is truly a sight to behold. In addition to the cars, the Wards have a passion for early tractors and steam-powered traction engines, housed in another huge purpose-built shed. These collections proved almost as popular as the cars, and both Daniel and Toby took great pleasure in steaming up some of the engines, the reassuring chug-chug of these mechanical elephants providing a gentle, nostalgic soundtrack to the excellent barbecue tended by the brothers, who proved themselves to be perfect hosts and true enthusiasts.

After lunch, we reluctantly dragged ourselves away from this quite remarkable collection for the second leg of our journey, an amble through country lanes towards the charming town of Richmond, where our tatty convoy descended on St Nicholas, the historic home of Keith and Jilly Schellenberg, who had graciously agreed to be our hosts for the afternoon. The formal gardens were open to visit and provided a welcome distraction for those of us who had somewhat overdosed on motor cars earlier in the day, though Keith’s trio of Vintage Bentleys was on show in a quiet corner of the maze-like property for those willing to seek them out.

Fully refreshed by Jilly Schellenberg’s tea and cake, the participants began to disperse. After seeing off the last, evidently well satisfied entrants, we piled into the Lincoln and headed south. Settling back into the grey cloth seats, with the throaty V-12 humming away, we reflected on yet another successful Run. The generosity of our hosts and the enthusiasm of the entrants had once again proved just how popular the Oily Rag ethos has become in recent years. As we rolled into Surrey a little after midnight, shattered and starving, we couldn’t help but admit it: North Yorkshire had been the perfect destination.

(This article originally appeared in the December, 2013 issue of The Automobile. More photos from the run can be seen on their website)

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The Automobile’s Oily Rag Run 2013

The Oily Rag concept, at least in the motoring world, has been pioneered and championed by our friends at The Automobile magazine, who not only own an enviable collection of Oily Rags themselves, but each year organise a celebratory run for unrestored pre-1960 cars in a different area of the UK.

This year, on Sunday, 28th September, the fourth Oily Rag Run will take place in picturesque North Yorkshire. The starting point is the famous Old Swan hotel in Harrogate with a gentle meander through quiet roads in unspoilt surroundings to the home of the Ward brothers, Daniel and Toby, who are opening their private collection of important mostly early vehicles, with a further even less well known collection the destination in the afternoon.

The big attraction of the run, other than the rare chance to see these very private collections, is the opportunity to meet other connoisseurs of entirely original machines, followers of the Oily Rag philosophy who most likely don’t own a bottle of polish between them.

If you would like to join the run send an email with details of your car to scott.barrett@theautomobile.co.uk  before the end of August

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Brewster Moseley: Documenting Decay

Photographer Brewster Moseley has scoured the salvage yards of Montana looking for rusting postwar cars which he photographs in extreme close-up to create almost abstract artwork that revels in the subtle beauty of decay. He searches out unusual bonnet ornaments, patterns in faded paintwork and pitted chrome trim, using his camera to focus the eye on the fascinating details that might otherwise be missed when viewing these derelict Detroit giants from a distance. More of his wonderful photographs can be seen on his website and in the July issue of The Automobile

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Paul d'Orleans with a 1967 Bombardier B12 Snowcat in Yellowstone National Park

I’ve visited Yellowstone National Park 5 times in my life (including the team Oily Rag/Vintagent Cannonball Rally), and until last week, every time had been on a vintage motorcycle.  Wyoming winter weather precludes two-wheel transport, so if you’d like to see Yellowstone in all it’s snowy magnificence, you’ll arrive snug inside some kind of tracked vehicle.  The best option by far -from Oily Rag’s point of view- is to enter via Jackson, WY, as the few visitors who brave winter’s chill are herded from the southern park entrance to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge in magnificent vintage yellow Bombardier B12 Snowcats.

A trio of Snowcats outside Old Faithful Snow Lodge

In continuous use by Yellowstone Park since new, their fleet of 21 Snowcats is the world’s largest, and their drivers a dedicated and enthusiastic lot.  They love their machines, which are still about the swiftest people-carriers on snow, and the grooviest by a long shot.  The earliest Snowcat in their fleet is believed late 1950s, with most built between 1965 and 1974.  They use a Chevrolet 350cu” motor, with dual high-rise exhaust stacks, giving a ‘hotrod’ sound which, while not especially loud, gives a thrill to anyone with a touch of Gearhead in the soul.  Fuel mileage is thirsty at ~3mpg, but the little yellow bugs are darned fast over the unplowed roads of Yellowstone, even when speed-governed to 35mph…they are clearly capable of more!

While in the wilds of the Park, the primary goal is seeking wildlife (wolves, coyotes, foxes, river otters, trumpeter swans, elk, and bison were spotted at close range on my visit),  enjoying the thermal features which pump steam columns skyward, and the many icy waterfalls and snowy vistas; still, catching sight of a Snowcat flying past is also a thrill!  Better yet, catching a ride via Snowcat to view distant geysers or to a remote spot for cross-country skiing adds a certain panache to the experience; everyone loves them.

In it's element; a 1972 B12 Snowcat in Norris Geyser Basin

Joseph-Armand Bombardier, born in 1907, was obsessed with making winter travel as easy as summertime, and while he had no engineering training, invented and built his first snowmobile (propeller powered!) in the early 1920s.   By 1937, the first Snowcat was built, the B7 half-track with room for 6 passengers and a driver; this type of Snowcat was their first commercial proposition, introduced just before WW2, as a way to get children to school, and to keep essential services mobile in the far north of Canada.  Prior to tracked snow vehicles, horses and sleighs were the vehicle of choice, well into the 1940s.  In 1942, Bombardier’s business was incorporated as L’Auto-Neige Bombardier Limitée, which began producing a larger Snowcat, the B12, as seen in these photos.

Armand-Joseph Bombardier, in his B12 Snowcat, identifiable by the porthole windows, later changed to a more open design, which reduced a slightly claustrophobic feeling!

 The postwar world brought modernization to the world’s roads, and a commitment from most Northern cities and towns to plow the roads free of snow in winters.  While this impacted Bombardier’s business, there were still obviously many areas which were too remote for frequent plowing, and the Snowcats were produced until the mid-1970s; around 3000 were built.

The original sketch for the B7 of 1936; definite aeroplane influence, albeit with an all-wood body

If you’re interested in visiting Yellowstone Park in Winter, you’ll have to make all the arrangements beforehand, as there’s only one hotel, with 102 rooms, and access is via a once-daily Snowcat ride from the South entrance.  Plan on two days to get to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge from wherever you are; one day to get to Jackson Wyoming, and another day to catch the Snowcat.  My stay was 4nights, which seemed about perfect; we fit in a full day of snowshoeing independently, a half day showshoe tour of wildlife spots, a 105-mile snowmobile tour (amazing!), and some night-time stargazing and geyser-visiting.  This was an ‘always wanted to’ holiday for me, and it fulfilled my expectations 100%.  The landscape is breathtaking in any season, but Winter is the only time you’re ever going to watch Old Faithful with your sweetie, some bison…and nobody else!

- Paul d’Orléans

You'll suffer an hour of the Teton Range as you travel from Jackson to the Yellowstone border…surely one of the most spectacular, and unspoiled/untravelled ranges in the US


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…and that’s just what they did. And more… In 1965 my late father-in-law made a very wise investment. Enjoying tramping the Downs, as the hills around this part of Southern England are called, he decided to buy some appropriate footwear. The boots needed to be rugged, waterproof, long-lasting and comfortable – a combination not cheap. Whilst he was about it, and thinking of the future, he also bought a pair for his son.

Jon Dudley's hand-me-down Veldtschoen boots…

What he purchased were two pairs of Veldtschoen boots by the Northamptonshire maker, Lotus. The name Veldtschoen refers to its construction and although the term is thought to have come back from the Boer war as an Afrikaans name, it may have been an older Dutch description; the method of construction can be traced back to the 15th century. Lotus, once a proud British shoemaker, were a common brand on the high street of the 50’s and 60’s. These boots are I believe still being made in smaller numbers as the Lotus lasts are now in the possession of another quality bootmaker. Often called ‘Officers Boots’, Veldtschoens were bought for young men in the trenches of world War one in an attempt to keep their feet dry.

The boots in question did sterling service for nearly fifty years under my father-in-law’s ownership. They’ve covered literally thousands of miles throughout Sussex and were the spur to his writing one of his books, ‘Across Sussex with Belloc’ in appreciation of that great walker, poet, author and historian, Hilaire Belloc. When my brother-in-law moved house I found his ‘twin’ pair of contemporary and very worn Veldtschoens put out for the refuse. Snatching them from the jaws of death I had them totally rebuilt by a rural cobbler in the French village in which my sister lives. What a fabulous job he made of them too! So good that when I inherited the other pair he did those as well. I re-presented my bro-in-law with his old boots and he became quite moisty-eyed with the thought that he had so nearly and needlessly cast them aside.

Of sturdy constructions, to this day Veldtshoens are guaranteed waterproof. Good leather care means generations can enjoy a good boot.

Since then we both use them for their original purpose. They are supremely supple, comfortable and waterproof. Doubtless, generations of applying dubbin helps. In addition I always wear them when riding my motorcycle, for which, with ample ankle protection, they are admirably suited. These are surely ‘Oily Rag’ boots sans pareil. I will treasure them always and my youngest son is already eyeing them enviously – but I’m not ready to give them up yet. In my search for Veldtschoen information I was inspired hugely by Paul Trynka’s blog http://loomstate.blogspot.co.uk which is worth a look.

- Jon Dudley

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Claudio is the lone Italian entrant on his lovely Sunbeam Model 5

A day off in Sturgis, South Dakota was a welcome opportunity to take care of mechanical issues, and it seemed every bike was in some state of disassembly today, but a remarkable number of them were back together by evening.

Buck celebrated his 21st birthday, while I celebrated my 50th; milestones, and a similar choice of venues. Buck is riding a BSA

Public interest in the Cannonball Rally is high, and a downtown lineup this afternoon drew hundreds of local admirers of old machinery.

One of the armada of BMWs competing this year; this is an R11 with pressed steel frame and 750cc sidevalve engine

The Team Oily Rag/Vintagent Velocette KTT took a day and a half of solid workshop duty to be sorted, but she sounds fantastic again, and I’m excited to hit the road tomorrow towards Yellowstone National Park.  Further Westward!

Doug Wothke is a serious world motorcycle traveler, and rode his Indian 101 Scout from Alabama solo, and has no support crew or even hotel reservations…

Excelsior-Henderson 4 undertaking repairs…

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Bradford Wilmarth won the first Cannonball on his 1913 Excelsior, and is one of three riding the same machine this year. He's also in the lead, with the oldest bike with a perfect mileage and timing score.

Yesterday (Thursday Sep 13) mysterious lumps appeared on the formerly golden and flat horizon of Minnesota; we had finally reached the Black Hills of South Dakota, home of Wall Drug, Mt Rushmore, and Sturgis, legendary Midwestern mecca of Bikerdom.  The Motorcycle Cannonball has a ‘day off’ in Sturgis, mostly because there are excellent machining facilities here, and they are needed my many, including myself.

Famous indeed. I do believe Joe is in second place on his J series Harley Davidson

An 8 hour session on lathes, grinders, and presses means my Velocette will be back in action today (Friday), fingers crossed, after major mechanical mayhem early on.  I wasn’t alone working in Lonnie Isam Sr’s shop ‘Competition Distributing’, which specializes in parts for vintage Harleys (and I mean vintage – there are lots of belt drive and early J series bikes being assembled, as well as a lovely Ace four, and two half-scale Cyclone engines!).

Looking every inch the square-jawed fireman he is, Tom is also in the top 10 riders in the points game, also aboard a J series Harley

Not riding for 5 days meant Team Oily Rag/Vintagent had time to take more collodion/wet plate tintypes of the riders, recording their remarkably heroic visages for posterity, and likely a book in the future.  They’re unlike any other photos you’ll see of this media-saturated event.  The extra time also meant an in-depth visit with John Parham of the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa, whose collection of motorcycle ephemera is exceptional…and in which I’ve found previously unpublished material on the early days of Harley Davidson, Indian, and the Board Track era.  I’ve been pestered by publishers to write a Board Track book, and now I might just have the original imagery to do so…

John Parham of the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa. John founded J&P Enterprises, the legendary mail-order motorcycle accessories business. It allowed him to build up an amazing collection of bikes and memorabilia, and build a museum for his retirement.

The only drawback of making tintypes is the lack of ‘motion’ shots, and landscapes.  Make no mistake, the heartland of America is a beautiful place, evoking the art of Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, and I would have liked to explore every place we drove through…as I passed my 50th birthday in Spirit Lake, Iowa, I reflected on the -for me- exotic locale, a place I’d never been that was in some ways equally as foreign as the faraway countries I’ve lived in.  I’ll definitely come back.

Trying out a Brough Superior 680 from the NMM

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Doug Feinsod changes the engine on his Henderson 4-cyl…lucky he had a spare in a crate! The main bearings (3 in this case) were rumbling…

The Motorcycle Cannonball proceeds apace with mechanical carnage and great celebration.  In the first 3 days of the ride, nearly half the machines have had mechanical ‘issues’, and a few have missed whole days, or two, or three!  Yet their intrepid/mad riders do their best, as we’d all rather be riding than wrenching in a grassy field, parking lot, or borrowed workshop.  A few of the teams brought mobile machine shops, and are taking care of business on theirs, and a line of customers who needed a bit of help!

Team Oily Rag /Vintagent's Velocette KTT is an invited interloper to the halls of the Behemoth…

Sunday saw the gang rolling into a huge reception at the Harley Davidson museum, with thousands of bikers lined up on the capacious Milwaukee grass.  As the Team Oily Rag/Vintagent Velocette KTT is waiting for camshaft help, it gave Paul d’Orleans and Susan McLaughlin a chance to take some collodion/wet plate photographs, which are reproduced here  for ‘Oily Rag’ magazine.

Shiny Kimura's 1913 Indian, which gave a spot of the grumbles somewhere in Ohio…

Stay tuned for further development… and more bad puns…

Ah, a wee bit of girly shot/badass, with photographer Susan McLaughlin…

- Paul d’Orleans

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