If vintage and veteran cars hit the spot with you, there is a wonderful event in Bressuire each year which combines both eccentric owners and their well-loved cars and motorbikes. The Historic Automobile Grand Prix of Bressuire, this year (2019) held on the 29th and 30th June, was a step back in time for me when, as a child I was taken to car rallies all around the north and south of England. My father, a complete and utter devotee to DKW’s, the predecessor to the Audi, spent many a weekend with my mother and I at DKW meetings or at Two Stroke rallies, where people equally as keen as him would huddle in groups over an engine, discussing the finer points of spark plugs and piston rings.
So, to park the car in a deserted street and wander down towards the sound of growling engines was a complete step back in time. A few people were wandering to and from the circuit, which runs through the centre of town. When we got there, hay bales were the only safety barrier and we stood, slightly away from the corner to see veteran cars roaring around the track with their mostly veteran drivers. Handlebar moustaches abounded and the old safety helmets took me straight back to childhood days on old airdromes where the car club meetings we went to were often held. There was no entrance charge and minimal safety precautions apart from the massive hay bales.
A general feeling of bonhomie and comradeship suffused the air and was evident as drivers called to each other and hooted their horns when they spotted someone in the crowd they knew. This first race we saw was mostly 1960’s and ‘70’s saloons. The racing cars we witnessed later travelled much faster and seemed rather more intent on serious racing! At the end of that first race we were allowed to cross the track and we went to the compound, which I suspect was a town centre car park, where we were able to wander amongst the cars, admiring some and envying others. I searched in vain for a DKW. They seem to become rarer and rarer by the year and none were present on this occasion, but there were gleaming chrome bumpers galore and the number of English licence plates attested to the devotees who cross the channel for the event.
The owners may be proud of their vehicles, but they don’t molly coddle them. Once on the track and past the starting line they throw them through their paces around the town. The roaring engines, from the deep throat growl to the gentle purr, transport the onlookers to a time when all cars were not carbon copies, but had character and features. When, instead of some electronic gismo on the dashboard, a feature was considered to be a finely honed brass decoration or handmade chrome fixture, or beautifully seasoned wood, polished and varnished to a point of perfection; a time when engines were tuned by ear and experience, not by the contents of an electronic box.
Lined up on the grid, with many of the onlookers in lovely summer dresses and cool linen suits, it was a moment of reflection on more elegant times – until some kid kitted out in lycra pushing a bike crossed the eye line and shattered the illusion! From young children to vintage gentleman drivers and, I have to say, their lady companions (I didn’t see many the other way round!), there were people of all ages lining the track and sitting in the cafes overlooking the racing. Many of the visitors were keenly taking photos of the numerous vehicles on display and the drivers were keen, in the beautiful sunshine, to share their knowledge and tales with onlookers.
With the many beautiful places to visit in this tranquil corner of rural southwest France and the number of great restaurants, if you’re keen on seeing beautiful vehicles perform, or have a partner who’d appreciate watching historic vehicles race in their very own Grand Prix, this is a weekend away to put in your diary!