Damn it was cold! Early March & instead of being tucked up at home like any sensible person would be, Rainbow, Flap & I were wandering around a desolate, windswept carpark in deepest, frozen Essex, ferreting through endless piles of auto tat.
This was the annual NSRA swapmeet, a veritable Aladin’s carpark of wondrous things for those of the hotrod fraternity brave enough to face the biting winds & sub zero temperatures of a British Spring morning. We’d bimbled up the M3 from Basingstoke, around the M25 & through the Dartford Tunnel, arriving mid morning at the Essex Arena, an oval stock-car race track opposite the Lakeside shopping centre in Purfleet. As soon as we stepped out of the car we realised we’d come unprepared. It was S-O-O cold!! Those who’d obviously been here before were wrapped up in huge sheepskin flying jackets, gloves & woolly hats -& were still cold. The Arena’s set in a natural dip, with an oval track & grandstand & adjacent field for parking. There were a couple of spots where we could shelter from the winds -but not many.
“Why can’t they hold this in the Summer when it’s warmer?!” we kept saying -well because everyone wants to be cruising around in their rods in the Summer that’s why. Winter is the traditional rebuild time, when all die-hard rodders are beavering away in lock-ups up & down the country, readying their projects for warmer days. So it’s the perfect time to go hunting for those elusive custom & vintage parts; & this was certainly the perfect place to find them. I recently sold my motorbike so had a wadge of 50 pound notes in my pocket & was on the hunt for parts for my ’27 T ratrod project. I could’ve bought every part I need here -everything from nuts & bolts to a fully upholstered body. I was remarkably restrained though -don’t have spare pennies very often & only have a vague idea of the parts on my shopping list.
So much stuff I’d have loved to take home though. Never seen so many superchargers for sale in one place before! Nitrous kits, complete motors, headers, chassis, seats -if we’d had enough money & time we could’ve bought a complete car’s worth of bits & the tools to build it with, assembled it in the carpark & driven it home! Several T bodies for sale, (although all at least twice the 275 quid I paid for mine), a gorgeous slammed to the ground matt black Camino pickup, A “Hazzard County” patrol car, a 37 grand ’56 Chevy with big nitrous bottle nestling in the boot, lots of gorgeous beat up pickup trucks. Several specialist suppliers selling their wares, plus dozens of piles of rusty Yank parts whose origins we could only guess at but were the very part someone, somewhere was searching for. Spotted a pair of cream leather Jag seats, identical to the ones I gave away last week, for 40 quid, (d’oh!).
Personally I’d set myself the goal of finding a set of 16” black taxi cab wheels, (the same bolt pattern as my Sherpa van axles on the rod), & a suitable period steering wheel, preferably a “banjo” type with the spokes made up of several wire struts. Success on both counts! A set of four rims with tall skinny truck tyres, (perished but good enough to set the rolling chassis up on), 40 quid & what we think is either a mark 2 Landrover or early Moggy Minor steering wheel for a tenner. I’m a happy bunny. Flap splashed out on a pair of shiny valve caps for his trike -only later realising he needed 3! He’d been searching for exhaust wrap, the heat proof bandage used by serious racers & becoming a must-have accessory on period customs now. Found a pack but didn’t want to pay the 35 quid asking price. Luckily though, a trawl of Ebay when he got home turned up an identical pack for 11 quid -it pays to shop around & not get carried away at these events! Talking of carrying things away, one enterprising young lad was doing a roaring trade by hiring out his sack truck for a quid a time to cart those prized purchases back to the carpark. That kid will go far! Of course, everyone tipped him & everyone felt guilty at watching him struggle to move wheels, tyres, engines & God knows what else, so hauled the sack truck themselves! As we’d pulled into the carpark we parked alongside my brother, who’d driven up from Marlborough in Wiltshire in his van, so were able to offload the wheels into his Transit.
Overall, a good day out. Could’ve spent a fortune, but it’s just as much fun simply to wander about, armed with a hotdog & a cup of tea, poking through heaps of automobilia, searching for inspiration for that next big project. This is as much a social gathering as a serious parts fest.
Yes, we’ll be back next year, hopefully in my own rod -& definitely in hats, gloves, scarves & thermals!