February-March 2023 | Features

Petrolheads going full throttle

Petrolheads going full throttle

Peter J Griffiths, Chairman of the Rotary Retro Automobile Fellowship, describes why they are a fast-growing community.

Rotarians are stimulated by the smell of freshly-roast coffee. For others, it’s the unmistakeable whiff of hot Castrol racing oil that gets them going.

A huge number of our colleagues throughout the UK are ‘petrolheads’ – men and women who cherish their classic car, rare roadster or retro pride and joy.

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Many want to enjoy them more, particularly in the company of like-minded enthusiasts.

The Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (FBHVC) recently reported there are nearly 1.6 million historic vehicles registered on the DVLA database – up 50% from 2016. Britain has 684,000 classic car owners – up 38% from 2016. So, we are a fast-growing community.

Classic car loving Rotarians are particularly well catered for by the Rotary Retro Automobile Fellowship (RRAF).

The RRAF was formally launched at the 1995 Rotary GB&I conference. It currently boasts around 100 members.

Our members turn up in just about anything from 1930’s beauties, to home-built replicas and interesting cars from recent decades.”

The first RRAF tour was the Centenary Rally in 2007 and, except for a Covid hiatus, there has been at least one RRAF-organised tour every year since.

RRAF is probably the most active chapter in the global Rotary classic car fellowship, ACHAFR (Antique, Classic and Historic Automobile World Fellowship of Rotarians). ACHAFR currently embraces national chapters in Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Latin America.

Unlike so much of what we do in Rotary, the fellowship is not about raising funds. There is no tin-shaking or self-flagellation for the greater good. Its friendly focus is fun with classic cars.

Levity underlined when a founding member on the Conference Tour parked his Sunbeam Alpine outside the Bournemouth Pavilion.

He reported that a passer-by came up to him and said: “Let me shake you by the hand, I lost my virginity in a Sunbeam Alpine”. I took his hand, he said, and replied: “Let me shake you by the hand, how the hell did you manage it?”

The RRAF was formally launched at the 1995 Rotary GB&I conference and currently boasts around 100 members.

Our tours are ‘cloverleaf’ events with two or three formal driving days based at one hotel.

Each car is given a roadbook with easily understood tulip diagrams indicating the route. Distances are moderate in consideration for more elderly vehicles and coffee and lunch stops are at interesting sites or places of interest.

At final night banquets, prizes are awarded to winners of various categories – perhaps a photo-recognition competition, a regularity test, oldest car and nearest mileage to the roadbook total.

There is always a booby prize of a tow rope or jump leads for the inevitable team which breaks down and has to be rescued. Often, we take over an entire hotel and places are always limited by the number of rooms available. Recent events have seen as many as 40 cars participating.

Apart from UK tours, the latest 2022 event being in West Cornwall, the Fellowship also organises tours across the Channel. There have been RRAF rallies in Brittany, the Loire and Normandy.

Another major Normandy event is planned for September 2024.

Our events always attract a handful of overseas Rotarians, mainly from the Netherlands, Germany and Italy.

A benefit of RRAF membership is that we in turn are invited to participate in European ACHAFR tours. We have recently enjoyed brilliant events in Italy and Bavaria organised by the RRAF equivalents of those countries.

Apart from UK tours, the Fellowship also organises tours across the Channel in places such as Brittany, the Loire and Normandy.

The RRAF is not stuffy or elitist, nor are we anal about what constitutes a classic. Our members turn up in just about anything from 1930’s beauties, to home-built replicas and interesting cars from recent decades.

We always invite the mayor of the town where we are based to flag off the competitors on the first morning of the tour.

On our Brittany event the mayor kindly invited us to a champagne reception at the historic Hotel de Ville. He gathered the local media and had bollards removed from the sandstone forecourt so the cars could be arranged for viewing.

Sadly, one of our members was so keen to get at the champers and canapes he forgot to put the cardboard he always carried under his incontinent Austin 7.

A week later a French friend sent me a copy of the local paper. There was good coverage of our Rotary event but one picture was of a black oil splodge on a flagstone with the caption: “British retro car enthusiasts leave their mark on Tréguier – quite literally”. I’m sure they’ve forgiven us by now.

Of course, there are companies which organise excellent classic car tours, but they are commercial profit-making enterprises. RRAF tours are such good value because our officials are volunteers and we only aim to break even. Any surplus subsidises subsequent tours.

So, for fun, fellowship and fine cuisine, join the friendly Rotary Retro Automobile Fellowship. Application forms can be downloaded from our website.


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