Hot Rods at Pendine Sands

Every year the Vintage Hot Rod Association gather on Pendine Sands for a weekend of full-throttle, but why Pendine?

Lying on the south coast of Wales, Pendine Sands is a magical place. Seven glorious miles of hard sandy beach where you can almost see the curve of the earth on the horizon. With the sun shining there’s a glare off the sand and you can easily imagine that you are on the Bonneville Salt Flats or even Daytona Beach.

But what really makes Pendine special is its place in motoring history. The first motor cycle races were held here in 1905 and from 1924 to 1927 it was used for attempts on the world land speed record. On the 24th September 1924, Malcolm Campbell set a record of 146.16mph in his 350 bhp V12 Sunbeam named Blue Bird. On hearing the news that John Parry-Thomas was planning a record attempt in Babs, Campbell returned, setting a new record of 150.766mph on July 21st 1925. Finally in 1926 John Parry-Thomas was ready with his 27-litre V12 Liberty aero-engined Higham Special producing 450bhp. Parry-Thomas smashed Campbell’s record with a run of 171.02mph.

Campbell returned to Pendine in the all-new Napier-Campbell Blue Bird producing 500bhp. On the 4th February 1927 Campbell came tantalisingly close to the magic 200mph mark reaching 195mph, over the two-way average he was only able to hit 174.883mph, but it was enough to reclaim the record.

Parry-Thomas returned just a month later to reclaim his title. Sadly the attempt was disastrous when the wheel of his car collapsed at over 100mph, the car rolled and he was fatally injured. Babs was to be buried in the sand as a lasting tribute. The crash was the end of land speed record attempts and although motorsport continued on the beach it dwindled over time.

Now in 2016 the beach is again rumbling, this time to the sound of hard driven Ford Flathead and Chrysler V8s. The locals at Pendine are keen to revive the motorsport connections and in 2013 they invited the UK Vintage Hot Rod Association (VHRA) to hold full throttle speed trials on the beach. The event was a great success, winning the the Motoring Event of the Year at the International Historic Motoring Awards so they decided to make it an annual event with hot rodders from all over the world gathering to take part.

All VHRA members must own a pre-1949 US car with a traditional style Hot Rod build and modifications. Patina and stance are everything here, super styling and an eye for period detail is absolutely essential to stand out from the crowd. The atmosphere on the beach is relaxed in period and everyone is in character.

Pendine is a long way from anywhere but the effort of getting there is handsomely rewarded; for 2016 the VHRA have yet again put on a superb event. At low tide the course is marked out and the cars begin to gather on the beach.  Each driver has two runs, a half mile run up then a timed flying sixteenth followed by a shut down.

All the cars are individual labours of love and devotion, and although everyone is very friendly competition is fierce. Getting traction on the sand is difficult at the start and as the cars gather speed they dance and drift on the soft surface. It’s not for the faint hearted and courage is needed to get into the ‘100 mph club’. King of the beach at this years event with an impressive 117.02mph was Matt Farrant in a fantastic Model A roadster pickup, powered by a small block Chevy.

Words and photos: Paul Thompson

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Hot Rods at Pendine Sands