The (real) First Hengrave Rally

ith the last two summers having been a total washout it's easy to forget what microcar rallies are like when held in the sun, and as the clocks have just changed and the evenings are even more dark and dank we have to turn to boxes of photos for a fix of nostalgia. Ah yes, the good old days when the sun shone, the cars ran, and interesting venues attracted interesting cars. Yup, that's my favourite brand of nostalgia (I used to get my nostalgia in little bottles from the chemist --- it was called 'Halcyon', but alas they don't make it any more). So, time to get busy with the scanner.

Here, then, we have a collection of excellent photos, courtesy of The Famous Eccles and his superior camera, which take us back to happier times in glorious digicolour(tm), to the first (no, really, the first) rally at Hengrave Hall (, a Tudor manor house just outside Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. This modest establishment is where our man Eccles found himself in summer '92 (or was it '91?) working for Nuns (don't ask) --- not a bad pile as stately piles go, but whichever way he looked at it he just couldn't shake the feeling that there was something missing --- Microcars!

Micro Line Up: Out front at Hengrave Hall '92Micro Line Up: Out front at Hengrave Hall '92A bit of DIY embellishment using his own venerable (a carefully chosen euphemism there --- ed) Trojan 200 didn't quite do the trick, and even spicing things up by performing handbrake turns on the sweeping gravel drive whilst contemplating the extensive grounds and gardens didn't help. Calling in assistance from Cousin It and his equally venerable Messerschmitt KR200 and thus doubling the Microcar density at Hengrave simply served to reveal the true scale of the problem --- we a need lot more Microcars. This place needs a rally.

After getting the blessing of the Nuns (Hengrave Hall was at that time a religious retreat and venue for ecclesiastical conferences) our man Eccles set to and prepared a day of genteel microcar viewing, refreshments and strolls around the grounds of the hall, and even tours and potted history talks. Turnout was a modest seventeen cars, give or take a Bond here and there, but with a broad variety of marques represented there was plenty to look at and compare, and perhaps this was the perfect number to keep things relaxed and organised with a light touch.

On the Road: Eat my 2-stroke!On the Road: Eat my 2-stroke!After careful reconnaissance of the surrounding area, Wing Commander Eccles worked out an ingeniously confusing route for a road run to --- well nowhere really, but with the weather as good as it was it really didn't matter that much. All the micronauts saddled-up and headed out in a snaking line for a run whose sole purpose was to check out some of the local wheat fields and give the crops a light dusting of 2-stroke (or in Eccles' case, carbonised sump oil particulates).

Now wait a moment; wasn't the first Hengrave rally in '93? Well, no, that would be the first East Anglian Microcar Club Hengrave rally. What we're talking about here is the original Hengrave Hall rally attended by a number of folk from the EAMC who clearly went away sufficiently impressed to fancy a repeat performance. Apart from the fantastic weather it's worth noting that this was the only occasion on which the rally took place at the front of the Hallthis was the only occasion on which the rally took place at the front of the Hall, and with the additional benefit of tours of the Hall itself it proved to be an extremely pleasant and successful event. Later events, though better attended and lasting a full weekend were relegated to the camping field at the rear, and when looking at the photos it's so nice to see an interesting mixture of just microcars posing in front of an impressive building; no soggy fields, no camper vans, no sports pitches. The only other venue comparable to Hengrave was Weston Park in Shropshire, venue of several National Microcar Rallies. And isn't that part of the problem with a lot of recent rallies --- there's nothing at the venue to look at other than microcars. Whilst this is fine for first timers and visitors it's very much the same-old same-old for veteran micronauts who have long since seen it all before.

Once scanned and tweaked we can get right up close and see a fair bit more than the original prints ever allowed, and it's nice to be able to poke around in the background a bit to spot familiar faces and vehicles from a warm day back way back when.


Things have changed at Hengrave since the rallies we remember, with money (or rather the lack of it) seeming, inevitably, to be the root of the problem.

Published in Tin Thing, January 2009