Fantastic Fun at Flywheel

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What a day we had at the 3rd annual Flywheel Festival!

We’ve been to vintage air and car events at Bicester Heritage before so we know what a great venue it can be and had every expectation of enjoying ourselves. But I think I can speak for both ModParlPhotos and myself when I say that our day at Flywheel Festival was even more fun and fascinating than we imagined it would be.

We arrived slightly early and had a short wait at the gate but were close enough to see the tank displays, the demo track area and some of the featured displays. A little boy with his parents who was also waiting near us was so thrilled by the sight of the tanks, I thought he might burst from excitement. Once we were through, I’d lost sight of him but I’m willing to bet that is where the little lad insisted on going first.

If you’ve been to Bicester Heritage (and I highly recommend this former RAF bomber station turned restoration campus if you are any sort of local history, military history or automotive history buff) then you know how large a place it is. It can be overwhelming at something like the Sunday Scramble but Flywheel Festival organisers did an excellent job of using the areas they had, grouping things together and ensuring clear sight lines.

Our first stop was the pre-1970s cars and car club display area. You know the kind of thing – lines and lines of cars that make you want to drive along the French Riviera. Ideally, in big sunglasses and a scarf. At least that’s what they make me want to do. I suspect, ModParlPhotos would also like to have taken one or two of the vehicles out for a weekend track day.

We then visited the ‘paddock’ area to see the cars and motorbikes that would be out of the demo track. It’s not every day that you get to see everything from a 1901 Toledo Steamer to a 1966 Lola T70 Spyder up close like that. It was a real treat.

There were lots of Jags, Austins, and a smattering of Astons but I seriously fell for No. 9, which was a 1929 Bentley Birkin Blower. I loved the huge lights and superb detailing. Once the vehicles moved out onto the track, they seemed to come alive – especially the bikes. And I was especially amazed by the bike with sidecar. Did I say ‘sidecar?’ I mean, platform. There was no enclosed space worth mentioning and the passenger was more balance correction mechanism than anything else. Did a fab job too since it pelted around just as quick as can be and stayed upright.

But the day wasn’t all for the petrol heads. The vintage aviation enthusiast was also well-catered for – with a Battle of Britain Memorial flight display, a Sioux and Scout helicopter pair, a team of 9 Tiger Moth biplanes putting on an aeronautical display, a performance from the Great War Display team and then (especially pleasing for movie trivia buffs in the audience) a Battle of Britain dogfight featuring the winged star of movies such as ‘Battle of Britain’, ‘Hope and Glory’, and ‘A Bridge Too Far’ — the iconic Spitfire MH343.

I greatly prefer to see planes in action as opposed to static displays and they were all fantastic but if I had to pick a fave, I’d have to sat there is something especially elegant and captivating about bi-planes in motion. Not that the static displays were anything to sneeze at – they were most assuredly not. There were plenty of those as well and like with the cars in the paddock, it was a joy to be able to get so close to these pieces of history.

There was also a substantial area given over to historical re-enactments and installations, all well manned and provided by the Oxfordshire Home Guard Living History Group. We’ve seen them at Bicester Heritage before and they are incredibly knowledgeable about the artefacts on display and the times and people they are representing.

There was plenty of music wafting through the air. I imagine the singers had to work pretty hard to compete with all that engine noise but they seemed to take it in stride and the audience was clearly enjoying it thoroughly. In addition to the Andrew Sisters-style musical performers and period crooners, there was a vintage fairground organ that lent just the right feel to the fairground attractions. Food and drink were in plentiful supply and – surprisingly and happily, so was seating around the food area. How often do we attend these large outdoor vintage events and find too few tables and chairs provided? Too often. Flywheel Festival, I thank you.

After a restorative bite to eat, we perused the Vintage Trade Fair and Exhibitors area where lovers of retro-style frocks and collectibles could give their wallets a work out. For those with a restoration project of their own, there were booths full of specialist bits and bobs to acquire and if someone really wanted to splash the cash, there were over 30 truly magnificent vintage vehicles on offer at Brightwells auction. We entered the auction display hanger just before the action began and instantly both of us fell hard for the Shelby Mustang. I know, I know – it makes no practical sense but when was a Mustang ever about practicality? Or in our case, reality? We left our fantasy car behind and went to the fairgrounds area.

Living very much up to the claim that they had ‘something for everyone’, Flywheel had lots for the kids – with the previously mentioned tank rides, classic fairground attractions including bumper cards and a carousel. Then there was attraction that had me shrieking like a loon and ModParlPhotos nearly speechless in amazement – the Demon Drome Wall of Death.

A wall of death is a carnival side show classic and this particular (and beautifully restored) wall of death was originally built in the 1920s. These attractions are huge barrel-shaped wooden cylinder with viewing platforms around the top so spectators can look down as daredevil motorcyclists defy logic and gravity by riding up vertical walls. Neither one of us had ever seen this sort of show in person so we weren’t 100% sure what to expect. Would it be cheesy beyond belief? How steep was it inside? Was it just a few loops around and done? The answers were:

  • Yes on the cheese factor. It’s a 1920s style carnival side show. Of course, it is cheesy but it is THRILLING cheese.
  • How steep? VERY steep. Straight up steep. And it felt very high. Higher than it likely really was.
  • And it’s so much more than a few laps around the walls. They go all the way up and all the way down. The whole thing seems to shake as they thunder past right under your nose – perpendicular to the wall! Then they weave up and down, sometimes two at a time, sometimes with people riding on the handlebars, sometimes sideways with no hands on the bike at all. Then in a car! I was gripping the rail like a mad gripping thing because ModParlPhotos was too busy clicking away with the camera to hold my hand.

So, another fantastic even at Bicester Heritage. 110% delighted we went to Flywheel. Had a wonderful time, saw some fascinating stuff and chatted with a lot of very knowledgeable. Looking forward to going again next year. There’s more of ModParlPhotos‘ fantastic work here (click image to see a bigger size):

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