Spitfire War Planes And Bentleys Are The Reasons I Moved To England
Photography by Jayson Fong
I’m often met with looks of confusion when people find out I’m an Australian who’s opted to move to England, and in most of these cases the topic of weather is their primary concern. After a while living in my new country, I’ve become accustomed to making use of the sun whenever it does make an appearance, so when fate recently gave me an opportunity to check out a workshop, ride in a pre-war Bentley, and see some vintage warbirds on a sunny weekend, there was no way I was going to turn it down.
Meeting at William Medcalf Vintage Bentley in the morning for coffee to begin the big day ahead, I was greeted by a warm cuppa after the long drive and a collection of vintage Bentleys on the driveway that had me thinking I’d made a wrong turn and gone back in time. I watched as the parking lot continued to fill up with cars and motorcycles, ranging from the well-aged Edwardian vintage to modern classics with visitors as different as their cars, all of them keen for the day’s main event, the Spitfire Drive Out.
But before setting off towards these brilliant aircraft though, a quick tour around the workshop was a must. Only having a short while here, I still caught a glimpse of the effort that goes into maintaining and restoring the mechanical marvels that are these big Bentleys. Featuring an impressive engine room and tooling for every job that could need doing, the space is a curious blend of technology with cars that are over 100 years old looked after with the same attention to detail as a modern supercar, and probably more so. Upstairs, a line of chassis in various states provided a visual timeline of where many of these projects begin and end.
After a quick group briefing and a few lucky visitors assigned to passenger seats, I jumped into the back of a nearby Bentley as the engines started up and the quiet Surrey street awakened to the sound of motoring. Heading for the Goodwood Aerodrome, we begin the short journey without hesitation, blasting down country lanes and past enthusiastic village pubs. Eventually finding ourselves on a long straight, the line of cars began a game of cat and mouse that brought on taunts, smiles and plenty of laughs between the drivers, confirming that the playful spirit of the Bentley Boys is still alive and well.
Arriving at Boultbee Flight Academy, we were led into their hangar for the highlight of the day, and I soon set eyes on a Chipmunk and two Supermarine Spitfires waiting for us. For a few minutes, the group went fully quiet as we became fixated on the iconic fighter planes, and we were then given a crash course on what it’s like to be in the pilot’s seat of a Spitfire. It is an elegant design, but one full of purpose, and even after hearing accounts, I can barely imagine flying in something like this, though of course I’d like to change that!
Climbing up to the cockpit, Dave Ratcliffe, who had arrived with us in his vintage Bentley, prepared the big V12 for startup. Splutter, pop, splutter. The prop begins to turn and with a final rev and puff of smoke, the Rolls Royce Merlin comes to life with an unmistakeable sound. Bringing the engine up to speed, the Spitfire, held by chocks, presses into the ground, eager to get moving while we are hit by its thrust. It’s an incredible experience for the senses and as just about as close as you can get to experiencing one shy of being inside it and in the sky.
Making it back to the Bentleys following this demonstration, we take a more subdued approach to the drive home. Comfortable in the back seat and taking time to enjoy the countryside and woodland scenery as the sun began to set, a thought crossed my mind as I reflected on an incredible day. I have a new answer to those confused looks I get: with occasional sunny days like this and opportunities to experience British history, cars, and airplanes—the things I love most—surely only a fool wouldn’t have moved to the other side of the world. What’s a little rain when you can have days like these?