A track day. A twisting B-road. Scalextric. Karting. Gran Turismo on the PlayStation. A motorsport event. When asking where a car enthusiast gets their kicks away from restrictions and red tape, there’s a fair chance that one of these will feature in the response. Quite right too.
But there’s another opportunity to enjoy a good drive without fear of a flashing camera, a strategically parked white van, a beige Toyota Yaris Verso or a oncoming tractor in the middle of the road.
It comes in the form of a car with little more than an oversized steering wheel and single pedal. I speak of the bumper car, or dodgem, as the nanny state would rather it is was referred to. Well, if it is okay with you, Mr Whitehall and Monsieur EU, I’ll call them bumper cars. Merci.
For many people, an encounter with a bumper car will normally arise when the fair arrives in town. A pound gets you a short ride in the car with the smell of candy-floss and hot dogs wafting in the air. Then of course there’s the bumper cars you find at the typical English seaside resort. Often expensive, always busy, and your turn in the car is often short and frantic.
But nestling in the countryside on the Devon / Cornwall border is something of a hidden gem. Dingles Heritage Centre is home to the National Fairground Collection, with some wonderfully evocative rides and artefacts from fairground history. It captures a Britain of days gone by – a simpler time when a waltzer or a switchback were just about the epitome of excitement and escapism.
But for the petrolhead, there is one single stand-out attraction at Dingles: the bumper cars.
Okay, so I’m not saying that a five- to eight-minute ride on a bumper car is going to provide quite the same thrill as a single lap of ‘The Green Hell’. In an Ariel Atom. I’m not suggesting that a bumper car can rival a Sunday morning blast along the B3081 from Wimborne to Shaftesbury. But bear with me on this.
From the outset, a bumper car is a stripped out, no nonsense form of driving. As you settle in to your seat, you’re greeted with a view of little more than a steering wheel and a single pedal. A pedal that makes you go. And if you lift off the pedal, you slow down. Simple.
Then when you’re on the move, there are no restrictions to hold you back. You won’t find a Vauxhall Agila with a driver at the helm whose sole purpose in life is to make misery for the driver of the car behind. You won’t find an average speed camera. There are no fuel price increases. No potholes. No cones. No Steve Wright in the afternoon.
No, you are free to drive. Follow the circuit, overtaking at will and taking the odd bump with grace and good humour. Everybody else is there to have fun too – so enjoy yourself. As I found out today, it is also possible to ‘get the back end out’ on a bumper car and the job of correcting the slide is a joyful experience. Your only choice is the number and colour of your steed. But as I also found out today, red is most definitely the fastest bumper car. And that’s a fact.
Each bumper car is made by the now extinct company, SDC. Being Italian I guess there’s no surprise that SDC designed the front of each car to look remarkably similar to an Alfa Romeo. They say you’re not a true car enthusiast until you’ve owned an Alfa. In that case, maybe a bumper car is the equivalent of My First Alfa?
So, next time you’re in the area, check out Dingles. In addition to the bumper cars, you’ll find a warm welcome, a rich fairground heritage and some wonderful historical transport artefacts.
Personally, I’m rather taken by this Jaguar XJS V12 found languishing at the back of the Transport Museum. Original dealer number plates, untouched, unmodified and in glorious white. Last taxed in 2001, it is a crying shame to see such a wonderful Jag sat idle in the back of a barn. Unfortunately it is not for sale, which is a shame. But as I’ll be dropping by regularly for another ‘bump’, I’ll keep enquiring. MajorGav in a MajorJag – now there’s a thought…
For more details on Dingles, visit http://www.fairground-heritage.org.uk/