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Beaulieu Autojumble: car swappin' British style

After reading about the Hershey’s AACA Eastern National Fall Meet in the 1960s, Michael Ware, now-retired director of Britain’s National Motor Museum, got to thinking: maybe a similar car event could be held in England.  Thus evolved the Beaulieu Autojumble.

A left, an Austin Cambridge saloon kept company
with right-hand drive Falcon-Knight in Beaulieu

The Brits have a word for it: “Autojumble.” So much more clear and succinct than “automotive flea market” or “automotive swap meet,” it combines the familiar self-propelled prefix with the noun meaning a “mixed or disordered mess.” Indeed, “jumble sale” is to the British what Americans call a “rummage sale.” Put it all down to Michael Ware, the now-retired director of Britain’s National Motor Museum.

In the mid-1960s, Ware took note of the burgeoning swap meet at Hershey, then completing its first decade. Having read about Hershey, he proposed to Lord Montagu, founder of the Museum, that a similar event be held on the Museum grounds at Beaulieu, Hampshire. Feeling that “flea market” wouldn’t mean much to Britons, he coined “Autojumble,” which immediately caught on. The first Beaulieu Autojumble opened in September 1967 on the Beaulieu Estate, adjacent to the Museum. It’s been an annual event ever since.

The largest event of its kind in Europe, Autojumble was inspired by, but not patterned after, Hershey’s AACA Eastern National Fall Meet. Since Ware didn’t actually attend Hershey until 10 years later, Autojumble grew at its own pace, in its own way. The general format, an outdoor market at which vendors rent spaces to sell their parts and automobilia, is the same. The most obvious difference, aside from the fact that most of the merchandise is British, is in scale. With some 300 vendors on 2,200 spaces, the English counterpart is but 1/5 the size of its American uncle.

There’s a collateral benefit. In contrast to Hershey, you can cover it all in two days. Aside from the car corral-like Automart, held on a paved parking area, the grounds are all open fields. Unlike heavy Pennsylvania clay, however, most areas are well drained, and the organizers roll out flexible metal roadways for the few wet spots.

Above, a nicely restored 1940 Chevrolet convertible
brought £40,000 ($71,600) at Bonhams auction at

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The 2008 event, the 42nd, was held September 13-14. It’s now called “International Autojumble” in recognition of the many overseas vendors and visitors. The European Union trading agreements have greatly increased traffic across the Channel, and the accents one hears are almost as likely to be Dutch, French or German as one of the many British dialects. Trading is conducted in pounds sterling, however, as Britain has not adopted the Euro.

Automobilia and literature are earnest rivals to rusty parts at Beaulieu. There are five huge tents for dealers of literature, books and artwork, and shiny brass abounds.

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All that brass: Beaulieu Autojumble is a good
source of brightwork for Veteran and
Edwardian cars.

There’s always a crowd-pleaser. This year’s was a Curtiss OX-5 aero engine, run on a regular schedule, its short exhaust stacks thrilling the gathered throngs by belching blue flames and making a hearty bark.
While British and European parts are the norm in the jumble area, Automart always has a surprising contingent of American cars, some of them imports from former Empire countries in the Southern Hemisphere. This year’s offerings included a Falcon-Knight — rare anywhere — a right-hand drive ’29 Essex and a Durant bearing the export-only Rugby badge.

There is no car show. Some years ago a car polish manufacturer sponsored a “concours” on Sunday, but the idea never caught on. However, the entire National Motor Museum is a short walk away and admission is included in the price of an Autojumble ticket.

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Above, this XK-120 was a worthwhile project for
an ambitious buyer.

International auction house Bonhams holds a sale at Autojumble each year, with this season’s cars including a 1916 Hupmobile restoration project, a well-preserved 1910 Model 20 Hudson and a very derelict 1931 Lincoln Model K. The top bid of the day was £155,000 for a 1905 Renault with “grandfather” rights in the London-to-Brighton Veteran Car Run, which the vendor considered insufficient. The sleeper of the sale was a yellow 1940 Chevrolet convertible, knocked down for £40,000, which was then equivalent to $71,600.

Some features you won’t find at Hershey are off-site vendor parking, which allows the selling area to be more compact and reduces on-field traffic, and a free holding area for parts too big or heavy to tote around all day. When they’re ready to leave, patrons can stop at the “Left Parts” tent, reclaim their items and get a free ride back to the parking lot. There’s also an on-site shop for vendors camping on their spaces, since Beaulieu is a tiny village with no convenience stores within walking distance.

The other scale on which Beaulieu is dwarfed by Hershey is duration. It’s only a two-day event — Saturday and Sunday. However, vendors are kept on site until 4 p.m. on Sunday so the ever-earlier vendor departure experienced at Hershey is not a factor. 

Beaulieu is in the New Forest, some 12 road miles southwest of Southampton. Hotel and bed-and-breakfast accommodations fill up quickly, so it’s not too soon to plan a visit for 2009. The dates are September 12-13, and full information can be found at

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