When Veronica Wroe won this year’s CBA Concours D’elegance, she became the first woman to win the competition since it started 48 years ago. As is tradition, the event was held at The Ngong Race Course earlier this year. Apart from classic car competition, she has also taken part in Motocross competitions. Last year, she competed in the 47th CBA Concours D’elegance competition and came in third place. We sat down with her to find out what it takes to become a Concours Delegance Winner as well as the first woman to clinch that title.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I am Kenyan born and bred. However, I have been in the United Kingdom for 15 years. I came back about a year and a half ago. So now I am now working in an investment firm. My other hobbies include riding horses and motorbikes.
I studied Equine Management in the UK, which has a whole lot to do with horses and then I went into Business Management. So I was working for The National Health Service in the UK for nearly 14 years before I came back to Kenya. I have always been drawn to Kenya. I was born here and my family is also here. So that made me feel like I was just ready to come home.
What drew you to the world of classic cars?
I guess my interest comes from the fact that my dad has had vintage cars all of my life. So he has been collecting them since I was born. So as a kid I was always around him and handing him spanners in the garage. We all also did Motocross and we used to race motorbikes when I was younger. So we have always been a motorsport driven family. I started racing when I was 6 years old, then stopped racing when I was 18 years old which is also the time I moved to the UK. I would like to go back to it but I have had some injuries from it. So far I have had like three operations on my spine so I have to be more careful these days.
My dad collects so many vintage cars. Because I have always been around that, I have always been drawn to vintage cars more than modern cars. I work on some of his cars with him. He has a fully-fledged garage at home. He actually has 22 vintage working cars which are probably the biggest collection of working vintage cars in Kenya. This year he entered 5 cars into the Concours Delegance Competiton while last year he entered two of them. So it really depends on the year and how much time you have to fix up the cars.
Apart from CBA Concours, how many competitions have you entered?
This is my first competition since I have been in the UK for so long. If the opportunity does come up, I would definitely be up for it. I think for me it is about keeping the history alive. The cars we restore have been here in Kenya for so long. My dad is even writing a book about the history of cars in Kenya. So it is very much in my blood.
What do you enjoy most about restoring cars?
I think I like seeing a car that is in such a dilapidated state and you think what a shame since it must have been so beautiful. Then you take it and gradually bring it back to its former glory. It is quite amazing. It is also a great opportunity to bond with my family. My brothers also do a thing or so when it comes to restoring cars. One lives upcountry while the other is busy with work. But we all get involved.
What goes into preparing for an event like Concours Delegance?
A lot really. It depends on the condition of the car when you enter it. But we have had the Rolls Royce Boat Tail which I entered in the family for about 15 years. Luckily it was restored a while ago so it was not really in bad condition. When we got it, it was in fairly good shape but we still had to fix it up. We have changed up a couple of things. So preparing a car depends on the state of the car and the Boat tail was working okay. So it was just about making sure that everything was polished and functioning. It is also quite expensive since you sometimes have to buy and ship parts from overseas since you need the original parts depending on your car brand.
As for time, this year we took about 5 months to get the Boatail ready. We took the car apart, we re-sprayed it, and we had a few problems like the fuel pump not working. Because with the old cars, it may look like it is in working condition then you take it out and it breaks down on you. It is just one of those things. So it is a game of trial and error and making sure everything is working fine.
How many times have you competed in Concours Delegance and how has been your experience?
This is actually my second year. My dad has been competing for many years and won a couple of them. He is probably always among the top three. It takes hard work to win. Last year I had just come back from The UK and had only a month to prepare and we came in third. This year, we gave ourselves longer and it paid off.
The experience is amazing but very nerve-racking. The vintage cars go last so you spend the entire day sort of biting your nails and hoping nothing goes wrong. You keep checking for oil leaks since the smallest thing can mess things up. I only won by one point so you have to be careful. However, it is really fun and the people are so supportive. Last year and this year I got massive cheers. A lot of the people who enter the competition are like family. The vintage car community is a small one so I know a lot of the people there.
What are some of the challenges you experience when it comes to car restoration and how do you overcome them?
I think the main challenge I have had is the fuel issue with my Boat trail. It has not been sucking fuel as required. I have taken it out on a few runs since we do runs before the competition. And every time I have had the same problem. Additionally, since the car has a lot of woodwork on it, it can be very difficult to make it look shiny as opposed to someone who has spray-painted their normal car. The engine is also so intricate compared to most cars so there is a lot that can go wrong. You just need to keep the car going and ensure that you are aware of the problems before you get to that final day.
The spare parts are also an issue. A lot of the genuine Rolls Royce parts have to come from overseas so they can be hard to source. However, my dad has been in this world for quite some time now so he has a lot of contacts. Some parts we actually build ourselves.
You not only won this year’s Concours Delegance but you broke the record by becoming the first woman to win the competition. How do you feel about it? Have anything changed since winning?
I feel pretty amazing. It really has not sunk in. I really am so proud and I think it such a beautiful car. There is a lot of attention. People keep telling me they have seen me on the paper while others say I have become famous. So it is a lot of attention. A couple of people have also asked to use the car in a video. However, we do not generally rent them out. Maybe for special occasions. I have been getting congratulatory messages on Facebook too.
Any future plans regarding car restoration and getting involved in competitions?
I am definitely doing Concours again next year. However, I do a lot of car runs. There is a car club that organized treasure hunts and things like those. They sort of do a few events here and there. I was in Rhino Charge last year. So we used the vintage cars to bring attention to the event but used modern vehicles to carry out a treasure hunt to fundraise for the cause.
In your opinion, why do you think it has taken so long for a woman to win the competition?
It is a really tough competition and possibly there are not enough women that are interested. There are a few but in comparison to men, they are not as many. I think if we had more women getting into the competition, we would have more females winning. Women can also feel intimidated going into a competition they feel is a man’s world. I do not think there is any bias or I do not recall encountering any bias. Because of my background, I have grown up seeing such competitions. I can imagine for an outsider it can be hard to take the first step.
I would tell any woman who is scared to just push themselves if they really want to get into such competitions. Try your best and even though you do not get the results you want, use it as a learning experience and try again. Just keep trying. I have always been in a man’s world even in the motocross years so it does not bug me. It actually makes me keener to jump in. Check out The Women Of The CBA Concours D’elegance 2017
Any words of advice for people who want to get into classic car restoration and get into competition?
My advice would be to have a lot of time and money. It is quite an expensive hobby. Also, have a lot of contacts from people who can help. That for me has been my dad. Sourcing parts is not always easy. Get into car clubs and get to know who has knowledge of what area. Also get advice from them. If you are going to do it, just jump in. There is no other way. It is very satisfying.