If Toad of Toad Hall himself had chosen a day to go driving in the countryside, he would have picked Sunday.
The crisp Spring day was perfect for a spin along the lanes and roads of West Sussex but, rather than Kenneth Grahame’s famous literary creation, it was a calvacade of high powered cars which made heads turned.
In total, 25 cherished vehicles, including rare Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Maseratis, snaked their way around the district for the first ever Piazza Italia Tour. The tour, which began on the Carfax before heading to Billingshurst, Pulborough, Steyning, Storrington and Henfield, was organised to further widen the appeal of the Piazza Italia, the biggest free Easter show in the South, and an event which, this year, celebrates its 10th anniversary.In each of its staging posts on Sunday, the tour group were generously welcomed by locals, either by way of an Italian-themed market, entertainment or even, in the case of Henfield, brightly dressed shops.
The business community in the village seized on the opportunity to attract visitors to the village on a Sunday and held a ‘best dressed’ shop contest. Carol Eastwood, chairman of the Henfield Community Partnership, said: “The shops really got behind it and opened, as did the cafes and pubs. We had stalls set up in the car park and most of them sold out. It was wonderful.”
If the aim of Garry Mortimer Cook, the Horsham District Council official behind the event, was to gain even more publicity for the main three day event over Easter, then he suceeded.
During a post-tour reception at Horsham’s Parkside council offices, much was made of the impact the Piazza has on the town. Gill Buchanan, chairman of Horsham Unlimited and general manager of the Swan Walk shopping centre, said the event had increased Easter visitors to the town by at least 40 per cent.
This year’s Piazza, which will run Good Friday, Saturday March 26 and Easter Monday, will attract hundreds of top cars to Horsham.
John Wellard. of the Sussex Ferrari Owners’ Club, said of Piazza: “When you drive into Horsham and you see all the people and the road is clear in front of you, it is the most amazing sight.”
Organisers have announced that three charities - Chestnut Tree House, the Children’s Trust and Winston’s Wish - will be the event’s chosen good causes this year and that the aim is to raise £10,000.