BOURNEMOUTH’S first-ever Wheels Festival has been hailed a smash hit with an estimated 500,000 visitors across the weekend.
The event – boosted by good weather on both Saturday and Sunday – is believed to have brought around £9 million into the town.
And with one more day to go, organisers are hoping to turn the festival into an annual event. Mark Smith, director of tourism at Bournemouth Borough Council, said: “It has been amazing.
“It has exceeded all of our expectations. People have been saying that they can’t believe it’s only the first one.”
Mr Smith – who admits to being a “real petrol-head” – said around 200,000 people had visited on the first day of the festival, with half that number again arriving on Sunday.
“Absolutely everybody can be part of this first Wheels event in the world,” he said.
“There really is something for everyone and it’s free. There hasn’t been anything like this before.”
He said Bournemouth was fast becoming known for large-scale, free events.
“It really helps to raise the profile of the resort for the whole year,” he said.
See all our coverage from the event so far, pictures, video and more at bournemouthecho.co.uk/wheels
Poole-based Excite Rallye Raid Team Principal John Hardy said the festival was an opportunity for people in Dorset to see what their cars could achieve.
“We’re very excited to be here and to be able to show people what these vehicles can do,” he said.
“It’s my dream to get a British driver in a British car backed by a British sponsor into the top 10 at the Dakar Rally. That’s what we want and that’s what we work for.”
Ian Mackins, 55, brought his 119-year-old American steam traction engine to the event.
“It’s the only one running outside of America,” he said.
“I’ve owned it for about 11 years now. I’d sold my old engine, and decided to get a new one.”
The Ferndown resident – who laughed when asked if he’d describe the restoration of the vehicle as a ‘labour of love’ – has permanent marks left on his body from the hard work.
“I have a black mark on my hand where soot has worked its way underneath the skin, like a tattoo,” he said.
“When I got this engine, it was just a heap of scrap metal. It has taken years to get it to this.”
Reconnaissance Sergeant Stewart Lansberry, of the Combat Wing stationed at Bovington, was busy throughout Saturday showing children a Jackal Armoured Vehicle parked on the beach.
He said: “These are used all over the world, so it’s nice for people to be able to really see it.
“This particular vehicle returned from Afghanistan about six months ago.”
He said the first Wheels Festival was “fantastic”, adding: “A lot of people have come along to see us today.”
Nigel Morris, 53, drove the Big Foot monster truck in a series of daredevil displays across the weekend.
He said the vehicle weighs more than five-and-a-half tonnes, and yet can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just four seconds.
“We’re looking forward to riding on this picturesque beach this weekend,” he said.