IT WAS built for modern traffic, but before it opened, there was a distinct whiff of nostalgia. Vintage bicycles were ridden along part of the M40 before this section opened in 1974.

Members of Benson Vintage Cycling Club appeared in period costume riding Victorian and Edwardian machines to add a colourful feature to the opening ceremony.

The ceremony took place at Lewknor and marked the completion of the section from Stokenchurch to Waterstock, near Wheatley, the first motorway in Oxfordshire.

The official opening was performed by Alderman Viscountess Parker, chairman of Oxfordshire County Council, in one of motorway drivers’ worst hazards – mist and poor visibility.

One feature of this section was the attractive cutting through the Chiltern Hills.

At first, it was feared that it would leave an ugly gash at the top of the escarpment, but engineers cleverly designed the road on a curve so that the line of the hills was preserved.

Before cutting the tape, Lady Parker paid tribute to the designers, engineers and construction workers who had built what she described as the prettiest motorway in England.

She said people’s original fears and sadness that the motorway would scar the Chilterns had not been borne out.

In cutting through 155ft of chalk near the Aston Rowant nature reserve, the workmen had produced a marvellous engineering feat.

She said it had been admired by people from many countries who had visited it.

The opening ceremony was one of her last acts as chairman because the county council was being abolished in a few days and replaced by a new council, with greater powers, under local government reorganisation.

She said it was fitting that the old council and its director of planning and highways, Kenneth Summerfield, who was retiring, should see the completion of this part of the motorway which was largely their brainchild.

Later, arguments developed over the route further north when it was proposed to build the road across Otmoor and near Bernwood Forest, a favourite haunt for butterflies.

A solution was found by moving the motorway eastwards into Buckinghamshire. The Wheatley-Wendlebury section opened in 1989 and the final section from Wendlebury to Birmingham in 1991.