Letter to readers, April 1988

Going by the book

Dear Reader,
Last month I was on about lavish and expensive books; this month a book with a difference has arrived. This is the 1988 Year Book of Automobile Sport, issued by the FIA in Paris.

Most Year Books are a review of the past season, but the FIA Yearbook is what it says; it is the book of rules, covering everything from karting to Formula One, for 1988. Because of its glossy yellow binding it is known throughout the sport as “The Yellow Book”, but in fact it is divided up into seven sections, each on its own colour of pages, so in reality it is “The Multi-Coloured Book”. Above all else it is the official “bible” of the sport.

This is the book which team managers flourish when they are making a protest, and the one organisers anxiously thumb through in search of the rule which permits their action. It is now in its 21st edition, which should call for a “retrospective” or something, and it has always been “pocket-size”, which is 6in x 4in, so that everyone can have it easily to hand — except that as branches of the sport have proliferated and rules have become more numerous and lengthy, it has become thicker over the years.

It is now nearly 2in thick, which calls for a pretty fat pocket! This year team managers are going to have to get bigger and fatter briefcases if they are going to have the yellow-book instantly to hand.

This is not a book to buy and read, nor is it a book to buy and leave lying about to impress your visitors, but it is a book that every serious competitor in front-line motor sport will need to consult if he is not to run foul of scrutineers, time-keepers, marshals, other competitors, the RACMSA and officialdom in general. It totals 1184 pages (yes, one thousand, one hundred and eighty four) and the International Sporting Code by which the sport is governed embraces 504 of these pages of closely-written words. There are people who wonder sometimes whether the sport has lost its way; they could be right.

One thing you can never suppress is Italian enthusiasm for motor racing and racing cars, and now that “retrospective” events are accepted and permitted on the open roads, they are gathering momentum both in numbers and speeds.

The idea of a social run to commemorate an event long-since ended as a major international affair was usually linked to a significant anniversary date, such as 50 years from the first event, or 25 years since the last event. But now retrospective events are seldom tied in with any anniversary and have become regular annual events in the Old Car Calender.

One such is the Mille Miglia from Brescia to Rome and back — with overnight stops, but still a long way for an old car (and for some of the old drivers). The Mille Miglia “retrospective” has caught on in such a big way that a lot of people look upon it as a serious international motoring event, not as a “jolly” or “boondoggle”, and workshops everywhere are preparing cars “for the Mille Miglia old boy”. Used-car vendors are advertising cars as “very rare, suitable for the Mille Miglia”, and new cars are appearing, built specially for the event.

If you have a genuine old Grand Prix car there is not a lot you can do with it. Historic racing is a very expensive pastime and involves all the work and hassle of running a modern racing car in circuit events; at best you might get a 25-mile race round Silverstone or Oulton Park.

But if you have a genuine old racing/sports car that is roadworthy, you can get 1000 miles of driving for your money, to say nothing of driving to Italy and back if you feel so inclined. In consequence, a Mille Miglia-worthy car has become very desirable, and there are many such road events in which you can use it.

As always, there are not enough old sports cars to go round, so the “fettlers world” soon got busy making some “replicas” and one very good car to “replicate” is the sports 300S Maserati of 1954-57. There aren’t too many of them about, and some were broken up to supply components for facsimiles of the contemporary 250F Grand Prix cars. Now there is a bit of a scramble to find and acquire one of these “fake” 250F Grand Prix Maseratis, to rob it of suitable bits to put back into a resurrection of a 300S sports car. The world does indeed go round in circles!

While the world goes round in circles the old cars are following, travelling east to west, or west to east, and sometimes north to south. As fast as an old car leaves this country, another seems to arrive, so the balance is kept.

Some time ago, I illustrated two cars which had been owned by Whitney Straight, both by co-incidence having the chassis number 3011. They both lived in this country more than fifty years ago and the MG then went to the United States where it lived for a long time while the Maserati lived on in the United Kingdom. Eventually the MG came back home, and now the Maserati is going to America and probably on to Japan. So we have one historic car “in” and one historic car “out”.

Similarly, there has been a recent international interchange in post-war Bristol engined Frazer Nash sports cars. One recently came back home from America, while another which has lived in England all its life has now gone to Sweden; but two years ago a Frazer Nash Le Mans that was sold to Sweden new in 1950 returned to this country.

All these are genuine old cars, not recently-built copies, and this international interchange is a fascinating business. One rather disturbing factor in this game is that many genuine old cars are going to Japan, the sad part being that there isn’t much in the way of genuine old Japanese cars to interchange. The only cars which seem to come back from Japan are those “fakes” which the old-car-trade has palmed off on the Japanese, and which have been found out.

One Japanese collector who seems to have more cars than is reasonable made a classic statement in the French magazine Automobile Classiques when he said: “I prefer Maseratis to Ferraris”. He has some Ferraris, among them an old GTO, the model which everyone seems to drool over; he explained that it doesn’t do much for him, but having one enables him to make comparisons and evaluate what all the euphoria over the GTO is about!

A new angle on the old car game has arisen. There are now so many small firms making copies of C-type and D-type Jaguars, and so many people happy to buy and use them, that the Jaguar Drivers Club has made a special class for them in its race meetings. There is now to be a championship for genuine fake sports cars!

This is a praiseworthy move, but one fraught with problems, especially for the scrutineers. Imagine having to disqualify the winner of a race for old cars because his car is genuinely old, and not built within the last five years! And think of the protests from the competitors when it is found that someone is using a new car built from old bits.

They will need the FIA Yellow Book no doubt. Yours, DSJ