Historic 91 -- The Historic Car Club

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All Revved Up

The Historic Car Club was established in 1966, with the intention of “organising races for owners of internationally famous types of car, manufactured and raced between 1945 and 1955”. Today, the scope of the Club has increased somewhat, to the point where it offers probably the widest range of championships for historic cars in the UK, with series for cars ranging from standard and lightly modified sports cars of the 50’s and 60’s, right up to fabulous F1 and F5000 machinery.

The HSCC Novice Championship offers a low budget entry to the friendly world of historic racing; only drivers with no previous circuit or kart experience are eligible. Cars may feature only safety modifications, and must be driven to and from the circuit, this last ruling intending to encourage owners to actually use their classic machinery.

After a year as a novice, many competitors move on to the Standard Road Sports Championship, as has 1990 Champion Guy Evans. Technical regulations are almost identical to the novice series, although there is provision within the rules which allows cars to be trailered. Typical machinery seen in the Novice and Standard Road Sports Championships include TVR Griffiths, Jaguar E-Types, Marcos GT’s, the more sporting models from Lancia and Alfa plus of course the ubiquitous and ultra successful Lotus Elan.

For those who yearn for something a little quicker the Barley Construction Improved Road Sports Championship admits pre-1971 sports cars with limited engine and suspension tuning. Cars must remain road legal and registered, and this restriction does much to ensure that specifications do not become too “wild”!

This championship has always been well supported and very closely fought. The wide range of marques competing is amply illustrated by the mighty 4.7 litre Cobra of London solicitor Aidan Mills-Thomas which triumphed in 1990, hotly pursued by the 1989 championship winning 1300cc Fairthorpe Electron, driven by Matthew Truelove! More “heavy metal” in the shape of Hal Danby’s luridly-painted Corvette proved surprisingly competitive last year, and his success has encouraged the appearance of several other American “muscle cars” for 1991, so the Cobra may face sterner opposition.

As with the other “roadgoing” championships, Elans abound in this series, with the quickest versions not far off the pace of the bigger engined cars, and certainly well able to challenge the Datsun 240Z’s in Class B. However, the furious dicing amongst the Elans usually ensures that the overall championship goes to a car from one of the less well supported classes.

For those who wish to emulate the fabulous sports and GT battles of the 50’s and 60’s, the HSCC Classic Championship is the place to be. The rules in this championship are more liberal and allow competitors to modify their cars to full period racing specification. Such modern accoutrements as slick tyres and aerodynamic aids are, of course, banned and this ensures close racing between cars which retain period appearance. Certainly in the bigger engined classes, the cars usually have a surfeit of power over grip, always a recipe for exciting racing! Any one who thinks that these Historic racers are just rich enthusiasts out for a Sunday drive is sadly mistaken, as a visit to any of last year’s Classic rounds would have shown. Last year, yes you’ve guessed, the Elans were the cars to beat, and the intensity of some of the dices between eventual Champion Simon Hadfield and Lotus expert Tony Thompson had to be seen to be believed.

1990 European Historic Champion, Ronnie Farmer (himself a former HSCC Novice Champion) frightened the Elans once or twice last year, but his programme was somewhat truncated as he concentrated on the European series, and the early season reliability of his brutal TVR Griffith was a little suspect. With the car now well sorted (with some assistance from 60’s TVR works driver Gerry Marshall), Farmer is bound to ruffle a few feathers this year. Always popular with the crowds and spectacular to watch are the “big” Healeys, and the sideways antics of Healey specialists Denis Welch and Dave Hardy must be seen to be believed. Although some say that the Championship suffers from having too many classes, the Class system does offer a huge variety of cars the opportunity to compete alongside other cars of similar performance, if not specification, and this encourages owners of less spritely, but nonetheless interesting, cars to take part, as evidenced by the appearance last year of a 1955 Aston DB2/4.

Impressive, too, is the standard of preparation of the cars, and escapees from the world of “modern” racing may be surprised to find that the drivers of these old warriors are only too happy to spend ten minutes just swapping nostalgic stories with fellow enthusiasts.

Nostalgia is what draws many back to historic racing with memories of epic dices lingering in enthusiasts minds. In the 60’s and early 70’s, of course, many Grand Prix stars thought nothing of competing in two or three races in the course of a day and late-lamented drivers such as Hill, Clark and Rindt would regularly compete in F2 races in addition to their F1 programme and who would forget the matchless Ronnie Peterson, seemingly in a permanent four-wheel drift in the early F2 March?

The HSCC Historic Formula Racing Car Championship offers the opportunity to see many of these famous single-seaters in action once again. The series caters for Formula 1, Formula 2 and Formula 5000 machinery manufactured and raced before 1971 and a new addition this year is a class for pre ’65 rear-engined Grand Prix cars. The thundering F5000 cars are usually at the front of the field, driven with great gusto by luminaries such as the versatile John Harper (in the bulky but effective Lola T300) and double championship winner, Rick Hall, whose pristine Surtees TS8 is a mobile advertisement for his preparation expertise.

Dices in the F2 class are no less frenetic, with Northern Ireland visitor Arnie Black well able to match the speed of the more numerous March chassis with his unusual Crossle, although last year Mike Littlewood was the class of the field with his ex-Scheckter Merlin.

Close racing is also a feature of the 2-litre Championship and this is dominated by the gorgeous Chevron B8’s created by the late Derek Bennett. Front runner in 1990 was Dorking antique dealer Mike Schryver, although Donovan Collier and Phil Buck were usually in close attendance. Again close racing throughout the field is a feature of this championship, with the 1300cc F100 cars of Class C and pre ’65 sports cars of Class D being very well matched.

Lovers of older machinery are catered for by the pre ’60 Historic Car Championship, which is jointed promoted with AMOC. Sports racing and single-seater cars are eligible, although as one would expect, the rear-engined Coopers, so superior in their time, usually head the field. If the thought of methanol fumes and skinny tyred “real” racing cars, that actually allow you to see the driver at work makes you go weak at the knees, then this is the championship for you!

For many, however, the 3-litre Formula marked the heyday of Grand Prix racing, and the HSCC have for a number of years given owners of these cars the opportunity to exercise them. Grids in the past have sometimes suffered from lack of numbers, but 1990 saw a resurgence of interest with average grids of 15 cars appearing. The highlight of last year was the 20 car turn out at Donington with McLaren, Penske, Wolf, Williams, Fittipaldi and Ensign chassis represented amongst others. There were several good scraps during the year, with ex-GP driver Mike Wilds and racing school owner Richard Peacock enjoying nose to tail runs at Silverstone and Thruxton, and ex-Lotus driver John Fenning (Wolf WR2) being given a very hard time at Donington by Tony Gordon in his Williams FW08. Gordon was in contention for the Championship right up to the last round, only to be beaten by the consistent Alan Baillie in his ex-Watson Penske PC3.

For ’91, things look very good, with several new cars appearing, and, for the first time, two races in continental Europe on the calendar, at Zolder and Zandvoort. However, highlight of the year is sure to be the “25 years of 3-litre Formula 1” event, planned by the club for May 5/6, at Donington Park. Around half a dozen former World Champions are slated to appear, (with Jody Scheckter, Sir Jack Brabham and Denny Hulme amongst them) along with numerous other former F1 drivers, many of whom will be demonstrating their former mounts. With around 50 running F1 cars likely to appear, this meeting will surely be one of the major events on the Historic calendar, and attendance will be a must for all F1 enthusiasts.

Historic GT racing enjoyed a real resurgence in this country a few years ago, although numbers of competitors in the domestic series have fallen somewhat in the last year or two, with many competitors taking advantage of the European interest in these cars to do most of their racing abroad. Fortunately for UK fans, rising costs of competing on the Continent have encouraged drivers to think about racing at home again. The big, tyre-smoking Can-Am and GT cars are always a favourite with the crowds, and by running all the races as International events (ie no silencing) fans can enjoy the aural sensations of these fabulous cars as well! Running costs of cars such as the swoopy Lola T70 and the fierce McLaren M1 are high, and hopefully the opportunity of taking in three or four well subscribed invitation races will prove attractive to owners.

The advent of the new 2-litre Group 6 challenge, being promoted for the first time this year by the club means that once again owners of these rapid and attractive pre1975 sports racers have a representative series in which to run.

The pre ’75 series will take in half a dozen races at prestigious meetings in 1991, and the outrageous Toj-BMW of series instigator Mike Pendlebury is sure to be at the sharp end. Doubtless though, the hordes of Chevrons, Marches and GRDs are bound to give him a hard time as they re-enact scenes from the heyday of sports car racing. Long-time sports car racer John Lepp will appear with a Chevron, and the promise of two Osellas in the hands of Richard Arnold and Lawrence Rose will add variety, as will the fair and beautiful Lola of Don Wood. Around 20 cars have already registered for the series, and with classes for older pre ’71 Group six cars as well, the series promises to be well supported and exciting.

With three international events and five “Club” race meetings planned for 1991, as well as a sprint and a number of “Members” days at leading circuits, the HSCC has something to offer all classic car enthusiasts, especially those who enjoy using their own car, and seeing others using their Historic racing cars for the purpose for which they were built.. . . RACING.