Old-time variety

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Historic motorsport offers diversity for fans and competitors alike. Every old car passion is catered for, as this quartet of drivers show

James Baxter: a link in the chain gang

In the struggle to beat the ERA pack to the top slots in VSCC hillclimbs, the Frazer Nash single-seater of James Baxter stands out. “My main objective is to catch the ERAs,” admits Baxter as he looks ahead to the 2004 campaign.

The chain-driven ‘Nash, owned by his father Stuart, originally left the factory in 1932 as a two-seater TT’ Replica, but was soon converted to single-seater specification. After the war it acquired the 3.5-litre Alvis engine that still propels the car nearly 60 years later. Although the head has been replaced, the original block fitted by the Norris brothers remains in the car.

Owned for 30 years by the late Guy Smith, it has been with the Baxters for seven years. “It has been campaigned heavily all its life,” reckons Baxter, who had a hefty shunt in the car at Mallory Park in 1999. “It needed a new front axle and we re-bodied it.

“I’m a second behind Mac Hulbert’s ERA at Shelsley. I’d like to get the pre-war hill record, but we really need to build another engine for that. I think the car can do it, but it also needs to lose some weight. If Mac turns up, we come second!”

No longer is the ‘Nash taken onto the race circuits after the head was split from front to back at Cadwell Park. Instead, for racing these days, James uses his 1928 road-going Nash, which has also contested endurance events such as Le Jog in its varied competition history.

“I’d love to drive an ERA, but the ‘Nash is very driveable and it’s probably the fastest chain-driven car competing at the moment,” says Baxter.

A full programme of VS CC speed events is planned, and it will take the best of the ERAs to overcome this spiritedly driven Frazer Nash.

Gary Critcher: Nike Trainer runs again

Three years after buying a racing car unseen over the internet, novice racer Gary Critcher joined the HSCC’s Historic Formula Ford 1600 Championship for his debut season of racing in 2003. He and his 1969 vintage Nike Mk4/6 are now about to embark upon a second season in the series.

“I’d been watching historic racing for more than 10 years. I much prefer it to the modem stuff; historic racing is much more interesting and friendly,” says Critcher, who works in TV and used to be involved in the digital coverage of Formula One.

Having decided to try racing, available cash dictated that Historic Formula Ford was the place to start. “I couldn’t afford a race-ready car, so I found the restoration area of an American website showing racing cars for sale,” he explains. “There was a Nike for sale and they wanted about US$6000. Then the price was reduced, so I bought it by e-mail. It arrived at Felixstowe five weeks later…”

The car hadn’t been raced in 20 years, but came complete with an engine and gearbox. What followed was a piece-meal rebuild over three years by Jonathan Hall of Hardy Hall Restoration, with progress only when funds allowed. Ken Nicholls, the creator of the Nike marque, tidied up the chassis and confirmed that the car was original and free of accident damage. “We put it on a jig and it was all straight,” recalls Critcher.

Finally, in the spring of 2003, the car made its race return at Silverstone. “It was a steep learning curve, but brilliant fun,” says Critcher who estimates that the car has now cost him about £20,000.

For 2004, he will contest eight or nine rounds, with the seasonal highlight being the chance to race the car at Spa-Francorcharnps in September.

Graeme Dodd: busy big cat diary

Graeme Dodd is out for the double again in 2004, running twin programmes with a pair of Jaguars. In his faithful Mk2 saloon he will again contest the Historic Racing Saloon Register Championship, while he will use his XK120 in a bid for back-to-back JEC Jaguar XK titles.

Like many, Dodd has returned to racing in recent times having once been a rising young prospect. After nearly two decades out of racing, he started again with the Mk2 in 1998. “I bought it on a whim, and couldn’t believe how competitive the HRSR championship was,” he admits.

Since then he has become a regular front-runner and has starred in some thrilling contests, pitting the heavy Jag against Lotus Cortinas and Ford Mustangs. “The car always looks out of shape, but you have to get the power down early out of the corners.” The XK120, meanwhile, is a more recent addition. “The XK is still a great looking car.”

Dodd is clear about the financial sense of racing historic cars. “If you go and buy a modern car, the class may not be around in two or three years. With a historic or classic car, the chances are that it will still be worth the same, or more,” he says. “That’s why I’ve gone down the historic route. And there will always be somewhere to race these cars.”

The fact that both series run predominantly at HSCC race meetings helps with logistics and time away from business. “If I really looked at the costs, I’d probably pack up racing! But it isn’t necessarily that expensive, especially if you do your own preparation and you don’t have major problems. The Mk2 uses two or three sets of tyres, fuel and brake pads during a season’s racing. In relation to modern racing, it can be very affordable.”

Nick Linney: Lister muscle work-out

“I wanted to own a beautiful racing car that represented an era that I loved,” says Nick Linney of the 1959 Lister Knobbly he races in the BRDC Historic Sportscar Championship. He was a race winner in Clubmans and Sports 2000 in the 1970s and then took 18 years away from racing before making a comeback in 1996.

Having Archie Scott-Brown as a childhood hero led Linney towards a 1950s sportscar for his racing return and, after a period of tracking Listers, he bought the ex-Bobby Bell Knobbly. His 1959 car was originally sold to Boeing Aviation for an attempt on the piston-engined Land Speed Record and never actually competed in the US. When brought back to Britain, it was re-bodied as a Knobbly and was raced for many years by Bell.

Linney bought it seven years ago and Don Walker has tended and developed the car ever since. “We’ve taken it down to the last nut and bolt and we’ve got it going fabulously well,” reckons Linney. “It’s probably the quickest Lister in the world right now from that era.”

His 2004 programme again centres on the BRDC championship. “It’s a very competitive series and very tough.” Having won the class several times and finished runner-up, Linney is keen to bag the overall title. “The Cooper Monacos and Lotus 15s are tough to beat, but they were quicker in period, so we start off with an excuse!”

With a car valued at up to £250,000, Linney acknowledges that historic racing at this level is not cheap. “You could probably race a Lister for £12,000 a season, but you wouldn’t get very far up the grid. Or you could spend £80,000, but we’re more towards the lower figure…”