The people of Basildon had never seen anything like it. For two all-too short hours on July 5, the dual-carriageways of the Essex new town reverberated to the sounds of the loudest, most powerful racing engines ever produced as the inaugural Retro ’97 staged a cavalcade through the town that no-one there is likely ever to forget.
Stars of the show included Stirling Moss in a Maserati 250F, Chris Amon in a rare Ferrari 248SP, Tony Brooks in a BRM P57 and Derek Bell in a fabulous Ferrari 512S. These plus other drivers from modem motorsport such as Will Hoy and Tiff Needell all joined in the fun, Will driving his BTCC Mondeo Touring Car and Tiff grappling with the formidable Lister Storm Le Mans competitor.
The purpose, to raise money for Basildon’s new steel and glass bell-tower, was almost forgotten amid the howling exhaust of Tom Wheatcroft’s BRM V12 and thundering Lola, McLaren and Ferrari CanAm cars as they rocketted through the streets in front of thousands of agog spectators.
Organised by Canon Lionel Webber, not only the local vicar but also chaplain to the Queen and the BRDC, Retro ’97 will be remembered, above all, for its lack of pretension and village atmosphere. Asked if there was going to be a Retro ’98, Canon Webber would say only, “We’ll look at the demand but not do it again unless we can keep the magic.”