There’s a new Mecca for British rally fans and it’s a surprise beacon of colourful exotica shining bright from a run-of-the-mill industrial estate in Chichester. Situated a stone’s throw off (and just about visible from) the West Sussex market town’s A27 bypass, Rally Replay is a new attraction open to all and should be considered a must-visit for anyone who has a love of rallying coursing through their veins.
On one level, it’s a brand new showroom dedicated to classic and seriously historic rally cars, some of which are for sale. But as general manager and curator Adam Midghall describes it, Rally Replay is also a “working museum” featuring an archive of mouthwatering memorabilia, including a display of items drawn from the collection of the late rally journalist, writer and competitor Martin Holmes. First impressions are jaw-dropping: we’ve seen nothing quite like this before in the UK.
So who’s behind it and why does it exist? “It’s owned by a group of private investors who have always been doing stuff in rallying behind the scenes, restoring and running cars privately, and it got to the point where they decided to make it more commercial,” says Midghall. “We want to keep the cars alive because as their values go up parts are increasingly hard to come by, people aren’t seeing the cars and younger people are not getting interested. We want to put the cars in the spotlight and create a place where people can come and see them, as a one-stop shop for rallying. It’s a new home for the sport.”
The investors, who prefer to remain anonymous, clearly aim to sell cars, while Rally Replay is also an agent for Sparco race and rally gear and seat specialist Racetech. But Midghall is keen to stress a genuine altruistic motive too, promising that visitors won’t be bombarded by a hard sell. “It’s built by enthusiasts for enthusiasts,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re here to just look at the cars, buy a keyring, T-shirt or sticker – it’s open for everyone. We’ll also be streaming World Rally Championship rounds live on our big screen, so you can come down to watch, and there’s no commitment to buy anything: just enjoy the space and gain a bit more knowledge about the sport. We want to get younger people more enthusiastic about rallying, because it’s not as big as it was in the past.”
Rally Replay was due to open last summer, with a launch planned to coincide with the nearby Goodwood Festival of Speed. But you- know-what scuppered that. Now, a year on, it’s finally open to the public after months of local intrigue created by its windows being covered, and the company is keen to welcome visitors. Among its collaborators is two-time WRC champion Miki Biasion, which partly explains the current display which is dominated by evocative Lancia Delta Integrales. But as Midghall explains the cars are far from fixed. “Some of them are owned by our investors, some are owned by customers,” he says. “We have a number of customers we look after for whom we do servicing on events and preparation, and we also offer restoration services plus vehicle storage. Rally cars need looking after, so we keep them all under one roof at another facility.
“Some of the cars are for sale and we are keen to promote that, but a lot of business is done online and through our contacts. It’s not something we necessarily have to push too hard here, so it’s not like a normal car showroom where as soon as you walk in you are pounced on. We’ll always have new stock rolling in and it will never be the same cars in here, to keep it fresh. It’s mainly Lancias now, but it’ll be whatever we’ve got in at the time.”
The Holmes archive is central to the treasures on display and include genuine rally plates, media passes and tabards, some of Martin’s 250 trophies and even one of his old typewriters. Midghall also gives us a glimpse of the photo archive that amounts to 20,000 images, all of which he has catalogued and will be available to buy online. It promises to be an invaluable resource for collectors, historians, publishers and journalists, while plans are brewing to host events for enthusiasts beyond the rally live streams.
Just a few miles from Goodwood, Rally Replay is a terrific new addition to the UK’s motor sport attractions. We’d recommend you drop in and pay a visit.