Veteran Edwardian Vintage, February 1980

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A section devoted to old-car matters

Why Do They Do It?

It is fitting that various advocates of Historic Car Racing, such as Michael Bowler and our Clive Richardson and Denis Jenkinson, have been writing about the absolute necessity of being able to decide, before such races escalate, which cars are eligible because they are original or at least decently historically authentic, and which are dismal fakes, the result of too many rebuilds, if not actually entirely new replicas of old racing cars.

I do not envy anyone the task of sorting-out this vexed situation, even less he who has to turn away undesirable entries, perhaps in the Paddock after scrutineering. But sorted out it must be! The situation seems to revolve round why people go in for vintage and historic racing. Is it for the joy of driving old and individualistic machinery or competition? Or is it to earn money from sponsors, gain some fame and glory in a growing section of motor racing, or to increase the already high value of eligible pre-1961 cars? A bit of everything, of course.

May I suggest that, among the VSCC at least, there are those who like to race in the older motor cars because this is nostalgic for them and they like to recapture to some degree an idea of what it was like in racing for drivers they admired, perhaps in their first youthful flush of enthusiasm for the Sport? This may seem far-fetched, but I can only rernark that I can think of one driver who, as he drives out of the Paddock at a vintage race meeting, sees, I am sure, not Silverstone or Oulton Park, but Brooklands and Donington of before the war. And may I make so bold as to suggest that if Kenneth Neve does not gone far as to think he is F. T. Burgess coming down Bray Hill when he conducts his 1914 TT Humber in a VSCC contest, at least he is glad to be in a very original pre-WW1 racing motor car, on the correct size tyres, so that he is enabled to know very closely what it was the to race such a can when it was new?

It seems to me that those who like emulating the drivers of old will want their cars to be decently original. If you stiffen-up a chassis, change from cable to hydraulic brakes, alter the weight distribution, and especially if you run on tyres oversize from those fitted originally, and on modern-type shock-absorbers, etc. the difference in “feel” of a car so modified will be quite appreciable. No longer would it be honest to say of a great driver of the past who used it, that, having raced it today, you now know how he felt, can appreciate his skill for example, or perhaps that you “don’t know how he did it, on those thin tyres and ineffective ‘shockers’, on that circuit. . .” I would have thought that a good deal, if not the whole, point of racing a vintage car, or an historic car for that matter, would be to try to re-enact, to be recapture, a pretty big slice of what it used to like; the nostalgia, in fact. But once it is simply a matter of trying to win, most of the time, there comes the temptation to introduce changes in an aged car’s specification, in order to make it go faster or handle better, or both. Safety considerations can mask some of this, for how can a race organiser, with safety in mind, really advocate cable instead of hydraulic brakes, and feeble shock-absorbers and a flexing chassis? Yet Edwardian racers go quite rapidly in VSCC races with rear-wheel cable-operated brakes and so on! Which rather defeats the retort that might be made, namely that what was safe on the wide expanse of old Brooklands may not be so on the tight Club circuits of today.

However, it does seem that the over-riding will to win may be what starts the rot of rendering an ancient car non-original. That is not to suggest that those who race nicely unmodified Vintage and Historic cars do not try to do well, in the events they enter. Some will observe the maker’s former rev-limits, or something a bit lower, while cornering as fast as they can and mixing it with other competitors when a situation arises. Isn’t this better than risking blowing-up an old engine and having to rebuild it with modern parts? That would be the rot setting in again. . .

The old racing cars had all manner of idiosyncrasies, which the purist at any rate should not wish to build out, I would have thought. One Brooklands’ single-seater indulged in the endearing habit of gently pinching its driver’s thighs as it took a bump, but if its chassis were stiffened by some present day owner with a view to more effective road holding on his way to trying desperately to win races, a tiny piece of history would have been eradicated. Is this childish thinking, or is there anyone who agrees with me? When Motor Sport got Stirling Moss to drive racing cars from different periods of the Sport at Donington, so that we could publish his comments in a birthday issue, he was quite horrified at the way a GP Bugatti handled and with its controls, in the context of racing it, say, in a Monaco Grand Prix. Yet, because we chose decently-original cars for Stirling to sample, at least he was able to compare and assess them. Had that Bugatti been drastically modified, his comments would have lost much of their interest. And why run a Bugatti in 1980 if you do not enjoy driving it as much as those who purchased these cars when they were brand-new used to do? The ERAs that continue to race are very much as they used to be, apart from some engine changes, and I suggest those who race them, a by no means inexpensive undertaking, do so because they have long admired the cars themselves and those who drove them pre-war. If not, wouldn’t they build specials?

If you do not see some point in racing an ancient car, why not compete in some other formula, say with a Lotus Seven or one of those now very quick and competitive 750 MC Formula cars? But if you do see the point of racing the old cars, how far should you go in altering them until you fail to have quite the same task to accomplish as their original drivers? That ERAs lap quicker now than they did formerly undermines my point only in respect of perhaps slightly-changed handling endowed by modern rubber, because surely the end result is largely a tribute to improved driver skills and a good knowledge of the circuits used frequently today?

I wonder whether this idea I have been trying to expound fits Vintage racing more than Historic racing? But if so, why? As for replicas, of course they must not be permitted. Yet the droll thing is that if an absolutely perfect replica of any car, whether Brooklands outer-circuit, sprint or LPR machine, could be made, the person driving it would presumably experience exactly what its original driver did when extending it, give and take a changed terrain. And no spectator would see any difference! But this couldn’t be done, or if it could, they wouldn’t build them as 100, original!

Of course, the fact that drivers in VSCC races have to cover their heads with bone-domers makes a small nonsense of the ideals I have been trying to express, so maybe all we can do is to like what we have and not take old motor cars too seriously. Which is not to suggest for a moment that I am not firmly behind C.R. when he says that Historic racing is a live museum and as such its credibility ought to be safeguarded, or Michael Bowler when beholds out about what he refers to as a “replication”. Or D.S.J., of course, in his plea that non-one shall put forth claims of possessing a car which has ceased to exist in its original form. But how do we ensure this?

That is the question, and unless it is quickly solved one almost feels like saying to hell with all old things; why not drive and race modern vehicles, over which there can be no dating or originality arguments? Incidentally, before I close, I note that Michael Bowler himself has a stiffer-than-original front anti-roll bar on his Lister-now-Jaguar that won him the FIA Historic Championship (its smaller wheels and tyres, like safety considerations and compulsoty bone-domers, are simply a sign that time moves on), so perhaps he does not wish, as my purist would, to step too tightly into the shoes of drivers from the past, who raced these cars? — W.B.

V-E-V Miscellany. — We hear that a well-known VSCC member han found an Ettore Bugatti-designed Bébè Peugeot engine and is looking for a chassis for it, and rumours are abroad of a mysterious, possibly single-seater, Brescia Bugatti, its engine linered-down before the war with the intention of taking Brooklands’ 1,100 c.c. records. It apparently broke its crankshaft before this could happen, but has now turned up again in dismantled form. And they still turn up, a 1926 Morgan three-wheeler with no Log Book or Reg. No. having been found recently at a Shrewsbury blacksmith’s. Last year’s Triple-M MG Year Book contained an article by Leslie Seyd about the four MGs he owned, and used in competition events, before the war. The Autovia CC instill hoping to hear of more of these cars still in existence, or from owners who used to own them; the Secretary is N. W. Plant, 18, York Road, Birkdale, Southport, Merseyside, PR8 ZAD. It is sad to learn that the original Morris Garage in Longwall Street, Oxford, is no more. It was demolished last year to make way for extensions to Nuffield College, and now only the facade remains. Before the demolition took place Ken Revis, MBE, Consultant to BL Heritage, and a few other sympathisers, stood to attention before this historic building as the Last Post was sounded. There is also opposition to the scheme for erecting a permanent memorial to Lord Nuffield at his home, and it might help if those in favour were to write to the Warden of Nuffield College, Oxford, expressing their wish that such a memorial should be erected on the correct site.

It was nice to see that Brooklands was not neglected at the “Thirties” Exhibition which the Arts Council of Great Britain put on in London and which closed last month. As one entered the Hayward Gallery, over which presided the TV mock-up of Campbell’s 1935 LSR “Bluebird”, there was a big picture of the Members’ banking, with spectators watching the racing from a punt and a car, was it Follett’s Alvis?, in full-cry above them. Other Brooklands photographs included Charles Brackenbury in a GP Bugatti chasing a Monza Alfa Romeo on the banking, both cars with all wheels well off the concrete, an MG Magnetic bearing No. 11 running clockwise down the Finishing-straight, as if in a long-distance race, with the camera getting the old Judge’s box in the background at a drunken angle, a big picture of the Napier-Railton outside the Parry Thomas bungalow (before it was fully completed, as there was no windscreen and the driving-seat projected higher than the tail, with Cobb and Railton in attendance, and there was even one of the Paddock showing a lady in a backless dress (and, of course, wearing a hat) in the fashion of that period but without a car in sight. Other motor-racing pictures on view were of LSR cars, including several of Cobb’s Railton, with shots of the decidedly brave Cobb in the claustrophobic closed cockpit out ahead of the front wheels. Among the models were proprietary toy-miniatures of the Sunbeam “Silver Bullet”, Campbell’s “Bluebird” with detachable body, and Cobb’s 400 m.p.h. Railton, and two plastic, quite large models of Austin and Singer sun-roof saloons by Automobiles (Geographical) Ltd. of Halifax which we don’t recall seeing previously. There were also fine scale-models of “Bluebird” in two of its forms and the all-enveloping MG record-car, unfortunately displayed one above the other, for they were of vastly different scales. Reverting to pictures, quite the most interesting to us was that showing Jack Field “taking delivery” of a rather-battered Sunbeam “Silver Bullet” in what looks like London(?), with a disgruntled policeman looking on and Morris vans and Minors outnumbering a Ione Austin in the background.

G. B. Woolley, the enthusiast for Vale Specials, tells as rumour suggests that some 25 of these still exist, of which he has located eleven, five runners, and one complete and original but derelict. Two are coming along well, apparently, but three are incomplete and vandalised in respect of missing parts. He wonders if anyone knows of others of this sporting make? It seems that one of the newest Motor Museums may be that being planned at the 1 1/2-mile two-foot-gauge Alford Valley Light Railway near Aberdeen. We apologise to Mr. A. G. A. Cole for saying his 1904 Vulcan was a non-finisher in the Veteran Car Run last year — in fact, his car got in without incident by 1.15 p.m. — W.B.