Historic scene with Gordon Cruickshank

Off the shelf racers

Visiting a high street shop where Formula 1 meets music and art

You have to admit it’s the Dalek that catches the eye. No matter that Legends in Time, in a quiet Sunningdale street, is crammed with racing items from visors to a full-size car, Dr Who’s arch enemy still fires a frisson at passers-by. We’re not passing by, though. We’re inside with Peter Ratcliffe, proprietor of this racing treasure chest, who has been buying and selling gems from racing’s history for 27 years. “In fact I did my first deal aged six in the school playground,” he laughs. Going to as many races as he could and racing his own E-type and MGBs it was inevitable he’d become acquainted with racing’s characters, and collecting souvenirs soon turned to trading. In 1989 the Legends operation began, commissioning racing art prints by Alan Stammers – examples are around the showroom, signed by racing’s great names – but memorabilia quickly started to fill his shelves. 

“I helped Damon Hill with sponsorship when he started, and Johnny Herbert, and I sold helmets for Michael Schumacher,” Peter says.

Nowadays his links with racing names mean he gets first call on many things. On a shelf he shows me Stirling Moss’s passport, one of his helmets, the dainty leather shoes he wore while winning the TT. “I’m the only guy Stirling lets things go to,” he says. “But the helmet’s not for sale.” Like many who trade in their passion Peter is happy when things sell on, and equally content while they stay on display, though some things, like that helmet, aren’t going anywhere. 

There are race suits – Derek Bell’s from Le Mans 1985, Senna’s first Williams set, the visor through which Michael Schumacher saw his first GP chequered flag, a white-barred Graham Hill helmet, the gold helmet from Donald Campbell’s Australian record runs. On a fat slick from an Andretti Lola lies a battered JPS Lotus pitboard – “you can see the red of the Gold Leaf colours underneath,” Peter points out. “Chapman didn’t waste money!” Large-scale models of road and race cars repose in perspex cubes. Steering wheels, framed photos, race meeting posters and a replica DBR1 nose hang on walls, trophies and volumes of Motor Sport fill the shelves, and there’s a jukebox in the window. “Steve McQueen’s,” explains Peter, “with his records inside, labelled by him.” Peter can also offer you McQueen paperwork and even the actor’s credit card. 

From the smallest item to the largest: what seems to be a Ferrari F1 show car, perched on stands centre-stage. But Peter says if you dig back through several liveries he reckons it began life as a 1991 Williams FW14 show chassis. It’s now being returned to its original Canon ‘Red 5’ Mansell livery, and research continues. No mistaking the slender form alongside, though – a 1958 Ducati 125 race bike, fairing removed to show its delicate insides. Not the firm’s normal fare, just something that caught the boss’s eye, like the film and music items he also collars at sales. 

Naturally much trading happens online or via Peter’s contact book, so with such a specialised shop you might not expect people to drop in, especially when you have to ring the bell. But it happens: while we’re talking a customer comes in to ask about something he saw Peter talk about on TV – he appears on Channel 4’s Four Rooms programme – and then seeks advice on selling an unusual car.

“Never know what’s going to happen,” Peter says as the chap leaves. “Dustin Hoffman walked in one day!” 

A historic racer himself, Peter has competed at several Goodwood Revivals, so buying a turbocharged 1980s Formula 1 car wasn’t such a mad idea. “I saw a small ad in Hemmings for a Lotus,” he tells me, “and when I went to look it turned out to be a Senna 98T that Harley Cluxton was selling, complete with engine!” You will have seen him driving that up the hill at the Festival of Speed, though it has now moved on. Nearly everything that comes his way is stock-in-trade, after all, and there will always be new temptations to investigate.

Common interests

GC’s shortest trip means the smallest expenses claim of the season​

One of my end-of-season markers is an annual get-together of Wimbledon classic car owners at the golf club in the middle of the common. It’s my shortest trip to a meet – barely a mile, but it kicked me into firing up the Mk2 Jaguar. As I’d shamefully neglected it for a while it was slow to start, unlike its usual first-crank eagerness, and it was only later I remembered the autochoke is now manual and I forgot to use it. Mea culpa, old girl. But all that cranking showed that getting a trickle charger was the right decision – the battery stayed full of urge. It’s topped up by a tiny thing from CTEK which rests on the wing, and the best bit is its quick-plug connection which avoids the whole business of croc-clips and shorting risks, especially on a positive-earth car. Why didn’t I do this before?

It was cheering to see so many classics threading through the village – more than I saw on Drive It Day – and I have to say that a Speed Six Bentley bellowing down the road makes all other cars seem paltry. A spread of Triumphs included 1800 roadster, Dolomite Sprint and Paul Lemmer’s newly restored Vitesse convertible. Paul’s brother Mark, who runs Barwell Motorsport, brought his Porsche RSR (which was finding the cold morning a strain), while Robert Holmes kept going home and bringing more cars, including a Volvo PV544 and a lovely 1950s Sunbeam Alpine. Organiser Tony Covill had his ‘Old Faithful’ Silver Shadow rally car – he swears by its sturdiness and comfort on long continental events – and a Bentley Azure, tying in with that Speed Six, a 3-litre with jockey mascot instead of a winged B, and Nigel Bachelor’s often-raced 4½.

At lunch I sat with Richard Wills, who had brought a lovely little Lancia Aprilia but is better known in historic racing piloting a Type 35 Bugatti or Lola Mk1. He tells me the little V4 Lancia is a relaxing alternative to his BMW 507 and Ferrari Lusso. Veteran navigator Willy Cave attended too, the guest of Ian Crammond who runs the popular Three Castles rally. Talking with Ian about how the recession had affected the historic sport, his view is that the top-end events – the serious stage rallies – are shrinking while tours and social runs are growing. This was just before we heard that the Roger Albert Clark rally had been cancelled for lack of entries, but in Scotland the Colin McRae Forest Rally has also been dropped, partly due to the strain of complying with the new safety requirements following the fatal events on the 2014 Jim Clark Rally. No one can argue against that, but as the McRae organisers sadly summed up, “The fun has gone out of it.”

We had enjoyed ourselves though, as carbs were tickled, starters coughed and feeble vintage lights lit for the ride home in the dark, the first test for some new LED instrument bulbs I’ve fitted. I’m wary of modern fittings that don’t look right for a classic car, but
these bulbs (from Better Car Lighting) fit the original holders and come in a warm white that looks right for an old car, so you’d never know – except that at last I can see the oil pressure without using the map light. Might get some of their headlamp bulbs too, but I’ve no plans to fit reversing sensors or remote locking. Does you good to put a bit of effort into driving sometimes.

Holding out for a name change

Legendary title returns for HERO’s recreation of those duffel-coat days​

The Roger Albert Clark RALLY MAY be resting but the RAC is back. HERO’s Rally of the Tests, recreating the pre-1960s navigation and manoeuvring ethos of what became Britain’s premier event, is being rebranded for 2016 with the traditional blue badge of the motoring organisation. Since the breakdown company was demerged from the Club there’s been no competition connection, but its new owners want to revive that. Hence my going to the RAC (the Clubhouse) where spokesmen for the RAC (the recovery outfit) told us about the RAC (the rally, but not the ‘R.A.C. with full stops’ rally…) It’s been a muddling time, what with the ‘actual RAC’ now being labelled Wales Rally GB, but logic seems to be returning.

Using the existing successful formula of tests and regularity the demanding event starts from Bournemouth on November 3 2016 and ends three days later in Chester. Where possible the route includes venues used in period, plus easy-access sections for public viewing. 

“We want to make this Britain’s flagship historic event,” HERO’s Tomas de Vargas Machuca tells me. Only pre-1962 cars gain awards (including a week on a luxury yacht!), but you can tempt the Clerk of the Course with later vehicles if they’re interesting.