Racing lines: February 2018

Should recently built ‘classic’ cars be permitted to race at historic events? Join us for a stroll through a well-trodden minefield…

In the often snooty world of classic cars it’s almost compulsory to look down upon kit cars and replicas. It’s ironic, then, that historic racing –arguably the pinnacle of the classic car scene – should be packed with cars that aren’t what they seem. There are no Nissan 350Zs masquerading as Ferrari 250 GTOs, but rare is the grid that doesn’t feature an apparently old racing car that’s probably seen fewer Christmases than your socks.

Copy. Clone. Continuation. Evocation. Replica. Call ’em what you will. New cars built precisely to blueprints of the originals are a fact of life in historic motor sport. Whether they’re a good or bad thing is one of the more complex and emotive issues facing all of us.

Some series organisers have a policy of not accepting copies or continuations. But as with most rules, there are always one or two exceptions that undermine the zero tolerance approach. Other organisers make no distinction between genuine cars that were built and raced in period and authentic cars that have been built in recent years. When your business is filling grids there’s no right or wrong answer.

The only thing not at the organisers’ discretion is the need for an all-important FIA Historic Technical Passport (HTP), which is a requirement for any car competing in international historic motorsport. It’s a common misconception that HTPs somehow authenticate a car’s provenance, for they do no such thing. As the UK Motor Sport Association (MSA) explains: “The HTP is essentially a sporting document and says nothing about the authenticity, provenance, origins, etc, of a car. It is concerned only that the car’s specification is that of the particular model it purports to be. The whole purpose of the HTP is to try to ensure that cars accord with the authentic specification and can therefore compete with one another fairly.

“Whether the car is wholly original, partly original, assembled wholly or partly out of period components or a copy built recently is not relevant to an HTP. The prime criterion is that the car represents a provable specification that competed internationally in period.”

So the technical specification of new and original cars ensures they should perform equally, but does that make the playing field level? I’m not sure it can entirely, at least if you’re one of the few racing a genuine period car with significant history against someone in a car with equal performance but worth a fraction of the money. That said, the jeopardy works both ways. Nobody wants to be the one who crashes, or crashes into, some priceless piece of history. Ultimately this just underlines my belief that historic racing should place emphasis on having the right attitude above simply having the ‘right’ car.

Adding to the conundrum are the number, variety and pedigree of the new-built cars. In the mid ’90s the late John Willment enlisted the help of GT40 expert Bryan Wingfield to build the final three officially sanctioned GT40s, using original parts and chassis numbers. Real cars, then, just not built in period. Since then companies like Gelscoe and Kirkham have been building beautiful, FIA-compliant GT40s and Cobras from all-new parts. You will unquestionably have seen them race, wittingly or otherwise.

Lola famously built two runs of T70 Mk3B continuation cars – the first in the late ’90s, the second in the mid ’00s. Since then, a few years before his death, the late Eric Broadley gave his blessing to Broadley Automotive, a firm building perfect copies of the Mk3B Lola T70 at premises located a few miles from Lola’s old Huntingdon HQ. Price? About £350,000 – half the cost of a Mk3B with patchy history, or roughly a quarter of the value of the best original cars.

Another celebrated modern continuation project is by Jaguar Heritage – six FIA-approved £1.2m Lightweight E-types, which have been given the last remaining chassis numbers that were originally allocated – but never built – in period. And so it goes on: Lister building a fresh batch of knobbly-bodied Lister-Jaguars; Aston Martin a run of 25 track-only DB4 GTs. The common theme? All cost big money, but still a fraction of the value of an original car.

Perhaps the biggest source of conflict and contradiction are the toolroom copies fielded by those who also own genuine cars. Not all do it, but there’s a tacit acknowledgement that having the real car gives you the right to build and race a clone. Do I blame the owners for doing so? No. Does it diminish our enjoyment of the racing? I don’t believe so, though if we all knew precisely which cars were originals and which were copies it might erode the sense of significance.

Now imagine being the organiser trying to tread that delicate line between upholding standards and filling your grids. Of course due deference should be shown to the owners of the original cars, but to be honest if they happen to be racing a clone what’s the difference between them and those racing continuations? You could turn the whole thing on its head and say it’s wrong for a clone to continue accruing history for a car that retired years ago. Like I said, it’s tricky.

Personally I think so long as the significant original cars get priority if grids are oversubscribed, then where’s the issue in letting the other cars race? It’s short-sighted (selfish, almost) to think historic racing can exist in its present form without the replicas and continuations. Just as it’s unrealistic to believe historically significant period-built cars that have been actively and competitively raced for many years can possibly be completely original.

Is it time historic racing grasped the nettle and openly conceded the sport is about cars like those that raced in period as well as those that did race in period? Surely better to do this than enforce unfair and inconsistent policies on the paddock, then expect that same group to maintain the pretence with a conspiratorial wink? Answers on a postcard, please.

Dickie Meaden has been writing about cars for 25 years – and racing them for almost as long. He is a regular winner at historic meetings