Historic scene: February 2018

An exhibition on Ferrari you won’t want to miss, a chance to build your own aircraft – nearly – and an unforgettable main-road moment

Anniversary years can wear you out. Everyone from bloggers to museums wants to show that they’ve noticed, with the result that you read/watch/hear a huge pile of repetition. In this, Ferrari’s 70th year, there was bound to be an avalanche of Maranello material, so when I heard that the Design Museum in London had an exhibition opening in November 2017 I felt they had missed the Rosso Corso boat.

Wrong. Newly located in a striking building in Kensington, it’s one of my favourite museums (though I miss its old Shad Thames home and I have strong reservations about the new place), and what curator Andrew Nahum has offered up leapfrogs any simple timeline of Ferraris. It’s on until mid-April and if London is reachable for you, I recommend a visit.

A room flooded with bright red light makes a startling entrance before you confront the first ever car badged Ferrari – or, since both built were dismantled, the factory’s painstaking replica 125S. How many thought it would be the cornerstone of an empire?

There are more cars inside – complete, dismantled, shells, bucks –but if anything confirms this as special, it’s the room of paperwork and photos. Drawing largely on the collection of arch archivist Ronald Stern, whose astonishing assemblage of historic racing artefacts we have featured before, it offers up Mille Miglia entry forms, Enzo’s own driving licence, personal letters and photos such as Enzo’s christening, even hand-written reports by Il Commendatore himself. It’s a rare chance to delve into a remarkable archive.

Space is one of the luxuries here: on one stand a bare 250LM shell hangs above the full-size wire form of a 250GTO – a sculpture you could gaze at every day – and the wooden buck for the one-off three-seat 365P. Backed by coachwork drawings from Scaglietti and Pininfarina, this section is about shaping Ferraris, including a full-sized half clay/half painted J50 special and hefty quarter-scale wind tunnel models, before we go under the skin (the show’s title) with running gear components, chassis and a 458 shell. A complete 250SWB chassis made me wonder where the body went, and what Joe Macari wants for the SWB shell currently in his showroom…

Short of Goodwood you’re unlikely to see such a slew of prime competition Ferraris in one place: curving away on a banked white shelf are Ascari’s 1952 title-winning 500, Schumacher’s similarly lauded F2000, Ross Brawn’s SWB TT winner, the experimental SWB that Stirling Moss raced to a Daytona victory, sweeping you towards a display of race helmets that once cradled the heads of Ascari, Hawthorn, Villeneuve and more. Opposite all this are gleaming F1 engines up to the hybrid era – no bigger than the 1.5-litre Colombo V12 that greets you at the start – and on the wall (looking remarkably pudgy from above) the body buck for a Sharknose 156. The craftsmanship of that alone is worth admiring.

Road cars, some on elevated plinths that give a novel view angle, include Gianni Agnelli’s own 166MM and unique open Testarossa Spider (the Eighties one), a 275 GTB4 in flattering powder blue, and a car I’ve only seen previously in pictures, Peter Collins’ unique 250 GT cabriolet with driver’s door cutaway like a Vanden Plas Bentley so the flamboyant driver could freely swing the wood-rimmed wheel. Chef Gordon Ramsay’s LaFerrari Aperta showcases the company’s hybrid future, other famous Ferrari buyers – Bardot, Sellers, Eastwood –reinforce the marque’s glamour, and a big-screen loop of the cult film C’etait un Rendezvous, in which we are passengers in a Ferrari making an early morning high-speed sprint across Paris, adds Gallic drama – sadly without the V12 wailing urgently in our ears.

But though the assemblage of cars is magnificent, it’s the juxtaposition of original design sketches with body shells and aero models, and personal Ferrari artifacts with rarely seen photos that turns this from a mere car display into an investigation of how one man can found a legend.

PERHAPS THE LAST major element in Alan Wynn’s masterplan before he sadly steps down as director of Brooklands Museum, November saw the opening of the Flight Shed and Aircraft Factory. No, Brooklands isn’t going back into manufacturing planes, but this is Wynn’s neat approach to presenting the history of all the aircraft that were born here and flown off that now hardly visible airstrip down the middle of the speedbowl.

Created in the huge Bellman shed recently moved from the Finishing Straight, the ‘factory’ shows construction methods from the wood and fabric days up to the titanium and composites of TSR2 and Concord, via the unskinned Loch Ness Wellington bomber which is the centrepiece, its geodesic skeleton and battered propellers towering over the hall. There are props being laminated, bare wings awaiting linen, and a cosy corner sitting room to show something of home life for the many who worked here. But it’s not just displays: children – and adults – can try rolling and riveting aluminium or get hands-on with timber.

“The children love getting involved,” says Wynn now it’s been open for a while. Visitors also clock in and out with time cards, while sections of aircraft are presented in primer as if part-way through assembly. It’s an imaginative way of telling the story – and a creative way of showing partial aircraft.

Above and behind, the new Flight Shed is both a display area for complete planes and a functioning hangar, with doors opening onto the extensive straight where the aircraft that function can be run up and taxied. Hunter, Hart and Hurricane sit side by side with an Avro 504, the sort you’d have your lessons in in the carefree Twenties.

No, there’s no mention of cars or racing, but we all like any sort of fast machinery, don’t we?

AT LAST I’VE FOUND a firm who can fit the hand controls I want into my newest purchase, a BMW 635CSi. It’s far easier doing this in an older car than a new one with electric steering and digital CAMBUS electronics, so it shouldn’t have been difficult to arrange. We’re only talking about simple mechanical links from the hand lever to brake and accelerator, but everything I was offered involved a cable to operate the throttle. Now, I once had a bit of a moment with a broken throttle cable…

Sprinting onto a busy A3 from a side road in my previous BMW 528i, I realised the throttle had jammed open and I was heading for a stationary queue at 60mph and rising. Leaning on the brake lever, engine roaring, I was able to jink to a clear lane through Robin Hood roundabout but now the car was changing down and fighting me ever harder. With my arm about breaking I squeezed through the traffic to the thankfully empty left lane and hauled the speed down to maybe 15mph, but I couldn’t get any slower, nor did I dare release the (right-hand) brake lever to grab the ignition key. Reverse seemed a bad idea, so I yelled at my scared passenger to reach over and cut the ignition while I went for neutral. We slammed to a halt as the rev needle – and our heart rates – flicked momentarily to the red line.

The supremely fortunate thing is that at that point, the start of the old Kingston Bypass (scene of many an illegal car speed test over the years) the left lane grows out of a feeder road so a) no-one was in it and b) once my passenger had reached down and pulled back the throttle pedal, I could idle in reverse back into a side road as traffic flashed by at 60. I can’t think of any other place it would have worked out so well.

Sure enough, it was a broken cable, and thanks to a prompt AA man I was mobile again only 30 minutes later. And my blood pressure was normal again about 30 hours later.

You can see why ever since I’ve insisted on having an all-rod system. Now I’ve found what I want and I’m off for a fitting.

Long-time staffman Gordon Cruickshank learned his trade under Bill Boddy and competes in historic events in his Jaguar Mk2 and BMW 635