The Status Quo

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The article in November’s MOTOR SPORT that was prompted by the writings of Dr. David Styles in the Riley Register Bulletin, brought an interesting cross-section of response. There were the blinkered purists who cannot, or will not, see anything wrong with the world, who dismissed it as a load of rubbish, and the enthusiasts, of the type that Styles mentioned, ranging from the impecunious to the very rich, who approved and agreed with most of it.

One of the first written replies came from the man who built the racing car which he sold in good faith, only to see it being advertised by the Trade as “an authentic replica”. I quote from his letter:

“I suppose it had to happen! My racing car was made up out of a collection of bits collected from all over England, through car clubs and friends. I tried to re-create the spirit of a car (or two cars), both of which were probably scrapped, due to rear axle failure, before 1930. I had a lot of fun with the car in England and abroad and eventually sold the car to a Club member about three years ago.

Should I have called the car a Special? I never told anybody that it was authentic, and it was well-known in VSCC and other club circles that I built it from miscellaneous parts. The chassis dimensions were probably similar to the works 1921 Brooklands car, but nearly all the mechanical components used came from the 1923/26 era.

Why does the motor trade have to embellish the ancestry of fake vehicles by giving them an incorrect description? Is it the very basic reason of greed?”

This is just one example of a growing problem, which is caused basically by the enthusiasts who make specials which can be mistaken for the real thing. Most people who are involved with cars, of any sort, are special builders at heart. It may only involve the fitting of special alloy wheels to your latest turbo-charged Whizz-Bang, or it may produce a facsimile of a real car that is perfect in every detail. There is nothing wrong in this activity, in fact, it is a fascinating part of our game, and some specials are more interesting than any car a particular manufacturer has ever made. But it does start the rot. The problem is not helped by journalists who believe everything they are told and feature these facsimiles in an article and write of them as being genuine original cars. If a false statement is made by a sufficient number of people it becomes accepted by the unknowing. If it is in print it must be correct, some people believe.

Almost every One-Make club has been faced with problems relating to old cars, especially if they run competitions for their members and if they try to keep a fair and reasoned sense of proportion. The 750 Club went through the dramas of members’ ingenuity outstripping the spirit of the regulations and they grappled with the problem very successfully by channelling the enthusiasm into clearly defined groups, each of which got on with its own thing. Their racing started with old Austin Sevens, but time, expediency, lack of parts and so on, led to the cars being Austin Seven only in name. Such was the enthusiasm for racing in the club that the 750 Formula was given a very free rein and the resultant cars became state of the art mini-Grand Prix cars. Meanwhile, a smaller group revived the original Austin Seven racer category, returning to grass-roots, and the 750 Club now caters happily for both ends of the spectrum.

The Aston Martin Owners Club dealt with a different sort of problem. They endeavoured to define an Aston Martin, and ran into numerous pit-falls, one being the special constructed round an Aston Martin engine. An example was the Lola T70 racing coupe powered by an Aston Martin V8; was it a Lola or an Aston Martin? Then, more recently, there was the Nimrod Le Mans car, a private-venture special powered by an Aston Martin V8 engine, albeit with the factory blessing and support. But it wasn’t built in Newport Pagnell at the Aston Martin factory, so can it be accepted as an Aston Martin? Can a Type 35B Bugatti built in Sussex from parts made in England be called a Bugatti?

Most One-Make motor clubs are pretty flexible in their views and some will even accept a home-made special as being alright even if it only spent a night in the same garage as a works racing car. It is when somebody suggests that a car is something it patently is not, that the average enthusiast gets upset. As far as I am concerned, and I know others who feel the same, it is when a Special or Facsimile (or Fake) is given a piece of motor racing history that I get upset. I do not mind in the least a Fake car being given a Fake piece of history, that is acceptable fun, but known facts are known facts and should not be used for financial or ego-boosting purposes.

In the magazine of the Amilcar/Salmson Register of October 1986 the Editorial made interesting reading. The Editor is Brian Dearden-Briggs and the secretary is Roger Howard, two chaps who know “what is what” where old cars are concerned, I quote: “The Editor of the Amilcar magazine has sought for some time to find a Cause Celebre to justify these editorials. At last he has one! He has often been heard sounding-off about Fakes and ill-described Replicas and, of course, no one else cares very much.

“It is suggested that anyone who does care, even a bit, should put themselves in the way of the Roger Howard Memorable Lecture on the subject because Roger is the one person who has thought the subject through and can put the correct point of view cogently. (Roger Howard is another enthusiast like Dr Styles; there is at least one in every club, fortunately — DSJ).

“All this is topical because at the Belgian International Amilcar/Salmson rally the ‘best car’ prize was taken by a totally fake C6 Amilcar (the supercharged six-cylinder twin-cam little jewel of the vintage years — DSJ) with a four cylinder engine. It was very well done, looked the part and there is nothing in the Howard/Dearden-Briggs attitude to prevent someone making himself something like this (nor in the DSJ attitude) — if it is described as what it is. The danger comes that it will now be possible for the owner (not one of our club members) to describe the car as having been blessed by some Amilcar pundits.

“If you think that the dictum of ‘Caveat Emptor’ will absolve us all from bothering about this issue (as some Bugatti owners think — DSJ), please tell us how the buyer can take better care than asking for advice from the principals of one-make clubs, and of what use is their advice when almost all of them are faking as fast as they can.”

The Bugatti Owners Club had a similar problem to the Amilcar peple when a brand-new Grand Prix Bugatti, made in England, with no past-history whatsoever. won “Best of Show” at their beauty contest last summer. There were those who said “why not, it was brand new so it must have been the best”. Others thought differently and there was quite a furore in the Bugatti dove-cote. I am still waiting to hear what the outcome is.

This whole problem of ‘What is” and “what isn’t” is getting more complex every year, but there is sufficient interest among real motoring enthusiasts to try to keep up with it, that it justifies space in our magazine. If there was total apathy we could let the whole problem sink into the mire and foment in a cauldron of self-deception which would only affect those stupid enough to step into the cauldron. But it is not as simple as that. The more I talk and listen, the more I am conscious of a growing dissatisfaction with the Status Quo. DSJ

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