The 1996 Historic Motorsport Awards

November’s inaugural Historic Awards ceremony recognised the achievements of past masters and present practitioners. Christopher Tate reports

A lifetime of achievement by John Cooper, founder with father Charles of Cooper Cars, and yet perhaps the least recognised of the Grand Prix Greats of the 1950s and 1960s, was formally rewarded at the splendid inaugural Historic Motorsports Awards at London’s Dorchester Hotel on November 15. The assembled drivers, team owners, historic racers and press from all over Europe, the USA, and even Japan, all clearly felt that Cooper’s Chrysler-sponsored award was rightly deserved, and John gave a typically modest, warm, witty acceptance speech.

The original concept of an historic awards evening had been suggested back in the summer by winning historic racer and Coys chairman Jeffrey Pattinson. Since then our sister publication Classic & Sportscar had worked with auctioneers Coys to organise, underwrite and promote the event. Stars present included Sir Jack Brabham, Stirling Moss, Roy Salvadori, Tony Brooks, World Champion wife and mother Bette Hill, Ken Tyrrell, Paddy Hopkirk, and almost anyone who is anyone in present-day historic racing and rallying. There were club tables from the BRDC, HSCC, HGPCA, rallying’s HRCR, International Supersports (the Can-Am racers) and Group Four Racing (the 1970s sportscars).

During an excellent dinner, guests enjoyed watching some fascinating archive film footage, which had Moss, Brooks and Salvadori in particular leaping up for a closer look, followed, on returning to their table companions, by many gestures and lurid explanations of why it was so difficult to get by them on that particular corner. . . Later on, in an unlikely twist, a delighted Brooks found himself the winner of the same set of archive videos in the charity draw on behalf of the Starlight Foundation, performed by enthusiastic historic Ferrari racer and rock musician Chris Rea, fresh from the world premiere of his film La Passione at the London Film Festival the evening before.

As well as the closely guarded secret of the main award to John Cooper, there were other surprises for some of the 400 guests. The idea of the evening was to celebrate all forms of historic motorsport, with awards for ‘the right spirit’ and endeavour, rather than mere race victories. Thus Champagne Veuve Cliquot gave their trophy for ‘the most sparkling performance of 1996’ to Barrie Williams, for his ’50s Sportscar drive which lit up the Coys Festival in August. A very surprised and clearly moved Geoff Farmer collected the Coys award for the best drive of the Festival, in the ex-Jimmy Clark Lotus 25, while Peter Austin, over from the Bahamas, was delighted to be adjudged the winner of the Louis Vuitton cup for best exemplifying the ‘spirit of the championship’ in the Vuitton 1950s sportscars series.

John Keatley and navigator Maurice Beckett came over from Northern Ireland to collect their Mobil 1/Demon Tweeks/Classic & Sportscar Historic Rally Championship award; Paul Ingram finally received his International Supersports champion’s laurels, which victory he had tied up at the dramatic last race at Brno the previous month, and Colin Parry-Williams won the ‘most meritorious’ prize for his consistent drives in his immaculate Lola T70 MkIIIB, from Jonathan Baker’s Group Four series sponsor, John Partridge Clothing. An extremely glamorous Amanda Stretton caused considerable hilarity with some unwitting remarks about husband Martin in her acceptance speech for the ‘best newcomer to historic motorsports’ trophy, and Sir John Venables-Llewelyn deservedly won the Roy Salvadori HGPCA award for his astonishing drive in the wet at the Monza Historic Formula One race where he defeated all the postwar cars. Finally, Bob Wood, well-known for his consistent competition useage of the 4 1/2-litre lnvicta which has been in his family for over 30 years, exemplifies the true owner-driver, and we were delighted to be able to award him the MOTOR SPORT trophy.

After a successful evening, the general consensus was that this Awards Dinner is a welcome and different addition to the historic calendar, with an enjoyable and relaxed format, which permitted recognition of many of those regular competitors whose machinery or competition experience would not normally allow them a place on a podiurn. The Chrysler Lifetime Achievement Award for Cooper crowned a memorable occasion.

We look forward to next year’s event, already promised by Coys and C&S to be “bigger, better, and just as full of surprises”.