Back where they belong

Stirling Moss’s 1961 monaco winner returns to the track, and a rare Delage is gifted to Brooklands

With global weather becoming more unpredictable than Boris Johnson’s next PR gaffe, you need thermals and sunglasses for the VSCC’s ‘Spring Start’ meeting at Silverstone. And there’s nowhere to hide from the rain, unless you’re lucky enough to have access to the luxuries of the BRDC suite – the best view plus hot and cold running drinks… I spend most of my day in the paddock, but this time I made sure I was on the Copse banking to see Stephen Bond’s Monaco-winning Stirling Moss Lotus 18 contest its first race since it went to the Donington collection.

Since Christmas it’s been the high-pressure project of Ian Nuthall Racing, and in the pits as I admired the result in its Walker blue livery Ian ran me through what they had to do. The historic car was in running order, but to preserve the original bodywork there’s a new ‘race suit’, and for safety they itted fresh stub axles and wishbones. That involved returning it from late-61 spec, with 21 rear suspension, to how it started that season. New period racing rules mean it also has to wear a high rollbar, but Ian has made this removable so when it’s on display it will look just as it did when it rolled out of Rob Walker’s truck at Monaco 51 years ago, ready for Moss’s epic win over Phil Hill’s Ferrari. At Silverstone the 1500cc machine was up against Tasman cars a litre bigger, but for its first outing Bond and Nuthall were delighted.

As I threaded through Silverstone’s rat’s maze of wire fencing I heard a crescendo of thumps as a huge red object swished across my bows. It was the 1908 Itala, Roger Collings on the bridge, giving trips round the bay before a parade lap of the track. Appropriate, as this was the Itala Trophy meeting with Silverware first presented 65 years ago in honour of this very car. Between runs it sat under the Bonhams tent eyeing up possible new owners ahead of its sale at Goodwood, but there was an extra twist to its presence. The irst winner of the Itala cup drove a 1½-litre Delage, and there in front of me was one of these rare and precious machines, with Allan Winn of the Brooklands Museum beaming behind it.

“I’m like a dog with two tails,” he told me. The ground-hugging French racer with its magnificent straight-eight roller-crank powerplant has been bequeathed to the museum, a star item because not only did these snarling lowslung cars dominate the 1927 Grand Prix season, but this one is said to be the car Robert Benoist drove to victory in that year’s RAC Grand Prix at Brooklands. It’s the generous gift of the late Alan Burnard who owned it for the past 50 years, and it has only rarely been seen or heard in operation, but Winn is determined it will be used.

“It needs re-commissioning as it’s full of treacly old Castrol R,” he says, “but I’ve told the team there’s to be no cosmetic work. The patina must last, complete with the dings and scrapes. It’s only to be cleaned with an oily rag.”

There were only four of these cars plus a mule in the 1927 works team, which scooped four GP wins that year and the title of champion constructor, but the historical waters are muddy from the start. The ’26 cars were re-engined for ’27 with the heads reversed so the exhausts went left and no longer scalded the drivers sitting right of the drive shaft – there’s scarcely any room around the pedals. It seems this car, or much of it, is the one Malcolm Campbell had, and then W B ‘Bummer’ Scott. By 1937 Prince Chula and the White Mouse Garage juggled a lot of Delage parts with a new chassis to create an updated machine, with disappointing results; then when the war came Reg Parnell bought it as part of what Jenks described as a Delage “parts pool”, assembling three cars – real enough, but scrambled. Once it came to him Burnard, a marine engineer, spent 30 years assembling the elements, and the result is a magniicent example of one of the pivotal Grand Prix cars. Burnard was careful to record all his sources so it’s an honest construction, and if it’s not possible to be sure how many of its parts transported Benoist past the Finishing Post in that 1927 Brooklands race, most of the other components were in the two cars which followed him to a Delage 1-2-3. As Eric Morcambe might have put it, all the right bits, but not necessarily in the right order…

For the museum to be bequeathed a prize like this is fantastic news, and I look forward to hearing its jewel-like 1500cc motor echoing off the banking. You can see it at the VSCC Brooklands Double-12 Festival on June 16-17, when the Surrey circuit resounds to two days of driving tests, speed trials and the Test Hill Challenge, and celebrates 90 years of the A7.

Now the one thing that could make Allan Winn even happier would be if the Birkin singleseater Bentley, sitting in the paddock alongside the Itala and also up for sale, were to end up at Brooklands too. Now that the Napier-Railton is safely in the fold, if ever there was a car which deserves to be based at the Track, it’s this.

Gordon Cruickshank