Matters of moment, June 1991

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Motorsport Explosion!

Britain’s New Car Industry is in a decline, due to the recession, despite Rover, Ford, Vauxhall and Jaguar having spent between them £98.6million on advertising last year — with the multi-millions also spent on new model development, tooling-up, etc, how do car manufacturers ever make a profit? In contrast, the post-WW2 motor sport explosion has ensured that in this field there is a growing and very lucrative business, of considerable benefit to the British economy.

In the beginning motor racing was something of a closed shop, although curious onlookers gathered to see the strange speeding monsters rush past, (before the Wrights had flown their aeroplane remember, and that was in America) their ignorance resulting in the 1903 Paris-Madrid tragedy, with an alarmed French Government stopping the race at Bordeaux (winner, Gabriel (Mors) at 65.3 mph for 342 miles). Gradually, however, the new sport was accepted. Brooklands opened in 1907 and wealthy supporters competed there, in horse racing conditions. Between the wars the sport developed but, to adopt the famous BARC slogan, was largely for “The Right Crowd and No Crowding”, with “breathers” between the big events at Weybridge and later at Donington Park. It was after WW2 that the motor sport explosion happened. The fun clubs became much bigger and some now have permanent headquarters, paid staff commercially run spares sources, and so on. The fixture lists are now enormous, and Formula One racing runs from March to November, with Senna and McLaren-Honda dominant to date.

This great expansion of interest in all aspects of the sport, including that associated with Veteran to Classic cars, has unfortunately vastly inflated the value of such desirable possessions, especially those with claims to historic interest and/or achievements. This has inevitably brought in its train the unscrupulous, and the ill-informed, a bad mix for the latter. Perhaps we may paraphrase a story which Peter Hull told at a recent Club dinner, about a driver who saw a notice outside a pub reading: “Come in for a glass of beer, a hot pie, and a few comforting words.” He went in and was served by an attractive bar-maid with the beer and pie. “Wasn’t there something else?” he asked. “Oh yes,” was the reply, “don’t eat the pie!” Those who set out to buy or bid for Historic cars might well be advised, “Don’t buy the car,” unless sure of its authenticity. Indeed, didn’t two Jaguars with an identical chassis-number turn up for a 1950s sports/racing car event not so long ago?

The motor sport explosion has put unrealistic prices on almost all the desirable cars; one wonders why so many appear at auction sales when most of their owners must be very wealthy to own them, so why dispose of them? Would you want to get rid of a choice Jaguar, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Bugatti, Alfa Romeo or whatever, if you could still afford to run it? The consolation must be that motoring sport now comprises a thriving mini-industry, not so mini either, supplying racing cars, rally cars, historic cars, components, equipment, and all that goes with it, and even provides Britain with some good export business.

If the horrendous price of the better cars of all ages has put them beyond most peoples’ reach, there is another consolation, that of getting a slice of motor sport by collecting motoring art, photographs, plugs, posters, mascots, badges and books, etc. Of course, the dealers have moved in here too, and prices have escalated — for instance, at the Monaco Auction last month, apart from the value placed on some very delectable cars, auctioneers expected to get bids of from 1,405,000 to 2,126,000 FF for 31 Gordon Crosby paintings — remember when The Autocar used to give away free prints of them? All of which reflects the fact that, whether you like it or not, motor sport, in this country and throughout the world, is now Big Business. — WB

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