Historic scene with Gordon Cruickshank
Up for the Cup
Despite grappling with a new machine, Julian Grimwade came away with the Motor Sport Trophy
“There’s so much I’d love to do, but you can’t do it all!” So says Julian Grimwade, apparently forgetting that last year he contested two dozen events in one car, netting him the Frazer Nash Race Trophy, the Parker Cup and – most prestigious of all, naturally – the Motor Sport Brooklands Memorial Trophy. And he only began racing in 2010.
He’s been on the vintage scene for years, Julian tells me, building up a 1927 Bentley 4½ which has given much pleasure, but a few years back he had a moment of revelation.
“I used to organise big events for firms and after retiring in 2006 I missed the excitement. Then in 2010 I was invited to do the Cresta Run and I came away from that buzzing with adrenaline, thinking ‘this is what’s missing!’ I used to watch the racing, but after that I thought, ‘If I don’t start now I’ll never do it’.”
He began with a Lagonda Rapier, “and I didn’t know what I was doing. I probably should have started in sports cars”. But it fell into place and he switched to a faster Rapier before deciding he wanted more power.
“I prefer bigger engines – higher torque and fewer revs.” What he chose was about the fastest vintage vehicle he could have found – the Norris Special Frazer Nash with which James Baxter has pulled off so many wins. It’s a real Brooklands car, a 1934 ’Nash that raced at the Track in period with an unreliable Gough engine, though since 1946 it has boasted 3.5 litres of Alvis Speed 25 muscle, installed by the Norris brothers (It’s especially good to see the award go to a car that actually raced at Brooklands.) It has worn various bodies, but has carried its present compact square-shouldered one-man cladding since the 1960s, when Guy Smith took it on. He raced it for years, adding to an amazing tally that Julian shows me – 399 events when we spoke, and in Baxter’s fearless hands, 50 FTDs. In fact it currently holds about every pre-war VSCC record going.
It came with a big box of records and photos, and though it’s well documented Julian is researching it further.
“It was a semi-team car, and it’s been continuously raced since new. It’s a bit intimidating buying a car with this reputation,” he adds wryly. “I’d never driven a ’Nash so it was a big learning curve, and this is the quickest thing I’ve ever raced; I got it at Christmas and was out at the Spring Start where I broke a chain, but by our third outing things were going better.”
The infamous ’Nash solid rear axle called for some new techniques. “Either one or both wheels are slipping in any corner. Some people slide them all the time, but I don’t think that’s the quickest way so I stick to more conventional lines,” says Julian. It must work, as 2014 brought him a run of class wins and the odd overall victory in sprints, hillclimbs and races, garnished by those trophies. “It’s okay for the first year… And having the Motor Sport Trophy is fantastic – the names that are on it!”
It was a close-run thing: Nick Topliss scored the same 78 points as Julian, with Morgan Super Aero pilot Duncan Woods a bare two points behind that, but on a count-back of best placings Julian got the nod. And to confirm the club’s aura of friendly rivalry, during last season Julian shared Topliss’ ERA R4A on the hills.
Grimwade works on the Norris himself, saying he has always played with cars, even building a Kougar kit, and enthuses about the VSCC atmosphere. “I had to learn about chain transmission in a hurry, but the club is fantastic – even your biggest competitor will help.” He has his personal rivalries, of course. “Two guys I’ve been chasing for years – Pete Candy and Rob Compton in their Rileys. This car should be quick enough to get me there. And Eddie Gibbs’s single-seater ’Nash is quicker at the moment – but we’ll have to see what happens…”
He reckons he needs to calm down for this season and do fewer events, and isn’t entirely happy with the club’s new class divisions. “I’m in Set 2 which puts me up against full racers.” But, he goes on philosophically, “It doesn’t matter where you are in the field, you’ll find someone to race against. Especially on the short, twisty circuits I like; Mallory is good because you can see everyone all the time, and Cadwell is a hoot in this thing.”
He hasn’t regretted dropping straight into old cars. “Vintage racing is so cost-effective. Once the Lagonda was right I only paid for petrol and entry fees. The cars feel fast and look fast, everyone talks, drivers are happy to chat to spectators. Some entrants have money, some are on a shoestring but everyone mixes in together.”
It’s not all VSCC; he did the Etretat hillclimb in France last year, and he took the Lagonda to Angoulême (“Madness! But the ’Nash would be fantastic there.”)
And yes, he does drive the Norris on the road sometimes, “But it attracts attention. And there’s nowhere to put your sandwiches.” So for Le Mans Classic naturally it’s the Bentley, a rare replica of the 1928 bobtail team cars. “That’s a keeper. I aim to drive her on her 100th birthday.”
Meanwhile there’s the challenge of extracting a fraction more from the Norris. “I’m down to 1min 14sec on Silverstone Club circuit, but when you’re on the limit that last few per cent is really hard.” By the time this appears Julian will have had a go looking for those few per cent at VSCC Spring Start – and despite his protestations, he’ll probably have fitted in another half-dozen events too.
Veterans head north
End to End challenge planned for pre-1919 vehicles
If you’ve never yet made it to John O’Groats (a disappointing spot, and I say that although my roots are close to there), you’re not in a hurry to arrive, and you have a veteran vehicle, you might want to sign up for the Bugatti OC’s planned Veteran End-to-End challenge in June 2016.
The 10-day 1100-mile Lands End-John O’Groats trip offers a scenic route on roads suitable for veterans, in this case cars or motorbikes up to 1918, avoiding big towns. It’s not a competition, except between car, crew and conditions, and the route avoids the traditional A9 – and thus the fearsome Berriedale Brae that used to terrify me as a lad in our family campervan… www.lejoghistorique.co.uk
Into the wood
London classic car gathering hits the street once more
Once again St John’s Wood in London will echo to petrol power for the Motoring Extravaganza on Sunday June 21. Starring a Porsche 917 driven by Steve McQueen for the Le Mans film and the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar D-type we featured last year, the day brings together vintage Bentleys, current supercars and classics of all ages in between, surrounded by the High Street’s restaurants and shops plus a funfair to amuse the children. It runs from 11-5pm, and the proceeds go to charity.
New rally show brings endurance cars and crews to Gaydon
It’s a sad reflection that endurance rally promoter Philip Young will not be at the Historic Marathon Rally show on May 31, when those long-distance events of the 1960s and ’70s will be celebrated.
Back then events such as London-Sydney and London-Mexico were headline news, with famous faces keen to subject themselves to weeks of gruelling driving, and the show will recall their exploits by bringing together drivers, navigators and cars which tackled these trans-continental contests. Displays and parades of period cars, crew reunions and interviews and Q&A sessions will entertain the public at this free show, which will also celebrate the early Pirelli Historic Marathons which Young started in 1988. Visit www.historicmarathonrallyshow.com for details.
At the same time you can see a selection from the enormous 543-strong Hull collection which Jaguar bought last year, despite the closure of its own museum at Browns Lane. About 140 of the cars, originally all housed in one vast industrial shed (below), were Jaguars. While some of those are now in use with the company’s Heritage Experience days, four have been added to the firm’s display at Gaydon, including a Coombs-modified E and an SS Airline saloon. In addition Jaguar has loaned another dozen British flag-wavers from the Hull cars, including a Bentley R-type Continental, a Graber-bodied Alvis, Sunbeam Alpine and an impressive woodie-bodied Allard P2 estate. Along with the JDHT Jaguar XJ13 and the 1988 Le Mans-winning XJR-9 already there, it’s yet more reason to revisit this busy museum.