Art of the invisible

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How an airy art exhibition can help make sense of F1 car design

Being intrigued by the invitation, I stopped off in Pimlico for an art exhibition – a lot of hot air. Except that this was ‘virtual air’ round Williams race cars, visualised and artified by Blueshift GP, a gallery that collaborated with the Grand Prix team. Inspired by computational fluid dynamics images of airflow around the FW35 and earlier F1 cars, the artworks are digitally coloured or enhanced, then printed onto back-lit acrylic sheet that makes them punch their way off the wall. At several metres across they have real impact, with intense colours
scribed through by the whorls and vortices of the virtual wind-tunnel, which simulates aerodynamic flow without transgressing FIA limits on firing up those expensive fans.

There was a real Williams in the Ransome Gallery, too, an FW18 which came in after the window frame had been removed, and seeing car and aero-paintings side by side made real sense of the vanes, fins and flaps that slice through today’s F1 field, for there on the wall were all the swirls and streamlines that engineers strive to manage so precisely to shed another nth of a second per lap. Previously confidential, the images are informative, too: airflow underneath an F1 car is something you rarely see illustrated. Even the monochrome images had a ghostly attraction of their own, while a sinuous chromed 6 into 4 into 2 exhaust manifold hanging on the wall reminded visitors that real engineering can be beautiful too. You can buy limited editions of the artworks from Blueshift’s website. And I was given a box of Williams Top Trumps that should keep the office entertained.

Afterwards I admired fine craft skills at nearby Linley, maker of fabulous furniture and which recently had an F1 McLaren in its window, then had lunch at the Daylesford café, established by Lady Bamford, wife of the JCB boss and car collector. Cars follow me everywhere. Even to the National Theatre – when I went to see Twelfth Night, the Duke drove on stage in a Triumph TR6.

www.markransom.co.uk/collections/the-art-of-aero-exhibition

Long way round

E-type epic makes its film premiere 

Went to the pictures recently. No Hollywood ‘shooting and shouting’ epic, but a cheerful record of last year’s round-Britain E-type Jaguar tour. Titled Keep the Sea on the Left, it reports on the fund-raising Coastal Drive organised by E-type guru Philip Porter, which circumnavigated our entire island clockwise, cars and crews joining usually for a section or two of the 3 1/2 week run – though some hardy types drove the whole 4000 miles, including Porter in the E-type which starred in The Italian Job. E-types of all variants participated, including the delectable Eagle GT. 

The gathering place for the showing was highly suitable – the swish new premises of Hexagon of Highgate. Owned by Paul Michaels, Hexagon has been a major motoring name for years – I used to slog up to the Highgate garage to get one of my Alfas serviced – ranging from sales and service to all sorts of racing including a brief adventure in Formula 1, when Michaels bought a March 721 and John Watson came with it. By 1974 the team had a Brabham BT42, and the Irishman netted a fine sixth at Monaco. 

Photos of these events adorn the walls at Hexagon, backing a fine display of classic car stock from a Lancia Aurelia B24, that gorgeous convertible, to the Leyton House Kremer 962 that placed fourth at Le Mans. Not to mention artworks including a tall, sinuous sculpture by Jaguar design chief Ian Callum. (I noticed at Race Retro that his colleague Julian Thomson is also an artist, producing handsome prints.)

With some 120 people in the audience, there were cheerful jokes as the film and the cars swept around Britain through spectacular scenery. E owner Ross Brawn joined in for the last stage to Goodwood, and the result was more than £50,000 for Prostate Cancer UK. 

There will be another coastal run this year, for XKs this time, and if you want to be tempted as well as aid the charity, DVDs are available from the E-type Club at www.e-typeclub.com.

Unearthing hidden gems

Classic car shows are still full of surprises

Odd that while the British Motor Show was once headline news every year, it died a slow death and attempts to relight the fuse have fizzled out; yet classic shows appear to thrive. We’re told that younger generations don’t have petrol in their veins as we did, seeing the private car more as a self-indulgent transport device than a thrill machine, yet ExCel, Alexandra Palace and the NEC all offer shows packed with treasured hobby cars, tools, services and marque clubs. 

Maybe yesterday’s cars have more of a future than today’s.

Really I went to the NEC Classic and Restoration show to buy a car more than see the show, thinking that surely I’d seen everything the clubs could offer, but yet again among 1000 cars displayed there were treasures to admire. On the Allard stand they were ankle deep in ash shavings building up a J2 body, while another restoration project centred on Jean Denton’s MGB entry on the 1968 London-Sydney, on tall tyres and loaded with lights, bars and spare wheels. Currently half-done, the B Register is seeking funds to finish it. A corral of 25 barn finds, dusty, straw-blown and gnawed by corrosion, made a great display of schadenfreude including a magnificently horrible Silver Shadow – moss-grown, rotten, and furred with more mould than Alexander Fleming’s Petri dish. Someone had discovered an Isuzu Piazza Turbo, too; I liked that thing, with its Giugiaro body, basic but Lotus-tweaked springing and crude but willing blast of power. Not easy to restore.

Another tough one is going to be the Sunbeam Lotus ragged with rust; well worth doing, though. I was once having so much fun in Motor Sport’s test car that I couldn’t bear to slow down for a police car. I passed him on the outside of a roundabout. On opposite lock. If he two-toned me I didn’t hear it. 

Years ago my parents had a Citroën GS Estate which I really liked for its quirky, eager character, so I smiled at the GS pick-up with yacht-like timbers and chrome rails. I approve of conversions like that; ditto Keith Edmund’s Triumph Spitfire with 2-litre Calibra GTE power. Very nicely built, with retrimmed interior, 3-litre Capri bonnet bulge and round rear lights, it won the Pride of Ownership award. 

And my intended purchase? I’ve been looking for a BMW 635CSi for a while now and watching prices rise; since the 1980s this handsome coupé has drifted from the executive car park to Flash Harry’s driveway but is now finding space in the collector’s garage. At CCA’s big auction the two I was watching went for much over estimate and I didn’t bid, but a few days later I did a deal on a car in Yorkshire – one owner and 74,000 miles. I’ve either scored a palpable hit or an own goal, and only time will send me the bill. It’s an old car; expensive things will go wrong. I know that. But it sounds gorgeous.

Goodbye to a great man

A solemn farewell to a rider, driver and team principal who left a major mark on racing

A sad duty in March, attending the funeral of John Surtees. Held at Worth Abbey, on a sloping wooded hillside outside Paddockhurst in Sussex, it drew people from all aspects of the racing world on two wheels and four, from the Henry Surtees Foundation and from the press as well as family and friends. Christian Horner, Nigel Mansell, Derek Bell and Tony Brooks all attended, and outside sat one of John’s MV Agusta bikes and a Surtees TS7 Formula 1 car. 

Inside the unusual circular chapel where the coffin rested with John’s distinctive helmet on top, there were heartfelt tributes from his daughters and his long-time friend Terry Regan, raising affectionate smiles among the solemn faces. Musically, the duet from the Pearl Fishers reminded us of John’s love of opera. At the reception afterwards books of condolence quickly filled up and many were the tales of John being exchanged – usually with a wry pay-off.

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