Historic racing

I do not know who coined the word “Historic” and applied it to old racing cars, but it was an awful mistake, for it implies that the car has a history worth recording. In some cases this is justified, in other cases it is a poor joke, and there are some cases that are downright false. The Germans use the word “Oldtimer”, which I believe they got from America, while the French use the phrase “Voitures de course de l’epoch” and the Italians refer to “Vecchia machina di corsa.” Now none of these expressions demand any sort of historical background, they embrace old racing cars at their face value. Had we started off by using the term “old racing car” it would have saved us a lot of heart-searching, a certain amount of acrimony and a lot of time and trouble, and we would all be much happier “. . . just messing about with our old cars . . .” 

With the increasing dullness and sameness of today’s amateur single-seaters, whether they are Formula Ford, Super Vee, 2000 or Atlantic, there are more and more people getting interested in old cars, and in racing them. The mere fact that a single-seater racing car today is built to a strict set of rules, or Formula, limits its mechanical interest and to a lot of people it is the machinery that fascinates, so that old-car racing offers a wider interest, especially when it spans a number of years. 

The recently formed Historic Grand Prix Cars Association have voiced the opinion that there is almost too much old-car racing, and the quality is becoming diversified, which might eventually kill the interest, by over-exposure. This feeling grew last year, when there were four distinct series of races, numerous parades and anniversary demonstrations, and many “one-off” events. Most owners of old Grand Prix cars feel that six or seven really good events between Easter and October would be sufficient, especially as most of them are amateurs with jobs to do or businesses to run during the week; the success or otherwise of their weekday activities decides how much they can spend on the old-car racing hobby. The owner/drivers who are concerned about this have got together too late to affect 1980, but with any luck they may influence the activity in 1981, bringing a more rational and reasonable attitude to it. For this year we still have four maior fields of activity for old-car racing. First there is the regular season of the Vintage Sports Car Club, with two major Silverstone Club meetings, one at Oulton Park, one at Donington Park, and one at Cadwell Park, as well as hill-climbs at Shelsley Walsh and Prescott. Then there is the FIA series of events for the European Cup and the FISA Trophy. The Donington Park Racing Club runs series of events at their circuit, in conjunction with Esso and finally there is what is proving to be the most popular series, The Historic Car Championship run with the financial backing of the Lloyds and Scottish Finance Company, known as the Lloyds and Scottish Championship. 

This series has events scheduled for Silverstone, Brands Hatch and Oulton Park, with three events at the Buckinghamshire circuit, three down in Kent and one in Cheshire. This series caters for single-seaters and sports/racing 2-seaters, and at some venues they run together, at others there are separate races. Where possible the event is combined with a major International meeting, as at the British GP at Brands Hatch on July 13th and the RAC Tourist Trophy at Silverstone on September 14th. 

Single-seaters are divided into three groups: 1931 to 1940; Post-war to 1953; 1954 to 1960. Sports/racing cars have two groups: Post-war to 1957 and 1958 to 1960. Points are scored 9, 6, 4, for first second and third in each group, with 2 points for all other finishers (minimum of four starters in the group) and at the end of the season the Lloyds and Scottish fund will pay out £12 per point scored. In addition each event will pay £250 for first overall, £150 for second overall and £100 for third overall. If you took part in all seven events and finished last each time, you would score 14 points and at the end of the season you would get £168, which would buy you a new racing tyre and pay for a round of drinks for your helpers! If on the other hand you won every event outright you would score 63 points, which would net you £756 and you would add to that seven times the £250 first prize, £1,750, which would bring your total at the end of a very successful season to £2,506, which would cover the cost of four new racing tyres, a couple of sets of sparking plugs, a few gallons of methanol and quite a good party for your unpaid helpers. With many people spending £50,000 on a suitable car for this series, (or even a miserly £25,000) it makes you echo the Editor’s recent comment, “Why do they do it?” It has got to be for fun and enjoyment, or pure hobby. For those of us who enjoy looking at and listening to old racing cars we should consider ourselves fortunate that we have in this country businessmen like Neil Corner, the Hon. Patrick Lindsay, Geoffrey Marsh, Christopher Mann, Martin Morris, Robert Cooper, Anthony Bamford, Vic Norman, Bruce Halford and all the others whose enthusiasm lets them spend small fortunes in keeping these old cars running. Other businessmen, like Lord Montagu, Tom Wheatcroft and Bob Roberts, who display such cars in their museums, also give us all a lot of pleasure, but not quite the same as hearing the exhaust note of an ERA or Bugatti, or the smell from an Alfa Romeo or Maserati. 

For many of these owners the practical problems of keeping an old racing car in running order would deter strong men, especially when you have to have new parts such as connecting rods and pistons, crankshafts and camshafts made from scratch. If you have a major prang, apart from personal injury, you might have to have a new chassis-frame made. All these risks and ravages of continual use are accepted as part of the activity, and no one minds a car having totally new parts (to the original pattern) in order to keep it performing on the track. Where there is much dissension is when these newly-made parts are used to create a totally new car that previously never existed, nor ever would have existed if some of the old-car owners had not got together to have the parts made. Equally, there is dissension over cars that have been conjured-up from spare parts that were originally made by the parent factory. If, for example, a factory made three Grand Prix cars and a collection of spares to keep them serviced, is it justifiable today to assemble those spares into a fourth car? In 1924 the Sunbeam company built three Grand Prix cars and certain spares for a fourth car, though it was never completed, or even roughly assembled, but being conscientious tool-room engineers every part was clearly numbered. The remains of car No. 1 are in Ulster, I have the remains of car No. 2 in my own workshop and car No. 3 is on display in the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. The car in Ulster, which is No. 1 without question, has No. 4 on the chassis frame, my car has one front brake drum marked No. 4 and I feel, sure that if the Beaulieu workshops were to dismantle No. 3 they would find parts marked No. 4. This indicates clearly that the set of spare parts catalogued as No. 4 were used up to keep the three team cars racing and to my way of thinking it would be totally unjustified for me to take my No. 4 brake drum and “recreate” a Grand Prix Sunbeam around it. Yet this is what people are doing with later cars, Bugattis, Maseratis, Alfa Romeos. Listers, HVMs, and so on, and I maintain that this sort of thing is bringing historic racing cars, and racing history into disrepute and anyway, is a pointless activity with a strong touch of avarice and dishonesty about it. A friend of mine points out that a collection of spare parts assembled into a “new” car can never represent anything more than a “mobile set of spares.” There are some cars masquerading as historic cars that are nothing more than a “mobile net of spare parts.” The “new” car that is restored/resurrected/reclaimed/rebuilt, call it what you will, around an original part, or parts is a different matter, and Doug Nye, who researches racing car history as much as I write it as it happens, evaluates cars by a percentage. He gives 20% for the engine, 20% for the gearbox/transmission, 20% for the chassis frame, 20% for the suspension, springs, brakes, etc. that hang on the chassis, and 20% for the body panels, petrol tank, oil tank, radiator, etc. If you have a 250F Maserati, for example, and the engine last ran in a race in 1958, as with one that is well known, you can honestly say it has an original engine. If it has been raced in old-car events since then and has needed new valves, new rods, new pistons, even a new crankshaft, then nobody minds you saying you still have a Maserati engine. If you should happen to be misguided enough to remove the three double-choke Weber carburetters and fit three SU carburetters, you would still be credited with a Maserati engine, but you would only justify 18% and not the whole 20%. Applying this throughout the car it is very satisfying if you arrive at a total of 75%, and this should be everyone’s aim, but for practical reasons many cars struggle a bit to reach 50%. This is deemed acceptable, but not very worthy, especially when there are plenty of cars about, like Talbot-Lagos, Tipo B Alfa Romeos, Type 51 Bugattis, ERAs and so on that easily amass 80% and more often than not they can score 90/95%. It is cars that can only justify 35%, or even less, that are bringing the whole scene into disrepute and some of these have been described as “Replicas”, and certain areas of the old-car movement have tried to give the word an air of respectability. Some of them are nothing more than fakes; bogus at the best. The RAC Historic Committee has recently decided to stop accepting the title “Replica” and use instead the simple, explanatory word “Copies”. You can still go on making your copies, but they will not be acceptable in Historic Racing. If you want to make a copy of an Ulster Austin 7, a Grand Prix Bugatti or a Le Mans 4½-litre Bentley you are at perfect liberty to do so, and indeed no one has ever suggested you should not do so, but don’t bring it along to join in Historic Racing, especially if it is a serious event. If you put it on display and charge people to look at it, then that is something else beyond the province of the old-car racing movement. While we have sufficient good old-cars and sufficient people prepared to spend money to race them, there is no place for “copies.”

The entry list for the Lloyds and Scottish Finance Company’s races han been published and we append some of the more interesting entries to order to whet your appetite for the forthcoming season and to let you know what you will be seeing. — D.S.J.

Lloyds & Scottish Historic Championship
7th April — BRDC Silverstone (Easter Monday)
11th May — AMOC Brands Hatch
14th June — VSCC Oulton Park
28th June — AMOC Silverstone
13th July — British GP Brands Hatch
25th Aug. — Aurora AFX Brands Hatch
14th Sept. — RAC Tourist Trophy Silverstone