Marcus Pye's Diary
A chat with an ex-GP winner brightens up Mrs Pye’s day as Marcus ponders financial ruin in a Rugby model shop
The Festival of Speed preview day dawned gloriously sunny, which might have sent Lord March’s local meteorological pundits scurrying anxiously to consult their seaweed. In the early days of the event, inaugurated in 1993, conditions on Press Day were often inversely proportional to June or July. But, in a year when we’ve had shirtsleeves weather in early March and bitter cold at Easter, anything could happen.
One delightful aspect of the launch party is the social prior to our host’s briefing. As we gathered in Goodwood House’s yellow drawing room, overlooking June’s hillclimb course, it was splendid to see Sir Stirling Moss looking fit following another bout of back surgery.
Fifty years after his Mille Miglia victory for Mercedes-Benz, Stirling was demonstrating the first replica of Denis Jenkinson’s ingenious pacenote roller, which he is to market via his website in a run of 722 (at £722 apiece), to mirror the 300SLR’s start time and number. Fascinated, my wife had a demo and wants one. Then Fiona became engrossed in a long conversation with Jochen Mass, one of Goodwood’s greatest fans and somebody with a real passion for the sport. Far too pleasant, she opined, to have been a grand prix driver. Even in a bygone era.
Model racing cars became a childhood obsession with me when my godfather bought me a Solido Chaparral 2F on which the high wing tilted when the rear suspension was depressed to its bump stops. The big collection went to sustain my house purchase, but the bug lingers.
On a recent trip to Rugby, therefore, I sought out Midland Racing Models, run by BRDC member Mike Coombe. Nestling in an arcade, it’s a tiny shop, dominated by a big man. And it is crammed, floor-to-ceiling, with treasures.
Having commissioned a 1/43scale replica of the ex-Keke Rosberg 1977 Formula Two Chevron B40 I co-own (paint and glue never did mix with my sausage-like fingers) and picked up some rare kits for pals with the real thing, I delved into Mike’s fascinating racing history.
An Elva Courier, registered VGN 111, got him started in ’62, but his job in the Rootes Group’s competition department was the key to graduating via an ex-Le Mans Sunbeam Alpine to one of the works rally Tigers. He bought AHP 289B for a song: “The sales chit said scrap, but the boss helpfully made sure it had a new engine first.”
An ex-Mike Crabtree lightweight Lotus Elan and a thuggish Cooper T66 — a ’63 Formula One relic with a Ford V8 engine shoehorned in for the first year of F5000 in ’69 — followed, before he acquired an ex-Sid Taylor Lola T70 for international sportscar events.
When the thunderous big bangers were outlawed in favour of a 3-litre formula, Mike ran a DFV-engined March developed by Kim Argyle before bowing out of driving due to increasing costs.
The model emporium, which also markets exclusive large-scale F3 cars for current teams, maintains Coombe’s interest and contact with many friends. I thoroughly recommend a visit, even if my wallet is thankful I left my first so long!
Frank Nichols’s Elva Mk7 sportscar is familiar territory, as I raced Stuart Tizzard’s last year. My first proper look at the rarer 1965 Mk8 model, however, was when David Clark’s sat naked of bodywork, inboard front suspension akimbo, on trestles in Simon Hadfield’s workshop.
The genuine chassis 80/03 was barely recognisable when it arrived last summer. Early in its life it was exported to the Canary Isles, where it evolved into a steroidal caricature of itself for hillclimbing. In its last guise it was powered by a wailing BMW M3 straight-six rather than the proper Bavarian SOHC ‘four’.
Now restored to original, with a body of beautiful proportions, it is possibly the most attractive two-seater of its era. Longer, wider and more slippery than its predecessor, it’s also well balanced and incredibly quick. Easter Monday’s Cloth Cap enduro victory at Castle Combe (when Richard Oldworth shared the car) was more telling than the previous afternoon’s debut win as an invited entry in the HSCC’s Classic Sports series. Keep your eye on this car. It will eat Lola T70 Spyders for breakfast…