Well met at Race Retro
Just about everyone in the old car business heads to Kenilworth in February for Britain's biggest historic motor sport show
A very social do, Race Retro, the UK's historic motor sport jamboree. If you didn't see someone in Paris at Retromobile, you'll bump into them at Stoneleigh. That's why I didn't see half of this year's show — I was stalled by the Motor Sport stand in a succession of conversations, and I didn't mind a bit. After comparing go-faster wheelchair mods with Win Percy, I bumped into famed motor sport artist Michael Turner. He tells me he can take 900 pictures at a race "and none of them is ever exactly what I want. But the beauty of being an artist is that I can arrange the cars as I want, fill empty stands, remove roll-bars, and replace full-face helmets with Herbert Johnsons." I'm looking forward to his next exhibition, in the extravagant surroundings of the Officers' Mess at RAF Halton — which in case you didn't know is a gilt-edged palace of a house built by the Rothschild family. There's a racing connection, too, as in the 1950s RAF apprentices on the nearby airfield built the Halton Special which raced with some success. All this led us on to test pilot Alex Henshaw, a chum of Michael's. His painting of the sleek Mew Gull that Henshaw flew to Cape Town and back in only four days in 1939 is one of my favourites, and I recommend Henshaw's book Flight of the Mew Gull. Over 6000 miles in 40 hours, fuelled by chicken sandwiches and coffee. Impressive.
We were still in the air when Ron Gammons arrived. I know him as a rapid MGB rally hand, but now he's more likely to be flying his DH85 Leopard Moth, and he was handing out flyers (ha!) for his Moth rally at Woburn Abbey on August 17/18. Aeroplanes and vintage cars in beautiful parkland — tempting. And there's another ground/ air meet this year: Sywell Classic — Pistons and Props, a new festival of cars, bikes and planes happening in Northamptonshire a fortnight after the Revival. Their stand showed the impressive replica of 'Whistling Billy', a ground-hugging steam-driven wedge built by White in 1905 and said to be capable of 100mph.
Stopping briefly to reminisce about his Elan days with Mr Roebuck who was admiring Jim Clark's Elan on the Classic Team Lotus stand, I caught up with Clive Chapman to ask about an unusual gift he's received. It's one of Clark's race suits, given to Jim's friend, Firestone's competitions manager Chris Perry. It's been in a drawer for years; now his widow has passed it to Classic Team Lotus. Clive tells me they didn't have any from the 1960s in CTL's collection because back then drivers bought their own suits. "We have them from the 1970s on because the team issued them, cleaned them and kept them, but this Clark set is a first for us."
Another first was bringing together Clark's 1963 Drivers' championship trophy from the Clark Room at Duns with that year's constructors cup. It's thought to be the first time they've been together in 50 years, and CTL will return the favour in May with a 25 demo around the Borders town. Also displayed behind Clark's title-winning 25 was an original early drawing of the car.
One-time BRM team manager Tim Parnell was on the CTL stand too, and over a coffee he told me about father Reg's wartime acquisition of over 30 racing cars. "As he had a haulage company he could drive them around without being stopped. They used to arrive at night, all sheeted over, and I used to go out to the barn and play in them." When he recalls that Reg, a rapid racer himself of course, bought and sold a squad of ERAs, I mention the transporters shown in our feature last month. "Oh, we had those too! Sold them to the Red Cross for ambulances."
Further afield the MAC and Shelsley Walsh showed one of the delicate Austin 750cc single-seaters, while Imps and Alpine displays waved the rear-engined flag along with Fiat 500s old and new. We had a lovely little Abarth 1000 Bialbero on the Motor Sport stand, too, as well as a comfortable corner where readers, staff and racing names mingled over coffee. Come along next time.
Murray Walker and Stirling Moss both entertained visitors on stage, as did `Whizzo' Williams and John Cleland, and I found Tiff Needell busy signing copies of his book beside the restored Lotus 69 he won in 1970, promoting Thruxton's Easter Festival. As I gazed at the ex-Richard Shuttleworth Alfa Tipo B in their display the VSCC's Julian Ghosh told me about the celebrations for the centenary of the Vauxhall 30-98 in May: to kick things off they have managed to close the road over Waddington Fell, Lancs, the hillclimb where this refined sporting car made its debut in 1913.
Outside, the Group B rally bunch were doing their best to offset the cold by burning plenty of fossil fuel on the lengthened live action rally stage, with Russell Brookes bedding in the newly restored first works Sunbeam Tiger as well as an Andrews Sunbeam Lotus, in among Quattros, 6R4s, Porsches and Minis, while HERO offered its £25 'arrive and drive' scheme allowing visitors to try a historic rally car.
I didn't even get as far as the Barry Sheene display or the automobilia this time, but while the NAC is hardly the most luxurious venue, at least in the secondary halls, Race Retro makes the grind up the M40 worthwhile.
Gunning for glamour
It was back to school for GC when he attended a masterclass in concours judging at the Track
Brooklands Museum spiced up its press launch for June's Double-12 meeting with a novel scheme — a quick course in concours judging. I've been asked more than once to judge at events but have always refused because most competitions are concours d'etat, based on outstanding condition and perfect original spec — which presupposes that you hold an entire model database in your head. I can't claim that. But as Rolls-Royce expert Malcolm Tucker explained, judges are allowed to consult marque experts on detail points.
Malcolm began our class by giving us a score sheet to mark body, chassis, engine etc and leading us to the paddock and several four-wheeled guinea pigs. Here he pointed out details such as a freshly chromed boss under a nickel-plated mirror — "Look out for chrome — there wasn't any before 1927. Should be nickel" and inspected engine bays for grime. Apparently fresh muck is good — proves the car drove in — but old grime is bad news. "If he hasn't bothered to clean it for months I'll mark him downy Malcolm says. What's harder is to weigh up old paint with the scars of life on the road against a complete restoration done with every care for accuracy. Our examples included a Triumph Roadster in nice unmolested state, a 'Pagoda' 2805L with new seat leather but carefully matched to original, and a Cooper S fresh from a bare-metal rebuild. Having approved of the Mercedes's clean but not polished engine bay and the correctly remade seats, Malcolm explained why he would rate the Mini highly even though everything gleamed with new paint. "He's gone to great lengths to match the original spec, down to correct window stickers and ignition wires."
It helps to be a marque expert, as Malcolm is on R-R Ghosts, and there was one on hand. "Look at this engine block — it's in the right paintY said our tutor confidently. "A lot of people get that wrong, or polish it up too much. This is how it left the factory."
He didn't check that the magazine packed the right ammunition, though. Did I mention the machine gun? Andrew Courtenay proudly opened his 1924 Ghost's running board storage trays (above) for me: on the off-side an array of equipment to keep your 40/50 proceeding regally; on the near, nestling in green baize, a Thompson sub-machine gun to keep brigands at bay when touring. I noticed Malcolm didn't suggest checking it worked, though.
In the end the Mini collected a bottle of wine as our favourite, even if this was subjective rather than assessed box by box. Pebble Beach won't be calling me any time soon...
Oh yes, the Double-12 Motorsport Festival. The triple event, the Museum's biggest bash of the year, is on June 15/16, with the VSCC-run Speed Trials at Mercedes-Benz World on Saturday and the Driving Tests at the museum on Sunday, while the concours runs over both days. This new format means entrants can contest any two parts to qualify for a D-12 award, or one for individual prizes. Special classes mark 50 years of the Cooper S and Mercedes SL, and centenaries of Aston Martin and Vauxhall 30-98. Tickets available now at www.brooklandsmuseumshop.com
Feeling blue in Bucks
Down on the farm to admire a harvest of Bugattis, accompanied by dejeuner a la Francais. And a small glass of red...
Lunch for 200 isn't something I'd like to tackle personally, but Tim Dutton fazed by it — every year he holds a French Day at his Buckinghamshire Bugatti workshops, where guests mingle with dozens of voitures en bleu and tuck in to coq au vin cooked by Tim himself. I hadn't been to the Dutton operation before; like so many of our vintage specialists it occupies an anonymous-looking farm among open fields, but turn the corner and instead of tractors you fall over clusters of Molsheim's finest.
And when I say finest, the first car I noticed was the Prince Leopold Type 59 in its wonderfully lived-in black and yellow livery, just one of the machines Dutton looks after for owners as well as restoring and racing the marque. Behind the T59 twin rows of horseshoe radiators adorned bonnets in all shades of blue, with half a T57 Atalante awaiting its engine. There was a matching complete car posing in the lunch marquee, while the route to the temporary cinema (Bugatti films, of course) led past a gloriously unrestored 1908 Sizaire-Naudin 12HP racer. Despite a wooden chassis and throttle-less single pot, the 1586cc capacity and slidingpillar IFS made these successful voiturettes, as Tim's father Ivan told me, pointing out the combined clutch and brake pedal on his latest acquisition. Well-known T51 racer and founder of the firm, Ivan says he's not planning too much work on the car, which is great — I look forward to seeing that rusty bonnet and Cyclops headlamp thumping past on VSCC events.
In the engine shop a row of fresh cylinder blocks showed that Dutton can repair or make virtually anything behind that red oval badge — and the coq au vin was pretty good too.