Season kicks off with a pair of historic motor racing shows to tempt you back in the water
Don’t know how many people went to both the London Classic Car Show and Race Retro, just one February week apart, but the different feel to the two expositions hints at a contrasting customer base.
Opened dramatically by Jenson Button blasting down the centre alley in the McLaren F1 GTR that came third at Le Mans, the London event majors on high-end dealers and restorers, with supercars and classics noisily performing on the main avenue. The show’s special display, enclosed in a forbidding black cube, highlighted Gordon Murray and the F1 story and once again was an impressive collection. F1s in all variants from plain road car to Le Mans-winning long-tail GTR sat among panels explaining the gestation and the minuscule care Murray put into it. I spent ages poring over deft sketches showing how carefully the F1 designer and now compact car guru managed even such abstruse details as internal cooling airflow to the electrics.
Within the hall, classics of all and any era lined up on the Grand Avenue for their five minutes of fame. Elsewhere, an impressive replica of an Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale vied for attention with the real thing, while an extremely orange Probe 16 whizzed me back to 1970 with its knee-high profile and sunroof entry. Shaped by Marcos designer Dennis Adams and a star of A Clockwork Orange, it looked like it came from Mars – but only packed an Austin Maxi motor.
When my ears weren’t being split by the show’s drag-strip centrepiece, I spoke to Neville Swales about his lovingly replicated Jaguar XJ13. Amazingly this boasts one of the handful of four-cam V12s built in Coventry for the possible Le Mans project, which Swales already has running. So detailed is the build, working from Jaguar’s drawings and with advice from those involved, that Neville reckons it will outshine the real one, much rebuilt after Norman Dewis’s MIRA crash. He’ll build you one too, but for your £500,000 you’ll have to make do with the standard single-cam V12.
Nice to see the Radford Mini reborn, too, that lavishly furnished favourite of 1960s popsters and film stars – a sort of precursor to the Aston Martin Cygnet – while Cobra stalwart Rod Leach showed the other extreme of Sixties cool with a lovely 289 that sat in a garage for 30 years. Could it be the one I was shown in a dusty shed in the 1980s and have not been able to trace? Among all the real cars, model maker Corgi celebrated 60 years of its much-loved die-cast miniatures with an exhibition on board a Routemaster bus – oh, the hours I once spent on the bedroom floor learning how to parallel park a Bentley Continental with jewelled headlights.
The club stands in the second hall added this year felt a bit unvisited, maybe because you had to find your way there through a throng of Darth Vaders, superheroes and witches from the fantasy show alongside. Docklands Excel Centre may be well served by transport, but it’s not the easiest to navigate.
Race Retro, on the other hand, is more for racers and hands-on types, especially if you penetrate to the chilly back halls where tools, toys and jumble lurk (I was glad I kept digging – I came back with a handsome WWI aeroplane propeller.) Up front a quartet of Williams GP cars including his title-winning FW18 showcased Damon Hill’s career, and on the Motor Sport stand we joined in with an Embassy Shadow fielded by Hill Sr. On Sunday editor Damien Smith interviewed Damon on the event stage together with Jonathan Williams, who heads the team’s heritage section, and you can download that as a podcast from the Motor Sport website.
Group B rally cars featured at both shows – I still recall how the approaching wail of Tony Pond’s 6R4 warmed the Welsh forest chill from your bones – but Race Retro let them loose on a rally stage, with British rally champs Russell Brookes and Dai Llewellin having fun among 60 cars.
All the classic racing organisations attend this show; the HSCC’s Grahame White proudly explained how their April 16/17 meet at Castle Combe will reassemble the grid of its inaugural 1966 event, with some of the same cars. On the Chateau Impney stand sat David Haywood’s remarkable reconstruction of Parry Thomas’s Leyland-Thomas, which used the supremely refined engine from the stillborn Leyland Eight luxury car. WB would have been thrilled. The hotel hillclimb will be its first speed run.
On the FORCE stand, the organisation’s founder David McLaughlin surprised me by explaining how once down-tuned and run on regular fuel, F1 cars of the recent past become quite docile – even BMW’s fearsome turbo four with the wick turned down and a modern M3 brain installed.
After exchanging memories of Stanley Mann, whom we lost recently, Bentley aficionado Philip Strickland tells me plans are already ramping up for the 100th anniversary of WO’s first car in 1919. Knowing how Bentley owners love a party, this is likely to be major bash.
Newly rebranded, the British Motor Museum brought one of the tiny 750cc single-seaters created by Murray Jamieson around 1932 to showcase the Austin name. This was the side-valve version – slightly more connection to an A7 than the twin-cam, but still tenuous.
Larger than the London show, Race Retro merits a full day’s tour, especially if you want to enjoy the live outdoor action. Aimed squarely at the historic race market, you don’t go there to buy cars, whereas LCC attracts buyers who are ready to splash out on their dream classic. With a new team in charge, the Stoneleigh event promises fresh features for 2017, but the Excel show also plans expansion to its glossier format.
Ettore and more
Annual Bugatti bash draws racers, restorers and artists to Dutton HQ for a bowl of boeuf
Like Mr Arron, I too enjoyed Tim Dutton’s annual French Day when the well-known Bugatti restorer and racer hosts a gathering of car folk, feeding them vats of boeuf bourgignon he cooks himself while the air is full of auto-chat. Parking ourselves by a glistening Type 57 roadster (right), VSCC stalwart Julian Ghosh updated me on one of Bill Boddy’s favourite machines, the supercharged 3-litre Vauxhall Villiers, developed from one of the 1922 TT cars. Aided by supercharging expert Amherst Villiers, this was Raymond Mays’ project and is said to be the first car to run with twin wheels when he broke the Shelsley Walsh record in 1929.
Julian’s car has been out for action for some years since it broke its crank on the finish line at Shelsley Walsh, the trouble being that it’s a roller-bearing crank that requires a specialist to shrink-fit the parts together. But eventually it will again roar up the hill where Raymond Mays turned in so many records.
Further on, by a type 54 ‘Bachelier’ roadster, the super-effusive Duncan Pittaway was getting all excited about his new project, rare even among rare cars. As a change from spidery, wingless vintage specials he’s now rebuilding a Cheetah, the Chevy-based sportster that took a stack of wins in 1960s American sports car racing. Most were GRP-bodied, but a couple gained ally coachwork and this is what Duncan is building, completing the long-wheelbase chassis that was planned but not assembled.
He went on to add that he’d now fitted exhaust pipes to the 28-litre Fiat to reduce the risk of singeing passengers – not silencers, note, just pipes. I asked if he’d had it on the road. “Oh, I did about 40 miles yesterday,” he replied airily. Not to be outdone in the current lust for litres, Tim’s father Ivan Dutton is building an 18,000cc aero-engined special. How much of a threat the DVLA’s current campaign querying the origins of vintage specials may be to this sort of project remains to be seen, but Tim says because of this he now finds it simpler to work for overseas clients. The fear is that a built-up Bentley or Bugatti, whose origins have been perfectly openly recorded as coming from more than one vehicle, might be branded with a ‘Q’ registration plate. It’s a prospect that has already begun to affect car values.
Crouching in front of a Type 50 coupé I was pleased to encounter Stefan Marjoram whose photos and artwork I’ve long admired, swiping his iPad with deft fingers to produce this rapid sketch (below). He still enjoys traditional media, but as the digital design appears on his screen with just as much definition and presence as ink I can see the appeal, and convenience. Stefan says that the latest pressure-sensitive stylus gives him the same control of line and texture as brush or pencil. And a flick of the finger makes the drawing undo itself for revisions. I use a tablet myself for sketch designs but I can see I’m going to have to ask Stefan for lessons.
Noisy sendoff for Philip
Audible tribute as historic rally world gathers to remember a crucial figure in the sport
A minute’s noise seemed a highly suitable send-off for Philip Young, who enabled so many people to get so much fun from their old cars. Almost exactly a year after the death of the historic rally figurehead, friends and colleagues assembled at Brooklands where the paddock was crammed with classics, many bearing rally plates from Philip’s events, to hear cheerful memories of a man who alternated bull-necked stubbornness with kindly patience.
ERA director and WRC co-driver Fred Gallagher introduced film of Young’s various adventures from here to the Himalayas and beyond, while Lord Steel, Paul Easter, Willie Cave and many other rally figures shared stories and laughs about Philip’s events, and the après-rally events too. Lord Steel also revealed the newly instituted Philip Young Cup for the best novice on Pékin-Paris.
Then that blare of engines and horns, to the basso profundo of the Napier-Railton, rounded off as upbeat a day as could be in the circumstances.
Such a shame that when Jenks left us, a local killjoy stopped Lord March having a similar audio tribute during the Festival…