Opening scenes

Our Live Stage and extensive displays were a big hit as Race Retro kick-started the season   

Some of my ‘business’ trips produce great driving – Goodwood away from Revival days, Silverstone before they stuck confusing up/down/up speed limits all over the A413, and many a workshop hidden in the country down hedge-lined lanes. Race Retro, though, gives me the dullest drive ever – packed dual carriageway/motorway the entire route, bar two winding miles at the end. I dislike the trip. Why do I keep doing it? Because there’s so much to relish at Stoneleigh, so many people to meet. Race Retro is the gathering place as the historic season opens up.

This time I wanted to see the Jim Clark Lotus 33 we featured recently, on show as part of Motor Sport’s display, and what a wonderful timewarp sight it is. Age seeps through it, from grubby suspension parts to creased seat padding, the seat where Clark sat while propelling R11 to another Lotus victory – four in all, on the way to the 1965 world championship. The same seat that later welcomed Mike Spence, Pedro Rodríguez and then Graham Hill in its remarkably long front-line career.

Alongside the car, engineless and with its body top placed nearby on trestles, were dusty cardboard boxes crammed with parts and spares still wrapped in 1978 newspapers, just as they were put aside back then. In case anyone disputes originality after Classic Team Lotus’s restoration, this was the visible evidence.

Even better, I was able to talk to the man who saved it from a life of declining club racing, the man Doug Nye interviewed last month whom we agreed only to call Hugh. He’s been an arch-enthusiast for years, owning the Rob Walker TT-winning 250SWB and driving it many thousands of miles on the road in its later Drogo-bodied form, as well being a long-time friend of Rob Walker himself. We had a long talk about the complexities of restoration, though in this case the target is clear: “I’m determined to make it look as though Jim has just stepped out of it after winning the 1965 British Grand Prix,” he says. Mind you, it will retain the dashboard oddity of a tachometer mounted above the fascia to allow the steering column to fit through the gap where the rev counter had been – so that lanky Graham Hill could fit below the wheel. Once restored the car will of course run – as we described last month the correct 32-valve flat-plane-crank Climax engine and ’box are standing by – but Hugh is firm that he didn’t want it prepped for racing. “I can’t stand the thought of the FIA telling me what to do to it.” 

He also related a tale of Andy Middlehurst, who restored the H16 Lotus 43. Hugh had both of the 43 chassis plates and agreed to pass the correct one to Middlehurst, who drove from Merseyside to Hampshire to collect it, then all the way over to Hethel just so that Lotus mechanic of Clark’s time Bob Dance could apply the four pop rivets to fix it to the chassis. That’s dedication to originality.

Part of Motor Sport’s extensive display – alongside eight DFV-powered machines, the 1957 British GP-winning Vanwall, the Le Mans-winning Bentley Speed 8, a GT3 Bentley, Aston Martin GTE, Subaru Impreza, Super Touring Audi A4 and several Group B rally cars, not to mention the live stage where a succession of packed crowds listened to our various presentations – the 33 was headlining a crowd-funding push to expand the Jim Clark Museum in Duns. Much loved but currently very small – just a couple of rooms in a house – the museum aims to extend so that the great driver’s cars can be displayed as well as artefacts, trophies etc. The crowd-funding campaign must hit £300,000 by April 21 to top up the £1.2m already in place, so get clicking:

I’ve done my bit.

There’s a lot of ground to cover at Race Retro between the main hall and the diminishingly glamorous sheds toward the rear where cheap tools, Hillman Minx cylinder heads and Dinky Toys mingle with automobilia and old books. Odd things attract the eye down the aisles: a book on Monteverdi (car, not composer), an original film poster for One Million Years BC, a Brabham-tuned Vauxhall Viva estate. Further on sat one of the Napolina Alfa GTV 2000s that contested the BTCC (I once had an Alfa GTV6 – only car I’ve ever actually kicked in annoyance… and that’s including my TVR) and the top-heavy Eifelland 21 Formula 1 car designed, or at least streamlined, by free-thinking Swiss artist Luigi Colani. With its cockpit snout air intake, tea-tray nose spoiler and huge central pillar periscope mirror, this 1972 device performed notably worse than the March 721 it was based on – no fun for poor Rolf Stommelen. It’s now racing again, albeit with a more conventional winged nose.

Always with an eye for the miniature, I was captivated by some of the work of Kit Lotus, a kit-building collective of Lotus fans, showing fine models of Lotus transporters right back to an early converted coach and the scary Zephyr-engined Thames van, plus a lovely 1/24 diorama of mechanics unloading 25s onto a grassy paddock.

I didn’t enter the HERO classic tour that ended up at the show, but the group’s MD Patrick Burke made me smile when he told me that world champion rally co-driver David Richards has entered their Flying Scotsman event – though as he’d never done a regularity event he was getting some personal coaching…