There was nothing agricultural about what was on show at the UK’s best historic motor sport show
You’d expect me to say nice things about Race Retro now that it’s ‘powered by Motor Sport magazine’. But that’s no hardship – the historic motor sports show is always so packed with eye-catchers that I could fill whole notebooks with the stuff that caught my fancy among stands for all the chief race clubs and series, purveyors of various hardware to make you go quicker, and firms organising lavish continental events to take your classic to. And of course all the right people.
It seemed odd to be chatting with Whizzo Williams knowing that following his retirement announcement we weren’t going to see him howling round the track any more. I think my first track trip after the accident that put me in a wheelchair was being levered into Nick Mason’s Le Mans Daytona Ferrari so that Whizzo could hurl me round Castle Combe without the wheels ever pointing straight ahead. It was ace. But as he says he’s had 60 years of fantastic fun, and you can’t do better than that.
Taking the racing line round a display I met Martin Stretton, a front-line historic racer since the 1990s. That swirly green helmet has taken the chequered flag at Monaco three times, and last year’s Glover Trophy at the Revival, not to mention countless wins in historic F1, F2, TGP and the rest. Martin is a lucky guy – he gets drives in some of the best historic racers around but he tells me he has a back stop in case the offers dry up: he still has the Frazer Nash he first made his mark in, driving rallycross style sideways on every corner, and a stable of March Formula 2 cars – “I love driving them so much I’ve got three!” he says. “A 742, 712 and an Atlantic 78B.” This season he’ll be in the ex-Bellof Tyrrell 012 again, “and I’m doing the whole Peter Auto F2 series and racing five cars at Classic Le Mans.”
He’s been racing for 40 years now, and still expects to do 20 race weekends in the season. That’s apart from a couple of days a week coaching at Pembrey and the race prep and support tasks that his firm Martin Stretton Racing tackles – some 25 meetings in the year. It’s hard work having fun.
Round the corner I could see the bulky tail of a Daytona Cobra – only it couldn’t be the real thing, even at Race Retro? It turned out to be the latest replica from Hawk Cars, with accurate copy chassis and alloy body. Disclosure time: I was part of the original firm which turned into Hawk, founded to make Lancia Stratos replicas. Those ended up being so accurate that we sold many parts and panels to owner of the real thing, especially that toenail of a windscreen. Previously (before old cars gained value faster than Old Masters), cracking one of those had been every owner’s nightmare and there were no replacements.
A Hawk Gp4 rally Stratos in Pirelli colours re-sparked my passion for these outrageous cars (triggered by a 1976 Motor Sport road test when I was just a reader) and brought back two memories: first, how difficult my first drive in the real thing was – a Group 4 car with arches the width of a truck and a fiendish clutch which I kept stalling. Its 24-valve competition Ferrari V6 sounded absolutely sensational but only came on cam at about twice the legal speed limit. Second, the hours we spent grubbing around in scrapyards for the Fiat 124 parts that Lancia used on this homologation special. It was a glorious car with build quality that would shame Lada – we stripped a real one to mould from and the amount of lead filler in the steel monocoque was practically a biohazard.
We, and later Hawk, expanded into Cobras, often the bad boy of the kit car industry, except we began with a less showy and more accurate 289, moving on to the muscly 427. Now I was looking at a gleaming alloy coupé and as I’m no longer involved I can say it looked pretty convincing to me. I’ve been told that many a component on the Cobras we see racing comes from Hawk – but I couldn’t possibly comment.
Shame I missed seeing Miki Biasion in action on the show’s rally stage. European Rally Champ in a Lancia 037, another major crush of mine after maybe my best day’s driving, he had to switch to a Fulvia HF when his intended Delta Integrale played up. McRaes père et fils also performed, Jimmy in the Chevette HSR, to my mind the slickest-looking GpB car, if not the quickest. Inside, Biasion and Brian Redman – good value as ever on 50 years of F5000 racing and his own illustrious career – entertained a full house at the Motor Sport Hall of Fame stage, along with bike racer Steve Parrish, triple BTCC champ Matt Neal, rally stars Rosemary Smith and Russell Brooks, and F1 designers John Barnard and Frank Dernie. We also interviewed Peter Connew, who along with cousin Barry Boor in 1972 built his own F1 car – and after 45 years in the wilderness (Peter’s garden) the newly rebuilt car stood proudly on show alongside. Also on display, a Mclaren M14A, Dan Gurney’s last F1 car, and ground-effect machines including Lotus 79, Williams FW07 and Porsche 956, not forgetting Jaguar’s Le Mans-winning XKR-9 and four Prodrive rally cars honouring Hall of Fame inductee David Richards.
RALLYING IS ALWAYS a major element of this show and the Rallying with Group B display included a first sighting for me – a Ford Escort RS1700T, Ford’s stillborn rear-drive GpB challenger with its 350bhp BGT motor which Alister McRae demonstrated on the rally stage. This newly rebuilt car is one of five survivors of perhaps 18 built, prototypes only as the project was suddenly canned. I remember the shrieks of anguish from the Blue Oval cult when Stuart Turner wielded his axe, but in the face of the four-wheel-drive opposition it was inevitable. Instead Ford produced the RS200, a serious contender had GpB survived. I had an afternoon drive in a road version and was astonished at its limousine ride thanks to the long-travel suspension and gentle damping, aimed more at swallowing huge yumps on the 1000 Lakes than a few English pot-holes. I expected to be intimidated but it was a chunky white bundle of driver-friendly thrills – once you looked past the plasticky Sierra interior.
It’s 50 years since a prosaic Hillman Hunter won the gruelling London-Sydney Marathon rally, and in celebration the victorious saloon of Andrew Cowan and Brian Coyle was on show (next to a stuffed kangaroo) along with other entrants including two BL 1800 ‘Landcrabs’. Amazing to think that Hydrolastic suspension held up all the way to second place – that’s where Paddy Hopkirk and Tony Nash finished.
Strolling past 250F Maserati, Chevron B8, a humungously long drag car, E-type ERA, Triumph SLR and a spindly Dellow trials machine I came to the 750MC stand, book-ended by Bernie Chodosh’s mean matt black V8 Corvette and Geoff Hanson’s brawny Datsun 240Z proving how wide the club spreads its arms, and came away feeling that old-fashioned racing is probably doing even better than in the old days.
NOT SURE WHETHER Stratos replica production has now outstripped the ones Fiat-Lancia built (ostensibly 500, probably fewer) but there is now a new Stratos going into limited production, based on a shortened Ferrari F430 Scuderia platform with 530hp instead of the Dino engine’s 190. Enthusiast Michael Stroschek began the project over 10 years ago, but designer Chris Hrabalek’s concept – a crisp wedge with all the characteristics of the original Bertone shape looks as fresh as when first displayed back in 2005. Italian specialist builder MAT aims to assemble just 25, customers to choose between road, GT racer and rally version. At around £440,000 plus the cost of a used F430, the cost outstrips the current values of the real thing. But at least you can be sure that no-one will be making replicas of it in the future.
REVIVING A MOTORING event after an entire century sounds pretty dedicated, but that’s what the owners of an Essex stately home did after a dusty trophy was found in an attic. The Layer Marney Cup was awarded in 1914 for a fuel consumption trial from Southend to Layer Marney Tower, a spectacular Tudor home (below) once intended to rival Hampton Court Palace. But due to pressing engagements abroad the event remained a one-off until a descendant of the winner turned up the lavish trophy, inspiring the current owners of the house to recreate the trial as an annual classic car event in 2015.
This year the run (August 11-12) shifts up a gear, with a black-tie ball in the Tower’s impressive ballroom, and displays with an Essex motoring history theme – there’s Boreham circuit, Merlin and Ginetta cars, for a start.
Incidentally the 1914 winner achieved 42mpg in his Unic, considerablymore than my modern car returns.
Long-time staffman Gordon Cruickshank learned his trade under Bill Boddy and competes in historic events in his Jaguar Mk2 and BMW 635