Marcus Pye's diary

MAWP takes a look at a rearranged Rover P6 with a competition pedigree and toasts a fast lady’s decision to quite racing

Rover’s purchase of the manufacturing rights to the lightweight 3.5-litre Buick V8 engine was the best investment it ever made.

A compact and reliable road burner, the unstressed unit was also a superb racing engine. What it lacked in cubic capacity (over American rivals), it made up for in terms of avoirdupois.

Naturally, though, we think of saloons when it comes to Rover’s sporting heritage. But long before SDls dominated British and European Touring Car Championships in the 1980s, an exciting quasi-works P6 V8 took to the tracks, two years after the 3500 road car.

Starting with the ex-press fleet car JXC 808D, the beast was built up by Jim Morgan and Jim Rose of JoMoRo in Brookwood, Surrey, in late ’69, and then entrusted to Bill Shaw Racing. It was raced by Roy Pierpoint in 1970, and subsequently by Alec Poole.

I’d only seen it in period photographs before my old friend Ian Giles summoned me to his delightful Oxfordshire watermill and opened the barn door. There was the red Rover, which he bought this spring from collector Arthur Carter, its keeper since ’78.

It’s a real time-warp racer, fat Minilite wheels shod with concrete compound tyres bulging from beneath flared arches. Under the bonnet nestles a rorty Tracospec V8, eager to breathe again through quadruple Weber IDA carburettors.

Giles hasn’t had it running yet, but is looking forward to some fun next season. “I’m not sure what it’s eligible for, but it’s guaranteed to turn heads at the Festival of Speed, if invited,” he said.

When Oulton Park’s Gold Cup meeting ceased to be a non-championship Formula 1 event in 1972, its content was a moveable feast until the HSCC picked up the mantle 30 years later. Now re-established with continuity, it’s drawing crowds to the Cheshire circuit again as an historic festival.

August Bank Holiday’s event was a landmark for Helen Bashford, who is hanging up her crash helmet after a racing career spanning 30 years and two children. “I’ve officially retired,” she said after charging from the back of the grid to fifth in the Monday’s 2-litre sportscar race.

Helen went with a friend to spectate at Oulton as teenager, and was inspired by the performance of Divina Galica. Having hooked up with Chevron employee Vin Malkie (now marque guru, and her husband), the die was soon cast.

“To go racing, I had to rebuild Vin’s Chevron B1. I hadn’t got a clue,” recalls Helen, who went on to race FF1600, FF2000 and Toyota F3 before the Chevron B19 sportscars and F1 Shadow DN9B in which she found her forte.

Helen remains the most capable British woman not to have broken into the sport’s pro leagues. Having raced wheel-to-wheel with her in TF3 and seen her lead the 1998 TGP race at Spa — [triple champion] “Bob Berridge said he was trying to find a contact lens” — I can vouch for that.

Helen will now be concentrating on Chevron’s exciting new B1 Mk2 sports car project.