Chelsea AutoLegends

OK, let’s get it out of the way at the start. if you hold an outdoor event in Britain even at the height of summer, never mind on the first weekend of September, you run the risk of a soaking. the second annual Chelsea Autolegends, on September 4, played those odds – and threatened to be drowned in the deluge. That it wasn’t says much for this enjoyable event that appears to have a bright future in its quest to become London’s premier automotive festival.

More than 600 competition, classic, and ‘super’ cars gathered in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, scene of the borough’s world-famous lower show and home to its resplendent Pensioners.

The organisers claimed a crowd of 8000 for the day – up from 5000 in the first year – as locals and enthusiasts were drawn by a wide breadth of automobilia.

The supercars, which drew up in a midday cavalcade, played to the masses. But for readers of this magazine the wonderful selection of Le Mans racers offered most. From pre war Bentleys to Peugeot’s 908 HDI FAP prototype, all tastes and eras were covered. The ‘British Patrons’ theme allowed us to enjoy cars such as stirling moss’s Rob Walker Ferrari 250sWB, as featured recently in these pages.

Talking of Stirling, the Boy played host as oficial patron of the event. Fellow ‘faces’ included Richard Attwood, Jackie oliver, David Piper, Tim Schenken, Paddy Hopkirk, Phil Read and ace-of-today Anthony Davidson, who showed off an impressive four-inch scar, the result of surgery on his shoulder following a nasty bicycle accident.

Bonhams displayed what is perhaps the most infamous Le Mans car in history: the Austin Healey that Lance Macklin raced in 1955… yes, that one. the 100s, in ‘barn find’ condition, will be forever tied to the accident which killed more than 80 spectators, and standing beside its hindquarters, one could be forgiven a little shiver.

Off the main display ground there were many more delights to discover. A collection of eight low-slung invictas looked magnificent, and further exploration uncovered a corner dedicated to the Ace Café and its throng of motorcycles.

Just two weeks ahead of the Goodwood Revival, Chelsea Autolegends has found its niche in the packed summer calendar. The ambience is pleasing, the setting elegant and the inevitable commercial element nicely subtle – for now. let’s hope it doesn’t grow too quickly.

Damien Smith