'Ring Leaders

While the title may make British brows furrow in distaste, the annual “Oldtimer Grand Prix” at the new Nurburgring is on a much larger scale than any vintage or classic meeting in this country.

To begin with, it combines all ages of car; the Oldtimer tag in its German sense is an all-embracing term covering every era from pioneer vehicles up to Can-Am racers of the Seventies. It is a convenient label with no derogatory slant. Distinctions which seem crucial in this country, such as vintage versus post-vintage, disappear into broader categories which pit Tipo B Alfa Romeos against Connaughts and Brabhams two or three decades younger, while motorbikes of all ages mingle in the paddock with Sixties saloons.

Outside the circuit, too, the atmosphere has a very different flavour from Silverstone or Oulton: the meeting overflows across the road next to the startline grandstand and into the woods and fields opposite, where ranks of Porsche 356s lie alongside the Ferrari OC’s neatly fenced corral. Along the road crawls a constant stream of exotic, classic, or customised machinery, neither the occupants nor the onlookers crammed onto the pedestrian bridge overhead apparently displaying any interest in the varied racing going on next door.

Varied in more than one sense: while some of the German championship rounds featured ferocious tussles, and the large British contingent pushed through to the front of almost all their races, there were special “parade races” in which it was enough to take part without trying too hard, an odd sight to British eyes. Notable amongst these was a grid full of M1 BMWs, Procars mixed with road cars, which occupied the prime spot in the paddock. There was a Le Mans start, too, for the sportscar race — but only for the warm-up lap, the cars then starting from a normal grid.

Also noticeable was the high level of sponsorship: classic cars currently have an all-time high profile on the Continent, the big meetings attracting a wealthy and glamourous paddock set. Shell, Alfa Romeo and Beck’s Beer all had their logos attached to a race, the banner of the German magazine MotorKlassic appeared on every car, and the prestige German Steigenberger hotel chain provided a vast VIP/Press marquee with excellent menus, in addition to the Championships it backs for GP, GT, saloon and Super Sports cars. And we were lucky enough to be put up in great comfort at one of the group’s hotels, in Bad Neuenahr, some 25 minutes from the ‘Ring.

The meeting was run by the AvD, the German Automobile club, together with the FHR which organises the various Classic series, but to a peculiar, not to say incomprehensible, timetable which put Race 7 after Race 21 and repeated the numbers on both days. At least most entries thus had a race on Saturday and Sunday, while there were so many participants in unofficial testing on Thursday that the meeting may add a day next year.

The many years of hard racing development and renewal which the British cars have undergone was very obvious in the results: in the pre-war event, Alain de Cadenet was unsuccessfully challenged by the Alfas of VSCC regulars David Black, Paul Grist and Charles Agg, though a splendid drive by Hartmut lbing in a Monza stole a second place for Germany. A pair of gleaming white Mercedes Benz, one S and one SSK, made an impressive sight.

Several of these Alfas were out again for the F1A race for GP and F2 cars, with ERAs and assorted Maseratis, minus Bill Summers who had over-revved his 8CM and bent a valve. But the 250Fs did not have it their own way on Saturday: Chris Mayman (Ferrari 625) pinched victory from Tony Mayman driving his ERA, who had to wait for the Sunday leg before putting his 250F first across the line. Jost Wildbolz (ERA) was the Britishers’ rival here; he plainly disapproved of Grist’s method of regaining third place.

Saloon fans had the spectacular Lotus Cortina of Sir John Whitmore to cheer until it collapsed within sight of victory, a local Alfa GTA winning. Two 300S Maseratis and a 450S belonging to collector Peter Kaus were rare additions in the sportscar race, while the 4CLT of Peter Hannen scored in both halves of the Maserati single-seater event. But for sheer noise and excitement the Super Sports race took the prize — as did Ted Williams’ enormous 5-litre McLaren M8C. There was a heart-stopping moment when David Franklin spun his McLaren trying to catch Williams, and Chris Aylett scraped past by inches. Basis did not slow him and he ended fourth, fractions behind John Foulston.

Rarities included the lovely Talbot-Maserati of Manfred Rimboeck, a sports-racing Borgward, a plethora of BMW 700s and DKWs, and the ex-Hans Stuck AFM single-seater of 1950, but it was the mass of cars, not just individual favourites, which left the impact. It was more of a festival than a “GP”, and none the worse for that. GC