Historic scene: October 2018

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Unique sounds as well as rare sights always mark out Goodwood’s Festival of Speed, but this year two V8s made a special impact

Perhaps years in the future I’ll get tired of the Festival of Speed, but even though each time I approach the gates I wonder what can possibly be new and interesting, I always find my notebook filling up rapidly.

(Not that I can always read it afterwards. I was once doing a story at the Chapman home and looking over my shoulder Hazel Chapman said “Ah, someone who still writes shorthand!” I smiled and didn’t admit it was just my terrible writing.)

It tickled me that beside the bizarre 1923 Voisin Laboratoire were picnic seats upholstered in the Art Deco fabrics used in Voisin saloons of the time. Nice attention to detail by owner Philipp Moch, who reconstructed the ‘Lab’ using only tools and skills available at the time.

As well as the huge Fiat S76, Duncan Pittaway brought his latest project, the sole remaining alloy-bodied Cheetah. Intended as a low-production Chevrolet sports car that could stick it to the all-conquering Shelby Cobras in the mid-60s, the pint-sized two-seater was strangled in 1964 when GM pulled all backing. Creator and designer Bill Thomas hoped to make the 100 needed for homologation by buying Chevy V8s and clothing his own chassis in glassfibre bodies, but lack of development cash and a factory fire snuffed out the project with just 11 cars built.

It didn’t help that on track the car gained a reputation for fighting back like – well, like a cornered cheetah – mainly because Thomas left out the propshaft. The engine is so far back in the super-short wheelbase that he just attached the ’diff to the ’box with a u/j while the structure is basically a rollcage with suspension bolted on. Duncan reckons his car, chassis 1, weighs about 760kg so with intended engines in the 400hp region and the wheelbase of a slot car, keeping a Cheetah aimed at its prey was never going to be easy – witness this car’s accident at Daytona in 1964. Only the third owner, Duncan found it in Arizona and says he’s tempted to keep it unpainted: the alloy body was originally formed blind like a jelly mould, with doors and windows cut out afterwards, and he loves the fact that this all shows in the welds.

Duncan wasn’t pushing at the Festival. “The engine blew up on the dyno last week so I pinched another Chevy V8 from a friend’s motorhome,” he said cheerfully. “My very first drive was down to the startline here!”

This man laughs in the face of deadlines, or  indeed common sense. Recently he cracked the sump plug off the hulking Fiat – on a ferry ramp while driving back from Germany, those stub exhausts glowing. “At night you can see blue fire all down the left-hand side of the body!” he giggles. And last November he bought the 1896 Salvesen Steam Cart – the day before taking it on the Brighton Run.

Leaving the Pittaway pit I wondered if the Duke had had the hill steepened to make it tougher, as my wheelchair was getting hard to push. It turned out to be a soft tyre. Well, the paddock is full of pit equipment, so many thanks to the crew running the Mercedes CLK GTR who plugged me into their giant air compressor, once I’d conveyed in cod German that, yes, my tyres really do run at 90lbs pressure. “Mein Gott, sechs bar – sehr hoch!”

On an even keel again I stopped to admire another overdue completion – Mega Bertha, making its debut 40 years late. It should have been successor to Dealer Team Vauxhall’s barn-storming Big and Baby Bertha Super Saloons but in 1977, halfway through the build, Vauxhall and DTV switched priorities to Gp1 and the rally HS, leading to international success for Bill Blydenstein’s team. I remember the quiet, friendly Dutchman who led the Shepreth-based outfit, his flawless English as precise as the lengthy letters he would send when he felt we hadn’t shone the full spotlight on something.

That change left Mega Bertha as a kit of parts which has taken decades to reach the track. And here was Ric Wood, better known as a guru of Ford V6 and GAA power and restorer of RS3100 and Gp5 Zakspeed Capris, about to light up its 8.4-litre Can-Am V8.

“The body was all there but I had to effectively build a new spaceframe chassis,” Ric says. “And we only began in April!” Imagine a Mk1 Cavalier coupé sliced up the middle and widened by a foot to swallow that Chevrolet lump and road-roller tyres – it’s so flat and wide it makes Baby Bertha look upright. Ric is looking forward to taking on the mantle of Gerry Marshall, who wrestled the bellowing Berthas to win after win and would have been the Mega pilot, flamboyantly whipping up every one of what Ric says are 800 horses.

When Ric reached for the key I scuttled to the front of the car away from that earthquake V8 exhaust that makes your ribs rattle. Mistake. The massive pipes curl forward around the motor like restless pythons and exit ahead of the front wheels. Ouch. There was a row of Formula 1 cars warming up nearby, but a Can-Am Chevy laughs at them.

That’s Goodwood. A riot of sensations that you can’t fully process until you get home.

EVEN WITH A blue badge I have trouble parking in central London, so how you get away with displaying a pair of custom Porsches in crowded Pall Mall I don’t know. But I wasn’t complaining; it gave me a chance to inspect the latest from Porsche doctor Paul Stephens. With his background in racing and fettling 911s for most of his life Paul knows the cars inside-out, but he has found his own niche under the label AutoArt – carefully reworking cars to combine retro looks with modern manners. Today there’s a whole ‘restomod’ movement but in the 1990s, when Paul began making 964s look older than they were, it was considered plain odd.

We’re not talking about faking a 2.7 RS, but about integrating classic visual elements with the radically improved abilities of the late air-cooled cars, stripped, lightened, honed and reassembled into something fresh.

Outside Apsley Tailors in this grand London street was the first example of Stephens’ Le Mans Classic Clubsport, due to be officially launched at the French event a day or two later. Ratified by event organiser Peter Auto, just 10 will be built and customers will be invited to collect their cars at the 2020 event and take part in a Le Mans ‘start’. Beginning with an original 911 shell, the firm de-seams the roof and rebuilds with lightweight bumpers, bonnet and engine cover plus its own remade panels before fitting its own-spec 300bhp injected 3.4-litre motor with light crank, rods and flywheel. Inside everything looks similar but different: obviously Porsche, yet metal switches replace plastic, dials are bespoke and there’s a luggage box instead of rear  seats. In Touring spec the LM Classic car gets special houndstooth seat inserts, green seatbelts, carpets, doorpulls and dials, tailored luggage and a green/black body stripe.

Or you can go Lightweight, dumping soundproofing, door electrics and even one sunvisor to hit a slender 970kg. Everywhere the fit and finish are superb; even in the engine bay the build quality looks excellent. Such obvious care isn’t cheap, of course. Paul says that in  the ’90s the effort/profit ratio just didn’t work; nowadays as classic Porsches spiral in price customers see this mix of today’s abilities with yesterday’s appeal as a tempting option. That’s what makes a price of about £250,000 viable.

I see the appeal. Porsche 911s aren’t rare, so it would feel good to have something that looks different – but only at second glance, like the black Classic Touring model also parked here, very restrained with its slight flares and Fuchs-style alloys yet boasting extensive upgrades.

If you aim to exercise your car, not store it until the next auction or do burnouts in Knightsbridge at 2am, there are tasteful ways to stand out.

IT’S DORKING’S TURN to resound  to racing engines when the Surrey town celebrates the racing achievements of local man Rob Walker, left, last of the gentleman privateers. From the 1940s to the ’70s Walker’s cars, in their trademark blue with white nose stripe, garnered successes all the way to nine Grand Prix victories, steered by some of the great names – Brooks, Hill G, Siffert, Rindt and especially Stirling Moss. Around 11am on October 21 Dorking town centre stops for a parade of his famous machinery including his Delahaye 135, the 1958 Argentine GP-winning Cooper, Ferguson P99, both Ferrari 250SWB TT winners and others. Afterward a new exhibition dedicated to the Walker team opens at the town museum.

Long-time staffman Gordon Cruickshank learned his trade under Bill Boddy and competes in historic events in his Jaguar Mk2 and BMW 635