To Britain we may pride ourselves on being the centre of Historic racing, but it is the Germans who have taken it to a new level. Held at the Nurburgring on the first weekend of August, the Oldtimer Grand Prix, a name which conjures up quite the wrong image, gets better every year. Hidden away in the Eifel Mountains, the circuit becomes the focal point for thousands of enthusiasts from all over northern Europe, with the result that there is almost as much interesting machinery in the car parks as in the paddock. Yet this is a very commercialised event. Even in Historic racing, the emergence of the corporate guest has led to huge hospitality suites and marquees taking up more and more paddock space. It is quite alien to the VSCC way of things but undoubtedly lucrative for somebody.
Neither had it all his own way however for there was fierce competition from some of the other 250F drivers as well as from the ERAs in the respective classes. In Saturday’s race, it was thrilling to see the red Maserati of Green battling it out with Hannen’s Connaught for lap after lap. Initially they were closely shadowed by Ludovic Lindsay’s 250F, but he was forced to fall back with clutch problems.
Just a few seconds behind this bunch Miles’ T41 Cooper, Harper’s four-cylinder Ferrari and Mason’s 250F were providing their own excitement, but once the Cooper driver passed the ailing Lindsay car, he was able to make a break from his two pursuers to finish third, albeit almost 33 seconds behind Hannen. In the pre-war class, Brian Classic’s ERA R1A went onto five cylinders after the first few laps when a con-rod broke. At first he thought he had blown a piston, but as the temperature stayed normal he kept going, though forced to relinquish his lead to Jost Wildboz’ R2A.
It was the jostling for position all the way down the field, however, which made the race all the more entertaining, particularly towards the end when tired minds and limbs and worn brakes let mistakes creep in, resulting in some lurid spins and wayward driving. The second half of the Sunday race wanes tense as the first. Four cars immediately broke away, the three 250Fs of Griswold, Green and Anthony Mayman, who had taken over from Lindsay, followed closely by Hannen’s Connaught. At first Griswold led, then Green and, on one cheeky ocasion, Hannen. The battle was bound to take its toll, and Griswold and the Connaught began to slip back while the two remaining Maseratis fought for supremacy.
It appeared that Mayman was quite prepared to hold a watching brief on Green, until two-thirds distance when he made a brave bid for the lead. For the next three laps, he held Green at bay, but then clutch problems intervened again, undoing all the work of Rick Hall and Rob Fowler who, taking a busman’s holiday at the Nurburgring, had repaired the stricken machine after Saturday’s race.
Thus afflicted, Mayman had to settle for second place, finishing almost 13 sec behind Green, while Griswold took a distant third after Hansen went missing with four laps to go. Harper was able to take fourth place ahead of Nick Mason, so it had been a good race for the Italian marques, and for Maserati in particular.
In the pre-war class, Classic had taken to the track with a new push rod (lent by Martin Morris), but the damage had already been done to a valve, so the car still fired on only five. Still, the intrepid driver did well enough to scoop overall honours. It was not only the Grand Prix which provided great entertainment. One Saturday grid comprised of Ferrari 250 GT SWBs, AC Cobras, E-type Jaguars, Triumph TR, Chevrolet Corvettes and Ford Shelby Mustangs, and despite a first-corner calamity when Italian driver Rosario Parasiliti spun his short-wheelbase 250GT Berlinetta causing a massive traffic jam, swirling dust and bent machinery, it was an enthralling race.
Starting from pole position, Rolf Versen’s Cobra never let go of the lead, but ran just five seconds ahead of a trio of cars consisting of Steve Hitchins’ similar car, Artur Haas’ Chevrolet Corvette and John Young’s E-type — the latter doing extremely well after starting from the ninth row. As the race wore on, Young deposed Haas and then shadowed Hitchins, until the final lap where he mounted a do-or-die attack. Side by side on occasions, these two circulated as one, exchanging positions until Hitchins finally gave way, losing not just second place but also third to Fabrizio Violato’s 250 GTO which had steadily worked its way through the field after the first-lap fracas.
The 100-mile sports-car race was an altogether less spectacular affair, although if practice times were anything to go by there were three marques in with a chance: Chris Drake had claimed pole position in his D-type Jaguar, sharing the front row was Thomas Bscher’s Maserati 300S, and Richard Pilkington had set a good time with his Aston Martin DB3S.
In the end none of these was able to claim victory, for David Kopf scooped the laurels in his Porsche RS60, He did not have it his own way, and had to claw his may up from fourth place, but once in the lead he held off Drake to build a cushion of some ten seconds.
Sunday’s race was a return match. A Le Mans start determined grid positions on the warm-up lap, and when the race manes the Porsche and Jaguar immediately broke away from the rest of the field. Behind them a couple of D-types maintained station, while in fifth was another Porsche. Only “Valentino” Lindsay’s drive from eleventh to seventh place in his D-type enlivened a rather dull race.
The remaining events tended to be dominated by certain marques. The Steigenberger race was a McLaren benefit, while Lotus Elans filled the top seven places in the contest for GT cars up to two litres. If the racing was interesting, so too were the sideshows. The usual collection of stalls offered books, memorabilia, parts and rubbish, while every square centimetre of paddock was covered with a catholic variety of cars. There were Alfa Romeo gatherings, Opel and Renault stands and miscellaneous Other collections, but the show was stolen by Ole German Ferrari Owners’ Club. Lined up in one enormous row were 70 red Ferraris, including a 288GT0 and 13 Testa Rossas, and there were 104 others dotted around the marquee, including nine 512BBis, eight 246 Dinos (two of them GTSs), eight 400s and a dozen GT4s. It was quite a sight.
Another feature of the weekend was the Cops auction, for some of the cars were mouthwatering. At the end of an already long day, the event attracted a huge crowd which was either entertained or bemused by a showbiz-style presentation. EX 120, the Eyston MG which had reappeared at the June VSCC meeting at Silverstone after a two-year restoration, was sold for just under £60,000. This, however, was a modest sum compared with the star of the show, the Earl Howe Alfa Romeo, which fetched just over one and a half million pounds. A GT40 (chassis number P/1006, an ex-Ford Advanced Vehicles car) went under the hammer at £730,000 while the ex-NART Ferrari 512BB LM, which raced at Le Mans in 1981, an ex-Brun championship-winning Porsche 956 and a 1929 Mercedes-Benz 38/ 250SS were each snapped up for just under £7001100.
Old Formula One cars seemed cheap by comparison. The little-known Volpini went for a staggering £175,000, a Williams FWO7B for £200,000 and a P25 BRM for £431,000, which made the P126 look a snip at 268,000. James Hunt’s 1975 Hesketh 308C, at just under £80,000, and Alan Jones’ 1976 Surtees TS19, at just over £86,000, seemed more reasonable. The whole weekend was a memorable one: a largely British show run to the delight of the European spectator. WPK