Changing "Historics"

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MOTOR SPORT has always concerned itself with motoring history and has seen the vintage car movement grow and grow. It dates back further than is generally realised, to The Motor’s initiative in forming a collection of horseless carriages that was inadvertently disbanded during the First World War, while at Brooklands in 1911 two races for veteran cars were held. However, the real impetus arrived when the Veteran Car Club was formed in 1930, the Vintage Sports-Car Club in 1934, to cater respectively for pre-1905 and sporting pre-1931 cars.

Since then horizons have extended. The influential and highly respected VSCC decided after the war, to take in pre-1941 thoroughbreds, then to encourage the preservation and racing of historic front-engined 1950’s racing cars and the rear-engined ‘500s’ that it had partially fostered. In recent times we have seen classic sports cars being accommodated at VSCC race meetings, rear-engined Cooper-Climax cars racing there, and this year there was a race for Morris Minor, A35, early Zephyr and Javelin saloons at a VSCC meeting. A spokesman has explained that the VSCC is now in the entertainments business and by attracting good ‘gates’ is able to pass on benefits to its members; the Oulton Park attractions also included autojumbles, bicycle races for children and grown-ups, tug-of-war, etc, which is not quite how ‘vintage’ was interpretated fifty years ago, but it explains the valuable sponsorship now accepted within the VSCC.

The Vintage Motor Cycle Club recognises machines of 25 years of age, so is now down to 1964 and has a membership exceeding 10,000 in consequence, and even the august VCC went to 1918, but fortunately the Brighton Veteran Car Run remains sacrosanct. Alarmed that the inflated value of historic racing cars may result in fewer being raced, the Historical Commission of the FIA has begun to issue competition licences to approved replicas, such as the imitation Wingfield D-type Jaguars. As a correspondent to Auto Classic has commented, at least this will safeguard replicas against replica-replicas! It is for more technical reasons that there is criticism of the RAC for proposing to admit cars down to 1973 in next year’s 1000-Mile Historic Car Rally.

The Veteran to Classic vehicle hobby has become Big Business and is enjoyed by a vast number of those who support the overall motor sporting scene. The public enjoys looking at the old vehicles, be they cars, ‘buses, commercials, motorcycles or steamers, each of which has its own reputable organisation, backed-up by a great number of excellent one-make clubs. The many motor museums scattered about the land, from Lord Montagu’s great National Motor Museum at Beaulieu to others, some profitable, some hopeful, emphasise the profound interest there now is in motor transport history. Few self-respecting motor manufacturers are without their own one-make museums and significant birthdays for the more popular old cars are celebrated by their owners.

On the surface, all looks set-fair for the old-vehicle pastime, if EEC legislation does not restrict the use of ancient cars on public roads. But beneath the surface some unfortunate ripples have been disturbing the calm. Accidents, one fatal, on the Mille Miglia, were caused by over ambitious or foolish driving. Astronomical prices paid for historic cars (where do all the £-millions come from?) can end in litigation, as in the Court proceedings involving ‘Old No.1’ Le Mans Bentley. Unscrupulous restorers bodge classic rebuilds and sell the cars for high prices. Tempted by the astonishing values put on anything old today, owners who once proclaimed that never would they part with their beloved cars now appear surprisingly in the glossy auction catalogues, which themselves sometimes slip-up in accurate descriptions of the vehicles coming under the hammer.

There has been bickering about pre-war cars allegedly honed-up to give them an unfair advantage in VSCC races, and vintage A7s abnormally low-geared to assist them in trials. This revolves, perhaps, on whether a driver’s intention is to capture as closely as possible the ‘atmosphere’ of the past, or to win. (But the RAC has exonerated R4D and, remember, Mayman is a very competent driver!) Let us hope that all these unfortunate developments will not damage the old-car world: that Historics do not turn into Hysterics. WB