Britain is regarded as the home of historic racing, and indeed there are a plethora of meetings held up and down the country throughout each season. What had been lacking, though, was a ‘flagship’ meeting which could be regarded as a premier event, on a par with the Nürburgring in Germany or Laguna Seca in the United States.
The difficulty for any organiser, though, is that whereas other countries are starved of historic meetings, Britain has a veritable wealth of them, so that they are not regarded as anything particularly special. In other countries, therefore, the singularity of the historic festivals leads to a high quality turn-out in both the large public attendance as well as in the quality of the competitors, even if a large percentage of the latter are from the UK.
It was the decision by Christie’s to hold an auction at Silverstone which sparked off the idea for the historic festival, and once that decision had been made, it was decided to put it on a par with the best of Europe and America. The meeting therefore played host to the third round of the Mulberry 100-Mile Race for historic Grand Prix cars, the Christie’s ’50s Sports Car race, a round of the Proteus Petroleum Inter-Marque Championship, a one-hour race for historic touring cars (40 minutes too long!), an Austin-Healey race, a Supersports Cup race and a number of other historic races.
If this was all to the historic festival, much as the racing was good, it would not have been enough to distinguish it from many other similar race meetings in Britain, let alone abroad, but it was just one facet, albeit a major one, of the weekend. There were parades galore, including the well-hyped Auto Union/ Mercedes-Benz demonstration, a mouth watering display of Ford GT40s, Mark IVs and Cobras and many others.
Within the circuit at Silverstone there were several displays of vehicles ranging from military vehicles to a line-up of almost 100 Jaguars, and since the accent was firmly on ‘The Family’ there was also a fairground, several rides for children and a round of the Bantam Challenge (see Around and About, August 1990) in which the MOTOR SPORT car came second overall in the driving section.
It was worth making the trip to nearby Stowe School where there was a Louis Vuitton-sponsored concours d’elegance in the beautiful setting. ‘Best of Show’ was a 1929 Mercedes-Benz 36/220 ‘S’ Type ahead of 58 other cars with the winner now going to Paris in September to compete in a similar concours in France.
Unfortunately there was a downside to the weekend. The Vanwall suffered mechanical carnage when a rod came through the side of the engine when dicing for second place in the first part of the Mulberry race, and in the second part, on the Sunday, Corner’s W125 was partially damaged in an accident which involved Barry Gillies’ Dixon Riley. Sustaining severe head and facial injuries, the Riley driver was lucky to be alive after his car somersaulted at Copse after a coming together with the famous German car.
For all its hard work, the Historic Festival at Silverstone still lacked the atmosphere of the Nürburgring, but given the proximity to the British Grand Prix as well as its being an inaugural event, it seems likely to become a major meeting in the historic calendar in future years. Altogether, though, it was an apt meeting at which to bid farewell to the Silverstone circuit as we know it, as within 48 hours of the end of the event, the bulldozers had moved in to begin work on the new circuit. WPK