Car Parks

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Dear reader,

I am not talking about car parks at your local railway station or the multi-storey affairs at airports or supermarkets, but the ones at motor racing meetings, where it is reasonable to assume that everyone has put their car in a parking area for the same reason, to take part in the enjoyment of the sport. The paddock parking you expect to find full of interesting machinery, but the spectator parking is a very different affair, and at some meetings it is almost as fascinating.

Some of the nicest car parks to wander about in are those at the Shelsley Walsh or Prescott hillclimbs, and at the recent Vintage Sports Car Club’s annual event at Prescott conditions were just about perfect. My friend’s little pre-war racer was behaving itself, so much so that it was barely necessary to open the toolbox, so we had plenty of time between his two runs to look at other things. While he walked up the hill from the paddock, to watch some of the other competitors in action, I crossed over to the car park for members and spectators.

It was a glorious, sunny day and the car park was a varied scene of people enjoying themselves in a relaxed atmosphere of old cars. Naturally not everyone had come in an old car, there were people in Porsches, BMWs, Toyotas, Mazdas and all manner of modern cars, but they were all there because of the owner’s basic interest in the old car scene. Interspersed between the new cars was a bewildering selection of cars from Edwardians, through vintage and PVT, to post-war classics; truly something for everyone.

Some groups were gathered round a particular car, some had formed a small ‘one-make’ group, others were surrounded by lavish picnics with friends and families, some were enjoying a gentle snooze in the sun in a deck-chair, others were doing a quiet bit of preventative maintenance on their vintage car. Many, like me, were having a quiet wander along the rows of cars, so that when meeting a friend it was invariably a case of “Have you seen the so-and-so over by the main gate?”. If it was a friend with a particular interest in common it was the time to exchange some vital pieces of trivia, or look at a newly acquired photo of some historic interest. BMW, Sunbeam, Gwynne, Invicta, Frazer Nash, Talbot, Delahaye and Morgan three-wheelers all came under scrutiny or formed discussion groups of a personal nature, and there was much more.

Every now and then you would find an old car that looked as if it had just been discovered on a farm in Herefordshire or in Wales, and probably had, having been in daily use all its life and never been near a restoration firm. Examples of early Austin, Riley, Sunbeam were seen and one just hoped they would go on being used in their original state. By contrast there was one vintage sports car that looked like a boiled sweet that had just come out of its plastic wrapper!

Eventually I made my way back to the paddock to see how the racer was getting on, leaving the car park with a feeling of well-being about the spirit of the VSCC and its members, for all those people in the car park were still there enjoying their day out in whichever way they were inclined. The Prescott hillclimb event was the focal point for a splendid summer garden party for people to do whatever they wanted to. The entry list of competitors was very full and the enthusiasm to go faster and win was extremely strong, while the spectators who were gathered at the various corners, watching every climb with keen interest, was probably a record number.

But that wasn’t all, for the local farmer had turned one of his fields into a big camp site, just opposite the main entrance, and with the weather being perfect for camping I am sure there were many people who spent the whole weekend camping without getting involved in the actual event. Like the car park, the camp site contained another collection of vintage cars being used as normal transport, though I ran out of time to make a tour of inspection.

As we were preparing to leave a friend who had been competing in the hill climb in his 1931 Alfa Romeo Monza folded up his one-man tent, strapped his bag on the pointed tail, and set off for home, the supercharged straight-eight engine sounding glorious as he disappeared down the lanes.

Prescott hillclimb, owned by the Bugatti Owners Club, came into being in 1938 through the inspiration of two original members of the Vintage Sports Car Club, who persuaded the BOC that it would be a good idea. A plaque to commemorate the occasion, and to pay tribute to LTC Rolt and CE Clutton had been unveiled during the weekend, and a finer weekend could not have been chosen. Since 1938 the VSCC has been allowed to hold a club weekend once a year in appreciation by the Bugatti Owners Club, who have the sole use of the hill. Altogether it was one of the better weekends of just one aspect of the sport.

At Formula One events the attendance is so enormous that car parking is a different affair altogether, and like an American supermarket when you have parked your car you need a small motorcycle to get to where you want to be, and often you have to arrive bright and early just to get into your designated car park. As the years go by and the legs get weaker, it seems to take more time to walk from the car park to the paddock than it does to drive to the circuit. There are small bright spots of interest as you wander along towards the racing cars, like the Lamborghini Diablo that was so clean it must have been brought in a transporter, or Porsches or BMWs with all the latest ‘go faster’ goodies on them. At one race there was a pretty mean-looking Mercedes-Benz coupe with the front just covered in dead flies, which you don’t collect in traffic jams, or even in 80-90mph nose to tail autobahn cruising. It had obviously been doing some pretty serious high-speed cruising. At going-home-time guess who drove off in it? Absolutely right, Keke Rosberg.

When I got to the gate of the press car park on the day of the German Grand Prix the place looked full, but an enthusiastic young marshal beckoned to me that there was one place left free. He waved my Avis hire car into a space alongside a bright red Ferrari F40! It made my day.

Yours, D S J.

This month’s Memorable Moments come from Trevor Sugg of Lincolnshire.

1 . 1967 British Grand Prix; During the warm-up lap Jackie Stewart in the H-16 BRM stopped opposite where I was spectating and performed a practice start, accelerating up the track engulfed in tyresmoke. (Sadly, this activity is now banned – DSJ.)

2. Easter Monday F2 race at Thruxton; 42 year-old Graham Hill beating a young upstart named Ronnie Peterson.

3. Being part of the crowd which invaded the track, on the slowing-down lap, to applaude when John Fitzpatrick’s BMW beat the Porsche of Bob Wollek by one second after six hours of racing round Silverstone in 1976.

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