There can be no debate that, in only two years, the Christie’s Historic Festival at Silverstone has firmly established itself as the world’s foremost historic meeting. This year, its reputation was enhanced still further, a crowd of over 27,000 providing solid endorsement of the event’s appeal and popularity. That the event should have overtaken other well-established meetings such as the Nurburgring’s Oldtimer Festival and the Laguna Seca/Pebble Beach weekend is due to substantial effort on the part of the organising BRDC, the enthusiastic sponsor and the Historic Grand Prix Cars Association which ensures, through its membership, that fully representative and capacity grids are attracted, with the correct period being a prime consideration.
Off-track activities are an equally vital component, too, with owners’ clubs and preservation groups arranging social gatherings around the festival, with extensive displays, features and on-track parades before racing commences on the Sunday. This year, the Ferrari Owners’ Club was celebrating its silver anniversary and assembled a stunning array of successful single-seaters, sports-prototypes and GTs, including five GTOs (in addition to the three which were racing). Amongst these was Innes Ireland’s TT winner, superbly restored in recent years and now sporting the correct UDT Laystall livery. Robert Home’s 512M lined up alongside Dudley Mason-Styrron’s exquisite Tasman Dino and David Piper’s collection of 275 LM (surely the only one undergoing continuous development…), 330P, P2 and P4. Other members arrived in force to support this milestone, and to form what was claimed to be the largest-ever gathering of the marque seen in Europe.
This year also marks the 21st anniversary of the first JCB Historic Car Championship, a supremely successful series which, in five years, set the standard for historic racing as we know it today. Many of the original JCB contenders are still in active competition. To celebrate the occasion, Bill Allen of Speed Merchants, original promoter of the JCB championship, hosted a reception attended by many past and present competitors, some of whom were to be seen in a photographic display… sporting hairstyles and flared trousers that they would nowadays wish to disown.
On the circuit, the ’50s Sports and GP races, together with those for ’60s GTs, Steigenberger Supersports and the Christie’s Cup race for pre-war Le Mans cars were all run as two-part events, with results determined on aggregate, whilst the touring car race was a one-hour, two-driver event with the result counting towards the FIA European Challenge for pre-1965 cars, the programme completed by a single race for pre-1965 GP cars.
For many, this year’s showpiece was a long-overdue race for closed 1960s GT cars, the like of which had not been seen in England since the latter days of the Goodwood TT in the early ’60s. This attracted three Ferrari GT0s, one of which Stirling Moss shared with its owner, Nick Mason. It was Moss’s first race in a car on which he did some of the original development work, and which he had planned to race in 1962, having bought one for the UDT team. That ambition was thwarted, of course, by his Easter Monday crash. Pre-race favourite Frank Sytner shared Sir Anthony Bamford’s ex-Maranello Concessionaires example with rising star Gary Pearson, whilst Willie Green handled CUT 7, an ex-Dick Protheroe lightweight Jaguar E-type that was one of four such cars present. Ranged against these was a trio of Zagato Astons, the quickest — Nick Cussons’ 2 VEV — handled by 1967 world champion Denny Hulme. Brian Classic had refettled his fabulous Bizzarini Le Mans coupe, enlisting John Harper as co-driver. It was Brian’s first race for four years, the car’s first for 15!
Sytner led the first part, the advantage being maintained through the driver change and right up until the final lap, when a fast-closing Barrie Williams boldly thrust Nigel Corner’s lightweight E-type inside Pearson at Bridge, just pipping the GTO across the line. The main interest in part two fizzled out when Corner spun twice on the opening lap, dropping the E-type out of contention for outright victory. In the end it finished second, ahead of the Bizzarini and the Gerry Marshall/Rob Schirle E-type.
One of the star drives came from Mike Wilds, who jostled amid GTOs and E-types with Colin Pearcy’s MGB en route to 12th overall.
The Christie’s Cup field provided great entertainment once again, but Keith Schellenberg was unable to repeat his previous success in his ex-London-Sydney eight-litre Bentley, having to give best on this occasion to the dream-team of Nick Mason/Guy Edwards in Mason’s Aston Martin Ulster and the superbly driven lnvicta of Frenchman Flavien Marcais and Bob Wood. Peter Hannen won part one, but lost his chance of victory when he retired his Alfa Le Mans on the final lap. Had there been a prize for senior driver at the meeting, it would have gone to Tom Delaney. A sprightly 81, Tom was racing the same Hyper Lea-Francis that he used pre-war at Brooklands, and which he re-acquired in recent years.
Martin Stretton was odds-on to repeat his 1991 triumph in the Historic GP cars race, but he made his task all the more difficult by spinning twice in the first part in David Duffy’s Connaught B-type, which allowed Lindsay Owen-Jones (250F Piccolo Maserati) take victory after a tremendous scrap with Nigel Corner (250F Lightweight). That gave Stretton, who had clawed his way back to third, a 10s deficit to overcome on Sunday. By getting his head down, he succeeded in outdistancing the Maseratis by 18s to take a surprisingly comfortable win from expatriate Welshman Owen-Jones. Stretton’s efforts earned him the bonus of the Driver of the Meeting award.
An impressive fourth was Duncan Ricketts’ reward for his pace in the relatively antique ERA R1B, which finished ahead of many younger and more sophisticated machines.
Timo Makinen was another shining star of yesteryear, the Finn excelling in the ’50s sports car race at the wheel of Andrew Baber’s D-type Jaguar, the same car that the Finn raced in his homeland, on both ice and tarmac, in the early ’60s. Timo briefly held second place in Sunday’s race, holding the likes of John Harper and Robert Brooks at bay, but with more oversteer than the rest of the field put together his tyres unsurprisingly overheated and he slipped to sixth. Both heats went to Owen-Jones, this time at the helm of his ex-Camoradi three-litre Birdcage Maserati, but only after Sytner had dropped back with a broken shock absorber in the first. In the second, Frank’s Bamford D-type blew its engine, leaving Harper to inherit second place in his similar Brooks-entered car.
In the main Ferrari parade, Phil Hill revelled in his stint at the wheel of Neil Corner’s Tasman Dino (with which Hill originally won the 1960 Italian GP), while John Surtees got down to some brief lappery in Mason-Styrron’s Dino and enjoyed an extended run in Piper’s 275 LM. Ferrari’s most recent (albeit 13 years ago…) world champion, Jody Scheckter, brought smiles to spectators’ faces with the sight and sound of Nick Mason’s 312 T3, while Stirling Moss celebrated his Ferrari connection by taking Rob Walker on a few demonstration laps in one of his two TT-winning 250 GTs that were present. The Ferrari feature was enhanced considerably by a splendid series of interviews conducted by Ian Titchmarsh.
The UK’s only round of the FIA European Challenge for pre ’65 touring cars attracted one of the finest entries that the series has seen, enhanced by several home-based entries that don’t follow the whole championship. These included the Lotus Cortinas of John Handley/Roger Clark and 1991 winners Simon Hadfield/Michael Schryver, while Denny Hulme had been cajoled into one of the quasi-works BMW 1800s of Scuderia Baveria, alongside Prinz Leopold von Bayern. The extent of the progress made by the BMWs was emphasised by the fact that Hadfield and Schryver had hounded the lead car closely in 1991, setting fastest lap at 2m 16.6s. This year, Dieter Quester trimmed that to 2m 13.8s! Quester and Rauno Aaltonen commanded the race from start to finish, once the early challenge of Antonello Marcellari/Paolo Jasson (Alfa GTA) had faded. The Alfa then harried Hulme/von Bayern and wrapped up second place as the hour ran out… only for the third-placed BMW then to be disqualified, as it was not the car that had been practised. This is indeed serious motor racing: no further proof is needed…
Three-wheeling all the way to save rubber, Hadfield/Schryver took fourth, behind the Alfa of Zerha/Hahne. Roger Clark’s sideways technique in his Cortina was highly spectacular, if not perhaps quite so quick, but his car sadly expired just as Handley commenced his stint.
Richard Eyre achieved a perfect score in the well-supported Steigenberger Supersports round, leading both heats from start to finish in his McLaren M8C. Charlie Agg (M8F) and David Franklin (M6B) followed him home in part one, but Agg broke a driveshaft on Sunday, leaving second place to the superbly turned out BRM P154 of Jost Kalisch (which retains its ‘Castrol’ stripes, though the blue colour scheme looks a trifle strange). Franklin was second on aggregate, ahead of Kalisch.
A collision with John Sheldon at Priory eliminated Dieter Quester from the two-litre challenge, Ed Swart taking the class in his Chevron B19.
The meeting concluded with the pre ’65 GP car race, in which a brace of familiarly presented (BRG and yellow) 1.5-litre Lotus Climaxes scrapped for the lead 7 Chris Alford in Cedric Seltzer’s 25 and Robs Lamplough in his 33. Evocative stuff it was, with Lamplough fighting through the field after qualifying on unsuitable rubber. He ousted Alan Baillie’s Parnell-liveried Lotus 24 to take second, with Baillie clinging on to third ahead of Martin Stretton (Cooper T51).
With each successive Christie’s Festival outdoing the previous one for spectacle, it’s hard to imagine what future treats may lie in store. Roll on 1993… A S D C