'80s month: the exceptional era

Historic Racing

How the ’80s inspired Dickie Meaden’s love of motor sport, and perhaps our readers’ as well…

The ’80s was a great time to discover a love of motor sport. True, the allure of Groups B, A and C didn’t do much for my schooling  I always much preferred reading my own syllabus of Autosport, Motor Sport and Motoring News to anything provided by my teachers – but my voracious appetite for all things race and rally sowed the seeds for a lifelong passion. One that ultimately led me here.

Consequently, my memories from those days are both fond and vivid, even if they are a distressingly long time ago. It seems funny now, looking back on a time before the internet or satellite TV. Opportunities to watch motor sport were few and far between, but salvation was at hand on a Saturday afternoon, thanks to the BBC’s Grandstand and ITV’s World of Sport programmes. 

If I could have back the painful hours spent watching horse racing only to ensure I didn’t miss the motor sport segments I’d be a happy man. Rallycross was a favourite – always at Lydden Hill, at least in my mind, and always starring Will Gollop or a crazy Scandinavian in a Porsche-engined Beetle or rampant Volvo saloon. I also adored the BBC’s Saturday coverage of the British Rally Championship and, for a blissful week every November, nightly highlights coverage from the RAC. Even now if I hear the dulcet tones of Steve Rider or William Woollard I get the same fizz of excitement. If only rallying had such prime time terrestrial TV billing these days.

I didn’t get to see rallying from the edge of a stage (or indeed a Grand Prix) until the ’90s, but thanks to the parental efforts of my Dad and my best mate Nick’s father, we did get to some big endurance and touring car race meetings – most notably a string of Brands Hatch and Silverstone 1000km races and numerous Silverstone TTs and BTCC meetings.

It’s true to say you can sometimes take what you’re watching for granted, but back then I relished every moment. It’s hard to say exactly why seeing Andy Rouse and Steve Soper do battle in their RS500 Cosworths at Brands felt so special, or why Nick and I felt compelled to pinch a bedsheet from the airing cupboard and make a rather shonky (the art world would have described it as ‘naive’) hand-painted Bastos Rover banner to cheer for the TWR Vitesses. I suspect it’s because the cars looked good, sounded great and were so obviously related to their showroom counterparts. It didn’t do any harm that they could be hustled around so exuberantly by their drivers. 

Still, nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. There’s nothing worse than having some old git banging on about how great things were. But in the case of the ’80s racing and rallying, I truly believe things were great. If you agree, perhaps you could share some of your memories in the comments section. I’d love to read them.

So far as I can tell there aren’t many advantages to being middle-aged, but luckily for me being old enough to remember the cars first time round means today’s historic racing scene immediately transports me back to my youth. Better still, having inadvertently spent my school days ‘studying’ to become a motoring journalist I now find myself in the utterly surreal position of being invited to test and sometimes racing those same cars.

Being a lifelong motor sport fan I relish the opportunity to experience competition cars from any era, but I think there’s something uniquely potent about the experiences we enjoy and the memories we form during our teenage years. Too young to drive, but old enough to dream, the ’80s will always be my most special of motor sport decades.

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