Every year at the end of May, those who are truly passionate about speed on wheels make a pilgrimage to the village of Gotherington deep in the Gloucestershire countryside. In this very English setting the Prescott Speed Hillclimb stages La Vie en Bleu, a celebration of what the Prescott people call French Motoring Excellence.
Prescott, as well as being England’s most famous hillclimb, is home to the Bugatti Owners Club. So they know a bit about French racing cars. If you want to see wonderful cars roaring up hills, then this is the place to be in early summer.
This year my friend Nick Wadham brought not only his Renault Alpine, in which he climbed the hill faster than any Alpine has previously achieved, but also his Tecno Formula 2 car. This is chassis 00716, as raced by legends such as Francois Cevert, Patrick Depailler, Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Tino Brambilla. To drive this car is to drive a piece of history and, in the rain at Prescott, not a task to be taken lightly. The Tecno-tuned Cosworth BDA engine now runs with twin Weber carburettors for ease of maintenance, as opposed to the original fuel injection system. Otherwise it is precisely as raced by the Elf-sponsored works team in 1971.
Nick and chief mechanic Andy Kirkby have spent a lot of time and money on preserving the car that played its part in bringing both Cevert and Depailler to the attention of Grand Prix teams. The two Frenchmen suffered from poor reliability throughout 1971, the Pederzani brothers (who founded Tecno) being distracted by their decision to build a Formula 1 car, but these days it runs like a dream. The set-up is softer than racers would like, and revs are strictly red-lined at 9000rpm, but the little blue car is otherwise everything you’d expect from the company that began by making hydraulic pumps, went on to build karts and within 10 years had produced a Grand Prix car. But it was F2 for which Tecno remains famous.
On wet tyres on a damp track (well, it is the British summer) Nick took it easy up the daunting Prescott hill, saving himself for a record-breaking run in the little Alpine. But the event is about much more than speed – it’s a gathering for those who simply love to savour the sounds and sights of motor racing history. Cevert, still loved and revered, was one of the true greats, his full potential yet to be realised at the time of his tragic accident. And Depailler, whose name remains on the Tecno’s cockpit, was another true hero lost to the sport far too soon.
Thanks to guys like Nick and Andy, these cars are still racing, doing what they were built to do. And events like La Vie en Bleu, or the Goodwood Festival of Speed in July, take us back to the days when French racing cars were blue and Grand Prix drivers mixed it with the hotshots of F2. Vive Le Sport!