Lenscraft

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Simon Hildrew’s photography has graced these pages for a little over six years. He attended the Concours of Elegance last weekend at Hampton Court Palace. As usual he has produced the real deal, another top class selection to illustrate a fantastic event. Goodwood Revival is up next for him, can’t wait.

John Brooks, September 2018

Long Distance Runaround

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Here in England it is the ‘Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness’ as Keats put it so eloquently. It is also the time of the final car events of the year before the weather turns dodgy and we stop impersonating the Iberian Peninsula.

It is a case of saving the best till last with the staging of the Concours of Elegance at the regal Hampton Court Palace, a hop, skip and a jump from DDC Towers, saving the travel sick (or should that be sick of travel?) editor from too much exertion. It is one of the highlights of my motoring year.

The Concours of Elegance has something for everyone whatever your automotive peccadillo happens to be this week. The Le Mans 24 Hours has taken a fair bit of my time and energy over the past 40 years, since rocking up at La Sarthe for the first time back in 1978. There were a number of familiar faces in the crowd, perhaps a closer look at them is warranted.

Entering in to the formal garden at the rear of the Palace (and what a venue that is) I encountered a Porsche 962 that looked, well frankly, wrong.  The outline was that of the distinctive Richard Lloyd Racing 962C but with the famous factory colour scheme promoting Rothmans. Well I figured that Duncan Hamilton/ROFGO would know their onions better than yours truly and so it proved. This car was indeed a RLR machine, and yes the Rothmans livery was authentic, having run in this combination in late November 1987 at the Kyalami 500km. Jochen Mass, on loan from Weissach, grabbed a last lap victory when Bob Wollek ran out of petrol following an epic drive. This car was the rebuilt #106B car that had been incinerated at Le Mans that year. The improvements incorporated into the car clearly worked as in addition to the win in South Africa there were podiums at Brands Hatch and Fuji topped off by victory at Norisring.

Next to the Porsche was another star performer from the Group C era, a Sauber C11, probably the ultimate Group C racer before Bernie and Max hijacked proceedings and sent the endurance side of the sport to its destruction along the V10 3.5-litre highway. I understand the C11 to be #02 that took Jochen Mass and Michael Schumacher to victory in Mexico after their team-mates had been disqualified for a minor violation of the fuel regulations. If this is the case then the car sat out Le Mans in 1991 and was kept on hand as a spare. Too precious to leave out of this ramble though.

This Aston Martin DB3S definitely has Le Mans’ pedigree, bags of it. Based on a coupé that ran in the 1954 event suffering a huge accident at Maison Blanche that totalled the car. DB3S/6 was rebuilt and the following year went on to finish second at Le Mans with Peter Collins and Paul Frère behind the wheel.

Retired from factory duties DB3S/6 enjoyed further success at La Sarthe with the new owners, Peter and Graham Whitehead, grabbing a fantastic second place overall in 1958, the stuff that dreams are made of for privateers.

Nightmares might be closer to the fate at the great race of this still stunning AMG Mercedes CLK LM. Introduced to the world at the 1998 Le Mans Pre-Qualifying weekend in May it was a development of the 1997 FIA GT Championship winning CLK GTR. A V8 engine based on the M119 unit that powered the Sauber to victory in 1989 replaced the older V12. The loss of 80 kilos was the immediate benefit plus the repackaging allowed pushrod suspension at the front with inboard spring/damper units. The lower centre of gravity of the V8 also led to a general improvement of the aerodynamics and overall performance.

The car was quick, taking Bernd Schneider to pole position, even outpacing the Toyota GT-One, plus Christophe Bouchut’s sister car slotting into third place on the grid. For the first hour there was a fierce battle for the lead with Toyota, BMW and Porsche taking on the  Mercedes. However with just 70 minutes on the clock Schneider’s CLK LM came to a halt at the Pit Lane Exit. 50 minutes later and Bouchut’s car also stopped. Both engines had gone bang and the favoured CLK LMs were out before sunset. However, the true cause of this unMercedes-like failure was a little more complicated. A pin in the power-steering pump failed and dumped hydraulic fluid into the engine and that was that. It would be the only time that a CLK LM raced and did not win.

Another car that suffered at the French classic was #25R, a long tailed McLaren F1 GTR. Ray Bellm and Thomas Bscher joined forces in 1997 to establish a three car challenge, Gulf Team Davidoff, in the first season of the FIA GT Championship. At Le Mans, Thomas saw his hopes of racing go up in smoke on the Thursday evening  when his F1 GTR caught fire and was considered too badly damaged to continue.

Three days later saw a repeat of this unfortunate incident when, with about an hour to go in the race and running in the top five, Andrew Gilbert-Scott had to hastily bail out of this McLaren as it went up in flames. To get so far and then fail at the final hurdle is a perfect demonstration of  the fundamental cruelty of Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans. #25R then went to Japan, racing right up to 2005. It has now come home and has been restored by McLaren Special Operations.

McLaren is one of only three manufacturers to win at Le Mans on their début, the others being Chenard & Walker and Ferrari. To celebrate this famous victory in 1995 a special edition was produced from Woking, the McLaren F1 LM.

The prototype was on hand at the Concours. It had a number of subtle changes from the road car. It was not a replica of the race car but “follows the specification of the Le Mans winning F1 GTR.” Only five of these amazing creations were built so seeing this car was very special.

The ACO should give thanks every day that the coolest guy on the planet took the coolest car of the time and created a movie immortalising their race. Steve McQueen aka Michael Delaney made the Porsche 917 in the iconic Gulf Oil livery into a motoring mega-star. This example, 917-013, never actually raced at Le Mans but was wrecked there during the making of the film, Le Mans, when David Piper had a tyre issue at speed. The accident was so violent that the 917 was almost cut in two and Piper lost his lower right leg as a consequence.

The Porsche was reborn using chassis 917-034 and went on to score victories at Daytona, Monza, Zeltweg and Montlhéry. Austria’s race witnessed the final victory for the legendary Pedro Rodriguez who turned in one of his greatest performances to beat Ferrari.

Rodriguez and Gulf Oil are linked to this Ford GT40. Originally chassis P/1004 and entered for the 1965 Le Mans 24 Hours under the banner of Rob Walker. Like the other Dearborn cars the GT40 retired, this one a victim of a cylinder head gasket failure.

Fast forward to 1968 and P/1004 was retrieved from storage and updated by JW Automotive to the latest spec and renumbered to P/1084. It was raced to fourth place at Spa by Paul Hawkins and David Hobbs and then was retired from the tracks. A few months later a sister car took the top spot at Le Mans in the postponed 1968 event, Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi were the drivers.

The final Le Mans competitor to be found in the Place grounds was the Austin Healey 100 ‘Special’.  It raced at La Sarthe in 1953, finishing a very creditable 12th place overall in the hands of Maurice Gatsonides and Johnny Lockett.

Since it was first held in 2012 the Concours of Elegance has taken its place at the top table of motoring celebrations. Now located at Hampton Court Palace it is a ‘must attend’ event, if you like cars then this is for you.

John Brooks, September 2018

 

 

Slipping Into September In Style

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Another summer is almost past, the annual festivals of endurance racing at Le Mans and Spa are now consigned to the memory bank, an increasingly unreliable destination. There is still much to look forward to in 2018, with one of the highlights of the year taking place next weekend.

I am referring of course to the Concours of Elegance held at the magnificent setting of Hampton Court Gardens. Launched in 2012 the Concours has rapidly established itself at the top table of the automotive universe, a ‘must-do’ event for those of us who appreciate fine cars.

A bonus for me is that the Concours has found a home so close to DDC Towers, I could walk to the Palace, given the local traffic density that might be quicker.

Looking back I was surprised to see that I did not write up last year’s show, so as a preview of what one might find I will show a little of the menu that was served up for us in 2017.

Mention of Le Mans brings me neatly to the fantastic array of D-type Jaguars that toured in to join proceedings on Friday. The 1957 edition of the French classic saw Jaguar take five out the top six places, a record only surpassed by Porsche in 1982 and 1983. The winner plus the other podium finishers made a grand entrance.

They assumed pride of place in front of the Palace, a truly historic grid still looking as dramatic today as they did over 60 years ago.

More endurance legends were on hand. Three in particular caught my attention as I shot all three in period for clients. This Jaguar XJR-8 raced at Le Mans twice and scored four wins in the 1987 World Championship taking Raul Boesel to the Driver’s title.

Arguably the most famous F1 GTR of them all is #06R resplendent in yellow and green, better known as the Harrods McLaren. This fantastic car ran for two incomplete seasons in BPR in ’95 and ’96 with four outright wins and third place at Le Mans, a record that stands comparison with any.

Into the 21st Century with this Aston Martin DBR9 , chassis #01. In 2005 this was a factory car, winning the GT1 class on its début at Sebring and defeating the top dogs, Corvette, on home ground. The rivalry inspired by that triumph still lasts to today. A few weeks later and #01 saw off the cream of the FIA GT Championship contenders at Silverstone to take victory in the Tourist Trophy. This was followed up with a podium at Le Mans. In the following season Larbre Compétition took team and driver titles in the Le Mans Series and in 2007 managed a class win at the Mil Mihas. The Aston retired for two seasons but came back to run in the FIA GT1 World Championship under the Hexis AMR banner. A win in the 2011 opening round at Abu Dhabi was the high point of the season as Hexis AMR headed to the Team’s title.

Leaving competition aside there is much else to enjoy; super cars, classics rarely seen, 60 amazing cars to dream about.

Then each day the car clubs bring along yet more automotive treats, all in the most fantastic setting.

Tickets are very reasonable and offer a chance to explore the Palace itself, all of this information and an indication of what is on offer this year can be found at https://concoursofelegance.co.uk/

I would advise attendance if possible, you will not regret it.

John Brooks, August 2018

Summer in the City

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The arrival of the month of June heralds the arrival of summer and kicks off a series of grand classic car events. Last weekend saw the automobile opulence known as Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este held on the shores of Lake Como. This week features the slightly less grand but no less worthy London Concours.

The venue for this event is the home of the Honorable Artillery Company and has been since 1537. It is an oasis of tranquillity in the heart of the City, London’s financial centre. There may not be a lake in view but the Italians don’t have a cricket pitch. Indeed when one of the soldiers on duty was asked about the proximity of all the windows surrounding the cricket green and the danger of them being broken by a cricket ball he replied that their team was not very good, neither were their opponents. Bit like the current England squad came the sharp retort.

Sporting matters to one side the Concours, now in its second year, has matured and is set to become a firm fixture on the UK’s motoring calendar. A high standard of exhibits graced the grass, something for everyone to savour. Not all on show were high performance classics, some were a little more workmanlike.

There were a few familiar faces, the ex-Rob Walker Ferrari 250 GT SWB, immortalised by Sir Stirling Moss at Goodwood, now the proud possession of Ross Brawn.

The latest movement in the historic motorsport world, Global Endurance Legends, was also represented by a few GTs, this brace of Lotus BPR challengers attracting attention.

 

The show takes motoring excellence to the heart of London, it is a great way to spend a few hours in the company of like-minded machines and men………..roll on 2019.

John Brooks June 2018

Bringing Up The Half Century

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Thruxton celebrated its 50th anniversary last weekend. The super fast Hampshire race track has been a popular motor sport venue since becoming the BARC’s home after the closure of Goodwood in 1966.

Originally used for racing in the ’50s, a new track was opened in 1968. Like many other race circuits in the UK it was the site of a military airfield during World War Two. It was operated as a fighter base with the United States Army Air Force taking over from the RAF in 1944 in the run up to D-Day.

Since 1968 it has become a favourite venue for motor sport fans of two or four wheels persuasion. I recall many great days’ racing on the traditional Easter Monday Formula Two meeting. It was a fine way to welcome in a new season and to see the next generation of Formula One stars in the making.

In recent years there has a major investment program with the opening of the Thruxton Hospitality Centre.

The racing was its customary close, competitive self, with the inner hooligan of the Mini fraternity never far from the surface.

And what would a Formula Ford race be without a bit of rough and tumble?

Motorsport’s answer to Morecambe and Wise, Nigel Mansell and Murray Walker, were guests of honour, deservedly so.

The sun shone and another excellent weekend of racing and things generally automotive were enjoyed by an appreciative audience. Here’s a salute to the next 50 years!

As part of the tribute from those of us at DDC Towers we bring you another fabulous collection of imagery courtesy of the man of the moment. Simon Hildrew.

John Brooks June 2018

The Garden of England

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Brands Hatch has always been one of my favourite tracks and there no better time to visit than in late spring/early summer.

2018 was no exception to this rule. A trip round the M25 a few weeks back was the answer, to enjoy the delights of the The Masters Historic Festival.

It would be difficult to say what the top event was as all the races and grids had something to savour. All the sizes, all the colours, be it Historic Formula 2.

Or Pre-66 Touring Cars.

Things got a little out of hand occasionally but fortunately only pride was damaged. Brands Hatch has always been ready to punish any small transgression.

My personal favourite was, not surprisingly, the Masters Endurance Legends. Old friends were on hand, like Paul Daniels, even if he had a shortened weekend with transmission woes.

The field was small, but perfectly formed, with not one but two Peugeot 908 in the pack.

Martin Short and Nigel Greensall put on a show for the decent-sized crowd in the Dallara SP1 and Riley & Scott MKlll. Screaming Judd and bellowing Oldsmobile playing a fine song for those present.

All things considered it was a great weekend, a proper festival of motor sport, even the weather played ball. So sit back and enjoy the slick camera work of Simon Hildrew………..

John Brooks June 2018

A Slice of History

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The Donington Historic Festival in a few short years has become one of the highlights of the classic motor sport calendar. The eighth edition held a few weeks back reinforced this reputation.

Unusually for the May Bank Holiday here in the UK, the weather decided to play ball, indeed record temperatures were the order of the day rather than umbrellas.

 

A quarter of a century has passed since Ayrton Senna produced magic on the opening lap of the European Grand Prix at this very track. As a salute to this historic moment there were several displays of Grand Prix racers.

Formula 5000 was also popular with the big crowd, as were the new catering and ‘restroom’ facilities. We were fortunate enough to have our own pole position man, Simon Hildrew, firing on all cylinders, marvel at his work………..

John Brooks, May 2018

The House that Frank Built

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This week I had both an AGM and a Committee meeting for the Guild of Motoring Writers, the location for these affairs was the HQ of Williams F1. A very impressive complex located at Grove near Abingdon housing one of the great Formula One teams of the modern era.

Employing over 1,000 people on site, Williams Grand Prix Engineering has grown enormously from the virtual cottage industry set up by Frank Williams and Patrick Head over 40 years ago.

One of the major attractions for visitors is a chance to stroll down Memory Lane and see the fantastic collection of Grand Prix racers from the past four decades.

In addition to the single seaters, my attention was drawn to the BMW V12 LMR that triumphed at Le Mans in 1999. Memories, memories………………

John Brooks, May 2018

Classical Times

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The Silverstone Classic is the largest historic motoring festival on the planet………..every aspect of the car is covered somewhere in Silverstone’s flat fields. Motor racing, car clubs, automobilia, anniversaries, music, food, and, most importantly, people are the elements that combine to make the Classic a celebration of one of the most liberating elements of 20th Century life.

If there has been one issue that I have had with this festival in recent years it is the annual clash with the Spa 24 Hours. For 2018 they are on consecutive weekends, so I get to go to both ‘must-dos’. Woo Hoo!

There will be a new attraction in this year’s line up with Group C making way for its younger sibling Masters Endurance Legends featuring sportscars and GTs from the 1995 to 2012 period. The theme for this race will be a salute to the Daytona 24 Hours, with special appearances from former participants.

The Silverstone Classic is one of the great motoring events on the calendar so pop along if you can, there will be something to for you to treasure. Details can be found HERE

In the meantime I can recommend viewing Simon Hildrew’s excellent gallery from the 2017 event………..I anticipate more magic from him this year.

John Brooks May 2018

The Banks of Paris

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One of the few drawbacks of running a site such as DDC is that there are never enough hours in the day, something has to give and usually it is my good intention to post a piece.

OK I am going to plough through the archives in the next few weeks to try and clear out the backlog………….we’ll see how long this impulse last is what I hear you say. Let’s make a start…………..

Montlhéry to the South-West of Paris is these days a place to look back at the rich history of the car. Various events are organised through the year, mainly with a very French taste, all the better for that rich cuisine.

So in late September there will be the fourth edition of Les Grandes Heures Automobile, currently a secret except those truly in the know. However I would suggest that a visit would be most enjoyable for those who enjoy all aspects of motoring, particularly involving competition.

Those of you with an adventurous spirit should give it a go…………..these fabulous images from 2016 shown the rich menu on offer for the automotive gourmet.

Information etc can be found here

Go on, you know you want to. PS photo courtesy of the organisers…………….

John Brooks, May 2018