My Big Year – The Prologue

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DDC is a broad church with its congregation drawn together by a common interest in motoring and motor sport. It has given a pulpit to many fine preachers over the past decade, the latest to join this roll of honour is our old friend, Julian Roberts. Back in 2007 he fell from grace and joined the media circus. Over the next few weeks he will recount his path to redemption.

From my first roll of film. Developed by my friend, son of Autosport photographer George Phillips – Derek Warwick, BP Super Visco British F3 Championship – Donington Park April 1978

I have been a keen amateur motor racing photographer since 1978 when I bought my first SLR camera, a Nikkormat FT3 with a Vivitar 135mm lens. The first race I attended with my camera was the Easter round of the BP Super Visco British Formula 3 Championship held at Donington Park. As a favour, my close friend Clive offered to develop my film allowing me to see my precious negatives that night, before having them professionally printed the next day. He knew a little about processing as he used to help his father in the darkroom. His father was George Phillips, the chief photographer with Autosport when it was first published in 1950. He had also been as successful racing driver, developing and driving his own MGs at Le Mans in 1949/50/51. George was a lovely old chap with a caustic wit that equally amused or terrified his victims – often me!

British Grand Prix, Brands Hatch, July 1978. Andretti and Peterson obscured by the startline gantry

I attended every British Grand Prix and 6 Hour race plus as many ‘clubbies’ as I could get to, usually at Silverstone which is only 40 minutes away.

Kenny Acheson, Bernard Devaney & David Sears – Esso Formula Ford Championship – Silverstone June 1978

But despite loving Grand Prix racing and devouring Motoring News and Autosport every week and Motor Sport once a month, I was already an Endurance racing fan.

Jochen Mass at the wheel of the works Porsche 935-78 he shared with Jacky Ickx – Silverstone 6 Hour race May 1978

Formula One was great, but a Martini Porsche 935-78 was greater. As soon as I could just, possibly, afford the new Canon A1, I upgraded and also bought Tamron 300mm f5.6 lens. This was a much better combination than my faithful Nikkormat, though I did keep that as a second body.

Gilles Villeneuve Ferrari 312 T5 at La Rascasse Monaco 1980

In 1980 as a ridiculously generous twenty-first birthday present, my father paid my share for a two week trip to the French Riviera which included attending the Monaco Grand Prix. Two friends and I rented a villa in the hills above Menton and I found a hospitality package offering grandstand seats just beyond Ste. Devote and lunch in the Restaurant Quicksilver which was located beneath, near Tabac corner, I think it was £50 each! We missed Thursday practice and watched Qualifying from the grandstand opposite the swimming pool. I shot three rolls of film from there and another roll from our grandstand during the Sunday morning warm up. I have some excellent images from that weekend, but I think my favourite is one I literally snatched on the way to the boat taxi which would take us across the harbour to the swimming pool grandstand. In a gap between two buildings there was an aerial view of La Rascasse. Being hurried along I hastily snapped five shots and left.

Rothmans Porsche 956s to the fore at the start of the 1982 Le Mans 24 Hours – June 1982

In 1982 I finally got to visit Le Mans and began a love affair which is still as strong today after 23 events. Incidentally, this is the first photo I ever took at Le Mans, spoiled somewhat by the chap in front holding his camera at arms length above his head, though I mustn’t complain as I doing exactly the same thing! I had arrived at the first corner too late to get a clear view and held my camera aloft finger on the shutter and hoping. With the motordrive I managed 10 shots, but this was the best.

Christian Bussi, Bernard de Dryver & Pascal Witmeur – Bussi Team Rondeau M382 Le Mans June 1982
Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell acknowledge the crowd after winning the 1982 Le Mans 24 Hour race – June 1982

I stayed trackside for 18 hours and although I only shot three rolls of film all weekend I am still very pleased with my results shooting from the Tribunes.

David & Godfrey Jones  JWR – Preci Spark Porsche 996 GT3 R lead the DRM Racing Ferrari 360 Modena of Ni Amorim &  Adam Wilcox – British GT Championship – Snetterton May 2004

By 2004 used digital SLR cameras were becoming affordable and with some trepidation, and against all advice, I ordered a year old Canon EOS 10D and 28-135mm kit lens from an American seller on ebay. I also added a new Canon EF300 F4 L IS USM together with a Canon X1.4 extender from Digitalrev (again via ebay) in Hong Kong – back in 2004 it was by no means usual to pay hundreds and hundreds pounds, in advance, to unknown foreign sellers hoping they’ll do their stuff.  They both did, in fact I still buy from Digitalrev today. What became of my faithful friend of 26 years the Canon A1?  I sold it and all my analogue gear immediately and without a qualm ! The 10D (not forgetting my beautiful L lens) was a game changer.  I was now able to produce very good work consistently. Because I was able to critique my shots on the go, I quickly learnt much more about proper exposure and to alter ISO as and when required (remember on film I was stuck with the film’s ISO and never beyond 800). My first time out with the 10D was a round of the British GT Championship at Snetterton.

David Leslie prepares to leave the pit garage in the Championship winning GTS Motorsport BMW M3 he shared with Harry Handkammer, Britcar – Silverstone March 2005

As my photography improved so did my desire to share my photos with a larger audience. I had been an early convert to Malcolm Cracknell’s excellent websites SportsCarWorld.com and TotalMotorSport.com and then DailySportsCar.com. So in 2005 decided to go to the opening Britcar meeting at Silverstone and ‘pretend’ I had received a commission from him to cover the event.

The Beechdean Mini of Nigel Greensall and Aaron Scott leaving the pits – Britcar – Silverstone March 2005

My intention being to submit my photo’s as a sort of visual c.v.  I spent a lot of time in the paddock and pit garages and eventually the pitlane as I could take better photos there than through the tall fences synonymous with Stalag Silverstone.

Bruno Senna – British F3 Championship – Donington April 2006

I selected a dozen of what I considered to be the best and emailed them to Malcolm. He was very pleased and used some of my images in his report. He also asked me to go the Donington for the opening round of the British GT Championship.

Neil Cunningham – Embassy Racing Porsche 996 GT3 RSR – British GT Championship – Donington April 2005

Arriving at Media Accreditation bursting with anticipation I was quickly brought back to earth with a bump; there was no media pass and I was expected to pay for my entry ticket! Hmmm. Oh well, I hadn’t driven 90 miles to turn around so I paid up and went to find my contact, Graham Goodwin. GG gave me a quick tour of the pitlane pointing out favoured teams to pay extra attention to and that was it.

Allan Simonsen – British GT Championship – Donington April 2006

I made myself busy and, as usual, roamed the pitlane as if it were my own. To my wife’s irritation I arrived home about 7pm and spent the next 4 hours editing photo’s for submission to DailySportsCar.com. I got a few more gigs from DSC but in every case I had to contact them and offer my services for free rather than be asked. So I continued as an amateur snapper peering through the fence, a totally free agent, photographing what I liked.

In late 2006 my employers (a North African oil producer) announced they were to close all European operations and I was to be made redundant in 2007 after 20 years.  By now I was 48 and (thankfully) financially stable. So on a bit of a whim I decided to give myself a redundancy present and take a year discovering whether I had what it takes to be a freelance motorsport photographer. 

Nick Whale, Ian Guest BMW 3.0CSL & Christian Traber BMW M1 – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

I knew of Martin Krejci’s superb website RacingSportCars.com and had been contributing my images to him for a number of years. With this in mind I had the idea to contact him and suggest I apply for media accreditation acting as his photographer, he agreed. In early 2007 I applied to the FIA GT Championship, the Le Mans Series and, heart in mouth, the ACO.  After a bit of form filling, a lot of emails,  and supplying website traffic statistics to the ACO, all three accepted me.  WOW !

No longer would my humble EOS 10D cut it as my main camera, so I bought a year old Canon EOS1D MkIIN and a new Canon EF400 DO IS USM plus a Pelicase to cart it all around Europe in safety.

Paul Knapfield – Charles Pozzi Ferrari 512 BB LM – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

The first race for me was the 2007 Monza 1000kms. The media representative for the LMS was a French lady. She had confirmed my acceptance via email and I was given details of how to collect my media pass from a school in suburban Monza (why not at the circuit I have no idea). In my job as a Client Procurement Co-ordinator I had many contacts worldwide and one in particular with whom I was on very good terms lived and worked in Milan. He found me a small but classy hotel on the edge of the Parco di Monza, roughly opposite the circuit, but a few kilometres away, plus he arranged a taxi to meet me from the airport.

Green Flag lap – Perazzini, Tavano & Cioci – Racing Box Saleen S7-R – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

The flight was incident free and I easily found my taxi. Once I’d checked into the hotel, with numerous signed Ferrari driver portraits behind the desk, the driver took me to collect my passes. We eventually found the school and I followed the signs downstairs to a small room with a table and dozens of envelopes containing passes. I announced myself and the young lady searched her list and with a look of genuine regret said “non”. I almost dropped to my knees! I really couldn’t believe it. I recovered my composure and asked to borrow her phone so I could speak to the LMS Media representative. I have to say she was very offhand with me, initially denying I had been accepted (fortunately I had printed copies of all emails and forms so my case was watertight). She eventually agreed to permit me access; she would see me in the Media Centre. Note; only whilst writing this have I realised this all occurred on Friday the 13th!

The victorious Team Peugeot Total – Peugeot 908 HDi FAP of Nicholas Minassian & Marc Gené – Le Mans Series – Monza April  2007

Back to the car and my willing driver. He drove to the circuit and to my joy blagged us through the main gate then into the Paddock itself, not bad going without a ticket between us. I climbed the stairs to the Media Centre and found my target. I won’t go into too much detail but I made it clear I was extremely unhappy and she made it equally clear she couldn’t care less. My Media Pass ? Nothing doing, I was given a ‘Guest Pass’! We didn’t part as friends and I still haven’t sent or received a Christmas card. I then went to speak with the local media representative on the front desk, a charming Italian lady who on hearing my tale of woe arranged everything I would need to make my visit a success. Bless her heart.

Neil Cunningham. Embassy Racing Radical SR9 – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

I’d missed the entire morning so I bade my driver farewell (with a fat tip) and walked out to the track. I’d been to Monza once before in 1994 to see the Italian Grand Prix so I had a reasonable idea of the layout, and knew exactly where I wanted to go first, the Variante Ascari. 

Jan Lammers Racing for Holland Dome S101 – Le Mans Series – Monza April  2007

The first group out on track after lunch were the Classic Endurance Series or CER. Lola and Chevron prototypes, Ferrari Boxer, Porsche 911, 935, 908, BMW M1 and so many more. I’d never seen such a group of cars in England. I was in my element and was almost disappointed when the session ended and the LMS cars came out.

I remained blissfully happy at the Variante Ascari until the end of the day. I’d asked the hotel receptionist to arrange for a taxi to collect me from outside the main gate at 6pm.  After 90 minutes (during which time I’d declined two lifts from kindly Brits) no taxi had arrived so I elected to walk back across the park. The walk was much further than I anticipated, taking over an hour, and by the time I reached my hotel, having been on the go since 5 a.m., I was exhausted. I had a quick shower, a restorative beer or three, followed by dinner and bed.

Peter Hall’s Opel Commodore GS-E chases Martin Carroll and Graham ‘Skid’ Scarborough (both Ford Capri 3.0S) Monroe Production Saloon Car Championship – Silverstone – July 1981 

The next morning, during breakfast I noticed an English registered car with an historic racer on a trailer. There was another English couple in the dining room so assuming it was theirs I introduced myself. I was wrong, but it was a happy mistake as the gentleman was former British Touring Car ace, Peter Hall. He and his wife were there to support their son Stuart who was driving Martin Short’s Rollcentre Racing LM P1 Pescarolo 01.  

Benetton B194 passes beneath the F1 media atop the photographers box, Italian Grand Prix – Monza September 1994

Back at the circuit bright and early on Saturday morning, the next item on my Monza bucket list was the raised photographers box above the turn-in point for the Curva Parabolica.

Marc Devis Porsche 935 K3 – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007
Louis Zurstrassen Osella PA 4 – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

Once again the first cars out were the Classics, and I had a classic view of them.

Gilles Gibier and the McInnerney brothers BMW M1 Procars – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

I had in mind the classic image of two Gulf Porsche 917s line astern turning in and wanted to try and recreate it, albeit without a pair of 917s. The best I could manage was a pair of BMW M1s.

Raymond Narac, Richard Leitz – IMSA Performance Porsche 997 GT3 RSR – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007
Tom Kimber-Smith, Danny Watts – Team LNT Panoz Esperante GTLM – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

I remained in the box throughout the morning CER and LMS sessions having the time of my life.

Monza Paddock bar/café

Afterwards I made my way back to the paddock for a quick lunch – not quite Silverstone….

Hervé Dumas – Chevrolet Corvette – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007
Porsche 908-4 Jean-Marc Luco’s driver point of view – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

Then I couldn’t resist a wander through the CER enclosure and admire, what to me at least, were becoming the stars of the show.

Gianni Morbidelli Audi RS4 – Campionato Italiano Superstars – Monza April 2007

My vantage point for the afternoon was the first chicane; the Variante del Rettifilo. First was a qualifying session for the Campionato Italiano Superstars, the highlight of which was Gianni Morbidelli driving an Audi RS4.

João Barbosa retires the Rollcentre Racing Pescarolo at the beginning of Qualifying – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Next up was LMS qualifying. Based on my brief chat with Peter Hall and his wife I was now Rollcentre Racing’s number one fan and I was disappointed to see João Barbosa roll to halt in front of me destined to take no further part.

The Gianni Lavaggi & Marcello Puglisi Lavaggi LS1 exits stage left during qualifying – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

One notable entrant was ex-Pacific & Minardi Formula One driver Gianni Lavaggi, affectionately known as  Johnny Carwash. He was sharing the eponymous Lavaggi LS1 with Marcello Puglisi , the LS1 qualified poorly and looked a handful to drive.

Christian Ried, Horst Felbermayr Jnr. & Thomas Grüber – Felbermayr Proton Porsche 997 GT3 RSR – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Being a totally unprofessional in every sense of the word, I always select a favourite car which my camera is unfailingly drawn to. This time it was three; the trio of Felbermayr Proton Porsche 997 GT3 RSRs, such a pretty car with a simple but eye-catching paint scheme.  It seemed the session was over moments after it began. Predictably the Peugeots were in a class of their own almost two seconds faster than their nearest rival.  

Clivio Piccione overtakes Guillaume Moreau as Giedo van der Garde looks on – Formula Renault 3.5 Series – Monza – April 2007

As the LMS  field were being put away for the day there was the first race of the weekend, the opening round of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series. This wasn’t a championship I was familiar with and I didn’t recognise any of the drivers, but cynically knowing that young chargers and the first chicane at Monza are seldom a good mix, I made my way across the track (oh the access !) to give me a view almost straight down the circuit towards the start. Then I pre-focussed on the braking point and selected 1,000ths of a second. The start was uneventful, but later there was an incident which brought out the Safety Car. At the restart Clivio Piccione lying in about 10th place, misjudged his braking and slammed into the rear of Guillaume Moreau  launching himself skywards like a Eurofighter on reheat. I had focus lock and rammed the shutter button into the body as hard as I could, just following the red plane plane on its wild ride. I fired off 33 frames before the car came to a halt upside down.

Totally unhurt, Piccione exits his stricken car – Formula Renault 3.5 Series – Monza – April 2007

Thankfully, with help from the marshals, Piccione was able to clamber out unhurt. Looking back at the entry list, bearing in mind I’d never heard of any of the drivers, I had just watched future Grand Prix drivers Sebastian Vettel and Giedo van der Garde.

Peter Garrod – Porsche 935 – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

After some tracking sweeping and the collection of abandoned cars it was time for me to enjoy the Classic Endurance Series race. As always I was drawn to the Porsches like a moth to a candle, I cannot resist them. There was a 908-4, two fire snorting 935s, four RSRs, three RS, two Group 4 911s and a 906; Porsche heaven.

Stéphane Gutzwiller driving the wooden monocoque Astra FVC RNR 2 – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

One particularly interesting car was the wooden monocoque design Astra RNR2 FVC designed by Roger Nathan and driven by Stéphane Gutzwiller. Seeking to check the details on the Astra, I reached up and left (I am surrounded by books on three sides in my tiny study) for my copy of Roger Nathan’s autobiography “An Adventurous Life”. It’s pleasing to note the above mentioned Stéphane Gutzwiller was Nathan’s co-writer for this project.

Christophe Schwartz in the Dodge Charger – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

Apart from the Porsches my favourite classic had to be Christophe Schwartz’ Dodge Charger, I had never heard a louder race engine, it was magnificent. Starting life as a road car, this was a ground-up recreation of father and son Hershel and Doug McGriff’s 1976 Le Mans entry. The ACO were keen to form an alliance with the Daytona 24 Hours and contacted Bill France, the head of NASCAR, inviting some American iron over to La Sarthe. Two IMSA specification Chevrolets, John Greenwood’s Corvette and Michael Keyser’s Monza made the trip as did two NASCAR stock cars. A Ford Torino and McGriff’s four year old Dodge also took up the invitation. At Le Mans it weighed 1,660kgs, had four forward gears, drum brakes and a live rear axle on leaf springs. Oh, and the McGriff’s only fitted mirrors following concerns brought to the ACO by the prototype drivers. It wasn’t a fairy tale ending. The car was designed to run on high octane fuel not the 80 octane essence available at the circuit and destroyed two engines in practice. The race engine did not even last two laps. This recreation now using decent fuel runs consistently well and, like the original, is a crowd favourite.

Jean-Marc Luco Martini Porsche 908-4 – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

The race lasted an hour and I gleefully fired off another 400 shots!

Cockpit of Pedro Lamy & Stéphane Sarrazin’s Peugeot 908 Hdi FAP – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Sunday dawned, no more preamble, time for the main event. 

Spyker C8 Spyder GT2R of Peter Kox and Jaroslav Janiš being manoeuvred on dollies in the pitlane – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Not being blessed with the ‘access all areas’ photographers vest I had to grab my pitlane shots during the morning pit walkabout.

Larbre Compétition’s Aston Martin DBR9s being readied for the start – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Not to worry, make the best of it, you’re at Monza !

Stuart Hall and his displaced co-driver Phil Keen – pitlane before the race – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

My new favourite driver Stuart Hall posed for me looking very ‘eff wun‘ in his graduated shades, behind, in civvies, stands his erstwhile team mate Phil Keen. 

Phil Keen exits his Rollcentre Racing Pescarolo 01 having beached it in the gravel outside the Parabolica – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007 

I was told, that Rollcentre boss Martin Short had stood Keen down as he was driving the heavy prototype “like a Formula 3 car”. Also beaching it in the Parabolica gravel trap on his first flying lap during Practice, leaving the team unable to set further times in the session, can’t have helped.

The Alphand Aventures Corvette C6.R of Luc Alphand, Jérôme Policand & Patrice Gouselard to victory in GT1 – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

By now the cars were leaving the pits and I needed to get moving if I was to catch the start.

First lap, first chicane. Peugeots to the fore – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

I chose to stand in the raised photographers enclosure overlooking the Variante Alta. This was a mistake. It has a perfect view over the chicane with the cars coming straight towards the camera after the initial turn in. 

Opening lap, the Lavaggi LS1 being bullied by the GT1s – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Without thinking I’d selected my 300mm lens and while it was fine for picking out a single car, it was too long to the capture the melee of the opening lap. I shot the 2 Peugeots braking for the chicane, thereafter my images of the start are a colourful collage.

The Biscione, the Visconti family coat of arms – Monza April 2007

Abandoning my lofty perch I returned to ground level and crossed the infield to the Variante Ascari and began a slow anti-clockwise, lap of the circuit via the Curva del Serraglio, the Lesmos and Variante del Roggia and finally, my favourite spot, the photographers’ platform above the Parabolica. On one of the service roads inside the circuit there’s a small old quite old looking building which had a familiar moulding of a snake on a shield. Familiar because reversed it is the Alfa Romeo symbol. Following a little research I learn it is called a Biscione and is generally the symbol for Milan and particularly it’s the eleventh-century Milanese Visconti family coat of arms. The origin of the serpent devouring the human (some say child) isn’t certain and there are a number of theories.

The Speedy Racing Team Spyker C8 Spyder flashes through the Curva del Serraglio. Driven by Andrea Belicchi, Andrea Chiesa & Jonny Kane they finished 20th overall 14th in GT2 – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

My day was just about perfect.

Another from the Curva del Serraglio, the Virgo Motorsport Ferrari F430 GTC Modena of Rob Bell and Allan Simonsen – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

I was in warm autumn sunshine watching THE Monza 1000kms with full trackside access. Pausing at Curva del Serraglio which is the bend between Lesmo Two and the old banking I crouched behind the Armco barrier and had a great view back up the track towards Lesmo Two and then lay down in the access to shoot the cars going away under the bridge.

The Thierry Perrier Porsche 997 GT3 RSR of Anthony Beltoise, Philippe Hesnault and Nigel Smith entering Lesmo Two – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Next was Lesmo Two and I was surprised just how close I was permitted to stand to the tarmac, now the cars weren’t just an aural sensation, I could physically feel them too.

Larbre Compétition Aston Martin DBR9 in the Second Lesmo.  Christophe Bouchut, Gabriele Gardel and Fabrizio Gollin finished 2nd in GT1 – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

I stayed about half an hour switching between my 300mm lens to catch them head on and a wide angle angle lens panning with the cars as they swept through.

Antonio Garcia & Liz Halliday – Team Modena Aston Martin DBR9 braking hard for Variante del Roggia – Le Mans Series – Monza April  2007

Spoiled for choice I made another bucket list tick and walked alongside the track to the Variante del Roggia.

Mike Newton in his MG EX264 through the Variante del Roggia – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Here the cars come storming into view from the Curve Grande then hard on the brakes for this fast left right left.

Felbermeyr Porsche exiting the Variante Ascari – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Next was the Variante Ascari once more on my way to my favourite perch in the photographers’ box at the Parabolica. 

The media corps!

Space was at a premium as the prime spots were occupied by three young boys wielding tiny point and shoot digital cameras.

Porsche, Saleen, Porsche, Porsche – the Parabolica – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Elbows out I took up my position and lost myself in overhead photography.

Didier Theys in the Horag Racing Lola B05/41 and the Charouz Racing Lola B07/17 of Stefan Mücke – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Suddenly it was very quiet. The race had ended, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Peugeot won, though it was first and third for the 908 Diesels.

The lead Pescarolo Sport car of Jean-Christophe Boullion and Emmanuel Collard finished a fine second in front of one of the Peugeots –– Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

This allowed the Pescarolo Sport team some well-deserved glory grabbing second place, and their second car finished fourth.  Back in the paddock I bumped into Mr & Mrs Hall who were pleased with Stuart’s result – starting in dead last he and João Barbosa had climbed through the field to finish in seventh place. Better still they offered me a lift back and we arranged to meet for dinner at the hotel. Sadly being a Sunday, the restaurant was closed, but the receptionist directed us to a local pizzeria where we gorged ourselves on wood fired pizza and cheap red wine talking about motor racing and in particular (at my insistence) his time in the BTCC and his association with Andy Rouse. A fitting end to a terrific weekend.

I’d booked a lunchtime flight home so there was no hurry over breakfast. Taxi to the airport, back to Stansted, an hour’s drive home and that was it, back to work and reality tomorrow. Already I was having doubts at my ability to make a living out of this, but I was certainly going to enjoy myself !

Next stop, round two of the FIA GT Championship at Silverstone in May.

Julian Roberts, October 2020

Hampton Court Highlights

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September has arrived heralding the onset of autumn to be followed, no doubt, by winter. No one needs to be reminded that the pandemic has not only attacked humans but also has decimated the normal calendars of culture and sport, life itself appears to have been on hold during 2020.

The only appropriate response to this disruption is to be stoic, the disappointments of missing events or holidays are nothing compared with the devastation suffered by those who have been struck down, not to mention their families and friends.

However, we would be less than human if we tried to hide our enthusiasm when some small part of the real world surfaces. Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court Palace is firmly established as one of the highlights of the motoring year. After what can only be described as an astounding effort it took place earlier this month, even more incredible was that the show matched the virtuoso levels of previous years. Chapeau!

So it is now left to me to try and describe some of the highlights for those not fortunate enough to attend in person, I hope my efforts do the Concours some form of justice.

Twenty-five years have passed since the F1 GTR burst on to the endurance racing scene, dominating the BPR Global GT Endurance Series and taking the top spot at Le Mans on McLaren’s first attempt to achieve glory at La Sarthe. If one ignores the winner of the first race in 1923, only one other marque has achieved this result, Ferrari, back in 1949. Ironically that actual car was at the Concours last year and I looked at it HERE

The 1995 winner, #01R, was due to make an appearance but a last-minute change of plans prevented that happening. So just two examples of Woking’s finest were on display, #07R, from 1995 and #16R from the following year. The blue #07R came close to glory several times during the BPR season, leading races and scoring second place at Jarama and third at the Nürburgring. At Le Mans it had additional sponsorship from Ethanol be Betterave and the fuel for its BMW V12 engine was a synthesis of beetroot-derived alcohol. There was disaster for the car at the beginning of the race when the starter motor failed and the team replaced it. Further problems with the unit cost #07R an additional 18 minutes in the pits during the opening hour, blunting their challenge. Subsequently the F1 GTR had a largely trouble-free run and recovered to fifth at the finish, the best result ever scored by a ‘green fuel’ car at La Sarthe.

Another veteran of the Le Mans 24 Hours was this Porsche 911 GT1 that came close to winning the great race in 1997. Porsche AG initially concentrated their efforts that season in trying to win Le Mans, only a last minute decision was made to enter the inaugural FIA GT Championship. The Werks squad were running One-Two as dawn broke on Sunday with Thierry Boutsen, Hans Stuck and Bob Wollek leading. Wollek was in his twenty-seventh contest at La Sarthe and must have harboured thoughts that, finally, this would be his year. Just before 07.30 he attempted to pass Jean-Marc Gounon’s McLaren and was held up for three laps. Under acceleration out of Arnage, still stuck behind the F1 GTR, Wollek lost control of the Porsche and clattered the Armco head-on and rear, hitting both sides of the track. A broken driveshaft meant that his attempts to get back to the pits were punctuated by two further spins and he was forced to abandon the car and his quest for victory. At the subsequent meeting with the press he blamed himself entirely, he had made a beginner’s mistake as he declared. “Si vous n’avez jamais vu le roi des cons, vous l’avez devant vous.”

A special event taking place in this year’s Concours was the “Passion of a Lifetime” auction. Gooding & Company were forced to postpone their first-ever sale outside of the USA so the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court Palace was just the right level to act as the venue. Elegance was to be found in spades in the Tudor Courtyard; even Henry VIII, might have lusted after this Bugatti Type 57S Atalante, more than he did with Anne Boleyn.

There were just fifteen cars in the sale but all were ultra desirable. This Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato is one of only nineteen examples produced and lists former Aston Martin Chairman, Victor Gauntlett, as one of its four previous owners. Its breath-taking and timeless styling, courtesy of Ercole Spada, renders it as a piece of modern art of the highest level. Weirdly this was the only car not to sell, failing to reach the £7 million expected.

More ’60s Italian flair was to be found in this Lamborghini 350GT, the epitome of Gran Turismo motoring, I have always had a soft spot for this model.

A serious candidate for the most unusual item at the Concours was this replica of a 1921 Leyat Hélica. Carrying the nickname “the plane without wings” its creator, Marcel Leyat, was seeking to simplify personal transport as there would be no rear axle or transmission. The body made of plywood was extremely light and the whole machine weighed under 300kg, some 400kg lighter than the contemporary Ford Model T. Powered by an 8bhp Scorpion engine the Hélica was recorded at 106mph in 1927 at the Linas-Montlhéry circuit. Just 30 examples were built. I encountered the two remaining Hélicas at Rétromobile a few years back, they can be seen HERE

At the other end of the evolutionary scale to the Hélica is the McLaren Speedtail, now the fastest ever road car from Woking, a cool 250mph, eclipsing Andy Wallace’s famous 240mph run in the F1 GTR back in 1998.

Record breaking is also in the DNA of this Rolls-Royce Phantom ll Continental, one of a trio of Rolls-Royces owned by Sir Malcolm Campbell. He purchased it at the height of his fame for setting world speed records on land and water. Indeed a few months after acquiring the Phantom ll he set his final land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats, on 3 September 1935, becoming the first person to drive a car over 300 mph.

The Chairman of the Concours Steering Committee, Gregor Fisken, drives his HWM Jaguar to take its place around the Great Fountain. This purposeful racer has a dark side to its history. John Heath, co-founder of HWM, was killed in the 1956 Mille Miglia when HWM1 left the road in treacherously wet conditions just north of Ravenna. The car was repaired and raced on successfully for many years.

This is the development Aston Martin DB2 Drophead that was driven for a good part of its early life by the company’s owner, David Brown.

It was also used a press demonstrator, though I expect that the likes of Roy Lanchester, of Sniff Petrol fame, would have been not allowed to get away with antics such as THIS in the Boss’s car.

The Land Rover has been a familiar and comforting part of the British motoring landscape almost forever it would seem. This example is very special, being the first production car. Originally destined for His Majesty King George VI, it ended up in the development department at Rover. Subsequently it was acquired by a Northumberland farmer, David Fairless, in 1970. It remained on the farm for nearly half a century before the family sold it.

This startling creature is one of two N-Technology 550 Maranellos built to compete in the 2003 FIA GT Championship. Both have very disappointing records, especially in comparison with the Prodrive 550 Maranellos that swept all before them in the GT universe. The main achievement of the N-Technology 550s was to act as a test bed for the 575 Maranellos that followed, though these too were not successful against the “British Ferraris”.

After leaving the FIA GT Championship this example was purchased by Piero Nappi who competed in the Italian Speed Hill Climb Championship till 2016, winning the title three times.

A legend in every sense of the word is the Porsche 917K-023. Its competition career only comprised of seven races. A second place in the deluge conditions of the 1970 Brands Hatch 1000kms for Vic Elford and Denny Hulme was followed by a third at Spa with Kurt Ahrens partnering the Brit. As a member of the armada of Porsche 917s that contested Le Mans that June, it was something of an unfancied runner, with an old-spec 4.5 litre engine. The race, immortalised by Steve McQueen’s iconic movie, was another washout and one by one the favourites dropped out. Wily old campaigners Richard Attwood and Hans Herrmann grabbed the lead in 023 after midnight and held on to score Porsche’s first outright victory at La Sarthe. The story of the car’s post-race career is almost as exciting, with chassis plates being swapped, identities being confused and false liveries applied; it reads more like a spy novel than an auction catalogue. Eventually the whole story came out and now this legend, properly authenticated, resides in California.

This Ferrari 250 GTO #3387 was the second chassis completed. It was used at Maranello to develop the final specification of the car. It was then sold to Luigi Chinetti whose NART team entered it in the 1962 Sebring 12 Hours with Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien on driving duties. They won the GT class and finished second overall.

Following this success the 250 GTO was sold to New York businessman, Bob Grossman, who entered it in that year’s Le Mans 24 Hours. With his renowned NASCAR co-driver, Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, they finished sixth overall, a strong result. The Ferrari continued to be raced for a number of years and after retirement became a prized possession of several lucky owners till it crossed back over the Atlantic to be restored by Joe Macari, who is seen parading this motoring gem around the Great Fountain.

Speaking of motoring gems, I found this sublime Ferrari 275 GTS as a hot contender for best in show, even in the face of such a cornucopia of automotive desirables. Looking through the excellent Ferrari reference website barchetta.cc it appears that the 1980 F1 World Champion, Alan Jones, was a former owner. One of the best features of the Concours of Elegance is the arrival each morning of a new set of cars from the various car clubs. It adds a spice to the already rich mix and ensures that no two days are the same.

The setting of a Royal Palace for the Concours of Elegance has been one of the features that set the event apart right from the first show. Windsor Castle, St. James’s, Palace of Holyroodhouse have all played host before Hampton Court Palace became the “home” of the Concours. There is a strong connection to the Royal Family, with HRH Prince Michael of Kent acting as Patron, and on the Saturday he brought along his elder brother, HRH Duke of Kent, to enjoy the spectacle.

The ninth edition of the Concours of Elegance was held under the most difficult of circumstances but the organisers and owners rose to the challenge and provided a rich celebration of motoring for us lucky ones to savour.

John Brooks September 2020

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

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Last weekend the concours season got underway at last, well the first of the majors in the UK, Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court Palace.

By any standards the show was first class, but taking onto account the obstacles faced by the Steering Committee in getting cars and people to the palace, it was nothing short of miraculous.

Clearly from the expressions and enthusiasm of those attending we have all been starved of this kind of automotive feast, so we gorged ourselves on the rich fare, not sure when we see the like again.

The Royal family were represented by HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, and his younger brother, HRH Prince Michael of Kent, who is the Patron of the event and a very keen motorist.

The weather behaved itself and a good time was had by all. Simon Hildrew was on the lawns, armed with Canons, his shots all hit their target. More from the palace in the next few days.

John Brooks, September 2020

Brands Hatch Mastery

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Something approaching normality, or what passes for such a state these days, happened at Brands Hatch a week or so back. The traditional Masters Festival, a celebration of the rich heritage of the sport on one of the best loved tracks in the country, what could be better?

Grabbing a few headlines was the recreation of the Tyrrell P34. Jonathan Holtzman wanted to buy one of the five surviving cars but could not source one. So he had a new chassis built with the plans supplied by the Tyrrell family who gave the project their full approval.

Alex Brundle swapped his state of the art modern endurance racer for a classic Lola T70…………..

Steve Soper’s Mustang had the throttle jam open at Stirlings and vaulted the ARMCO, fortunately without injury to the Touring Car legend.

A decent crowd over two days were treated to a fantastic menu of historic racing. Our ace lens-man, Simon Hildrew, was on hand to bring you this fine gallery.

John Brooks, September 2020

Designer Gear

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The 2020 Rétromobile will prove to be even more special than normal, it actually took place! Months have passed under the pandemic cloud and the distant rumbles currently being experienced do not give any assurance that we will return to normal, or what passes for that state in 2020, any time soon. So let’s take the opportunity to have a look back at the annual Parisian automotive festival.

For the best part of a century Bertone were princes of the motoring world, their distinctive style seen on many important cars. A changing business landscape could not be accommodated and the organisation filed for bankruptcy in 2014, the end of the road. They had accumulated a collection of their work and this was eventually taken over ‘for the nation’ by Automotoclub Storico Italiano. The cars are usually on public display at the Volandia Museum located at Milan’s Malpensa Airport. For the Rétromobile a small selection was allowed out of Italy for our general appreciation.

The Volvo Tundra was the work of Marcello Gandini, Bertone’s lead designer for most of the ’60s and ’70s. The concept was based on a Volvo 343, the idea was to generate more business, Bertone having worked on 264TE and 262C, but the concept was rejected by the Swedes. Several design elements would later appear on the Citroën BX.

The MPV movement in Europe was in its early stages when Bertone unveiled this unusual concept at the 1988 Turin Motor Show. It featured gull-wing doors hinged at the centre of the windscreen to admit the driver and front passenger, those in the rear would have to use a conventional sliding door, the machine certainly attracted attention. Only able to carry five people the Genesis was already behind the likes of the Renault Espace that could accommodate seven. Perhaps the maddest feature of the exercise was that it was powered by a 5.2 litre V12 Lamborghini engine, normally found in the rear of a Countach. As one authority on Lamborghini’s history, Richard Dredge, put it. “After all, it may have looked great and pushed the the design boundaries but how was anybody ever going to make any money building a people carrier with a V12 engine?”

The same vein of crazy what-if thinking that brought forth the Genesis also produced the BMW Pickster. It was based on an E39 BMW 528 with a 3.2-liter straight-six from the M3 to power the pick up truck concept.

BMW resisted the temptation to take the Pickster and run with it, about the only section of the market that they have not tried to access.

In 1971 Bertone tried to interest Suzuki in an innovative amphibious vehicle, that became known as the Suzuki Go. Gandini was the designer. “I was inspired by the increasingly rubber inflatable dinghy boats.” The two-seater could also accommodate a snow bike or motorcycle in its flat loading bay. It was powered by a three-cylinder Suzuki 750 engine that drove the rear wheels.

The Go was intended to float and would be powered on water by clamping an outboard motor to the tailgate. The tyres were designed to go off-road and handle dirt tracks and snow with ease.

At the same time that Gandini was working on the Suzuki Go he also gave his attention to a development of the Citroën GS, to be known as the Camargue. Launched at the 1970 Paris Motor Show the Citroën GS was technologically advanced for the time, both aerodynamically and mechanically. It had features such as power-assisted disk brakes, front and rear, rarely seen in a car in that market segment. The hydro-pneumatic suspension had been developed since it first appeared on the DS range, giving both a comfortable ride and excellent road-holding. This translated into sales and awards including European Car of The Year. CEO Nuccio Bertone asked Citroën for a car to play with, the French were happy to supply one and Gandini got to work.

Unusually for a Bertone creation there was an absence of sharp edges, more softly curvaceous than angular. The 2+2-seater Camargue coupé was dressed in a metallic champagne colour and was an instant sensation when it was revealed at the 1972 Geneva Motor Show. Citroën also featured the Camargue as its prize exhibit on its trade stand at that year’s Le Mans 24 hours, causing speculation that they were seriously considering the concept for production.

However, events overtook Citroën as the cost of developing the new SM and other products seriously overran and it was the same story with their investment in Maserati. The alliance with Fiat, who had acquired a substantial stake in the French company from Michelin, did not work out as planned. Another expensive, ill-judged initiative, designing and building thirsty, but powerful, rotary engines with NSU, was torpedoed by the Yom Kippur War and the subsequent oil crisis. Fiat sold their share of Citroën back to Michelin who were on a long term strategy of divesting themselves of any holdings in motor manufacturers. Citroën’s failure to have a product in the profitable middle range of cars in the European market meant there were no reserves to fall back on, they were bankrupt. The solution to these conflicting issues was facilitated by the French government and Michelin, Citroën was taken over by Peugeot, and was saved from destruction. Peugeot had no time for niche products such as the Camargue and the attractive concept passed into history, very much a case of what might have been.

Just over a decade later Bertone and Citroën came up with the Zabrus, based on a BX 4TC. Another 2+2 concept with dramatic scissor doors and a funky interior.

Powered by a 2.2 litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that drove all four wheels, both a legacy of Citroën’s recent rally program. The Zarbus did not fit with the product strategy of the time and was not implemented. Various styling elements did appear on the later XM and Xantia models.

The foundation for the Bertone Ramarro, named after a local lizard, was the recently launched Corvette C4, indeed the car used to create the concept was the chassis that introduced Europeans to the new Vette at the 1983 Geneva Motor Show. Working round the clock Bertone were able to spring the concept on the Americans at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

One of the aims of the concept was to celebrate the Bertone brand, the stylist behind so many familiar cars. The Vette’s radiator and air conditioning system were shifted to the rear to allow a more aerodynamic front profile. Another big change from the production car were the doors which were long, consequently their opening arc was very wide. So the designers decided to change them and the doors slid forward which created another set of problems to be solved.

The Ramarro toured round the globe attending motor shows and was a success with both the general public and the media. It received the Turin-based magazine, Auto&Design, 1985 Car Design Award for its “bold ideas,” which gave “the Chevrolet Corvette an entirely new personality.”

The Autobianchi A112 Runabout dates back to 1969 and was another Gandini design. It was an attempt to convince Fiat that they should consider a mid-engined layout for their budget performance car. This followed a path that had been established by Matra, Lotus and VW-Porsche in the final years of the ’60s. Taking many design cues from the world of speedboats the Runabout was very popular with press and public alike when unveiled at the Turin Motor Show. This helped to convince the Fiat management and the result was the Fiat X1/9, a best selling sportscar.

The Ferrari 308 GT4 was a major departure from Maranello’s normal protocols. It was the first Ferrari mid-engined 2+2 and the first to be powered by a transverse mounted V8 engine. Even a casual glance would reveal that this was not the customary collaboration between Ferrari and Pininfarina, it had Bertone and Gandini’s fingerprints all over the coachwork, looking more like a Lamborghini than a Ferrari. Although sales were better than the 246 Dino it replaced, the 308 GT4 was never loved in the way that most of Maranello’s finest are. It was no surprise to see Pininfarina back at the drawing board for the successor, the 308 GTB.

Bertone continued to manufacturer the 308 GT4 bodies but it was clear that there would be no future business with Ferrari, as the two organisations had a widely differing sense of styling. Gandini expressed it succinctly. “I did not see much point in designing a Ferrari concept that looked like a Ferrari, as the designers at Pininfarina and others were very much capable of doing so. If we had to do a concept on a Ferrari base, I believed that we needed to look at something that would be radically different to that what would be expected.”

At the 1976 Turin Motor Show Gandini and Bertone revealed their solution as to how the future smaller Ferrari should look, the Ferrari Rainbow was their answer. Angular and aggressive , it was unlikely to ever find favour with Maranello but perhaps that was the intention. One innovation that Ferrari eventually followed was the retractable targa top roof that would fold down behind the rear seats, it was an ingenious way of having both a coupé and a spider in the same car.

John Brooks, July 2020

Edging the Lawns

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Time to leave the Concours of Elegance behind.

Here is a final glance back to a glorious three days.

In month or so we will reassemble in the shadow of Hampton Court palace.

There will be much to enjoy together, a feeling that has been in rather short supply during a good part of 2020.

So, let’s look forward to September 4-6 and put the band back together.

John Brooks, July 2020

Freccia Rossa

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The influence of Italy on the automobile has been immense, particularly in the performance and style areas. So, when considering the the rich tapestry of cars on display at an event like the Concours of Elegance, it pays dividends to seek out the Italian element and give it the due attention it deserves.

Within minutes of entering the Great Fountain Garden I stumbled across two Italian classics, this Lamborghini Diablo, the answer from Sant’Agata Bolognese to the Ferrari F40. At this point in time Lamborghini had just been acquired by Chrysler, the deal was done the day after the first Diablo prototype ran. Thirty years on and the Diablo still creates an impact when encountered.

The same can be said of the Pagani Zonda, perhaps even more so, given the rarity of the beast. Just around 150 examples are thought to have emerged from the factory at San Cesario sul Panaro. This is located in the mechanically fertile territory between Modena and Bologna, not far from Lamborghini’s factory.

A complete contrast is the 1907 Diatto A Clément, it being the only known survivor of this model. It was the result of a partnership between the Turin coachbulider, Diatto, and French entrepreneur, Adolphe Clément-Bayard who was involved in the design of bicycles, tyres, aeroplanes as well as cars. He was a pioneer in motor sport entering three cars in the 1906 French Grand Prix, held near Le Mans, generally agreed to be the first Grand Prix. His son, Albert, finished third in the race but was killed in a crash during practice for the same event in 1907.

Bang up to date is this salute to the past. In 1959 the Shah of Persia ordered a very special Maserati, a development of the 3500 GT, with a larger V8-engine to power it and various bespoke features to distinguish it from lesser mortals’ cars ; it was the quickest GT of the time. Fast forward seventy years and Touring was modifying a Maserati once more. The Touring Superleggera Sciàdipersia (Shah of Persia) Cabriolet was the result. Based on a current Maserati GranCabrio, the Sciàdipersia is a throwback to the days when a manufacturer would supply a chassis and powertrain, then a coachbuilder would style and fit out the car to the customer’s individual specification.

This Ferrari 500 Mondial is a Series I car that was bodied by Scaglietti on drawings made by Dino Ferrari, one of five such examples. It was purchased from the factory by Guido Petracchi who entered it in the 1955 Ethiopian Grand Prix which he won. It was later displayed in the Italian pavilion at the Silver Jubilee Fair of Addis Ababa. It had another outing at the Cote de Asmara race in 1956, where it took overall victory with Gaetano Barone behind the wheel. Two further victories came shortly after, but then the car was put into long-term storage in Ethiopia. In 1970, car collector and dealer Colin Crabbe was on vacation in Asmara, Ethiopia, when a local led him to a small lock-up containing the totally original 500 Mondial – Crabbe bought it on the spot. 

Another striking Italian is this Bugatti EB110…………..I looked at this episode in Bugatti history a while back HERE

This elegant 1954 Alfa Romeo 1900 C SS Zagato has a proper race pedigree, being owned from new by Jo Bonnier, who would go on to have a successful career in F1 and endurance racing. In the three races that he started with the Alfa he would take class honours each time, winning the 1955 Swedish Grand Prix outright.

1949 was a most significant year for Ferrari. Victories in the Mille Miglia and both the 24-hours of Le Mans and Spa established Ferrari at the very summit of endurance competition. Amazingly these two 166 MM Barchettas achieved the three triumphs and both were at Hampton Court for our appreciation.

Chassis #0010M was entered in the 1949 Mille Miglia but there is some dispute as to whether it was the Felice Bonetto and Carpani car that finished second overall after leading to Rome. Some sources declare it was the Piero Taruffi and Sergio Nicolini car that retired with a broken transmission at Ravenna. It was then sold to Luigi Chinetti who entered it at Le Mans for Jean Lucas and ‘Ferret’ (Pierre Dreyfus). All went well for the pair till it got dark on the Saturday evening. Dreyfus overturned 166 MM, without injury, at White House Corner, their race was over.

A few weeks later the Ferrari was entered in the Spa 24 Hours with Chinetti and Lucas on driving duties. At the halfway point they assumed the lead and were cruising towards an easy victory till drama hit in the very final stages of the race. Motor Sport described the scene. “Louveau’s Delage had motored faultlessly, so that it really looked as if the Le Mans maladies had been cured. Then, after some 23 1/2 hours, oil began to stream from the engine. Louveau went on gingerly to his pit, intending to wait and coast over the line after Chinetti had been flagged the winner. Reminded that this would disqualify him, he set off, almost at a walking pace, to complete his last lap in the stricken Delage. Meanwhile, Chinetti, doubtless a trifle weary, came on to the oil patch flung by Louveau’s sick car at Hallowell Corner. The Ferrari slid out of control, knocked down a woman spectator and hit a house. Shaken but still irrepressible, Chinetti leapt out, rendered the unfortunate woman first-aid, got in again and drove slowly to his pit. There the leading Ferrari was hastily examined and then sent out to limp round for the two more laps necessary to win the race.

Only one car has won both the Mille Miglia and the Le Mans 24 Hours, a feat that can never be equalled. This Ferrari 166 MM is that car, chassis 0008M, and it was also at the Concours of Elegance. In April 1949 Clemente Biondetti and Ettore Salani gave Ferrari its second win on the Italian road racing classic, after Biondetti had won the previous year.

Lord Selsdon purchased the car and invited Luigi Chinetti, already a two-time winner, to drive with him the 1949 Le Mans 24 hours, the first post-war running of the event. Chinetti kept in touch with the faster Delahayes for the first quarter of the race. Then the Ferrari was delayed allowing the other 166 MM, featured above, to grab the lead. That car had an accident and one of the Delahayes struck problems, allowing the Ferrari to build a lead during the brief hours of darkness at La Sarthe.

Motor Sport’s correspondent followed the race closely. “The crowd on the balcony clapped — at 4.26 a.m., mark you! — as Selsdon took over the leading Ferrari from Chinetti, who had driven the car continuously up , to this point.

The Ferrari kept its lead over the faster Delahaye as it encountered fewer problems and spent less time in the pits. Then Delahaye retired and the Ferrari came under pressure from Louveau’s Delage. Then came the next twist in the race. “Came drama! Louveau brought the Delage in in dire trouble, but went on. Shortly afterwards Chinetti was stationary at his pit, with Louveau in again. On his first stop the plugs had been replaced, water added, and the rear wheels changed, so we knew, now, that something more serious was amiss. The work was good, calm, but half-an-hour was lost while extensive work was done on the engine, concluding with more new plugs — as with Gérard’s Delage, too much oil seemed to be getting “upstairs.” The Ferrari left first, but it, too, lost much time, work apparently being done on the front of the chassis, necessitating attempted removal of a headlamp.

The race ground on to the finish as it usually does at Le Mans. Chinetti had to be helped from the Ferrari after spending more than 22 hours behind the wheel, a truly heroic performance. The Italian, who now lived in the United States, had scored his third victory in the great race. Selsdon and Chinetti received their trophies from Vincent Auriol, sixteenth President of the French Republic, the first time that the head of state had attended the race; it would be twenty-three years before a French President returned.

The Italians at the Concours of Elegance provided a rich and sumptuous confection for those lucky enough to attend, roll on 2020!

John Brooks, July 2020

Henry’s Back Yard

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There are a few events in the course of a year that fall into the ‘must attend’ category, for example Rétromobile. The Concours of Elegance, now resident at Hampton Court Palace, is certainly also in that rarefied class, missing it would be a serious reverse.

The setting is majestic and the atmosphere informal, a gentle gathering of motoring enthusiasts, lucky enough to have some great cars to consider and appreciate. A number of factors have meant that my look at the 2019 show was not completed at the time but better late than never.

1919 saw the birth of a marque that was to become synonymous with the Le Mans 24 Hours in the race’s earliest days. Here are two legendary Bentleys; on the left, ‘Old Number Three’ and on the right ‘Old Number One’, both of these Speed Six model raced at Le Mans in 1930 with very different outcomes. ‘Old Number Three’ was disputing the lead in the early stages of the race in the hands of Sammy Davies. After twenty laps he handed over to co-driver, Clive Dunfee, who proceed to crash the car on his opening lap, forcing retirement.

‘Old Number One’ had triumphed at Le Mans in 1929 when driven by Woolf Barnato and Tim Birkin. Barnato was back in 1930, partnered this time by Glen Kidston, and he repeated his victory, his third in a row. ‘Old Number One’ had also made history being the first car to score a second win at La Sarthe, only three others have matched this feat in almost a century of competition.

At the other end of the story is the Bentley State Limousine, first presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee in 2002. Only two were built and both are in the Royal Mews.

On each of the three days of the concours a different set of car clubs bring their amazing cars to add to the already rich mix. This 1931 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental is good example of the fine vehicles that grace the Great Fountain Garden during the show.

This 1936 Stout Scarab is pure Art Deco and is credited with being the world’s first production mini-van. As the Scarab carried a price tag of $5,000 only nine were constructed.

Stunning in its simplicity this 1957 Porsche 356A Speedster was a particular favourite of mine.

The concours is also a chance to catch up with old friends, such as Gregor Fisken, here at the wheel of a Jaguar D-Type.

This Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost was also celebrating its centenary, being one of 25 Rolls-Royces owned by Lt.-General His Highness the Maharaja Sir Bhupindra Singh of Patiala. Complete with a rack for four shotguns it won the Best in Show award voted for by the owners of the participating cars.

The Concours of Elegance is scheduled to happen 4-6 September, let’s hope that it does go ahead, we could all do with the lift. More from Hampton Court later.

John Brooks, July 2020