Monthly Archives: June 2020

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Bentley at Blenheim

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The Salon Privé is now firmly established as one of the top car events on the planet. It has a unique flavour, mixing old and new, all to the absolute highest of standards. I had missed the event for a few years, the offer of a pass for a few hours at the end of the show did not appeal, especially given the delights of driving around the M25 on a Saturday. Then I received an invitation from Dirk de Jager to join him with the Fiat 8V that he was displaying on Owners’ Day, I was very pleased to accept and the show did not disappoint, anything but.

In retrospect 2019 now feels to me like 1914 or 1939 might have done to those who experienced the great conflicts that followed those fateful years, not that I am comparing the pandemic to the slaughter of the World Wars, but I suspect things will be very different when we finally emerge.

Some of the activities that we took for granted like motor sport or concours d’elegance may just not happen once the economic impact of the past three months becomes clear. There will be less money to spend and we all may well have to concentrate on the essentials. This realisation is tempered with an optimism that, even if we consign 2020 to the dustbin of history, things will get back to normal within a few years. In the meantime let’s reflect on happier times. The Salon Privé has been one of the highlights of the UK motoring calendar over the past decade or so, the 2019 show maintained the top class standard set over the years, that bar is high.

In common with events of this kind, there are several themes that run through the concours and the narrative hangs off this in the form of appropriately focussed displays. 2019 saw the celebration of Bentley’s centenary, indeed the final day at Salon Privé would witness the largest assembly of Bentleys in history with 1,321 examples surrounding Blenheim Palace.

Bentley’s own celebration of the milestone came in several forms, the most prominent of which was a concept car, the EXP 100 GT. In some ways it was difficult to know what to make of this huge creation.

The PR fluff that accompanied the car’s release was woke on an epic scale, full of right-on signals. “The interior takes Bentley craftsmanship in a new direction by seamlessly fusing sustainable materials with technology. It incorporates new directions being explored by Bentley, including the use of light in creating a wellness-enriching environment and Adaptable Biometric Seating that adds to the feeling of wellbeing.”

Having said that, one had to admit that there was a certain consistent element of elegance running through the display, with the sinuous curves and sense of opulence and style clearly evident. I am not the target market, and never will be, so perhaps my views are irrelevant.

Another Bentley concept car, from another galaxy, is the recreation of the 1939 Corniche. The original car was inspired by the Embiricos Bentley, that had been styled by Georges Paulin. Bentley’s management were convinced that a sporty version of the forthcoming MKV would prove popular with the marque’s customers. I suspect it’s aerodynamic curves looked as surreal to the late ’30s enthusiasts as the EXP 100 GT does to me.

As the PR release says; ‘It was agreed that the Corniche should be built to investigate the idea. It would have a lightweight chassis, built from thinner-than-standard gauge steel, fitted with a tuned version of the Mark V engine matched to an overdrive gearbox created to suit. The Corniche was built as a collaboration between Bentley and third parties such as Georges Paulin, the French car designer who designed the bodywork and Carrosserie Vanvooren in Paris who made the bodywork.‘.

After a successful roll out at Brooklands in May 1939 the car headed for Europe but was then involved in two separate accidents. The second was quite severe, the chassis returned to the UK and the bodywork was to be repaired in France. The outbreak of the war overtook the project and the bodywork was destroyed during an air raid on Dieppe Harbour.

At the turn of the century enthusiasts attempted to recreate the Corniche. The project really came to life when Bentley CEO, Adrian Hallmark, took it in-house to Mulliner, the result is this stunning work of automotive art.

Although Bentley ceased competition when it was acquired by Rolls-Royce in 1931, that did not mean the end of the road for the chief ‘Bentley Boy’, Woolf Barnato. In 1934 he commissioned Wally Hassan to build a racer based on Bentley parts, including the engine from ‘Old Number One’, victorious in the 1929 Le Mans 24 Hours. The car was raced at many places, including Brooklands, with Oliver Bertram posting a lap on the outer circuit at 143.11mph. After the war it took part in the 1949 Spa 24 Hours but failed to finish.

Another initiative that Woolf Barnato made at Bentley was the introduction of a supercharger, designed by Amherst Villiers, for the 4½-litre engine to create the Blower Bentley. This road-going example, dating from 1930, was Barnato’s personal car, with coachwork by Gurney Nutting.

A pair of familiar faces at Blenheim were this Bentley 8 Litre and its owner, Mihai Negrescu. I had the pleasure of riding with him in this fabulous limousine a few years back on the Salon Privé Tour, perhaps I should revisit that tale soon.

The Bentley 8 Litre was W.O. Bentley’s swansong for the company he founded. This example had a bit of an odd history, ending up in Canada at one point. The excellent vintagebentleys.org provides the tale. “Jack Charters bought the car when he lived in the UK but took it over to Canada in 1948 and, with his wife, drove it across Canada in the winter from Halifax to Soda Creek 400 miles north of Vancouver where they lived. Jack died in a blizzard in 1949 and the car was rescued from the British Columbian wilderness by Capt. L. Goudy. He took the car to Vancouver and restored it. It was in a poor state having had a collision with a moose and the wings had been trimmed. It was also painted white by then. Capt. Goudy kept the car until at least 1971. Capt. Goudy recalls the time when he was stopped by the police in Vancouver and thought he was about to be charged with a motoring offence, but the officers only wanted to see the engine and then one of them stated that his uncle was called Lycett, and he used to race Bentleys. This, of course, was the famous Forrest Lycett.”

Now fully restored but still sporting the original interior, it is a jewel of an automobile, I hope to see more of it now that the owner has moved.

The very epitome of ’30s elegant motoring is this Bentley 4¼ Litre, with coachwork by H.J. Mulliner, form and function coming together in harmony.

This is another of Woolf Barnato’s Bentleys, delivered in July 1936 to his Mayfair home.

The Bentley day at Blenheim took place on the Sunday and, unfortunatley, I had a conflicting appointment. So I must make do with this dazzling selection of Bentleys from the main show. More from Salon Privé in the next week or so.

John Brooks, June 2020

The Devil is in………………..

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One of the attractions of the Concours of Elegance held at Hampton Court Palace is the time to really look at the fantastic selection of cars on display. On the day the good news arrived confirming that the 2020 show will go ahead, even under restricted circumstances, we can have a look at some of the close-ups from last year.

The unmistakable red triangle signals an Alvis with this athletic figure on the radiator cap………..

Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare, and the sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy; Lord knows her talents are needed now.

One of the most famous Aston martins of them all, 1 VEV, a DB4GT Zagato, campaigned by John Ogier’s Essex Racing Stable. One of just 19 examples built, it scored a podium in the hands of Roy Salvadori at the 1961 RAC Tourist Trophy but was mainly used as the team’s test car.

A symbol of quality for almost a century………………

More from the Palace later………….

John Brooks, June 2020

View from The Long Water

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One of the highlights of my personal motoring year is the visit in early September to Hampton Court Palace for the Concours of Elegance. The setting and the cars are beyond magnificent, the event has yet to disappoint, since it started in 2012. Despite the pandemic, it is scheduled to take place this year on 4-6th September but who knows? In the first of a series of pieces looking back, here is Simon Hildrew’s personal view from 2019.

John Brooks, June 2020

The House on The Hill

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In yesterday’s post I stated my intention to remain in an analogue world rather than the brave new digital one. If any confirmation were needed of this being the right course a breathless release arrived overnight confirming that ByKolles was on pole for the virtual Le Mans 24. No further evidence to present, m’ Lord. So continuing to mine the recent past in search of treasure we should once more look at Goodwood, this time the Festival of Speed and Simon Hildrew’s amazing photos.

In any normal year I would getting ready to cover Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans later this afternoon. However, we are living in strange times; normally we would also be anticipating a trip to the South Downs and the Goodwood Festival of Speed. That pleasure is denied to us this year, so we must make do with memories. A look back at 2019 will have to do.

Speed and style are crucial elements in the DNA of the Festival of Speed, so is heritage. As the years roll by anniversaries hove into view, arguably one of the most significant in 2019 was Bentley’s centenary. Naturally there were many fine examples on display, but I was drawn to XM 6761, a 1922 3-Litre. This car is very significant for Bentley and Le Mans, as it was entered in the first race back in 1923, laying the foundations for the ‘Bentley Boy’ legend that did so much to raise the profile of the French endurance race in the early years.

Frank Clement and John Duff ignored W.O. Bentley and entered the 3-Litre, the only non-French car in the field. They set the fastest lap and eventually finished joint fourth after a stone punctured the fuel tank.

UU 5872 has been described as “The most valuable Bentley in the world. This is the actual – and totally original – supercharged 4½-litre that Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin raced in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1930. Its sister car won the race but this car played a key role in that victory when Birkin acted as a hare and, eventually, Caracciola’s chasing Mercedes SSK broke.” It is automotive royalty of the highest order

Mercedes-Benz were celebrating 125 years of motor sport, a truly great heritage. Amongst the many stars was this 1937 W125. Powered by a 5.6 litre supercharged straight-eight, the Silver Arrow took Rudolf Caracciola to a second drivers’ title.

Fast-forward a few decades to the Sauber-Mercedes C9 that conquered Le Mans in 1989 in the hands of Jochen Mass, Stanley Dickens and Manuel Reuter. Its rumbling V8 song is unmistakable.

Also eligible for a telegram from Her Majesty was Citroën, well they would be if they were not French. Despite that disadvantage they were especially welcome at Goodwood, having produced some of the world’s truly great cars, consistently marching to a different beat. Where would Maigret have been without his Traction Avant? What would France profonde have done without the 2CV?

Fifty years have passed since Sir Jackie Stewart won the first of his three World Championships. It was wonderful see the whole family as guests of His Grace, Lady Helen has not been well for a while. Sir Jackie has, in recent years, thrown his considerable energy and influence in the Race for Dementia charity, if anyone can help to defeat this terrible condition, it will be him.

Sir Jackie, and his sons Paul and Mark, demonstrated his championship-winning cars, a Matra and two Tyrrells.

Another champion from that era was Jacky Ickx. In ’69 he won the first of his six victories at La Sarthe, eclipsing all others, except a great Dane.

The Ford GT40 that carried Ickx and his co-driver, Jackie Oliver, to the closest victory in Le Mans history, 120 meters ahead of Hans Herrmann’s Porsche, is a legend in its own right. #1075 also triumphed in the previous year’s race, making it one of only four cars to win the French classic twice.

’69 also saw the debut of the Porsche 917 at La Sarthe, here Derek Bell is reunited with #045 that he shared with Jo Siffert in ’71. Of course during that race it was in the iconic Blue and Orange Gulf livery but during a restoration in the ’70s it was re-liveried as a Martini Porsche.

Richard Attwood drove #023 up The Hill, he and Hans Herrmann scored Porsche’s first outright win at Le Mans in ’70, the race immortalised by Steve McQueen.

Aston Martin celebrated a 70-year relationship with Goodwood. The parade is led here by the DBR1/2, its wundercar of the late ’50s, with two victories in RAC Tourist Trophy at Goodwood as well winning Le Mans in ’59.

Aston Martin were also the marque featured on the traditional sculpture in front of Goodwood House, courtesy of Gerry Judah.

As happens most years there is an automotive sensory overload during the Festival of Speed, just how important it has become is illustrated by the loss of the event in 2020, it will be back, and so will we.

In the meantime fill yer boots courtesy of Simon Hildrew’s magnificent gallery.

John Brooks, June 2020

A Revival, what we all need now.

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DoubleDeClutch has been dormant for several months, too many paying projects, followed by the lock-down and the suspension of normal life due to the terrible virus that has wreaked such havoc on society. So, on a day that is grey and soggy, it is time to make the sun shine again, to truly believe that better days are ahead. What more fitting way to achieve this than to reflect on the recent past, courtesy of this fabulous photography from Simon Hildrew? More to follow as we get back up to speed but first a few reflections from Sussex.

Sitting in my office at lunchtime on the second Friday in June is a very unusual situation. For the past 37 years I would be running up and down the Le Mans Paddock and during the past decade I would be beginning to herd a bunch of grumpy cats, aka drivers, in the direction of Place des Jacobins for the Friday evening parade. At least I am spared that delight today.

We are living in weird times during this terrible pandemic, tomorrow there will be a virtual 24-hours of Le Mans, all very worthy I am sure, but not for me. I prefer my imagination to be rooted in the real world, even if it is the past.

So rather than a digital virtual world, let’s go analogue and where would be more appropriate than the Goodwood Revival?

Simon produced some stunning work back in September and it is high time to expose it to a wider audience, like this evocative moment in time from the Kinrara Trophy, surely automotive heaven.

I visited the Revival for the first time in several years and was greatly impressed at the high standard the event manages to maintain, even 20 years on from the first running. There is still great kudos in being invited by His Grace to compete, everyone who is anyone in the classic racing field has to be there.

It is also time to catch up with old friends and colleagues, such Peter Wyss, journalist and racer…….he has a podium at the Spa 24 to his credit.

Old friends come in many shapes and sizes, Andrew Cotton spotted an E-Type in the paddock, recognising it as the very car that his father had participated in many ’60s continental rallies, as a navigator. Big smiles were the order of the day, a common problem at the Revival.

Later in the day I was catching up with Ted Higgins, who was looking after this marvellous Vanwall, part of Bernie Ecclestone’s collection. We noticed a familiar face passing and it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Both champions in Gulf colours, James Weaver discusses style with Derek Bell.

Just count how many Le Mans victories are on parade here………..29 by my reckoning………..

There was a celebration of Sir Stirling Moss reaching his 90th birthday, with Lady Susie as guest of honour, here with His Grace in the timeless DBR1. Sadly, since this happy day the great champion has passed away.

The 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings was also celebrated with an impressive display of military hardware, including this Sherman.

The airfield played host to fabulous collection, including this Douglas DC-3, another veteran of 6th June 1944.

‘Give me Goodwood on a summer’s day and you can forget the rest’ declared Roy Salvadori back in the day. September is pretty good too, whether we will enjoy the experience this year is open to question, my thoughts are not positive. So we must make do with images from the past, beats the virtual world any day in my humble opinion, especially when it is Simon behind the lens.

Enjoy his gallery.

John Brooks, June 2020