A lawn, a palace, sunshine and cars………what’s not to like?

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To say that we have been living in strange times would something of a gross understatement. The weirdness is set to continue as the pandemic, pending economic catastrophe, widespread civil unrest and US Presidential elections scrap with each other in the doom and gloom stakes, all screeching for our attention. Maybe the escape route from this turbulence is to retreat into better days and reflect on our general good fortune. A final look back at Salon Privé is as good a remedy as any, so here goes.

Encountering a Fiat 8V is always a welcome sensation, they are all special but this one is particularly note worthy. It was one of three lightweight alloy models built specially by the factory for the 1953 Mille Miglia. In a top class field with works entries from Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Jaguar, Lancia and Maserati, the “Otto Vu” performed well, finishing eighteenth overall and sixth in class. It ran again in the Mille Miglia the following year but was forced to retire. In ’55 it scored an excellent thirteenth overall in the Targa Florio, second in class. In 1956 the car was acquired by future Ferrari Grand Prix star, Lorenzo Bandini.

Bang up to date is the Brabham BT 62 which was to make a competition debut in the hands of David Brabham and Will Power a month or so later. DDC had Simon Hildrew on hand to bring this gallery.

Is there a collective noun for a bunch of Paganis? A power? A performance? A pulchritude? Whatever it is there was an impressive line up of Zondas to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the supercar.

Reflected glory? Maybe that’s as good as it gets for me.

And now for something completely different…..to quote the release……This Rolls-Royce is an imposing open touring-bodied 1912 Silver Ghost, coachbuilt by Barker & Co. of London and fitted with an elaborate Taj Mahal nameplate for its Indian Raj client; the Maharaja of Nabha. This distinctive Silver Ghost has a unique place in Rolls-Royce history, it being the only surviving pre-1914 Indian trials car, with its authentic engine and chassis still carrying its original bodywork.

Salon Privé is not only a concours d’elegance but is a neat platform for those trying to launch something new in the motoring universe. The Jannarelly Design-1 is typical of the genre, a touch of re-inventing the wheel, literally. It is a Cobra for the second Roaring Twenties, perhaps with a little less venom, but in the right hands would surely be grin inducing.

This 1953 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith with coachwork by Hooper & Co. was used at the wedding of Prince Rainier of Monaco & Grace Kelly in 1956 and still is the epitome of ’50s style.

This Delahaye Type 145 is nicknamed ‘Million-Franc’. The Prix du Million being a one million franc prize offered in 1937 by the French Government to encourage French motor car manufacturers to take on and beat the Germans, who were then dominating motor racing. On August 27th 1937, René Dreyfus drove this Type 145 for 200 kilometers in a record one hour, twenty-one minutes, 49 1/2 seconds, which amounted an average speed of 91.3 miles per hour on the banked L’autodrome de Linas-Montlhéry. This was enough to grab the prize, and the headlines. The following year Dreyfuss scored a memorable victory in the Delahaye at the Pau Grand Prix, besting the Mercedes-Benz of Caracciola/Lang; it was a most popular win with the patriotic French crowd.

1900bhp and €2 million, the numbers are all extreme, perhaps the Pininfarina Battista will prosper in these straightened times but, somehow I doubt it. Four electric motors, one at each corner propel the carbon fibre hyper car to 60 mph in around two seconds………..not for me I think……………

Back to the concours stage and this 1935 Avions Voisin C-25 Aérodyne, a glorious fusion of aerodynamics, Art Deco and cutting edge engineering. The price tag of 88,000 French Francs during a time of financial crisis ensured that the striking car was not a commercial success and only six were built.

The sumptuous profile of the 1948 Talbot-Lago T26 GS Fastback Coupé by Figoni is outstanding, no wonder it took the Best in Show against some very stiff opposition. First owned by a Mr Fayolle, the ‘Zipper King’ of France, the car found its way to Los Angeles and then was stored in obscurity for 47 years. Subsequently it has been lovingly restored to its original configuration as it left the coachbuilders, it is art on wheels………..

The 2020 Salon Privé is scheduled to happen at Blenheim Palace on 23-26 September, fingers are to be kept firmly crossed.

John Brooks, July 2020

Cavallino Rampante at Blenheim Palace

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Concours come in all shapes and sizes, at the top end there is one sure fire method of judging the event, what are the Ferraris like? Some may disagree with my approach but I find the higher the level of Maranello’s finest, generally the better the show. So how did Salon Privé rate last September?

The answer is simple, first rate. I had missed the event for a couple of years, but I was truly impressed with the organisers’ achievement in maintaining such a high standard of exhibits on the lawns.

A good example of the rarefied level is this exquisite 250 GT Ellena dating back to ’58. Originally a Pinin Farina design, Mario-Felice Boano took over building the cars while Farina had a new factory constructed. He subsequently headed off to Fiat, and handed responsibility for upgrading the 250 GT to his son-in-law, Ezio Ellena. Some of the Corrozzeria Ellena examples had a raised roof line, all had bigger brakes and a steering system from ZF. This elegant coupé is a ‘matching numbers’ example as it was reunited with the original engine in 2013.

A complete contrast is this F40 LM, developed from the road car by Michelotto with Maranello’s blessing. The car was raced in North America by an all-star line up of drivers for its five IMSA GT events. Ecurie Pozzi employed no less a bunch of aces than Jean-Louis Schlesser, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Olivier Grouillard, Jacques Lafitte, Hurley Haywood and Michel Ferté in its ’90 campaign. A few years down the line and the F40 LM was developed into the fearsome GTE versions that spiced up the BPR and provided the F1 GTR with proper opposition.

The palatial backdrop for this 250 GT Europa Vignale Coupé is most appropriate. Originally ordered by the Belgian Princess Liliane de Rethy, second wife of King Leopold III, a passionate Ferrari enthusiast. It was the final Ferrari chassis to be given a body by Vignale and is very distinct from the Pinin Farina examples of this model. There is an unusual inclined opening in the dash board, something of a mystery. However, by a stroke of luck a bottle of Veuve Clicquot can be accommodated, though how it is to be kept chilled is not clear.

A rare gem from the mid-60s is this 500 Superfast, one of just 36 examples built. The list of owners of these fabulous machines could have come straight from the gossip columns of William Hickey or Nigel Dempster: the Aga Khan, Peter Sellers, Gunther Sachs and the Shah of Persia to name but a few; all very important figures at the time, now more Ozymandias-like in our enlightened Twitter age………….

The 500 Superfast has been described as ‘the ultimate in front-engined Ferraris for those who like the Rolls-Royce touch with their performance cars.’, they were the last of their breed.

I am an unashamed fan of the 250 GT SWB Berlinetta Competizione, with its elegant proportions and fantastic record in competition. This example finished third overall on its debut in the ’60 Paris 1000kms held at Montlhéry. Driven by Jo Schlesser and André Simon in Paris, it went on to win the GT class in that year’s Tour de Corse with Mrs Schlesser accompanying her husband.

Ferrari, despite the ramped-up production levels in the modern era, remains a fairly exclusive brand, the likes of me are unlikely to trouble the Ferrari Owners’ Club. As Orwell put it so sagely, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. So it is with Ferraris, this 365 California Spider is part of an ultra-exclusive group, just 14 examples were built in the mid-60s. The flowing Pininfarina design and angular rear set it apart from its contemporaries.

Almost the last word in exclusivity on planet Ferrari are these two 342 America models, this one the coupé.

And this one is a cabriolet. Just three of each variety were specially built, the car above is the only one with bodywork from Carrozzeria Vignale.

The coupé on the lawn at Salon Privé first appeared at the ’53 Geneva Salon. Both cars have spent most of their lives in the USA.

The 2019 edition of Salon Privé comfortably passed the Ferrari Test in a very stylish manner. We must hope that in the troubled times that 2020 is enduring the show will go on.

John Brooks, July 2020

Back on Track

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2020 will go down in history as a pivotal year, like 1914 or 1939, virtually everything will change in how we conduct our lives in the future. Motorsport will be no exception to this rule, events will be run without spectators, e-sports will assume greater importance, we will have to adapt or wither away.

In my humble opinion whole sections of the sport that we take for granted may disappear or be severely diminished, the lack of money will see to that. The days of big budget factory campaigns are gone, almost certainly forever. All things must pass………..

One area that will surely survive is the historic scene. Evidence of this was to be found at Brands Hatch a week or so back. The HSCC Super Prix demonstrated the depth and commitment of the historic fraternity; great cars and great racing at the fabulous Brands Hatch circuit. Proof, if any were needed, that this storm will dissipate one day. Simon Hildrew was to be found trackside, cameras in hand, to record this celebration of speed and grace.

John Brooks, July 2020

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