Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

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




Edging the Lawns

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

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

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




View from The Long Water

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




Lenscraft

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

John Brooks, September 2018




Long Distance Runaround

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Brooks, September 2018




Slipping Into September In Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Brooks, August 2018