A sure sign that things are edging towards normality, there are now events that we motoring enthusiasts can actually attend. This weekend sees the Goodwood Festival of Speed happening and a few weeks back there was the London Classic Car Show.
Syon Park was the venue for this small, but perfectly formed show. There was something for everyone and those who did attend came away with a smile on their face.
There was a celebration of the E-type’s 60th birthday, bringing out ECD 400. Graham Hill scored the car’s first race victory in this vehicle, at Oulton Park.
The E-type was a mere whippersnapper compared with the Salvesen Wagonette, dating back to 1893, and the first car to built in Scotland.
The weather looked menacing at times but held off to add to the occasion. The show must have been a nightmare to organise, so all credit is due to those responsible. I look forward to returning to its very agreeable new home for the 2022 edition. Simon Hildrew was pacing the lawns and provides an excellent record of the event.
Starting a new motorsport club at this point of time is a bold move, but last weekend the Classic Racing Car Club put on quite a show at Thruxton, in their debut event. Competitors and spectators alike, were royally entertained as summer finally arrived in England.
There were familiar cars and familiar faces, such as Tiff Needell, who won his first race here, way back almost half a century.
The blue Ralt RT3 was also a voice from the past; I had witnessed it, and its driver, Martin Brundle, chase Ayrton Senna all over the UK in 1983, he very nearly caught the Brazilian.
Our main man behind the lens, Simon Hildrew, was on top form, the weather was wonderful and so are the images he has sent over to DDC Towers. Enjoy them, I certainly did.
One of the side effects of COVID-19 has been the loss of many of our traditional motor sport events, especially to the paying public. Thanks to the excellent vaccination programmewe are beginning to go back to some form of normality. A couple of weeks back, the second May Bank Holiday was celebrated at Brands Hatch with the Masters Historic Festival. A good crowd was entertained by close and competitive racing, we might just be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Light is something that Simon Hildrew is still master of as evidenced by this fine gallery, enjoy his efforts.
2021 is now in full swing, in the “real world” the insanity of 2020 seems set to continue for the time being. DDC Towers is a busy place, hence the shameful neglect of this website. However, I have been sitting on a sad, but beautiful, tale of one of the casualties of this wretched pandemic.Take it away Mr. Horrocks…………..
Closure on COVID-19 is something we’ve all been waiting to experience for what seems like a long, long time. But as the days go on, the only closure we seem to be seeing is that of businesses as they find the struggle to keep afloat eventually defeats them. Because of the various mandated restrictions that have been placed upon enterprises sadly many have been forced to simply shut their doors for good.
One of the closures due to COVID-19 was World of Speed Motorsports Museum. This collection, located south of Portland Oregon, was a haven for the gearhead. While it focused on the history of motorsports in the area, it really encompassed the entire world of motoring competition. When the doors initially closed for the first COVID-19 lock-down, the display floor was just transitioning from having Mustang as the featured marque to Ferrari.
Unfortunately, the Ferrari exhibit was never to be seen by the public – the board of directors chose to lock their doors for good not too long after hoping to celebrate five years of being open. The celebration never happened. For those involved, the only closure was the locked doors.
I found about the museum in late 2014. This looked to be a good place for me to deposit the items I’d accumulated in my travels – PR kits, programs and various handouts I had taking up space in my basement. When I donated the items, I was given a tour of the facility as well as introduced to some of the management. I soon found this was also a recruitment session as they were looking for volunteers. As it appeared that my involvement in covering racing was reaching a limited future, I thought why not? It was closer to home and wouldn’t involve any redeye flights in order to get back for work after an event.
It was here that I was able to reopen an enthusiasm for all things motorsports as I’d been so micro-focused on sportscar racing for so long. Sort of bringing my gearhead life full circle. I found myself face to face with things from my youth – drag racing, Indycars, muscle cars, customs – you name it. There was even room for unlimited hydroplane boats, something I grew up with as a kid while living in the Seattle area.
And that wasn’t the only things from my youth. In these walls was none other than Challenger 1, Mickey Thompson’s massive 4-engined land speed record car that went 400 mph in 1960. This was a car that I’d built multiple models of as a kid – and still likely have one or two stashed away for safe keeping. Wow! It was also surrounded by other cars from his stable – all used to bring various records back to the United States as well as to his sponsors. Eventually Mickey’s son Danny brought the Challenger 2 that Mickey built in the late ‘60s back to the salt. He updated it and ran it to 448 mph at Bonneville in 2018. We had the two cars side by side for a while and it was spectacular.
I’d also found myself face to face with a car closer to home – a homebuilt drag car that I’d seen race when I was a young kid. It was made out of an old Dodge Pickup and featured a bed cover with an embroidered Thumper – the Thumper that stole the show in the Disney movie Bambi. That was important to a five-year-old me back then and suddenly became important to a much older me.
Through the nearly five-year run, the museum hosted tributes to many different and unique “marques”. The first big one was to celebrate the 100th running of the Indy 500. This display garnered the museum some good notoriety, as it featured at times up to 35 Indy cars ranging from 1914 to 1997. Included was Jack Brabham’s Cooper from 1961, a Lotus 56 turbine from 1968 and the Nigel Mansell Newman-Haas Lola among many others.
Other features included Corvettes (including the 1961 model that was in the film, Animal House), Muscle Cars, Porsche 911, as well as the previously mentioned Mustang and Ferrari. Another spectacular exhibit was a tribute to Mario Andretti in 2019, celebrating the 50th anniversary of his win at Indy. Up front and in your face was the Ford GT Mk4 that he and Bruce McLaren won Sebring in 1967 and next to it was a replica of his Daytona 500-winning Ford from two months earlier. That GT got everybody’s attention in a very big way. It was a stunning way to highlight the versatility of racers back then, especially Mario.
But it was more than the feature exhibits. As you can see in the accompanying photos, it was a spectacular ride. Unfortunately, it simply didn’t last. The hardships placed upon it due to COVID-19 was just too great to succeed.
I hope that we’ll soon be back to what we considered to be normal, or at least close to it. We can’t afford to have places we’ve enjoyed simply vanish from our existence. Sure, World of Speed was minor in the trials and tribulations of our modern times, but to many it was a great distraction from reality. We all are in need of positive distractions…
Good news is that much of the content from World of Speed has been distributed to other museums that are open or still have hopes in reopening. Just recently I saw one of the drag cars on display in the window of a speed shop/museum close to where I live. Also, the International Motor Racing Research Center located at Watkins Glen recently announced it had received a large shipment of archival material from World of Speed. Likely some of my old donations are also there. While it is good to see that some of the items that were at the museum are resurfacing elsewhere, it is still a sad reminder of what we had so close to home…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once again the first cars out were the Classics, and I had a classic view of them.
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.
I remained in the box throughout the morning CER and LMS sessions having the time of my life.
Afterwards I made my way back to the paddock for a quick lunch – not quite Silverstone….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The race lasted an hour and I gleefully fired off another 400 shots!
Sunday dawned, no more preamble, time for the main event.
Not being blessed with the ‘access all areas’ photographers vest I had to grab my pitlane shots during the morning pit walkabout.
Not to worry, make the best of it, you’re at Monza !
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.
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.
By now the cars were leaving the pits and I needed to get moving if I was to catch the start.
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.
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.
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.
My day was just about perfect.
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.
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.
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.
Spoiled for choice I made another bucket list tick and walked alongside the track to the Variante del Roggia.
Here the cars come storming into view from the Curve Grande then hard on the brakes for this fast left right left.
Next was the Variante Ascari once more on my way to my favourite perch in the photographers’ box at the Parabolica.
Space was at a premium as the prime spots were occupied by three young boys wielding tiny point and shoot digital cameras.
Elbows out I took up my position and lost myself in overhead photography.
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.
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.
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.