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Competing in the legendary MM is the dream of many classic motorsport fans, but getting an entry is very difficult indeed. To enter you need a car of a type that actually ran in the MM in period – preferably a car that actually competed in the race. As the idea of speeding through some of the most beautiful places in Italy in the footsteps of the likes of Moss and Fangio is so appealing, cars that might get you an entry attract a premium. So, for example, a works MGA with MM provenance will set you back over half a million pounds, five times its value without the MM provenance. And don’t think you will get an entry with a non works MGA – you won’t, the event is just too oversubscribed and preference is given to cars that actually took part in the race in period or which have an interesting history. Moving up market and buying a Jaguar XK120,  Aston DB or even Mercedes SL Gullwing won’t help you much either for the same reasons. In fact, as the MM is sponsored by Mercedes and (UK purveyor of Jag XK’s with provenance) JD Classics, trying to get an entry in a Merc or Jag is even harder as most available slots for those marques are taken by the sponsors.

The upshot is that the modern MM, a very competitive regularity rally rather than a race, has increasingly become the preserve of very rich individuals from all round the world who are able to buy genuine MM cars with the crucial provenance to guarantee a MM entry. Many of those cars, the Ferraris and Maseratis et al, are worth well in excess of £5m.  But they do make the old works MGAs seem like remarkably good value!

I had never thought that I would be able to take part in the MM as I did not think I could afford it. Yes the entry fee (7000 euros) is steep but that does cover some excellent organisation, good hotels, a variety of receptions and – crucially – a rather nice limited edition Chopard watch. Indeed the watch alone is worth nearly as much as the entry fee. So you could say that the entry fee for the MM is actually pretty reasonable. The real problem is the cost of buying a car that could guarantee an entry.

I knew my ex Gregor Grant Autosport Magazine MG YB saloon (UMG 662) had led an eventful life between 1952 and 1954. As well as being the office hack it was rallied on the Monte (see other posts) in 1954 and the Scottish Rally in 1953 and it was raced at Silverstone in 1953. I knew it had also been a press car on the Monte in 1953 and at Le Mans, Goodwood and elsewhere. I knew it had not competed in the MM but some diligent research pointed to it having been a press car on the MM in 1953 when Autosport journalist Anthony Hume covered that year’s race from Brescia and Rome.  I checked the regulations and found to my surprise that the organisers had a “special list” for interesting cars of a type that could have raced in the MM in period but did not. I thought it was worth applying for a place in that category and stuck a speculative entry in.  I was under no illusions that getting a place on the list would be tough as it was restricted to only 27 cars (out of a total of over 450) and I did not think my little old saloon would be interesting enough to the organisers. As such I was very surprised when in March I was told that my car had secured a place.

As UMG 662 had just successfully completed the Monte Carlo Classique Rally without problems I did not need to do much to the car to get it ready. Given that summer in Italy promised to be a lot warmer than the Alps in January, I fitted a Kenlowe fan to help with cooling. The regulations also specified an accurate trip meter so a retro Brantz was fitted. Then all I needed was a co driver! Luckily Brian Mackrill, an old friend and fellow MG enthusiast from Australia, was keen to join me.

The car was shipped to Brescia on a transport with a number of other British competitors and we flew out in early May to meet the car.

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All shiny at scrutineering in Brescia, Healey Drone on left.

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This Works MGA competed in the original Mille Miglia in 1957. Now in Fitzwilliam Team colours it is a regular participant on the retrospective MM.

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The day before the start all participants parade through Brescia to the Plazza della Vittoria for the sealing ceremony. A lead seal is attached to the steering column of each car to show it has been scrutineered and is ready to go.

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On the start ramp in Brescia. After the glorious sun of the previous few days the heavens opened and it rained for the first two days of the rally – sometimes very heavily.

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The route of the MM this year took competitors from Brescia to Rimini on the Adriatic coast for the first afternoon and evening of the rally. This is Sirmione in the torrential rain.

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Following a late night arrival in Rimini there was an early start the following day. The first main check point was in the centre of the Republic of San Marino. The weather was little better on the second day of the rally.

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By the time the cars made it to Civitanova Marche in the late afternoon of the second day the weather had started to clear. Note battle scar on nearside front – reversed into by a vintage ambulance!

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At the end of the second day on the ramp in Rome. A police escort took us round the sights of the Eternal City late at night at high speed with blue lights flashing!

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Early morning check point in Ronciglione

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The MM route took us through the centre (often pedestrianised) of many ancient towns and villages. This is Viterbo late in the morning on the third day of the rally.

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August British company! The D Type Jaguar is the real deal. Nice Aston Martin DB2/4 behind. This is the lunch stop near Buonconvento on the third day.

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Priceless 1939 BMW 328 Mille Miglia. This car won the race in 1940 (whilst much of the rest of Europe was in flames..). In 2016 it was factory supported and was crewed by the boss of BMW UK – nice perk of the job!

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1957 Porsche 550 Spyder. Usually resident in the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart it was crewed this year by legendary Belgian racer Jacky Ickx. Every morning he would pass us with his entourage of Cayenne support vehicles at about 11. We would pass him pulled over at some nice cafe for lunch at 1230 and he would re pass us at 3pm (we sadly had no time to stop). He was usually through with dinner and in bed long before we made it to the final check point each day. But not on the last day.. The Porsche broke down an hour outside Brescia and I can now say I have beaten a multiple Le Mans winner in a motoring event!

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Motoring through beautiful Tuscany

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Old loyalties don’t fade – San Quirico D’Orcia

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Check point in the historic centre of Sienna

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The biggest challenge on the third day was climbing both the Futa and (1000m) Raticosa Passes – at the hottest time of day and in the Summer. Despite the heat (over 30 degrees centigrade) we got to the top with no difficulty but we were grateful for the new Kenlowe fan!

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The only problem we encountered was a recurring blown fuse that knocked out the temperature gauge (!) and, more seriously, the brake lights. Here Brian utilises our last fuse.

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An evening check point at the great Ferrari family works in Modena. A shame we had no time to look around the superb new museum.

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A priceless trio! Early morning on the last day, just before the start in Parma. The short nose D Type Jaguar again, a Ferrari 250 MM Berlinetta and a pretty little OSCA MT4 roadster

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No embarrassment to be passed by such a beauty – 1954 Maserati A6 GTS/53 Fantuzzi

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In the tyre tracks of the greats – on the old banking at Monza for one of the tests.

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Trying harder on the road course at Monza, on the rumble strip. Don’t like my line!

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At the finish in sunny Brescia. Special list cars have no handicap and as such we had no chance of winning. As it was we came a creditable 271st out of 456 cars, 12th of the 27 cars in the Special List and 5th out of the 10 MGs!

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The relocation of high end show Salon Prive from London to Blenheim in Oxfordshire made it a considerably less convenient event to attend. When attending in the past an afternoon ticket usually sufficed as that wasn’t enough to see or do to justify a whole day ticket. This year only full day tickets were available at a considerable price save for general entry public tickets at the weekend. As it was the Brighton Speed Trials that weekend I decided to give Salon Prive a miss this year. I’ll be interested to see what people thought of the change of venue and format.

A pair of Dinos, one a spider. I can remember when they were sold for £30,000 and people replaced the Dino badges with Ferrari badges for the added cache! A nice car they seem ridiculously overpriced now.

Nick Benwell’s Lovely patinated supercharged Frazer Nash Shelsley. A regular attendee on the concours circuit it is always great to see it out and about.

The cars parked up in front of the RAC Club House at Woodcote Park

Ferraris a plenty – a brace each of 275s and 550s and a Daytona. Bentley Continental in the fore ground.

A feature of Salon Prive is a tour of some of the concours cars from the RAC Club at Woodcote Park near Epsom to the site of the event. I went along for breakfast to see the cars taking part in the tour before they left Woodcote Park. There weren’t that many but it was an interesting selection of vehicles.

The last time I competed at the Brighton Speed Trials was in 2012 when the event was marred by the tragic death of motorcycle sidecar passenger Charlotte Tagg. The Green local authority siezed on that as an excuse to try and ban the Speed Trials from being held in the future (see previous posts). However they had not reckoned on the passionate support the event has and a campaign organised by the Brighton and Hove Motor Club led to the Speed Trials returning in 2014. Unfortunately I was unable to attend that year but was pleased to be able to get an entry for this year.

It was good to bring the Beast back to Madeira Drive. As miraculously always seems to be the case the sun shone and several thousand spectators turned up to watch what is one of the oldest motorsport events in the world.

Nadine Geary’s immensely powerful Brock Daytona Cobra Coupe. Nadine is a former owner of the Beast – which she always made go rather faster than me!

Whilst not one for the purists I rather liked Richard McCann’s Jaguar XKE / E Type series 2 with its series 1 headlights and flared wheel arches

For years John Scanlon has enetered the Speed Trials in a variety of seemingly inappropriate Bentley saloons. This year he entered his Bentley Arnage Black Label. These are fantastic cars – the last of the real Bentleys (before they became Volkswagons). Crewe built they look stunning and have the final iteration of the venerable 6.75 litre Rolls Royce V8 – this time built by Cosworth and fitted with twin turbochargers. They are rare and ludicrously cheap and if I had a barn I would fill it with good examples.

Tesla brought along a P85 which performed well but perhaps not as quickly as they thought it would.

This year Stuart Gilbert beat me to the fastest MG crown (though sadly the Benn Trophy that used to be awarded for fastest MG has been discontinued) in his ferociously quick 5.3L V8 MGB GT

Fastest Time of the Day went to crowd favourite Jim Tiller in his heavily modified 7.3L Allard J2. Jim has been modifying and competing in his Allard at the Speed Trials for nearly 50 years. This was only his second victory – the first coming in 2004.

Mexican company Vuhl entered one of their new cars for what was the first competitive outing for the brand. I suspect the car is better suited to events with corners than drag strips!

Its hard to imagine that Jim Tiller’s Allard once looked like this J2X. The smart Cooper Jaguar T33 next to it went on to win the first race at the Goodwood Revival the following weekend.

Robert Oram has been competing in his E Type at the Speed trials for many years. This year he also entered and drove the Ferrari F40 behind. A nice way to spend a day!

An unusual entry was Alan Collett’s rare ISO Rivolta GT. Like an Italian Gordon Keeble or Bristol it combines European running gear with a big US V8.

Third fastest car on the day was John Church’s standard looking Audi 80 Quattro. It was anything but being blisteringly fast. Note the portable engine cooling fan – no point wasting power and increasing weight with permanent mechanical or electric fans!

The General Lim rat rod Plymouth

Carole Torkington prepares the SBD OMS CF08 for its final run. She came within fractions of a second of beating Jim Tiller’s Allard and becoming only the second woman (after Patsy Burt in 1968) to win the event.

As per usual the event attracted an eclectic mix of vehicles.  And whilst I improved my time on previous years, running with list 1A road tyres made a class victory all but impossible.  I was, however, gratified to beat a Ferrari F40 in two of the three timed runs.

The video below shows Pierre Lequeux in his Austin Healey Sprite starting his timed run. The car has been wonderfully restored and competed at Brighton in the 60s.

Going into The British Grand Prix there were many arguing that Formula One had lost its edge. Declining television audiences and a much reduced turn out in Austria seemed to point to fans increased disenchantment. The British Grand Prix served to dispel some of those fears. A record 340,000 spectators attended the weekend with 160,000 ensuring a full house on race day itself. A particularly startling fact was that there were more people at Silverstone for Friday practice than there were spectators for the Austrian Grand Prix itself.

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The race itself turned out to be a thriller and produced the result Lewis Hamilton’s is adoring fans had hoped for. It had everything: strategy, surprises, overtaking, thrills and spills. On such that it was hard to argue that Formula One needed any revisions.

 

Lewis and Nico on the parade lap

Silverstone put on a fantastic show. Yes tickets were expensive but the full house showed that they had perhaps got the pricing right. The view from the general admission areas can be good if you can find yourself a decent place early enough. I always get a weekend ticket and on race day sit in the Club Corner grandstand which provides a great view of the last two corners and the finish line – not to mention the podium at the end of the Wing building. For qualification I like to sit in the general admission areas at Becketts to really see the cars move about at high-speed.

Lewis takes the chequered flag

The bad old days of Silverstone, the muddy carparks,  the chaos and the huge traffic queues, seem to be a thing of the past. And (say it softly) Bernie must take a lot of the credit for the transformation. If he had not threatened to remove the race from the calendar I suspect little would have been done to improve the fans race going experience.

 

Lewis hoists the famous gold RAC trophy up in the air. No rubbish plastic trophy this year!

 

The race weekend also had more than just the F1 race. The support races were exciting, we were treated to the sight of Stirling Moss demonstrating his 1955 British GP winning Mercedes, and the air displays by the Red Arrows and a thunderous Eurofighter Typhoon were thrilling.

Crofty cross examines Lewis

 

I stayed at the circuit for the after show party and was glad I did. Not only did I get to see part of the Spice Girls perform (guilty pleasure) but the Q&A sessions between Crofty and the drivers were eye opening. Away from their PR people it was amazing how open the drivers were able to be. Lewis’s  delight in winning his home Grand Prix for a third time was evident. But it was Nico who stood out. Honest and down to earth, good humoured and gracious, he came across very differently from the demonic Nico portrayed by the press. He certainly won the fans over.

So all in all a fantastic Grand Prix. I have already booked my tickets for next year!

One of the benefits of booking your Silverstone GP tickets nearly a year in advance is the free opportunity to attend a pit walk on the Thursday before the Grand Prix. Yesterday the crowds were out in force but despite an initial queue nearly half a mile long, things progressed smoothly and everyone had a good chance to have alook in the team garages.


Grosjean’s Lotus looked neat – imagine what it looks like tonight, half full of gravel!


Jenson’s McLaren Honda was in pieces, semi shielded from the public by a convenient trolley and some body pods. You could almost smell the despair..


By contrast Vettel’s Ferrari looked splendidly complete and ready for action.


Similar clean efficiency at Williams. They should be strong this weekend.


Bit more work on Massa’s car though!


The chaps at Red Bull were preparing Ricciardo’s car to a thumping house music beat. The other teams worked in silence. Deathly silence over at McLaren..


Meanwhile Nico Rosberg’s crew practiced tyre changes to the delight of the crowd.


Hulkenberg’s Force India was undergoing a rebuild


Former British GP winner Johnny Herbert was able to share some race tips with young Will Stevens of Manor.


Meanwhile Pastor Maldonado was being interviewed by Spanish TV


Will Stevens sporting weight saving haircut

   

New AMG GT safety cars. Nice looking but lets hope we don’t see much of them all weekend.

Last week I attended the launch of Stirling Moss’s new book, “My Racing Life”.  There have, of course, been many biographies and indeed autobiographies of “Mr Motor Racing” and I was somewhat sceptical that there was anything new to say about his career which effectively ended in 1962.    

The launch was held at the RAC Club,  the tables adorned with two of the club’s most precious trophies, the gold British Grand Prix Trophy and the exquisite Tourist Trophy – both of which Sir Stirling won on multiple occasions.  After dinner there was a question and answer session with Sir  Stirling chaired by well known journalist Simon Taylor.  This provided an opportunity for Sir Stirling to entertain us with stories and anecdotes, many of which we had not heard before.   

All those attending the launch were provided with a limited edition numbered copy of the book signed by both Sir Stirling and Simon Taylor.  Having now had a chance to look at the book in detail I am pleased to say that it would make a great addition to any motoracing enthusiasts library.  It contains over 300 photos, many taken from Sir Stirling’s own personal scrapbooks, with each photo chosen and explained in his own words by Sir Stirling himself.  The vast majority of the photos were completely new to me and have not, as far as I’m aware, appeared in any other book.   

To celebrate the launch of the book the Club arranged for the ex Rob Walker Ferrari 250 SWB that Sir Stirling raced to his final TT victory to be displayed in the rotunda.  Sir Stirling raced for Rob Walker’s privateer team during the last two years of his career. It was in a Rob Walker Lotus that he had his terrible career ending accident at Goodwood. During the evening Sir Stirling revealed that if it hadn’t been for his accident he would have competed in Formula One that season in a factory supplied Ferrari painted in Rob Walker’s colours. 

My first visit to Bombay for nearly 20 years was always going to surprise me. Much has changed since I was last there. International brands are more prevalent, poverty is less overt and wealth is more ostentatious.  Such is the pace of change in this vast metropolis (one suburb, Anderi, has a population equivalent to that of Greater London) that in twenty years I expect it will look little different to the cities of Southern Europe.

What appeared to me to be the most striking change was in Bombay’s road transport. Twenty years ago you were likely to see only three types of car on the city’s roads.  Hindustan Motors Ambasadors dominated the government market and were favoured by those with big families and a traditional mindset.  Fiat Padminis dominated the taxi trade.  The more aspirational consumer favoured the little Maruti hatch back.

In today’s Bombay I saw only one Ambi in three days.  Most of the Marutis had vanished too. Only a few battered Padminis hung on in the taxi trade but they were clearly fighting a losing battle with newer uglier Suzukis. Bombay’s streets are now thronged with Renaults, Suzukis, Skodas, VWs, Audis and lots of Mercedes.  

Skoda, Suzuki, Hyundai .. this Bombay street scene could be anywhere

The once ubiquitous auto rickshaws are now restricted to the suburbs.

The vanishing Bombay Auto Rickshaw

 I passed Aston Martin and Porsche showrooms and saw Land Rover, Jaguar and BMW heavily advertised. There is a Lamborghini showroom and no doubt, somewhere, Ferrari are plying their trade too.  Sadly comparatively few Indian brand cars were apparent. As in China, it seems that if you are aspirational you want to drive a foreign brand car even if it is built locally.

Ubiquitous Suzuki Taxi – so much less classy than a Padmini

 

Bombay’s impressive 3.5 mile long Sea Link, connecting Bandra to Worli. One stretch of road in Bombay where you can stretch a car’s legs!

A rare car in Bombay, Perseus Bandrawalla’s immaculate BMW 330. The car previously belonged to cricketing ledgend Sachin Tendulkar

The Dacia Duster is built in numerous locations around the world, including in India at Madras. It is sold in India as the Renault Duster and, unlike its Dacia sister, is aimed at an aspirational rather than budget market. In Renault form for the India market it comes with full leather seats, aircon and lots of other “luxury” kit as standard. They should sell similar specified cars in Europe!

Whilst in Bombay I saw very few of the much maligned Tata Nano, but I did get to ride in two. Whilst not great to look at they are remarkably spacious , easily taking four adults in a level of comfort surprising for such a small car. The Nano’s 624cc two cylinder engine sounded harsh under load but proved more than adequate for city driving. The Nano supplied to our (Tata owned) hotel as a courtesy car had leather seats , aircon and other bells and whistles. It was a great little car and I I think it would sell well to cool urban dwellers in Europe, particularly if produced (as promised in the future) in electric form.

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