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Gregor Grant, the founding editor of Autosport Magazine, owned an MG YB saloon which was his personal transport as well as the office hack. He bought it new from the MG factory and kept it for two years. In that time it was used as a press car for numerous UK and continental events including the Mille Miglia and the Monte Carlo Rally.  Gregor and his close friend (and sometime MG Works driver) George Phillips also used the car competitively, including in the Scottish Rally in 1953 and the Production Touring Car race at Silverstone in the same year.   They also competed in the 1954 Monte Carlo Rally. Whilst they completed the rally they were sadly disqualified for missing the last time check. 

I bought Gregor’s old car, UMG 662, last year with the intention of running it on the Monte Carlo Historic Rally. Sadly I found out that that rally now only caters for newer cars. However, in December I discovered that the Automobile Club De Monaco were running a special one off Classic Monte Carlo rally celebrating 80 years since the first British  winner. They were keen for Gregor’s old car to take part so I set about frantically getting the car ready. 

The car is now set up and is ready to be trailered off to John of Groats for the start on Wddnesday. The route is through the Highlands to Paisley where we will join the cars doing the historic rally. From there we go to Dumfries, stop overnight before heading to Hull the next day via Croft race circuit. We then take the overnight ferry to Zeebrugge and meet up with the historic cars again in Rheims on Friday. From there it is 36 hours non stop through France, over the Alps Maritime to Monaco.  

A full post will follow but in the meantime, if you would like to follow our progress to Monte please follow me on Twitter @mctrhanson or search #MG2Monte. 

   
 

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Last year there was much public outcry (see my past posts on the subject) when the organisers of the London to Brighton Run scrapped the traditional half way rest stop on Crawley High Street in favour of a closed to the public stop at a Honda garage on the outskirts of the town. (A Honda garage mind!  A company with no connection at all with the Run and the cars taking part. Maybe it would not have been so offensive if it had been a Peugeot, Renault or even Mercedes Benz garage).

The organisers argued that the facilities available on the High Street were inadequate for the maintenance needs and comfort of the competitors. Whilst that may have been correct it would surely have been possible to use the Honda garage for maintenance (if needed) but still have the rest stop on the atmospheric High Street?  In previous years the High Street was always packed with the public who came in their thousands to get a really good close look at the cars when they stopped. In fact the whole High Street took on a carnival atmosphere. The local radio station broadcast live from the side of the road, the local Scouts did a roaring trade in tea and bacon sandwiches and the RAF cadets sold the programmes.  The Run organisers forsook all of this for a stop on a garage forecourt where the public were excluded and were unable to see much at all.  The crews did, however, have access to a plush Harrods catering facility.. The Scouts had nowhere to sell their tea and bacon rolls and pretty soon the Cadets had noone to sell their programmes to as the few dispirited members of the public who did turn up did not stay for long.

One could not help but get the feeling the organisers of the Run had decided that the public of Crawley just did not matter. Honda presumably paid for the privilege of hosting the stop, unlike Crawley High Street. And no doubt Harrods did the same to supply the catering. The Scouts, collecting for charity, would I guess have been seen as unwelcome competition. Its not unreasonable to ask whether the organisers really needed the extra income Honda and Harrods brought.  The Run is always oversubscribed. If they had additional costs they could always have put the price up. Afteral even the cheapest of the veteran cars taking part cost over £60,000. Many are worth well into six figures. Running a veteran car is not for the impoverished.

With the Run sponsored by a “Private Bank”, and Harrods supplying the catering, the unfortunate impression created was of a bunch of plutocrats enjoying their wealth with no regard for the public. Clearly that was not the case and I am sure many of those taking part were as unhappy as the public at the axing of the old High Street stop.  It would, however, have been understandable if Crawley Borough Council had decided that the disruption to their town caused by the Run was no longer acceptable if it was not going to bring any benefits to the town.

Clearly the concerted criticism last year had some impact on the organisers of the Run as this year they announced that the Run would once again pass down the High Street. The Honda garage would still host the rest stop but cars would have to stop at a check point on the High Street. It was hoped some would choose to take their rest stop on the High Street too and space was set aside for them to do so.  To show commitment to the event the Mayor of Crawley very gamely sat in her wheel chair by the check point to greet the cars as they drove down the High Street. Sadly very few stopped to allow the public to get a close look at them. This was perhaps understandable as if a car had just stopped at Honda they would lose too much time stopping again so close by. In addition the marshals seemed to signal all approaching cars to stop at the Honda garage so many presumably thought they had no choice in the matter.  Still, the Scouts, Cadets and the public were back in force on the High Street, clearly to the delight of many of the passing crews.  Maybe next year more will stop on the High Street like in the past. Or maybe the organisers will finally appreciate that without public support even long running events like the London to Brighton Run will face an uncertain future.

Almost how it used to be. Veteran Cars return to Crawley High Street. George Hudson’s US built 1903 8hp Flint leads Malcolm Ginn’s powerful 24hp 1903 Darracq to the time check point.

A big thank you to Tam Large and Mike Sewell who stopped their 1900 Clement on the High Street for a coffee and cake break. Whether they forsook the Harrods hospitality at the Honda garage I don’t know but theirs was the only car to stop for a break on the High Street in the hour I spent there. As such theirs was the only car that the public had an opportunity to get a good look at during that time.

One of the oldest cars on the run, the 1897 cart wheel clad 6hp Panhard Et Levassor of Roy Tubby. They were making very good time at this point.

Dick Shepphard’s 1901 7hp Panhard Et Levassor stops at the check point closely followed by the Pownall / Dimbelebe 1901 4.5hp De Dion Bouton vis a vis. The Mayor of Crawley Chris Cheshire looks on from the left. She gamely sat out in the cold greeting all the cars as they came through the High Street.

 

Thomas Hill driving the Caister Castle Trust’s 1902 12hp Panhard Et Levassor. The chap in the suit in the back looks somewhat underdressed!

 

Robin Morrison has a full crew for his 10hp 1904 Cadillac

 

Douglas Pope’s 1 cylinder 3.5hp 1900 New Orleans. Despite the name, this little voiturette was a Belgian design made under licence in Orleans Road, Twickenham!

 

Allan White’s very purposeful looking twin cylinder 12hp Renault Tonneau

 

The Farley’s little 1902 5hp Peugeot

 

Another Renault, Ron Walker’s 7.5hp racing two seater. The Renault F1 jackets are a nice touch for what must be one of the world’s oldest racing cars. And Renault still race 115 years on – where will Red Bull be 115 years from now?

 

Mary Crofton piloting the family De Dion Bouton 1900 4.5hp vis a vis.

 

Brian Moore driving another handsome and powerful 16hp Panhard Et Levassor, this one from 1902.

 

Geoffrey Grime’s rare 10hp Gladiator. Made in France, 80% of the cars produced were sold in the UK.

 

One of the ubiquitous Curved Dash Oldsmobiles on the run. This is Adam Barber’s 1903 model. Rugged and reliable they are a great entry level veteran car.

 

Not quite Lewis Hamilton’s car! This is the 1898 3.5hp Benz Dogcart of Nigel Safe being driven by Gordon Cobbold.

 

Flying the flag (or two) for Old Blighty is Rob Aylott in his 1903 5hp Humberette

 

Its easy to forget Scotland has a long history of making cars. Long before the benighted Linwood Imps and Avengers, Argyll also built cars near Glasgow. This is the 1901 5hp Argyll of Michael Hilditch. As with Rootes 70 years later, Argyll found out the hard way that economic success did not always follow initial enthusiasm..

 

Dirk Docx in the 1904 6hp Siddeley of Andre Convents

 

A rare German 1901 4.5hp Adler vis a , this one belonging to John Hankin

 

Philip Oldman looks the part as he navigates his 1902 15hp Mors up the High Street. 4 cylinders and a steering wheel – its almost modern!

 

Where are the horses? Ron Mellowship’s 1898 5hp Bergmann

Matthew Pellett on a 1899 De Dion Bouton Tricycle. It was these little trikes that ignited the public’s interest in motor sport. The first circuit motor races held were races for these trikes.

A non motorised interloper. This Penny Farthing bike was not going from London to Brighton!

 

Recently, whilst driving through Oxfordshire looking at cars to buy I popped in to see the Aston Martin Heritage Trust in their beautiful converted mediaeval barn at Drayton St Leonard.  Entrance is free for Aston Martin Drivers Club members – for the rest of us its £5.  The Trust have a small collection of cars to view including A3, the oldest Aston Martin in existence, and a 1934 Ulster.  The cars, the delightful staff, the stunning barn and the extensive collection of memorabilia make a visit well worthwhile.

A couple of years ago I visited Hethel for a tour of the Lotus factory and a visit to Classic Team Lotus just down the road. I can thoroughly recommend the experience if you are at all interested in the Lotus brand.  Our guide for the day was former Lotus F1 driver Martin Donelly.  Martin is a great guy and was very frank about his short career in F1, first with Arrows and then with Lotus. His F1 career came to an end in a horrific crash in 1990 during qualifying at Jerez. Martin was lucky to survive the terrible head, lung and leg injuries he suffered.  Today he is a brand ambassador for Lotus.

Martin Donnelly's battered helmet and steering wheel show the force of his near fatal crash at Jerez in 1990

Martin Donnelly’s battered helmet and steering wheel show the force of his near fatal crash at Jerez in 1990

Classic Team Lotus still occupies buildings close to the old Team Lotus facilities and is run by Colin Chapman’s son, Clive. Whilst the team owns a number of historic Lotus racing cars they also restore and fettle others for their owners. What is remarkable is that many of the staff used to work for Team Lotus. Indeed when Martin was showing us round the garages he introduced us to his former race mechanic who now worked for Classic Team Lotus.

Lotus Workshop

The crowded workshop of Classic Team Lotus. In the foreground is Jim Clark’s 1964 F2 Championship winning Lotus 32. Next to it is a Lotus 23 and behind it is the revolutionary Lotus 88 from 1981. The Lotus 88 was the first composite monocoque F1 car and featured ground effects and twin chassis. It was banned before it had a chance to race.

Lotus Mansell

Nigel Mansell raced this Lotus 92 with little success in 1983. It was, however, a revolutionary car – the first F1 car to feature active suspension.

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.

Drivers Parade

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.

Apart from the odd auto solo, the Goodwood Road Racing Club’s Easter Monday Sprint is the only opportunity for most non professional GRRC members to compete against each other.  Even so, this year a fair number of professional drivers were invited to compete including ex Works MG BTCC and Le Mans driver Anthony Reid.

When MG were developing the MG SV Anthony Reid actually tested my car. A photo of him reunited with The Beast was too good an opportunity to miss.

 

This year Anthony was in my class driving a Works Noble M600.

The fabulous looking M600 has carbon fibre bodywork and eschews high tech for simple power, lightness and rear wheel drive.

 

This is the works M600 in which Anthony Reid came close to setting FTD at the Festival of Speed in 2014. On that day and at the Easter Monday sprint, traction proved to be a problem. Getting all that power down cleanly with no traction control was tricky and cost the team vital time.

An eclectic mix of cars took part in the sprint. This Piper Le Mans racer attracted lost of attention. Behind, can be seen “Old Nail” the Vauxhall Droop Snoot Firenza of the late Gerry Marshall.

Its rare to see an X150 Jaguar XKR racing. This neat example entertained the crowd with a howling supercharger

Anthony faced stiff competition for the day’s record time from two Nissan GTR’s, which were also in my class.  The rest of the cars in the class were similarly modern and all were much more powerful than my MG.  The only car with which I could hope to compete was a early Porsche 911 S (997).  Eventually I came out on top in that particular duel but all attention was on the battle for overall (not just the class) fastest time of the day between Anthony’s Noble and the Nissans.  In the end one of the Nissans pipped Anthony to the award.  The fact an amateur driver in a £60,000 car was able to beat a professional racing driver in a £235,000 car was telling.

Another popular entrant was this immaculate BMW CSL racer

 

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