Whilst the weather was little better than it was at last year’s wash out, this year many more classic car owners made the journey to the birthplace of British motorsport for the first major classic car event of 2015.

Porsches, Model T Ford hot rods and Riley 1.5 on the start finish straight at the 2015 Brooklands New Year's Day meeting

Porsches, Model T Ford hot rods and Riley 1.5 on the start finish straight at the 2015 Brooklands New Year’s Day meeting

I took along my MG YB, out for its first run since the Mini Tour Britannia last May. It performed faultlessly although it’s less than inspiring reward on arrival was to be parked on some muddy waste ground between the Bus Museum and the old circuit banking. Apart from the somewhat variable quality of the parking spaces available, the other disappointment was the lack of catering provision which meant waiting 15 minutes, even for a cup of tea. But these logistical problems highlighted what a popular event Brooklands Museum now have on their hands. They must have made a lot of money, which is excellent news as every penny of profit will go towards their work to preserve Britain’s first motor racing circuit and aircraft factory, and the machines that raced or were built there.

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This immaculate Lea Francis is a rare car. Lea Francis were a high end car manufacturer based in Britain’s Detroit, Coventry. Like so many other motor companies, they started making bicycles at the end of the 19th Century before moving on to motorcylces and eventually cars in the 1920s. Known for hand building exquisite well engineered cars, their products also had a reputation for being expensive and exclusive. This Lea Francis is a 2.5L Sports. Only 77 were built between 1950 and 1953 when Lea Francis ceased car production. The low build volume is explained by the fact that whilst the 2.5L Sport possessed good performance, it was slower than its contemporary, the Jaguar XK120, which was also substantially cheaper.

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Oozing quirky Gallic charm, the Panhard PL17 was a development of the revolutionary Dyna Z1 launched in 1953. Like a modern day McLaren or Alfa 4C, the Z1 was built without a chassis, the front and rear subframes bolting on to a central tub. Rather than being carbon fibre, the Z1 tub was all aluminium – equally revolutionary in its day. The rest of the structure of the car, including its aerodynamically efficient bodywork, was also aluminium. This resulted in a car that was much lighter than its peers with consequent performance and fuel economy advantages. Years before “ground effect” in F1 Panhard made sure the underside of the Z1 was as flat and smooth as possible to further enhance efficiency and performance. Powered by an 850cc flat twin engine the car was remarkably fast (95mph) and fuel efficient (50mpg claimed). Sadly, by the time this PL17 was built (in about 1961) Panhard had changed to steel construction to reduce production costs and therefore sale price.

A new feature this year was the open day held by the Brooklands Motor Company whose works occupy the old Members Restaurant at the top of the Test Hill. This historic building had been decaying until BMC acquired and restored it. Where well-heeled BARC members once took tea, BMC now fettles and restores AC cars.

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Aston Martin DB3 and 5 with a Facel Vega on a lift and assorted dismantled AC’s in the old dining room of the Members Restaurant – now Brookland Motor Company’s smart works.

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Mille Miglia AC Ace at Brooklands Motor Company

Below are some of the more interesting cars that caught my eye.

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This Daimler Ferret scout car was built in Coventry in 1953. It served in the British Army for the next 40 years spending time in Jordan, the UK, and West Germany and seeing action in Aden, Northern Ireland and Kuwait and Iraq in the First Gulf War. Powered by a 4.25L Rolls Royce engine, top speed is only 56mph but as a driver you would be protected against small arms fire. And you’d have a machine gun – or two..

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This immaculate 1992 Rover 800 Vitesse is a rare survivor of the Honda / Rover cars that resurrected the brand when it was owned by British Aerospace. These Rovers successfully combined Japanese reliability with British design flare into a pretty compelling package.

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The Chevrolet Corvair was America’s answer to the Porsche 911. Rear engined and air cooled it was sporty and handsome. Unfortunately, due to cost cutting its rear swing axle rendered it liable to often fatal understeer. This was highlighted (amongst other industry faults) by crusading lawyer Ralph Nader in his classic 1965 book “Unsafe at Any Speed”. Rather than address the car’s design shortcomings the initial response of GM to Nader’s book was to try and smear his name. Nader was systematically harassed, his phone bugged, he was threatened and there were even attempts to entrap him with call girls! GM eventually had to apologise to Nader and pay him substantial damages. They also redesigned the suspension of the Corvair to make it safer but by then it was too late. It wasn’t Nader’s reputation that was destroyed by the furore but the Corvair’s.

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The Shere Hillclimb in Surrey is a relatively new event, first running last year. The 900 yard course is a public road temporarily shut for the day. As such, and despite the road closure, normal road traffic rules apply. The event is therefore not timed and all runs are mere “demonstrations “.

The event is organised by a number of local car clubs and raises money for the local school and other charities. In this regard it is similar to the now well-established Kop Hillclimb in Buckinghamshire. That event now attracts nearly 15,000 spectators and over 1000 potential entrants for only 100 places. I have driven the Kop Hillclimb in the past and whilst it was fun, the lack of a competitive element to it detracted from my enjoyment and I have felt no strong desire to go back.

As the Shere Hillclimb is close to where I live I put aside my concerns and decided to enter with my MG YB. Like the Kop Hillclimb the Shere Hillclimb was oversubscribed and I was lucky to get a place, primarily due to the 1950’s race history of my YB.

It was a good day but the hill was somewhat ruined by a number of very sharp chicanes which prevented my old car from attaining a decent speed. In addition there were so many entrants that I only had three runs up the hill and there was a lot of waiting around. I won’t be doing it again, at least not whilst is non-competitive.

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MG YB in the paddock next to fire spitting Cobra!

The government is in the process of changing the law to allow competitive motorsport events on public roads (as has been allowed for many years on the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and in France) so maybe next year the event will be competitive or at least have a competitive class.

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Ferrari 246 Dino, Lotus Elise and Lexus LFA – diverse machinery

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Lotus 2- 11 with very smart JPS livery. Signed by Hazel Chapman too!

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Frazer Nash tackles the hill (same restored one that was at Hampton Court the day before).

 

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Chain gang – business end of the Frazer Nash Norris Special. Fancy sitting on that lot?

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Group of AC cars through the ages. AC were a local Surrey make based mainly at Thames Ditton.

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Another view of the Norris Special Frazer Nash. Raced at Brooklands pre war it was most successful post war when used in hillclimbs. It holds the VSCC record at Shelsley, Prescott, Harewood, Loton and Wiscombe Park.