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 Brooklands Museum New Year’s Day classic car breakfast has gone from strength to strength over recent years. Last year over 1000 cars attended providing a useful boost to the Museum’s finances.

After an absence of several years I was looking forward to getting my ’52 MG YB out and spending a relaxing morning in the company of fellow old car enthusiasts. Unfortunately the weather conspired against both me and the Museum. For over a week prior to New Year’s Day the rain fell and the wind howled. On Christmas Eve the nearby River Wey burst it’s banks and parts of the Museum, including the Club House, were flooded. Mindful of the big event coming up Museum volunteers and staff worked hard over Christmas to tidy up the site in time for the meeting. They did a magnificent job and there were no traces of the flood water come the big day.

Unfortunately the weather had not finished with the Museum. Whilst New Year’s Day dawned dry but overcast, the forecast was for heavy rain. I decided not to risk the YB and instead took my Jaguar XKR. On the way to the Museum, on early morning deserted roads, I was shamed by my cowardice when I passed a 1920’s Alvis, with little in the way of lights or weather protection, gamely heading for the meeting. But when I turned up it became apparent that I was not the only coward. Instead of the expected 1000 plus cars there were barely 100. This must have been a real blow to the Museum as they clearly catered for many more people than had attended. To try and help them, and to make up for my lack of moral fibre, I had two bacon butties and three cups of tea. I doubt it helped the Museum or my waistline much but it was vital insulation once the rain started hammering down shortly after I arrived..

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Depleted selection of cars on the Members Banking. The blue twin cam convertible Morris Marina has been restored to perfection. But why?

The weather had deterred many of the more interesting cars but there was still the odd curiosity to be seen. In particular there was a good showing of American Muscle. A bout of rain wasn’t going to put off those good old boys!

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Imposing and massive Big Mean and Green Chrysler

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American Muscle

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Tasty Dodge Hot Rod in grey primer. Looks (deliberately?) a lot like the 55 Chevy, also in grey primer, that stars in seminal 70’s road movie “Two Lane Blacktop”.

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Subtle manifold exhaust pipe combo – has to dump the gasses somewhere I suppose..

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Not quite American Muscle! The star of “Wayne’s World” (“excellent”) and Cars 2 bad guy, AMC Pacer. Nearly as ugly as neighbouring rust coloured Citroen van.

I suspect the Museum made a substantial loss on the day. So please, if you can spare the time, pop in and see them. Brooklands is a fantastic place, reeking of the history of motor sport and aviation. It’s well worth a visit. For details see their website http://www.brooklandsmuseum.com

Last weekend I marshalled at the London Rally for Heroes, a new Tarmac rally run for the benefit of military charity Help For Heroes. The rally started and finished at Brooklands Museum with the last two stages being held on the high speed handling track kindly made available by Mercedes Benz World next door.

In 12 years of competing in Motorsport this was, rather shamefully, the first time I had marshalled. Standing by the course watching the cars whiz by was a new experience. Whilst lacking the excitement of driving you at least got a good view of the cars and the opportunity to silently critique the drivers lines!

All sorts of cars took part from ex works rally cars to home converted saloons. There were plenty of incredibly fast Ford Escort Mk2s. It was easy to see why they now command unheard of prices on the market.

So a good afternoon in the sun for a very worthy cause.

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After days of rain the sun shone magnificently for the second Brooklands Motorsport Day. At the inaugural event last year I entered the MG YB but, as the old girl is off the road waiting for the law on MOTs to change at the beginning of November, this year I entered The Beast, my MG SV.

The event itself gathers competition cars from all eras for morning demonstration laps on the Mercedes Benz World handling circuit and runs up the old test hill in the afternoon. Whilst The Beast has only limited competition history my entry was thankfully accepted and I secured a parking space just outside the clubhouse paddock.

The fine weather brought appreciative crowds and a great selection of cars including two Benetton F1 cars, various Lancia Delta rally cars, Ferraris, Lambos and some interesting pre war racers including the mighty Napier Railton.

I was looking forward to taking The Beast on the track as I had only driven her competitively a few times at Brighton – and that was in a straight line. The handling circuit is very tight but I managed to get her up to 80 on the straight and she proved very steady round the twisty bits with bags of grip and a nice crisp turn in. The test hill was perhaps less of a challenge with 350 hp under my right foot but nonetheless good fun. It’s always special to drive up the hill conscious of the fact people have been testing their cars in the same place in a similar way for over 100 years.

Fabulous Roesch Talbot racer

In addition to the action on track there was a good turnout of car clubs, especially from Italian marques (the organiser is also the proprietor of Autoitalia Magazine). So coupled with the fantastic collection of cars and aeroplanes at the birthplace of British Motorsport and aviation, there was lots for the paying public to see. This year was far busier than last and I am sure the event will continue to grow into something special and a fine season closer.

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