Apart from clashing with the Autosport show in Birmingham, this new London show looks promising. It is been many years since there has been a large classic car show in London. Given that the core of the high end classic car market lies in London and the South-East of England, this absence has always struck me as strange.

The new show was held at Excel in London’s Docklands. This is a great venue, easy to get to and with good facilities. As this year’s show was relatively compact it had to share Excel with the Cruise Show and the London Boat Show. I attended on a Friday afternoon and Excel was already busy. I imagine it would have been extremely busy over the weekend.

Whilst the show was much smaller than the NEC Classic Car Show, what it lacked in quantity it made up for with quality. There were no club stands but the organisers showed innovation in how cars were displayed and a large number of very high-end dealers were present. I was able to buy an afternoon only ticket at a much reduced price. This provided plenty of time to see the show. Certainly this year a full day ticket would not have been necessary.

From what I hear, due to heavy ticket discounting,  the show almost certainly made a loss this year . However it was very busy so hopefully it will return again in the future.

2015/01/img_7923.jpg

Motor Sport Magazine put on an impressive display at the Show, pairing historic race cars driven by members of their “Hall of Fame” with covers from the magazine showing the cars in period. Here we see Jackie Stewart’s 1973 championship winning Tyrell and Jim Clark’s 1963 championship winning Lotus 25.

2015/01/img_7924.jpg

The Motor Sport Magazine pairing here is Mike Hawthorn’s 1958 championship winning Ferrari and one of the clever but flawed V16 BRMs.

2015/01/img_7925.jpg

An unusual feature of the event was a central boulevard where every few hours some of the cars on display were run. Whilst an interesting idea, viewing was limited, the exhaust fumes noxious and there was little scope for really demonstrating the cars’ potential. Here a Lamborghini Miura makes a very sedate pass.

2015/01/img_7926.jpg

One section of the hall was reserved for Le Mans cars. I never get tired of the sweeping curves of the Jaguar XJR9. This car finished 4th in 1988, the year a similar car won for the Coventry mark.

2015/01/img_7927.jpg

A rare Vauxhall Firenze Droop Snoot. Ugly as sin when compared to the contemporary Ford Escort RS2000.

2015/01/img_7928.jpg

The £90k MGB. Yes really. Produced by Frontline Developments with a Mazda engine and modern running gear, the car is capable of a sub 4 second 0 to 60 time. But why would you bother? If you want a classic looking car buy a concourse MGB for £30k. If you want a fast car, for that price you could buy a Jaguar F Type R.

2015/01/img_7929.jpg

A stunning BMW CSL Bat Mobile.

2015/01/img_7931.jpg

There were two other special displays at the Show. The first was a selection of Cars That Changed the World curated by James May. The queues for that display were so long all afternoon that I gave it a miss. The second, probably far more interesting display, was of cars that inspired or were designed by Adrian Newey. Here we see three of the best – Mansell’s active suspension 1992 Championship winning Williams FW14, Mika Hakkinen’s 1998 championship winning McLaren MP4-13 and one of Vettel’s championship winning Red Bull’s.

2015/01/img_7932.jpg

Newey’s first F1 car, the Leyton House CG901

Advertisements

Ever since I went to the first Goodwood Revival meeting in 1998, those three days in September have been the highlight of my motoring year. Goodwood is a fantastic race circuit, fast and demanding of drivers but at the same time beautiful and accessible to the public. When the weather is good there is really nothing to match the place. Lord March does, of course, put on a good party. Racing heroes of the past and the top historic racers of today love to drive at Goodwood as much as the public loves to see them. And if you are a billionaire owner of a Ferrari 250 GTO then nothing underscores your wealth more than allowing your precious car to be raced at it’s limit around such an unforgiving track.

Much though I love the revival I do increasingly begin to question whether I enjoy it as much as I used to. This year there was a record attendance of over 160,000 people and boy, at times did it feel it. Maybe it would not have been so bad if all of those attending had been motoring enthusiasts but many were there on corporate hospitality jollies and clearly had little interest or knowledge of motor racing. When John Surtees was taking part in his laps of honour I overheard, all too frequently, people asking who he was.

Maybe I’m getting grouchy now, but am I the only one beginning to find having to dress in period attire boring? Certainly the whole dressing up thing has become a major industry and whilst it might interest otherwise bored spouses, is it really necessary for the enjoyment of the racing? I understand that there is a desire to create a period feel but in that case why all the adverts for contemporary and anonymous private banks and hedge funds? And why are motor manufacturers allowed to push their new models in the “period” Earls Court Motor Show?

The racing this year was as good as ever but quite often it was the same cars that race every year in the same races with the same drivers. Perhaps Goodwood’s embarrassment of riches gives rise to a certain ambivalence but I no longer get excited by the multi-million pound grid for the RAC TT celebration. As for the St Mary’s Trophy touring car race, the less said the better. A Race where a Ford A40 can lap faster than a Jaguar Mk 1 is certainly entertaining but it is not historic racing.

The highpoints of my weekend? One was watching Giedo Van de Garde sliding his AC Cobra around Lavant Corner on his way to winning the RAC TT celebration with his codriver David Hart. I have often heard elderly spectators say that young Formula One drivers would be incapable of racing sports cars from the 50s and 60s as their forebears used to, because young drivers are so used to massive downforce and slick tires. Giedo proved conclusively that even one of the least high profile young Formula One drivers of today is more than capable of driving the wheels off anything given half a chance.

Another highlight was the fantastic Whitsun Trophy race on Saturday evening. Chris Goodwin, McLaren’s charming test driver, triumphed in his own McLaren Chevy M1B. The racing was very close and the average lap speed the fastest of the whole weekend. Seeing these CanAm monsters hurtle down the Lavant straight at over 160 miles an hour was astonishing as was the noise from their huge V8 engines.

An finally of course, the air displays. This year we had the once in a lifetime opportunity to see two Lancasters flying in formation. A very moving sight.

IMG_7630.JPG

Goodwood in September..Goodwood Trophy Race

IMG_7628.JPG

V16 BRM – I had not realised the engine was offset.

IMG_7626.JPG

Derek Bell pushes his Jaguar D Type towards the grid

IMG_7645.JPG

Jay Esterer’s sinister Chinook Chevy Mk2 from the Whitsun Trophy race

IMG_7646.JPG

Chris Goodwin’s Whitsun Trophy winning McLaren Chevy M1B

IMG_7655.JPG

Lots of fine cars in the Classics Car Park, one of the highlights of the event in fact. This very fine Armstrong Siddley Star Sapphire had come all the way from Switzerland.

IMG_7657.JPG

A very neat Singer Le Mans, a very underrated pre war sports car.

 

IMG_7653.JPG

A rare aerial visitor, a Gloster Gladiator fighter.

 

IMG_7635.JPG

A rare MG Arnholt Coupe. Built on a TD chassis in the US in the fifties, these cars are rarely seen in Europe. This one had come from Germany.

IMG_0148.PNG

Sir Jackie Stewart explains the finer points of his Championship winning Tyrell

IMG_0147.PNG

Two Lancasters – the roar of eight Rolls Royce Merlin engines. The sound of freedom.

Nestled amongst pine clad hills, Spa is one of the oldest and most legendary of the Formula 1 circuits. They started racing here 100 years ago as a novel alternative to the then popular city to city races. The current circuit is often mentioned by Formula 1 drivers as their favourite and the plunge downhill to Eau Rouge before the climb up to Les Combes is regarded as one of the most perfect racing corners in the world. I have never driven the current circuit but doing so is certainly on my bucket list.

I was last at Spa for the Belgian GP in 1998. The weather was unusually fine but the race was dull. Schumacher and Ferrari were in their pomp and pretty soon the race began to resemble the sort of dull processions that did so much to turn off fans in the Schumacher era. Even sitting at the bottom of Eau Rouge could not make things more interesting and that race was the last F1 race I went to for 12 years.

The Spa circuit we see today is only a fraction of the Spa circuit that was in use from 1902 until 1978. That circuit was much much longer at 15km in length and had a reputation for appalling weather and danger as notorious as that of its near neighbour across the German border, the Nurburgring.

The typically wet weather, the lack of run off and the brooding trees claimed many lives, even before the War. Dick Seaman was killed here in his works Mercedes on 1939. Throughout the fifties and sixties lap times shortened as cars got quicker. Inevitably the danger increased. For example the 1960 GP claimed two British drivers, Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey. Stirling Moss was also injured.

The weather for the 1966 race was awful and Jackie Stewart had a serious accident he was lucky to survive. Having crashed on a remote part of the track he had to rely on fellow competitor Graham Hill to pull him from his car. Jackie has often said that it was this accident that started his campaign for better safety in Formula 1.

Those running Spa made little effort to make the circuit safer and F1 ceased to race on the old circuit in 1970. Sports car racing continued, lap times got quicker still and the death toll mounted. Three drivers died in the 1973 Spa 1000km race. The lap record (that still stands) was set in that era by Pedro Rodriguez in a Porsche 917 at an incredible average speed of over 150 mph.

Finally, in 1978 the old circuit was closed and reconfigured. It was reopened in the shorter form we see today and GP racing returned in 1983. The public roads that bore the old circuit reverted to full time public highways and can be driven today.

You join the old circuit at Les Combes and meander slowly down hill through the village of Burneville. It’s pretty straight and an F1 car would be going very fast as you enter the long right hander at the bottom of the hill. Houses and junctions keep your speed down and it is hard to believe you are on such a notorious circuit.

The long straight between Malmedy and Stavelot is interrupted by the infamous Masta Kink. It’s been tightened in modern times but its old configuration can be seen in the lay – by that sits where the wicked left / right must have terrified drivers in the past. Motorsport’s famous correspondent Dennis Jenkinson used to sit above the Kink and watch and listen to the passing racers to see who could take the Kink flat out and who would lift off. To him it was the ultimate test of a driver.

Just before Stavelot a cambered right hander takes the old circuit back towards Blanchimont and the new circuit. The crumbling Tarmac and flaking Armco at the beginning of this stretch are from the original circuit. Finally, with little traffic and few houses, it is possible to open up the throttle a bit. The road is very straight and its easy to see why the old circuit was so fast. Pretty soon you arrive at some huge gates that mark the point the old circuit joins the new, but for at least a few seconds its possible to imagine how Fangio, Moss, Stewart and Rodriguez must have felt all those years ago.

Below: Masta Kink isn’t what it used to be; Blanchimont gates; Rodriguez’s Porsche 917

20130310-084807.jpg

20130310-084826.jpg

20130310-084840.jpg