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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A large part of the show was given over to German Car Clubs many of whom displayed some lovely cars in imaginative displays. In addition the dealers were out in force, especially at the top end. Prices were steep but the quality of most cars reflected that. Though an OK triumph Dolomite Sprint for £25,000 hardly seemed like value for money.

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Mk1 VW Scirocco – great little cars, my Mum had a red one in the early eighties.

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East German border guard’s Trabant. Look closely and you will see the guard dog doesn’t think much of it!

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Very colourful Citroen GSA. I learnt to drive in a rather less colourful one of these. Very comfortable – unless the hydraulics failed. Then it was fatal.

 

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This is the Zagato version of the Lancia Flaminia , the Touring of Milan version of which I saw at Brooklands in February. The Zagato version is even better looking, is rarer and much more expensive. this dealer had two and I saw two others for sale elsewhere at the show.

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Contemporary to the Lancia is this very similar looking Aston Martin DB, also by Zagato. This car is a recreation and was for sale for 110,000 Euros.

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You can keep your Blower Bentleys, this is my dream pre war classic, a Low Chassis Invicta. Better looking, faster and cheaper too (though still over £500,000).

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1937 Horch 853 Spezialroadster

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If you wanted to you could buy Chairman Mao’s Mercedes 600 Pullman

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Turin coachbuilder OSI produced the smart Ford Taunus based OSI Ford Coupe for only a year (1967 – 68) but it has a strong following in Germany. Compared to the ugly Taunus you can see why!

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At all German shows you will find lots of companies ready and willing to build you a better than new 911 or Pagoda. This company allows you to choose era and body style as well as some great retro colours.

Beast’s claim to fame is being the oldest surviving production MG SV. She was a works car and was used for promotion work when the car was launched in 2003. That year she was prepared for the Goodwood Festival of Speed and spent the weekend in the supercar paddock and being driven up the hill by luminaries such as Australian multiple F1 champion Sir Jack Brabham and the designer of the car (and the McLaren F1) Peter Stevens. So when earlier this year the Goodwood Road Racing Club announced that there was to be a new area of reserved parking at the Festival of Speed for visiting supercars I was determined that the Beast should have the chance to mix it with the Ferraris, Lambos and other exotica. The organisers were supportive and allocated me a ticket when they found out the Beast would be revisiting the Festival nearly 10 years to the day since she was last there. Getting a ticket was not as easy as it sounds as the organisers had a list of what they thought of as supercars and MGs were not on it! Only two door Ferraris were allowed, and amongst the volume brands only Jag XJ220’s (no other Jags) only Lotus Esprits and Evora S, 911’s but for this year only, and only SLS Mercs (no AMGs). So pretty exclusive company!

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The Beast attracted lots of attention, indeed more than the McLaren MP4 12 c and Ferrari V12 parked next to it. In fact there were 23 McLarens present so they were considerably more common than the MG! Surprisingly there was only two Ferrari 458’s when I had been led to believe that they were, when compared to the McLaren, the better car. Clearly the Festival crowd are a patriotic bunch.

McLarens – any colour as long as its orange..

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As it was the 50th anniversary of the 911 there were plenty of Stuttgart’s finest. Next year its said they won’t be allowed amongst the supercars but this year the super car car park would have looked a bit empty without them so it would not surprise me if they get a reprieve.

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I suspect the attention focused on the Beast was the result of her striking looks and the fact she is such a rare car. One of her admirers turned out to be someone who had worked for the Isle of Wight company who had made the carbon fibre blanks used to construct the bodywork of the car. The Beast was the first complete SV he had seen.

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It’s unlikely that Stuttgart was an attractive city even before its drastic remodelling by the RAF and USAAF,  so finding myself in an airport hotel on the outskirts of town was not a major drawback.  In fact it was very convenient for my first stop in Stuttgart, the Retro Classics show at the smart new conference centre by the airport. One of the big German classic car shows,  it has suffered in the past from being held on the same weekend as Techno Classica Essen, the biggest of the lot. This year it was held on a different weekend and that no doubt helped to explain the thousands of neatly dressed enthusiasts who joined me at 9am outside the doors before opening.

The show was a cracker taking up seven large halls and featuring an exceptional collection of vehicles on show and on sale. An excellent autojumble occupied one hall, another was devoted to the Mercedes-Benz Club and another was themed on American cars.  One of the other halls featured smaller clubs, with everything from Tatra owners to the Rover Owners Club of Stuttgart. You have to be pretty keen on Longbridge’s finest to be in a Rover club in the City of Porsche and Mercedes Benz.  The MG Car Club of Germany had a nice selection of cars on display including a fine K3.

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MG K3

Many of the halls were given over to restoration businesses focussing particularly on Mercedes Pagodas and early Porsche 911’s.  Scores of those particular car were on display in various stages of restoration.  The finished products were truly stunning – better than new and with a better than new price tag. 100,000 Euros plus seemed to be the going rate for a restored Pagoda.

Lots of pristine Pagodas

Lots of pristine Pagodas

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…and 911’s – this is a 911S

Stuttgart marks featured strongly amongst the cars dealers had brought to sell. In amongst the German iron there were some interesting alternatives. This smart 1958 Fiat Abarth Sestiere Coupe had patina (!) but was Mille Miglia eligible and was priced at 43,500 Euros.

Fiat Abarth Sisterie

Fiat Abarth Sestiere

Manufacturers were also present. Opel brought along their new Adam hatchback to show with a smart rallying Opel Kadett from the seventies. In fact it was the fortieth anniversary of the Kadett, a car that looks so much nicer than its Vauxhall sibling, the execrable Chevette.

Opel Kadett

Opel Kadett

Amongst the more unusual cars on display was a Messerschmitt KR bubble car driven by a propeller. Not quite a ME 109 – but a KR200!

Achtung! Messerschmitt!

Achtung! Messerschmitt!

The most attractive cars on display were the Horchs brought to the show by Audi Heritage. I had not realised that the now defunct mark was the predecessor of Audi. In fact Audi is Latin for “horch” which means “hear” in English. The 1937 Horch Sportcabriolet stood out in particular with a level of opulence equivalent to any contemporary Mercedes Benz.

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1937 Horch Sportcabriolet

All in all a fantastic show. If you have an understanding partner, combine it with a weekend visit to the Stuttgart car museums, especially if you like German cars.