If classic cars are meant to be driven, then historic race cars are meant to be thrashed! That’s why the London Classic Car Show impressed the previous weekend with its Grand Avenue. It also explains why Race Retro trumped it this weekend with its Live Rally Stage.
Race Retro is not like other classic car exhibitions though. That’s not just down to it focusing solely on motorsport of all shapes and sizes from yesteryear, but even more so because of the atmosphere at the exhibition. This season opener for Historic Motorsports is not your typically glitzy and glamorous show the likes of the Classic Car Show at the NEC in Birmingham, Rétromobile in Paris or Techno Classica in Essen. But that’s a good thing! Motorsport is – at least in my opinion – at its very best when there’s a low-key grassroot element to it. That, after all, is the essence of why Formula 1 was leagues better in the sixties and seventies than it is in today’s soulless and overly polished format. But at Race Retro they’ve stuck with the old and manage to capture that precise grassroot atmosphere perfectly. Not that it’s a gritty low-budget event by any means, but it simply feels like true enthusiasts doing whatever is necessary in order to go racing in one way or another. It feels real.
There are four indoor halls with a huge variety of classic race cars on display from various eras and not least from various segments and classes of motorsport. There’s something for everyone here. Starting in Hall 3, approximately half of the hall is dedicated to the Hall of Fame with individual displays celebrating various themes such as Hall of Fame inductee Brian Redman, rallying legend Miki Biasion, 40 Years of Ground Effects, 30 Years of Jaguar at Le Mans, and more. The ground effects display looked great with a stunning Lotus 79 alongside the very similar Williams FW07. But it’s not all F1, as the Group C dominating Porsche 956 showed how ground effects were essential for success in other race series too. Biasion’s Lancia 037 looked decidedly purposeful, and how can you not love a Martini-liveried Delta Integrale? Central to all of this is the Motor Sport Live Stage, running live interviews throughout the weekend with the likes of legendary Jaguar Chief Test Driver Norman Dewis, rallying greats like Rosemary Smith and Russell Brookes, British Motorcycle Champion Steve Parrish and obviously also the celebrated Brian Redman and Miki Biasion.
The remainder of Hall 3 and much of Hall 1 and 2 as well, are packed to the brim with all sorts of motorsport specialists – those that’ll build you a race car from scratch, others that specialise in specific products, engineering companies, preparation specialist and everything in between. Hall 2 also has several stalls representing various racing series and clubs. Whether your heart beats for vintage sports cars or eighties touring cars, race-prepared Citroën 2CV’s or Group B rally icons, both your passion and your budget will most likely find something which fits.
This low, sleek and sexy Chevron B8 was perhaps the car of the show which I most wanted to take with me home.
In Hall 4 there’s also a proper and deliciously authentic autojumble – just like in the old days. Boxes and boxes of various bits and bobs, old Smiths and Veglia instruments, wooden Les Leston steering wheels, a Lotus twincam engine of unknown condition, secondhand Compomotive split alloys, and a NOS complete rear wing for a Hillman Imp. Again, it’s all here. Yet, when there’s also a complete chassis with raw alloy bodywork for an Abarth 2000 single-seater splayed across the floor, you know that it’s an autojumble slightly out of the ordinary…
Of course, don’t forget the many booths selling scale model cars, motoring books, period brochures and owner’s manuals, motoring art work, automobilia and of course a wide variety of accessories such as driving gloves or motorsport themed leather carry-alls. It’s all too easy to convince yourself that you clearly need one of each. I really don’t know how, but somehow I managed to keep my wallet in my pocket this time, though I was tempted more than once as I made my way through the halls. While I was still winning, I scuttled out the doors, away from the stalls and towards the Live Rally Stage for some sideways action.
This year, Rallying with Group B had set up a new course expanding it to the longest yet in Race Retro’s history, allowing more cars to circulate the course at any one time than ever before. The selection of rally cars had grown too, with a massive 100 car field right from early icons such as a Lancia Fulvia, to tail-wagging Escort mk. 2’s and about 20 different fire-spiting Group B cars like the Audi Quattro and Peugeot 205 T16. There were some big names behind the steering wheels as well. Of course, visitors to Race Retro could sample all the fun from the passenger seat, and judging purely from the size of the queue, this proved quite a success.
The drivers don’t hang about either: pedal-to-the-metal action with tyres scrabbling for traction, revs roaring, and several cars being treated to a fair dose of the old Scandinavian Flick as they power through corners. This is proper entertainment! I could have easily spent the whole day watching the display in awe. We were even lucky with the weather, which while fairly chilly, also treated us to clear blue skies and plenty of sunshine. The Group 4 era of Chevelles, Asconas and Escorts has always been my favourite – probably just because I spent my childhood glued to the television screen watching these fabulous rear-wheel-drive rally cars at max attack through forest stages. Experiencing the excellent Fiat 131 Abarth at full whack was a personal high, though the Triumph TR8s had it beat on soundtrack. On the subject of soundtrack, while I’ve never been much of an Audi fan, that coarse, slightly off-beat, 5-cylinder blare of the Quattro does undeniably make you smile. Needless to say, the wide-arched BMW 2002 immediately had me dreaming of doing similar things with my hillclimb 02. At the end, I was even lucky enough to get a passenger ride in what was no doubt the loudest car of them all – and that’s saying something! But that’ll be a story for later in the week…