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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.

I don’t seem to recall the mk.3 Escort 1.1 LX which I bought for my now-wife as her very first car, having these obtrusive items stuck to the bootlid.

…but then I equally don’t recall the engine being mounted longitudinally.

The spectacular RWD Ford Escort RS 1700T is one of only 18 built – of which only five still exist today.

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.

Naturally, I found this particular piece particularly tempting. It would have looked so good on the garage wall, but the £990 price tag had me rethink that idea.

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…

As if just to prove quite how awesome Race Retro was this year, these two French rally icons bid me farewell as I departed Stoneleigh Park. It really doesn’t get much better…



12 Responses

  1. Henning Hjorth

    Tak for de flotte fotos, Anders!
    Var selv på Race Retro lørdag!
    Fantastisk med alle de rally-prøver i parken!

    Bedste hilsner fra Henning Hjorth

  2. Anders Bilidt

    Thx for the Danish greeting – I hope you don’t mind me answering you in English…
    I’m glad you enjoyed the pics Henning. A shame though that we ended up being at Race Retro on different days – it would have been good to catch up – it’s been a loooooong time!

  3. YrHmblHst

    Oh man…now THATS a car show! To paraphrase Pink Floyd, ‘wish I were there’.
    Thanx for the photos and story ; fantastic stuff.

  4. Jens g

    Race Retro for the first time

    I completely agree with the description of the event.
    The only thing I disliked was the many new Rally Cars on the stage.
    It would have been appropriate to limit those cars to be at least 25 years old.
    I fell in love with the other Chevron, but who is the Driver Tina Kok with the danish flag on the door?

  5. Claus Ebberfeld

    It’s a terrific show which I have visited many times – glad you could make it this year, Anders.

    I agree on the special atmosphere on the show as well: So down to earth, so focused on helping coming competitors out, so friendly, so accessible, so hands on.

    We don’t agree on the favourites, though: Lancia Stratos. Enough said? And the pair of Le Mans-Jaguars aren’t half bad either.

    And then the Lotus 79. Oh, that almost perfect race car. Always loved it. From around the age of ten, as I recall it. My age, not that of the car.

  6. Tony Wawryk

    Looks like another show I need to get to now I have more time on my hands. My introduction to racing cars came via copies of Motor Sport that I read while waiting in my dentist’s reception – I was about 10 or 11 years old at the time. He ran a 911, which in Weston Coyney (on the edge of Stoke on Trent) was a very rare sight. I subsequently subscribed to the magazine for about 15 years through the 70s and early 80s, my favourite era of F1, so you won’t be surprised if I say my favourite car of those pictured above is the gorgeous McLaren M14, though the D-Type runs it close in the beauty stakes. Both are far more beautiful to my eyes than their modern counterparts, albeit also far less safe.

  7. Anders Bilidt

    I’m glad you’ve all enjoyed the report. To those of you who haven’t yet experienced Race Retro, make sure to mark the date for next year!

    Let me just point out that the black, red and white Stratos was a Hawk-produced replica. It of course looks every bit as fabulous as the original item, but I’ll nonetheless stick with “my” Chevron B8.

    I can only agree with you on the McLaren M14. Such a stunningly beautiful open-wheeler. The proportions are perfect!

  8. YrHmblHst

    I keep coming back to look at these photos…and I couldnt help but notice something; in the selection of rally cars in action [and thanx for these – it makes an interesting study of all the cars in the same place ] it looks to me that only the Fiat and the Fords seem to have the right ‘attitude’ in the corner. Dont know what that means, just an observation. :)

  9. Anders Bilidt

    Heh, “right attitude” indeed… Yes, some where better at this than others.
    The R5 Turbo actually managed that “attitude” quite nicely as well, as did the 2002. Sadly though most of my 2002 pics ended up out of focus, and this one was the sharpest. The big Triumph did a fair amount of tail-wagging too, while it was clearly quite softly sprung. On one occasion he actually lost it, and the big saloon slid straight towards me and impacted with the dinky wooden fence I was optimistically hiding behind…!!
    But there were certainly also some understeerers in the pack. The Golf very much so, but actually the Quattros would all enter the corner with huge understeer too, at least right until the driver gave it some welly, and the rear would abruptly kick out. But by this time, the car was already along side me and well through the corner, so I was unable to capture it in pics.
    Sadly I wasn’t stood at that corner as the Manta 400’s, Chevelles and Lotus Sunbeams were orbiting the course…

  10. YrHmblHst

    Too bad about missing the Manta 400s – one of my favourite cars ever…I think. Never actually seen one in the flesh, nor obviously have never driven one either. Just LOVE the look of them. I THINK theyre just right. [tho could obviously do with more power… ;) ]

    May I show my ignorance here for a moment please? Chevelles? I know about Vauxhall CheveTTes, but Chevelles other than A or G body GM cars in this country are news to me….[ hold it, seem to remember a Brazillian GM car being called a Chevelle maybe, but dont think they were rallied.]

  11. Anders Bilidt

    HaHaHa… not you’re ignorance! More like me probably being somewhat tired right now and loosing my ability to think, type and probably several other things too…
    Obviously, I meant to write Chevette. I’m not too sure how well any Chevelle would manage as a rally car [regardless of how much power you gave it… ;-) ]

    Totally agree about the Manta 400 though. I too have never driven one, but several years ago I did have a go behind the wheel of a very nicely sorted Manta 2.0 GSi with a breathed-upon 2.2-litre. Very smile-inducing, and I imagine a 400 would easily be better still. Though the stock road engine was actually not all that impressive with a mere 144hp. You would clearly want a full rally spec setup…

  12. Dave Leadbetter

    Who doesn’t love a Fiat 131 Abarth in Alitalia colours? Good to see the RS1700T at the top of the article too.

    I didn’t go as I spent the day prepping my car for a rally that was subsequently cancelled due to the snow this week. If I’d known that was going to happen…


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