ViaRetro readers have recently been regaled with accounts of Claus Ebberfield’s visit to the Le Mans Classic – I have to say that this is now on my list of events to attend, since I’ve yet to go there. I have, however, been to the Silverstone Classic on four previous occasions, and went for a fifth time last weekend, going on both the Friday and the Saturday.
Silverstone has of course been the home of the British Grand Prix for most of the last seven decades, and still is, although there is some doubt about its future following the 2019 race.
The Silverstone Classic bills itself as the biggest classic car festival (adopts J. Clarkson tone) “in the world”. I have no idea if this is true or not, but it is huge, of that there is no doubt. Just a few statistics to impress – 100,000 total attendance over the weekend, 10,000+ classics at the event, 1,000+ race entries, etc etc. You get the picture.
It’s so big, that even spending 14 hours there over two days, it’s not possible to see and do everything. Besides the racing and the thousands of classic cars to look at, there are bikes, a fairground, food villages, scores of trade stalls, a major auction, live music through the day and evening – this year’s main acts being Soul II Soul and UB40, so no danger of me staying for that – stunt shows, aerobatics displays…and more. Something for pretty much everyone.
And yet, huge as all this sounds, let me give it a little context. A few weeks ago, the attendance at the British GP on race day alone was 140,000. So even on the busiest day of the weekend (Saturday), there’s still plenty of room to wander about, and along with my companions for the two days, I did plenty of that.
As it is, it remains, for me at least, a perfect classic weekend – plenty of racing to enjoy, as famous marques from our youth hurtle round the full Grand Prix circuit, paddocks to stroll through, and car parks overflowing with classics, most of them driven to the circuit by their enthusiast owners and parked up on their respective club stands.
My Zitrone was one of the over 10,000 classics attending the event. My petrolhead companions and I took our place on the BMW Car Club stand – one of over 120 club stands – both Friday and Saturday. It seems almost superfluous during this blazing hot summer to mention that both days were blessed with superb weather…
Each year, any number of anniversaries are celebrated at the Classic, and this year was no exception, as the circuit celebrated, among other landmarks, 70 years of Grand Prix racing, and 60 years since the first Tourist Trophy race. More directly relevant for me, however, was that this is also the 50thyear of the BMW 2002 model, and some of us lucky 02 owners were given a parade lap around the circuit on the Friday – my second in only two years. Yes, it’s fairly pedestrian, driving around in two long rows behind a safety car, maxing out at about 80 km/h, but somehow it still manages to thrill!
As per my usual practice at events like these, I spent a lot of time wandering around the car parks and the race paddocks and took a look at the on-track action every now and then.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s practically impossible to give a comprehensive detailed report on an event this big, so I will endeavour to give you my general impressions and a few selected highlights.
One thing I must mention – every event I attend, I of course have my phone camera, and a back-up camera. By Saturday 3pm, both had failed – not run out of charge, but failed, so I am grateful to my friend David Thackray for taking some additional photos for me on Saturday.
The article’s main picture and the above seven action pictures are courtesy of Silverstone Classic.
Friday at the Classic is easily the most relaxing day of the weekend. For a start, it’s a working day, so attendance and car numbers are around a third of Saturday’s, and there’s no racing, just qualifying, so it makes for a more leisurely day.
One of the things that I love about Silverstone (and in contrast to the Goodwood events) is its democratic nature. Access to the open spectator stands is at no extra cost, and there is universal access to the race paddocks, with no need to dress up. You can look at the cars up close, watch the mechanics work on these treasured racers and, if they’re around, chat with the drivers. I hope it never loses this.
One of the stars of the weekend first raced at Silverstone in the 1948 Grand Prix – the Talbot-Lago T26, which ran in the Pre ’66 GP event. Other extraordinary race cars in that event also included a stunning 1951 Maserati A6GCM, as well as numerous Lotuses and Coopers. And I’m just scratching the surface here.
In fact, virtually every race was overflowing with entries that left you dazzled – and occasionally, deafened, as the mechanics attending their cars worked on them, oblivious to the spectators milling around them. The two main paddock areas – the National and International – were filled with machinery that took the breath away.
To pick just a few – an utterly fabulous Porsche 904 GTS; the pencil-slim single-seaters of the late 1950s and 60s from Lotus, Lola, Cooper, Brabham; mighty Ford Galaxie 500’s and Mustangs that competed alongside Jaguar Mk II’s and Mini’s.
Then there were the Touring Car stars of the 1960’s and ‘70’s – the mighty Jaguar XJ12C and Rover V8’s, a whole bunch of Lotus Cortina’s and Mini’s, a couple of BMW 1800Ti’s… and who can forget the Volvo 850 Estate that caused such a stir back in 1994, driven (both then and this weekend) by Rick Rydell?
In the International Trophy for Classic GT Cars (Pre ’66), the standout car for me, among all the E-Types, Cobra’s, Porsche 911’s and more was the magnificent metallic blue Bizzarrini 5300GT. I’ve never seen one on the road, only ever at Silverstone. Such a wonderful car!
For those of us who think modern F1 cars are ugly (that’s me, by the way), there were the fabulous sights and sounds of the 1981 Williams FW07C, James Hunt’s 1975 Hesketh 308C, the Benetton-liveried Tyrell 012 and the gorgeous Ligier JS11 driven in 1979 by Jacques Lafitte.
Among the dazzling array of sports racers was a stunning black and yellow Ferrari 500 TRC, and a few garages away, another one, this time in dark red with a pale blue flash. An amazing Aston Martin DB3S was tucked away under an awning, and a few yards away, a Lister Jaguar. In every garage, around every corner, something special would be revealed.
There were cars driven in the past by famous names such as Jo Bonnier and Vic Elford, James Hunt of course, Stirling Moss, Maurice Trintignant, Jacques Lafitte, Carlos Reutemann, all now being kept on the race tracks by enthusiastic custodians. The track and paddocks were overflowing with history.
I’m really only scratching the surface of the surface here – hopefully the pictures will give you more idea of the glories that were on display around and about over the weekend.
There was still more to enjoy in the car parks. Silverstone always seems to attract huge support from the Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche clubs (and I see that the Ferrari Owners Club won best car club display), as well as significant numbers from Jaguar, Mercedes Benz and BMW. Many of these club cars were moderns, and therefore won’t be of significant interest to readers of ViaRETRO for another 15-20 years at least. Nevertheless, among the literally hundreds of Porsches, Ferrari’s and Astons were some real gems from yesteryear.
My lottery-winning choice of a 1972/3 911S 2.4 in bright and beautiful yellow (yes, I like yellow) was sitting in the Porsche Club GB section, just waiting for me to drive it away, though I was also very sorely tempted by the blue 1970 911S 2.2, not least because I was wearing a T-shirt to match… but they had rivals for my affections. An absolutely stunning Wedgwood Blue DB4 – the oldest DB4 in the UK – was a major highlight, as was the gorgeous metallic dark-green Maserati Mexico. In fact, the Maserati section, offered up another ultra-desirable – and practical – classic in the delectable shape of a 1968 Quattroporte series 1. Quite clearly, I need a much bigger garage… and bank account.
The Porsche section also featured a superb display of racing Boxsters, including one painted in homage to the famous 917 “Pink Pig”, complete with marked-out butcher’s cuts.
On the Ferrari pitch were three F40’s parked together, with a fourth alongside an Enzo. To be frank, I’m not particularly a fan of these cars, but they do make an undeniable impression. I much preferred the 365 GTC/4, parked on the other side of my favourite Ferrari, a Dino 246GT, which was sadly in one of its least flattering colours – a nondescript metallic medium green, so unflattering, I didn’t bother taking a picture.
The coveted inaugural Wawryk Trophy for Most Colourful line-up of Cars was closely contested between a group of BMW 2002’s, a section of the Club Lotus area, and the eight (out of only 90 or so built!) Piper GTT and P2’s – all were in superb period colours. Obviously, I’m biased, so the 2002’s won by a shade…
I recall the Piper from many years ago but can’t remember the last time I saw one. I had a chat with Andy Czakow, the Piper Cub Secretary; it seems that any number of parts and panels are available for these distinctive cars, combining Triumph Spitfire steering and front suspension, Ford 1600 Crossflow engines (though some early ones were built with Sprite, Imp or A-series engines) with other elements designed and built by Piper themselves. Windows are quirkily unopenable, so it gets very warm inside the car! The company, one of many specialist manufacturers in the UK during the 60’s and 70’s, was sadly forced to close in 1974, but to my eyes their cars still look great today.
Among other gems dotted around the circuit, away from the bigger clubs, were a couple of beautifully-presented Rochdale Olympics – one red, one blue. If our International Editor brings his recently acquired Olympic to the level of these two, he’ll deserve a medal!
A row of seven Citroen SMs were present – when did you last see so many in one place? And among other diamonds in the rough, a stunningly brilliant orange Ford Capri 3.0 Ghia Mk II, a pale blue Datsun Fairlady 1600 roadster, a red AC 3000ME, and a 1965 Chevrolet Monza Corvair Coupé.
One of the rarest, and certainly one of the most unusual cars there, was a 1978 Daimler PMG Rapport Forte Estate (to give it it’s full name). Based on a Daimler Double Six, this dramatic wedge in metallic green looked for all the world like a very fast hearse. I have a memory of seeing the Rapport name attached to some customised Range Rovers many years ago, and some basic internet research shows that there were very few of the Jaguar/Daimler conversions built by this California-based company. Among its most intriguing design features is the headlamp cover arrangement – the cover is the entire width of the bonnet and lifts up as a single hinged piece! Such a bold statement, and I liked it very much.
I could go on and on – as usual – but will limit myself to just a few more lines.
Among all the glamour and glitz and rarity were a few escapees from the Festival of the Unexceptional, including two Cavalier SRi hatchbacks (I had three of those as a company car during the 80’s), and a Triumph Acclaim (ditto). And yes, they did look out of place, but I’ll still include two pictures just to please ViaRETRO’s Dave…
The Silverstone Classic is a truly fantastic event – in fact, I’m sure I won’t let more than two years ever pass without attending. The only problem is that there’s just so much to enjoy that it becomes exhausting and I confess we ended up leaving on Saturday before the final races were concluded – my senses were overloaded and my skin was overheating.
After the traffic we encountered on the M40 on the return journey on Friday, we decided to take it easier on Saturday and enjoyed a leisurely drive through the countryside to home. A highly recommendable couple of days!