As I write this, I have the flu. As you read this, I probably still have the flu. Not just some sniffles. Actual proper flu. Actual proper man-flu, so bad I’m probably the genesis of a pandemic or something. All I want to do is fester in the house with my mouth slightly ajar, quietly emitting illness noises. Only something special would temp me out. Did I also mention it’s foggy? Actual proper fog. Like one of those pea-soupers that you see in black and white photographs of old London town; thick enough to give you flu in fact. Blearg. So, what’s worth getting out of bed for? I need medicine. Car medicine. A dose of Race Retro perhaps.
Race Retro has established itself as one of the landmark events in the show calendar. Based at the spacious Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire, the visitor can explore four halls of static displays and automobilia, listen to famous names recounting their stories on the Motor Sport Live Stage and shop for their next car at the Silverstone Auctions sale. If that isn’t enough, the arguable star attraction can be found outside with 120 historic rally cars sliding dramatically around the live demonstration rally stage. It’s worth dragging my infected carcass to, and this year a record crowd of over 24,000 other enthusiasts did the same. The morning fog delayed the start of the live stage, but in the meantime the sight and sound of Group A and B cars purposefully idling in the morning murk was highly atmospheric, and redolent of the parkland spectator stages of the Lombard RAC Rallies of old. Waiting for a change in weather, we headed indoors to investigate some of the 250 specialist exhibitors and trade stands.
It’s important to work methodically through the various halls, as although they are each laid out in a grid iron pattern, the approach to themes and organisation is more laissez-faire. This does bring a certain surprise and delight to proceedings and you can find the usual artwork and diecast stalls nestled up next to the club stands and race preparation companies showing the real thing. Following Tony Warwyk’s recent article on replica cars, it seems fitting to start with the Hawk Cars display. Hawk have always aimed to be a cut above the rest, and their 289 Series evokes the earliest iteration of the AC Cobra, more commonly recreated in the kit car market as the wide arched 427. Making use of MGB components, Jaguar independent rear suspension and a choice of small block V8s, if you’re going to have a replica you might as well make it a good one. Probably even more appealing to the Race Retro demographic were the two Lancia Stratos replicas on display. If you are in any doubt as to the accuracy of the Hawk product, just consider that their body panels have frequently been used to repair the real cars. It seems impossible to believe the Marcello Gandini’s original design is now closer to 50 years old than 40.
A few steps away we found something that is very much the real deal; the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus that Henri Toivonen and Paul White used to win the 1980 Lombard RAC Rally. Displayed by REIS Motorsport Insurance, the car is in beautiful condition and stands as a tribute to the young Finn who was one of rallying’s fastest rising stars. Apologies to the promotions girl I approached whilst full of flu, asking her if she wouldn’t mind kindly stepping outof the photograph rather than in…
A real favourite of mine was the Vauxhall Chevette HSR as used in period on Motoring News road rallies by the late Bill Gwynne. Originally a works DTV car for Jimmy McRae, Bill bought FER 687W for an attack on the MN championship, which at the time was so competitive that contemporary full-house works specification cars were the weapon of choice for a Saturday night in the lanes. An eventual ban on the particular form of creative timing that made the events possible interrupted play, but anyone who believes the most intense competition in the 70s and 80s was found on the stages needs to read up on their British rallying history. Keeping the Chevette company at Stoneleigh was an equally impressive ex-Russell Brookes Opel Manta 400 in Andrews Heat For Hire livery. Brookes battled against Jimmy McRae for the British Open Rally Championship, with McRae winning in 1984 and Brookes a year later. Both Manta equipped, the pair are largely responsible for embedding the cars into the psyche of the British fans, and to my eyes few rally cars have ever looked so good. The Manta was homologated early into Group B, but for an example of where the series ended up, take the mid-engined, be-winged, four-wheel drive Peugeot 205 T16. This example was built by Peugeot Sport UK for American driver Jon Woodner and is today owned by Kev Furber, a factory driver during the subsequent Group A era. The contrast between the Group B T16 and the Group A GTi could hardly be starker and the thought perfectly illustrates where world rallying found itself in January 1987.
Away from the mud and trees there was also enough to keep fans of roundy-roundy amused. It would have been easy to overlook the modest Van Diemen RF81 in the Motor Sport Hall of Fame display, but in 1981 a young Brazilian kart racer named Ayrton da Silva arrived at Ralph Firman’s workshop in Norfolk looking for a Formula Ford 1600 drive. Finishing fifth on his FF1600 debut, then winning at Brands Hatch two weeks later, he rapidly came to dominate claiming twelve wins, six other podiums and the 1981 championship title. Despite this startling debut he was set to return to Brazil at the end of the season and only stayed on after being offered an FF2000 drive for 1982. After adopting his mother’s maiden name, Ayrton Senna’s rapid ascent continued exponentially and by 1984 he had made his Formula One debut. It all started with this little yellow RF81, now shown in public for the first time since Firman restored it.
Also worthy of note is the Deep Sanderson 105 Twinny, displayed with the top of the body lifted high to expose the unique running gear. The car was created by Chris Lawrence in 1963, originally as a commission but becoming his own project when the backer lost interest. With a Downton tuned 1071cc A-Series at each end giving four-wheel drive traction, the Twinny was briefly trialled as a Formula Libre racer but quickly found a home on the drag strips. When Sydney Allard’s Festival of Speed and Sport attracted the stars of the American Top Fuel series over to the UK, the Twinny met with some unlikely success. Its superior traction meant it could pull ahead of the conventional cars when leaving the line. Not believing what they were seeing, the other drivers would reportedly get flustered and miss gears handing the advantage to the Twinny. Of course, outright horsepower would often eventually win through, but the Twinny is recorded to have twice beaten a Ferguson P99 four-wheel drive Grand Prix car during its brief drag racing career.
The Hall of Fame also played host to a number of legends throughout the weekend including Grand Prix driver John Watson and Touring Car racer John Fitzpatrick representing the circuit discipline, and Rauno Aaltonen and Rosemary Smith talking rallying. Aaltonen is most closely associated with works Mini Coopers and opened the live demonstration stage each day in an Abingdon car, but he started his career racing speedboats and motorcycles. A lifelong speed merchant he still provides consultancy to the motor industry and shows no signs of slowing down.
A further attraction at Stoneleigh is the autojumble though I’m always sceptical as to how much actually gets bought and sold. I’m convinced there’s a good chance most of the same stock has been in circulation for 40 years and it’s not getting any better with age. Autojumble punters have the same problem as those hunting for rare books; the internet has effectively eliminated the chances of finding anything truly under-priced, so unless you are hunting for a discontinued part you may as well buy new most of the time.
More positively though, the autojumble hall also housed the Pride of the Paddock display, an eclectic selection of competition cars from which visitors were invited to vote for their favourite. Taking honours here was Ian Medcalf’s potent little Fiat 500 Special Saloon hillclimb car. Special is the operative word as the car has a spaceframe chassis with a fibreglass body and is powered by a Swiftune 1380cc A-Series producing 141 bhp at 7,500 rpm. 0-60mph is reported to be dealt with in less than 4 seconds!
Back outside and with the fog cleared, the rally cars were permitted to run. Aaltonen’s Mini opened the stage, quickly followed by millennium era WRC machinery before the older cars were brought out to play. The organisers ensure variety so instead of wall to wall Escorts you’ll find more unusual cars such as theMercedes 190e 2.3 16v, Renault 5 Maxi Turbo and Chevrolet (Vauxhall) Firenza Cam-Am. Race Retro also offers visitors a chance to get involved and buy passenger rides on the parallel stage. At last year’s Race Retro, our very own International Editor managed to induce a bit of adrenalin to his life when he blagged a ride in Tony Worswick’s vicious Ferrari 308 GTB – enjoy the in-car footage here. Hopefully some might have had their interest piqued, as motorsport will only survive if new people continue to take the plunge and find out what’s on offer.
Just time to pop into the Silverstone Auctions sale to see what we could have won. Exceptional cars are still making good money but there are increasing signs that the market is becoming more choosy. A 1964 Porsche 356C historic rally car with excellent provenance and Tuthill service history exceeded estimate at £69,750. However, the Laranca Engineering prepared BMW NK 1800 racing car remained unsold, as did the very orange FIA specification Porsche 914-6. The BMW 502 V8, Ford Escort RS1600 Rally Car and Land Rover Series III 109 recovery truck all failed to find new homes, and were found probably unintentionally clustered together in the corner. Were the sellers’ expectations too high or did the right bidders simply fail to attend? Also failing to make the £30,000 estimate was the 1974 Olympic Blue Ford Escort RS2000 despite having benefitted from extensive restoration in 2011. Such figures have not been unknown for good RS2000s recently.
From those lots that did sell, the former concours winning Sierra Cosworth RS500 looked fair value at £42,750, virtually identical money to that made by the rare Auralis Blue Escort Cosworth Lux. A trio of Vauxhall Lotus Carltons were offered; the first one (not pictured) achieved £29,610 despite its 99k miles but the pair in our photograph represent an interesting market quirk. The 39k mile left hand drive Opel Omega variant made £36,563 whilst the 40k mile right hand drive Vauxhall failed to achieve its estimate of £65-75,000. That raises an interesting question of why a RHD Vauxhall should be valued at so much more than a seemingly very similar LHD Opel. Both Lotus Elan Sprints found new keepers within their estimate ranges; £45,000 for red and £32,000 for green, but the De Tomaso Longchamp Series 2 GTSE Spyder proved a niche too far. Star lots were the 1958 Porsche 356A Speedster selling for £292,000, the 1974 Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 MFI making £131,000 and the exceptionally pretty Ferrari Dino 246GT going for £270,000. Notably, all three sold within estimate with the 911 towards the lower end. For those Ferrari lickers with more modest funds, the extremely yellow single family ownership Mondial QV 3.0 was taken away for less than £30,000. At the bottom end of the scale, the wide arched BMW 2002 only commanded a smidge over £6,000, but it needed work and with ‘02s that’s never as simple as a quick rub over with a polishing cloth.
Race Retro isn’t a cure for the flu, but it’s a good distraction nonetheless. The mild weather encouraged record visitor numbers but the layout meant it didn’t feel overcrowded and Stoneleigh is significantly more civilised than the huge purpose-built exhibition venues. Most importantly, visitors got a chance to see many of the cars being used as intended. Competition cars weren’t made to sit around on carpet.