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You’ve already been spoilt for choice with our coverage from this year’s Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show. Tony showcased his favourite finds last week and we brought you some of our favourite images in our bonus gallery a few days ago. However we’ve still got time for a last look at some of the cars we haven’t yet covered, specifically some of the best historic race and rally cars at the show.

The event makes full use of the NEC’s facilities, with over 3000 classics lounging within seven halls. Part of the appeal of the layout is that you never know what you’ll find next and there is no single dedicated hall for competition cars. Instead, old race and rally machinery is scattered throughout and there were some real jewels to discover. In an attempt to bring some sort of order to proceedings I’ll start at the beginning, or at least close to it.

The Austin Seven was in many respects the very root of club motorsport. The Pre-War Austin Seven Club illustrated the case with a lovely lightweight racer, instantly recognisable as a Seven with an archetypal upright radiator and alloy bodywork. There is an argument that too many serviceable saloons have been converted into racers in recent years, but there is no doubting the raw appeal of such a car. Perhaps when I decide modern motorsport has become too mollycoddling I’ll get myself an Ulster replica or similar, and discover what real peril feels like.

A mere crank-throw away (which I could have measured accurately courtesy of the club’s component handling table) was a car whose origins in the Seven were less obvious. Firmly, if not elegantly, strapped to a turntable was a Wragg single seater. One of twelve such racers built by Alan Wragg of Blidworth, this was car number eight and based on a 1932 Austin Seven. The striking Wragg contained a mannequin representing 1930s Austin works driver Kay Petre, the slightly unnerving snow-white figurine scanning the hall with every rotation. I could see what the exhibitor was trying to achieve but perhaps I’m just not the shop dummy type, so I’ll focus on the fabulous car instead. Wragg number eight is powered by an Ulster type supercharged engine driving a close ratio four speed gearbox. The rear axle houses a standard ratio Austin Seven differential whilst the front axle is an articulated tube version as used by the works racing cars. All twelve of the Wragg cars are apparently accounted for, which is remarkable given that for many years there was little regard for obsolete racing cars before historic motorsport started to flourish. This one is still active in competition and the little car looks like a huge amount of fun.

Stepping into the 1950s my attention was drawn to a lovely Austin Healey 100/4 and its later Healey 3000 counterpart. The red 3000 is an ex-works car and winner of the 1961 Alpine Rally in the hands of the Morley brothers. Bought by Donald Morley at the end of the season it was later used as a track car but it was not extensively modified and still retains much of its originality. The history of many ex-works cars can be pretty murky but this Healey is well documented as the real deal. Another famous car was up for auction in the Silverstone sale; PKV374 is an ex-works Triumph TR2 with Le Mans pedigree. Triumph prepared three cars for the infamous 1955 race, an event that would be remembered for the devastating accident that took the lives of 84 spectators. The TR2 was not caught up in the tragic events and went on to complete the race, entering private hands immediately afterwards. It was campaigned for a number of years before the current owner bought it in 1972 and embarked on a restoration that would not see it re-emerge until 2000. The car actually returned to Le Mans in 2005 and 2006 for the one-hour Legends historic races. Having a large history file and impeccable provenance it was fair to assume the Triumph would command strong money, but the hammer eventually fell way above estimate at £258,750. The market may be slowing but such a unique car will always be in demand.

Moving onward I encountered the rarely seen 1964 Ginetta G8. The bright red car was Ginetta’s first attempt at a single seater and the Walklett brothers took a typically experimental approach to construction. Rather than taking a more conventional spaceframe approach to the chassis, the centre tub is actually a fibreglass monocoque formed of two mouldings bonded together with minimal steel reinforcement. The driver’s seat and fuel tank are integral, further simplifying the structure, with front and rear subframes bolted directly to the tub. Although Chris Meek managed an impressive 4th overall on the car’s Formula 3 debut, it was quite heavy compared to the competition and its production was labour intensive. Those two quite serious drawbacks meant it remained a one-off and the factory sold it on. After a hillclimb career it went into hibernation for nearly 45 years, only being sold again in 2018 and subsequently recommissioned. It’s great to see an interesting piece of Ginetta history back on public display.

Next up is the very low and very yellow 1966 Unipower GT. Based on BMC Mini running gear the Unipower GT was a short-lived foray into sports cars by the Universal Power Drives Ltd truck company. With a strong tubular chassis and low centre of gravity the Unipower GT stood just 40.5 inches tall (or should I say short), exactly the same height as the misnamed Ford GT40. A natural racer, the yellow car is the last surviving works car and it’s still engaged in active competition today. As you might expect from a car with Mini underpinnings the engine is a 1293cc A-Series from a Cooper S, in this case with 11.8:1 compression, twin Weber 45s and 118bhp. The rear bodywork was closed so its red road specification stand-mate illustrates the engine placement for you. In case you’re wondering about the marker lights on the roof, they were installed for identification purposes for the Barcelona 12 hours in 1969, just as you’ll find on any endurance cars.

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the 16,000 mile World Cup Rally of 1970 and a few surviving marathon cars were on show. The Austin 1800 pictured is actually a multiple marathon car having first been used on the 1968 London-Sydney. Originally a BMC works recce car for the 1968 Safari Rally, it was bought and prepared by Bob Eaves for a privateer attempt on London-Sydney, finishing in a creditable 36th place. A similar works specification 1800 driven by Paddy Hopkirk claimed 2nd place on the rally. I don’t mean “a creditable 36th place” to be damning with faint praise at all as the hardships of the marathons would be simply inconceivable today. The Landcrab was dusted off again for the 1970 World Cup, the route running from London to Mexico City. This time however, Eaves and his intrepid crew ended their rally up against a tree in Serbia, which at least saved them from a lengthy plunge down the hillside. Surprisingly the bent 1800 wasn’t scrapped but re-emerged in the late 1980s and was pressed into use as a rally car once again, the chosen events being a little less ambitious than during the marathon era. It still retains its marathon fittings such as wing mounted spot lamps and roof mounted spare wheels, and the dashboard has the expected complement of switches and gauges. It’s an interesting example of a highly underrated car.

Time now for a quick game of “Stratos or Hawk”. As my photo doesn’t show the registration plate you’ll only be guessing, so I’ll tell you that the Lancia Stratos is in fact a Hawk replica. With the two being pretty much indistinguishable you can’t get too upset about that. It’s hardly one of those embarrassing Ferrari-MR2 debacles is it? The Cox GTM on the other hand is a proud component car, looking great in period Car & Car Conversions Magazine livery. These early GTMs were particularly effective on tarmac but were never very common, and even less so today.

As my selection reaches the 1980s, we find the Group B rally cars. The SWB Audi Quattro is a particularly impressive example of the era, managing to be intimidating whilst just sitting there quietly. The cancellation of Group B was inevitable when you look back at sleep deprived drivers firing 500bhp missiles through seas of overexcited spectators. It was mad, bad and dangerous, but glorious. When the freedom of Group B was restricted in favour of the considerably more prescriptive rules of Group A, the sport took a step backwards in terms of spectator appeal but the cars became more relatable. Remarkably it only took until 1990 for Group A cars to achieve the same levels of performance as the cancelled category, but they were much safer for the crews and ultimately better for manufacturers’ marketing. At the lower end of the scale, the so-called showroom standard Group N cars provided a way for aspiring drivers to make their mark and the ex-Colin McRae Peugeot 309GTi was a good example. McRae isn’t generally associated with the 309GTi but the car is worthy of mention itself. At least it didn’t have an unnecessary cardboard cut-out of the late rally hero placed alongside, something that couldn’t be said about the Ford Focus WRC.

I’m always drawn towards competition cars and the Lancaster Insurance Classic Car Show served up some gems. I could end by nominating my favourite but every time I do that I change my mind only five minutes later. Whether your own preference is for race or rally, gravel or tarmac, I’m sure you’ll find something to catch your eye in our final gallery from this year’s show.

6 Responses

  1. Zack Stiling

    I really don’t know how to recommend the Austin Seven highly enough. Relatively slow speeds feel a lot faster with the brakes that have virtually no stopping power, and all the while there’s the crash ‘box and hand signals to be thinking about! Terrific fun! Although that’s based on my experience of a standard 1929 saloon, obviously a whole different experience from a modern racing special, some of which are made blisteringly fast.

    I would agree with the sentiment that good saloons should not be cut down to make specials like the above, but I would hope it’s not too prevalent as I think the VSCC takes a pretty dim view of it, too. I’ve a feeling – though I may be wrong – that the club doesn’t accept specials made from good saloons (historic cases obviously being exempt), and if you can’t get into the VSCC then there’s no point building the car because you’ll have very few opportunities to race it.

    That TR2 was the highlight of the NEC auction. Again, I could be wrong, but wasn’t the price a record for a Triumph car?

    What else? That Trans-Am-style Challenger is too cool, and I’m quite a fan of the little Riley One-Point-Five rally car!

    Reply
  2. Zack Stiling

    *Actually, the ‘Challenger’ that has Plymouth written on the side is probably a ‘Cuda…

    Reply
  3. Dave Leadbetter

    Everyone I have met in the VSCC has been absolutely barking mad in the best possible way. I think they will accept period replicas or bitsas, but only subject to the rules of course. An example of the chassis guidance is as follows:

    “Limited boxing and other minor modifications are allowed but if your ideas are
    extremely ingenious it would be advisable to get approval before going ahead.”

    That’s how to write regs :)

    I keep promising myself I’ll get something pre-war when I have more garage space… let’s see. A hillclimb or trials car would be fantastic but some of the commercials are supercool and really very good value. Good post-apocalypse transport I feel, distilling my own motor spirit and that sort of caper.

    Reply
  4. Dave Leadbetter

    *by “replicas” I mean original cars made into Ulster reps and such. Not kits cars, obvs.

    Reply
  5. yrhmblhst

    Well, Rally cars rule [except for the TransAm spec Cuda] but would I be banned for saying that the display of models from the World Cup rally is almost as ‘fun’ as the car? :)

    Reply
  6. Dave Leadbetter

    The line up of models is great isn’t it. I’ve recently been borrowing and reading many of the contemporary books about the Marathon era – mostly long out of print and rare copies, hence borrowing. In particular I can highly recommend “A Boot Full of Right Arms” by Evan Green and “Race Across the World” by John Smailes if you get the chance.

    It’s rapidly all passing out of living memory now with Keith Schellenberg and Andrew Cowan both departing last month. By all accounts, it was a different world and such events could simply never be sanctioned or run in the same manner now. It would be futile of me to try to sum it up in a short comment so I really do recommend any of the old marathon books to understand the scale of the achievements. Quite incredible.

    Reply

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