A salute to the King

There is a whisper that Richard Petty has decided to call time on his popular appearances at the Goodwood Festival of Speed after one last triumphant visit this year. At 81 years of age, it’s understandable that the man who has signed more autographs than anyone else in history should decide to throttle back a bit – but by gum he’ll be missed on this side of the Pond.

His rangy figure, diamond white smile and trademark moustache have aged well beneath the ever-present STP-branded sunglasses and Charlie 1 Horse hat. Thoughts of ‘King’ Richard abdicating the throne still seem rather abstract, and in an age when certain US – ahem – dignitaries have done their worst, he is a reminder of the very best that the American Dream has ever had to offer.

“We were living in a three-room house on a dirt road with no electricity, no telephone… you know, no communications,” the King remembered recently of his childhood in New Cross, North Carolina.

“You didn’t know that there was another world out there!  So you lived in your world and you was as happy as a June bug ‘cos you had as much as the guy next door… My mother and daddy, they were very stern, they had certain rules, you knew what the rules were and if you broke ‘em you got whopped!”

That daddy was of course the first real superstar of NASCAR racing: Lee Petty.  The family may not have had much as Richard and his brother Maurice grew up in New Cross, but his father’s gift with internal combustion brought home the bacon.

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During the prohibition era, nothing could help support a living scratched from the Carolina soil quite like running moonshine – at which Lee Petty’s tuning and driving skills put him in the top rank. As a side occupation, the bootleggers would race one another to see who had the fastest car, making serious money from the bets that were placed on these events.

After World War 2 the survivors of that generation of rowdy racers and tuners congregated under the NASCAR banner. They went at it on Daytona beach and other oval tracks across the south-east USA – and Lee Petty was one of the most successful drivers of his era, who backed up raw talent with a willingness to bend the fenders of his rivals in order to get ahead.

The elder Petty was a double champion and the most successful driver of NASCAR’s first decade. Meanwhile in 1956-57, you Richard took his first steps on the circuit… while brother Maurice learnt the dark arts of race tuning.

At the 1961 Daytona 500, the third running of the race on that mighty 2.5-mile banked oval, Richard Petty went over the Turn 1 barrier – fortunately without serious injury. His father, however, was pile-driven through the metal guardrail entering Turn 4 and suffered career-ending injuries. All emphasis went on the Petty boys’ careers, with father Lee presiding over the pit lane.

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The King ascends: the 1964 Plymouth and Richard Petty

It was a partnership that flourished as the motor manufacturers began to take an interest in NASCAR to promote their products. The Pettys received support from Plymouth, and the cars painted in their unique shade of blue were absolutely dominant. Young Richard won his first NASCAR Grand National title in 1964 with 9 victories, including his first Daytona 500 win, to earn an unprecedented $114,000 in winnings alone – that’s close to a million dollars in today’s money. You could do a lot of things in New Cross with a million dollars even today.

Petty’s success was attributed to the Hemi engine, which was immediately banned. Thus Petty went to compete in drag racing for 1965 in protest at NASCAR’s decision. Unfortunately, an accident resulted in the death of a six-year-old boy and the injury of several bystanders, but his successes continued despite the tragedy.

The Hemi was reinstated for NASCAR use in 1966 and a total of six more championship titles would be added between 1967 and 1979 – in a wide variety of makes and models. Whether he was in a Plymouth, Ford, Dodge, Oldsmobile, Chevrolet, Buick or Pontiac, the King could be spotted in a heartbeat thanks to the family’s distinctive ‘Petty Blue’ paint, together (from 1971), with the fluorescent red of oil company STP.

A final total of 200 race wins was reached in a fever-pitch afternoon at Daytona in July 1984, when the delayed Ronald Reagan arrived in Air Force 1 in the middle of the race, becoming the first sitting president to attend a NASCAR event. Of course he witnessed what would turn out to be the King’s final race victory.

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The King’s 200th and final win came, fittingly, at Daytona

The King remained firmly in the driving seat of his blue number 43 car until 1992. He wasn’t competitive but he remained the fans’ favourite. The compulsion to stay was understandable although it nearly claimed him several times – not least his wild crash at the 1988 Daytona 500. When he bowed out after 35 years in the cockpit, there was a celebration like few others.

It’s unlikely that anyone in stock car racing – or anywhere else in motor sport – will have a career as gilded as that of the King. Yet there was no guile to it all, as he once said: “I just tried to win every week and if the math worked out at the end they gave me a big trophy.”

Nobody can escape the occasional controversy in a career of 60-odd years and counting. Petty was instrumental in the banishment and shameful silence that surrounded the dying days of NASCAR wild child Tim Richmond in 1987-89, when he developed full-blown AIDS. The two men were worlds apart and Richmond, the free-wheeling rich kid from Ohio who would fly to New York for a haircut, raised the King’s hackles just for existing.

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Dale Earnhardt, the King and Tim Richmond on the infield

Like all too many in the NASCAR firmament, the King wasn’t short of disparagement for Danica Patrick, either.

This latter point has some resonance at the S&G, where Danica was considered a friend during her early days in Britain and her pace, determination and willingness to bat prevailing sexism to the boundary were staggering. To the men of NASCAR, when one driver hits another on the rear quarter panel to put them in the wall, it’s considered an act of war. Fists fly and a race or two later the compliment is returned… but when it happened to Danica – and getting hit was the cause of most of her (admittedly many) NASCAR accidents – she was branded an ‘idiot’ every time.

When a woman driver eventually follows Danica’s lead and pushes on to Victory Lane, it will doubtless genuinely stun a man raised in the Bible Belt of the 1930s. Yet the King, to his enduring credit, is no caricatured Confederate. The family of NASCAR’s first black driver, Wendell Scott, remember that he would often find tyres, tools and even engines in his pit that had ‘accidentally’ been left there by the number 43 crew in what was otherwise a pretty unfriendly environment.

Today, Bubba Wallace is the first black driver with a full-time seat in NASCAR for more than a decade. He drives Richard Petty’s number 43.

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The King and Bubba Wallace have revived the number 43’s fortunes in 2018

Not since Petty’s last great run of success in the 1970s has the number 43 been such a hot property, with a hugely popular driver taking results like second place in this year’s Daytona 500. After decades in the wilderness, Petty has regrouped and his business appears to be thriving once again – thus there’s an air of contentment and completion about the King which is richly deserved.

Since 2006 he has been part of the Festival of Speed experience. Initially he was slightly taken aback by the fervour that the Brits met him with, and put his popularity down to being the only guy in a cowboy hat at Lord March’s garden party.

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Every time a different one of the treasures from his museum at The Petty Garage in New Cross has been fettled, primed and sent up the hill – although this year the King handed over driving duties, giving even more time for selfies and autographs. Goodwood will be all the poorer for his absence in future, but the S&G wishes the King many more good years, grateful that there is still a star of the 1950s who is still active in the sport to this day.

As testament to this remarkable man, here are some other lesser-known facts about Richard Petty:

  • The outfit worn by Burt Reynolds in Smokey & The Bandit was designed around the kind of off-duty threads worn by the King in the mid-Seventies – who is also namechecked in the script. He’s still not averse to busting out a red shirt, either…

 

  • Petty always refused sponsorship from alcohol brands, and never claimed cash awards that were sponsored by them, in deference to his mother’s wishes
  • He raced with a broken neck. More than once.
  • He’s signed in excess of 2 million autographs – having developed his bold, looping script for that purpose. In 2017, the King said: “Right early I looked in the deal and we had no sponsors at that time, and the purse didn’t come from the promoter; it came from the people sitting in the grandstand. So I said: OK, I’m gonna sign this, but when they get home I want them to be able to read who said ‘thank you’. Those are the people that put me in business and the reason why all (the media and sponsors) are here. If it wasn’t for the fans you’d probably have to go to work for a living!”
  • Of his 200 wins, 30 were on dirt tracks before NASCAR got all fancy and only raced on asphalt
  • He raced 307,836 laps on his way to those 200 wins, with 555 top-five finishes, 712 top-10 results and 123 pole positions
  • At Texas in 2017 a caution was thrown when a stetson blew onto the track. From the 43 car run by Richard Petty Motorsports, driver Bubba Wallace cheekily radioed his pit to ask if the King needed assistance. His spotter immediately replied that there were two things Richard Petty didn’t lose often: races and hats
  • Richard Petty and his wife Lynda provided the voices for the blue number 43 Plymouth Superbird and matching blue 1975 Chrysler Town & Country Station Wagon in the Disney/Pixar movie Cars
  • In 1967 he won 27 out of 48 races entered
  • He refuses to have any painkillers at the dentist as a reminder to take better care of his teeth
  • He is a walking quote machine, with such lines as: ‘When was the first automobile race? The day they built the second automobile,’ and ‘I don’t know how many laps I led, all I know is that I led the last one 200 times.’
  • He refers to people as ‘cats’ and habitually bids farewell with a shaka or ‘hang loose’ hand sign
  • His first top-10 finish in NASCAR was recorded on July 26, 1958 and his last was 33 years and 16 days later

Ladies and gentlemen: the King!

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A white and silver anniversary

Everyone loves an anniversary. And a landmark achievement. F1 people are usually rather good at this sort of thing, as all the sponsors love a bit of Victoria Sponge cake with their logos on it and there are any number of websites that will run a photo.

If you’re lucky a crew from Sky F1 will come over and film each other dribbling jam on their shirts and doing emotive pieces to camera about your heritage. All the fun of the fair.

This year, Monaco has become Finland-on-Sea at Grand Prix time: the 1982 world champion Keke Rosberg being shoehorned back into his title-winning Williams FW08 with his 2016 world championship-winning son Nico (officially German but…), rolling out alongside him in his victorious Mercedes.

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The Rosbergs, père et fils (Dickie Stanford)

Meanwhile Finn du jour Valtteri Bottas has chosen to wear a replica Mika Häkkinen crash helmet, to mark something or other we expect.

Perhaps this is all a bid by Formula 1’s new American owners to pave the way for a highly lucrative Finnish Grand Prix deal. That would be a popular move, if rather hard going on the kidneys.

Yet some anniversaries really are special. Last year, Ferrari marked 70 years as a constructor of racing cars – and perhaps more importantly as a constructor of the myths about racing cars. Here at the S&G we shall be cutting the cake next year on the 90th anniversary of Scuderia Ferrari’s founding, but there were some nice moments in 2017 too.

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One anniversary appears to have happened without great celebration, however. It seems remarkable in this day and age that anything in motor sport can happen without a plinth being erected outside Lord March’s conservatory, a tribute crash helmet design or a commemorative piece of regalia – but here it is: in Spain, Mercedes achieved 110 race wins for its Grand Prix cars in 110 years of competition.

Now, S&G regulars will of course remember that Mercedes took itself away from Grand Prix racing as a constructor for 55 years on account of the Le Mans disaster, so it can hardly be called a continuous history in Grand Prix racing. Its attendance was also a bit patchy in the 1920-30s on account of many things (not least Germany’s international standing after World War 1), and was similarly banned after World War 2 until the 1951 season.

But take all of that aside – 110 years is a thumping period across which to have been winning Grands Prix. And an average of one per year for more than a century is a good story… two per year if you discount 1955-2010… and roughly three per year across the 40 season of Grand Prix racing that have actually been undertaken by Mercedes.

No mean feat.

Surely Monaco, the blue riband race of the year, should be playing host to the great snorting white beasts from the rough-hewn roads of Dieppe and Lyon, Caracciola’s SSK and the awe-inspiring Silver Arrows of the Thirties? Mika Häkkinen should be there in person, wearing his own helmet and tramping round in Fangio’s W196 (and complaining about its brakes again), rather than a bunch of beloved Scandiwegians.

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Why so shy? What have the patisseries of the Côte d’Azur done to deserve such a massive loss of potential earnings for silver-iced tartes tatin? What is going on here?

Perhaps Mercedes is fighting shy of claiming the 1937 AVUS-Rennen as a win for its Grand Prix cars because it is where they were dressed in extraordinary all-enveloping bodywork and hit more than 220mph. Perhaps victories like the Eifelrennen, Coppa Acerbo and Coppa Ciano are omitted from the total because, while they were for Grand Prix cars, they weren’t actual Grands Prix.

If that’s the case, then Mercedes has at least bought itself some time to actually put an anniversary party together. They are unlikely to win in Monaco but Canada is Lewis Hamilton’s fiefdom and that means – oh yes! – next up is France. So if Mercedes drops the mad 1937 race from its tally, it can claim 110 wins in 110 years in time for its return to the nation where it all began: France.

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Now wouldn’t that be an idea?

America and the V8: a love story (from France)

Here’s an interesting little meander through time that takes us through the greater part of the past century – from the air war over the Western Front to Texan boogie rock.

In the 1900s, the design and development of internal combustion engines became a French speciality and in their bid to increase reliability and profitability the Monobloc engine was created. Effectively this meant that far fewer individual components were needed if the the cylinder block, cylinder head and crankcase were all forged as a single item.

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An early Monobloc design

Available as early as 1905 from manufacturers such as De Dion Bouton, the Monobloc truly came of age in the hands of Swiss designer Marc Birkigt, whose Hispano-Suiza V8 was lighter and more powerful than any other aero engine in the Allied arsenal… becoming effectively the Rolls-Royce Merlin of World War 1.

The Hispano-Suiza first found fame in the SPAD S.VII in which Capitaine Georges Guynemer briefly became the most successful Allied air ‘ace’ of the war, then became the power plant for Britain’s S.E.5 – arguably the greatest fighter design of the war. When the Americans arrived, they opted for the later SPAD S.XIII as their front-line fighter and in these machines were written the legends of Eddie Rickenbacker, Frank Luke and Raoul Lufbery, among others.

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Eddie Rickenbacker’s patriotic SPAD – beautifully captured by Jim Dietz

As with all Monoblocs, even the Hispano-Suizas encountered some problems along the way. Primarily this was down to the outsourced manufacturing quality of components rather than the fundamental engine design – although most failures would serve to highlight any inherent weakness around the gasket and exhaust.

Nevertheless, the sophistication and power of the V8, together with the enthusiasm for ‘ace’ pilots in SPADs, set America thinking. If it could use its industrial might to iron out any kinks, then V8 power could become central to postwar living.

The most effective solution to the Monobloc‘s problems was to adopt side-valve design, reducing the stresses on the weakest links in the chain. It was with the side-valve ‘Flathead V-8’ engine that Ford Motor Company took the motoring world by storm between the wars.

Having established the mass production of motor cars with the Model T of 1908, Ford was content to rest on its laurels for 18 years until the advances in engineering that emerged from World War 1 finally caught up with the old ‘Tin Lizzie’.

Ford’s belated response was the Model A, which was barely less Spartan in its simplicity than the Model T but was packaged far more elegantly and, unlike its predecessor, featured controls in the same layout as most other mass-market cars.

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The Model A Ford brought modern motoring to the masses

The Model A was a success, averaging almost a million sales per year, but the car buying market was growing ever-more sophisticated and demanding. Rivals such as General Motors were keen to offer an ever-increasing range of options based as much upon personalisation and comfort as they were to efficiency, while in Europe levels of style and sophistication were reaching their zenith.

Ford decided to try and outdo both.

The result was really only a single solution that went under many names, but for the sake of brevity it shall be called the 1932 Model B. As many major components as possible were carried over from the Model A but alongside the traditional 4-cylinder engine but alongside it in the showrooms was something rather special: a Monobloc V8 called the Model 18.

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Ford’s version of the Monobloc V-8: the side-valve ‘Flathead V-8’

This was a Model B fitted with what Ford called its ‘Flathead V-8’. At a stroke, the Blue Oval could offer a smoother-running, more powerful engine for just $10 more than the standard 4-cylinder model. In total the Model B was also available with an array of 14 body styles, from standard sedans through roadsters, coupés, woodies and trucks… the very model of platform-sharing diversity.

The Model B and Ford’s Flathead V-8 became motoring icons overnight – and remained that way for decades. They were cheap to buy, relatively cheap to maintain and sold at a rate in excess of 300,000 units per year.

In 1933 the Model B was reworked again. As Ford’s motor won a following, so the car that it belonged to was given a longer wheelbase, a radiator grille shaped like a medieval knight’s shield and smoothed out styling on the inside and out. The Flathead V-8 was also tweaked; gaining better ignition to boost power. This would become the Model C, with the Flathead V-8 version being named the Model 40.

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The 1933 Ford put a stylish face on a wide array of bodies

 

The V8 took hold among all American automobile manufacturers thereafter, but thanks to its low cost and endless variety of cars, Ford produced arguably the greatest icon of American motoring between the wars.

Not only that, but there were now European Ford V8s being built in England and Germany, led by the Ford V-8 Pilot. It was a boon to moonshine runners during prohibition, and in this era of Jimmy Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, the whole world fell under the spell of these smooth American engines.

During World War 2, V12s were the weapon of choice in the air but in the late 1940s, Ford’s faithful Flathead V-8 was still a mainstay of post-war motoring. It became the focus of a cottage industry of tuners and tweaks – either those who wanted to race on the drag strip and stock car circuit or continue to keep one step ahead of the law.

The birth of the hot rod movement and the NASCAR stock car racing series ensured that Flathead V-8s remained at the forefront. Kids bought them, stripped them, tuned them and had a whale of a time in their Little Deuce Coupes and a whole host of other variations on the theme.

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The Beach Boys had their ’32 Ford – the Little Deuce Coupe

But then in the mid-Fifties, General Motors went and moved the goalposts with its ‘small block’ V8. This was a relatively fuel-efficient 90-degree V8 with overhead valves and pushrod valve train that would set new standards for light weight, compact size, general simplicity and remarkable durability.

After 40 years, the V8 Monobloc was history.

Chevrolet’s V8 became – and largely remains – the weapon of choice for America’s hot rodders and racers, who called it the Mighty Mouse for its ability to punch above its weight in the tuning shop – and colloquially the Mouse ever after. And among the legions of fans that the Mouse has won over the years was a man called Billy Gibbons, who is also among the world’s finest blues guitarists and one third of the boogie-rock band ZZ Top.

In 1976, Gibbons went to Don Thelen of Buffalo Motor Cars and Ronnie Jones of Hand Crafted Metal. The guitarist wanted to create the ultimate hot rod with the iconic looks of the 1933 Ford Model C and the refined power of a small block Chevy. It would take seven years to realise that dream – and the result was the legendary ZZ Top Eliminator.

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Billy Gibbons (centre), with Frank Beard (thank you Matthew Carter!) and Dusty Hill – ZZ Top

While the car was being completed, Gibbons just happened to be in the process of turning ZZ Top’s brand of gnarly Texan blues-rock into a powerhouse of radio-friendly unit shifters. ZZ Top created an album that was to become as much a part of the Eighties cultural experience as Tom Cruise, big hair and shoulder pads… and it too was called Eliminator.

The completed car became the basis for the album’s artwork. It also starred in all of the videos for the hit singles that it spawned – Gimme All Your Lovin, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs. In fact the car provided the story in all the videos, in which young men were rescued from Cinderella-style drudgery by a bevy of beautiful women, who scooped them up and carried them off in the Eliminator to a world of good times, cheap sunglasses and bearded blues-rock.

Nice!

Now, there are few elements of the American Dream that are as instantly recognisable as the burble of a V8 engine. It’s a 90-year love affair that shows no sign of slowing down, for all the Elon Musks of the world. So just remember, next time you see a Hot Rod or watch a NASCAR race – or when your favourite TV cop arrives at a crime scene in a jet black Escalade – it’s as all-American as escargots de Bourgogne, fine champagne and fresh fougasse. Indeed, as all-American as the Statue of Liberty itself.

Vive les États-Unis d’Amérique!

56th Daytona 500

Sir Stirling’s stepping back

Sir Stirling Moss is stepping back from the many and varied roles at which he has worked tirelessly over the years, be that an insouciant F1 pundit or ever-popular presence in the paddocks of the world’s great historic race meetings. His homepage now carries a message from Stirling’s son, and at the S&G we can only wish this fabulous knight and Lady Susie, their family and many friends the longest and most enjoyable days to come.

It is no great presumption to say that the scribes and regulars here at the S&G are numbered among those millions around the world united in admiration both for all that Sir Stirling achieved in his youth and all that he has brought us ever since.

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Meeting real heroes does not often happen – if it happens, make sure that you’re wearing trousers. S&G.

Thank you, Sir Stirling, for being a hero par excellence. This is the statement from stirlingmoss.com

To all of his many friends and fans around the world, who use this website for regular updates, my father would like to announce that he will be closing it down. 

Following his severe infections at the end of 2016 and his subsequent slow and arduous recovery, the decision has been made that, at the age of 88, the indefatigable man will finally retire, so that he and my mother can have some much deserved rest and spend more time with each other and the rest of the family.

The entire and extended Moss clan thank everyone for all their love and support over the years and we wish you all a happy and prosperous 2018.

A brief history of British motor sport: Part 3: 1945-1953

Welcome to 2018 and to the continuation of this little series of features on British achievements on two, three and four wheels. Or more. It’s not definitive by any stretch, but intended to prod the collective consciousness of what British engineers, teams, drivers and riders could do on their day – and may yet continue to.

As per Martin Field’s request, it is de-Schama’d and written in the past tense. For some reason this makes it rather harder to write – so there’s a secret of Simon Schama’s success revealed for you right there.

How much further this record will go on is not yet clear. The cut-off of the S&G is 1961 but perhaps for the sake of context we’ll go onwards, although the last 20 years makes for pretty depressing reading all things considered. Still, on we go into that period when British engineering was at its pinnacle, fuelled  by the necessity of war and honed through the absence of funding or raw materials in the age of austerity that came with peace. Let’s have a little look-see, shall we?

1945: 

  • British intelligence worker Cameron Earl investigated the pre-war German Grand Prix teams to mine them and their staff for information to help establish British supremacy in international motor racing. His findings were published in 1946 and used as a guide by many aspiring British designers.
  • The British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) established a fund to support renovation of the circuit and facilities at Le Mans damaged by Allied bombing in WW2.
  • English Racing Automobiles (ERA) evolved into British Racing Motors (BRM), revealing plans to build a supercharged 1.5-litre V16 car and run it along the lines of the great pre-war German teams.

 

1946:  

  • The 500 Club was formed for 500cc motorcycle-engined racing cars, eventually becoming known as Formula 3.
  • Hersham and Walton Motors (HWM) became a racing car constructor with George Abecassis and John Heath building a sports car on the foundations of a pre-war Alta.
  • Val des Terres hillclimb in Guernsey held its first event.
  • The wartime Boreham Airfield in Essex became racing venue.
  • Jaguar revealed the all-alloy XK120 road car, with very obvious potential for turning it into a potent racing car.

 

1947:  

  • The former RAF training airfield at Silverstone was selected as the new permanent home of British motor racing by the BRDC and RAC.
  • What remained of Aston Martin, which had been turned over to manufacturing aircraft components in World War 2, was bought by tractor manufacturer David Brown.
  • John Cobb raised the Land Speed Record to 394.196 mph in his pre-war Railton Special, with funding from Mobil. This record stands as the fastest achieved by an internal combustion engine and wheel-driven car.
  • Harold Daniell won the Senior TT on its first running after World War 2, riding a Norton. Bob Foster won the Junior race for Velocette.
  • Fergus Anderson won the first European Motorcycle Championship title for Britain after the war, taking 350cc honours for Velocette.
  • Stirling Moss won the Junior Car Club Rally in a BMW 328.
  • The Brooklands Automobile Racing Club and the Junior Car Club amalgamated as the British Automobile Racing Club (BARC). The new body relocated to new headquarters at the former RAF Westhampnett airfield on the grounds of the Duke of Richmond & Gordon’s estate at Goodwood.
  • The Darlington & District Motor Club started holding races on sections of RAF Croft airfield.
  • Former Napier racing engineer and Brooklands regular Charles Cooper, together with his son John, who worked on special engineering projects such as mini-submarines in WW2, formed the Cooper Car Company in Surbiton, after building a series of lightweight rear-engined racing cars using 500cc JAP motorcycle engines and Fiat Topolino sub-frames.
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In 1952 the Coopers revealed a streamlined car styled after the pre-war Auto Unions

1948:  

  • Silverstone hosted its first RAC Grand Prix to the newly-renamed Formula 1 regulations for 4.5-litre unsupercharged or 1.5-litre supercharged cars, organised by Colonel Barnes and Jimmy Brown. The circuit layout saw the perimeter track and runways in use, the cars turning infield at Copse up to a sharp hairpin before re-joining the perimeter at Maggots, then turning infield at Stowe and charging up the runway before another tight hairpin pointed them back towards Club. The race was won by Luigi Villoresi in a works-supported Maserati, with team mate Alberto Ascari 14 seconds behind. Bob Gerard’s ERA came third.
  • Ian Appleyard and Dick Weatherhead won the Rallye des Alpes in an SS100 Jaguar.
  • Artie Bell won the Senior TT for Norton, Freddie Frith winning the Junior TT.
  • Freddie Frith won the 350cc European Motorcycle Championship for Velocette while another British rider, Maurice Cann, won the 250cc title for Italian manufacturer Moto Guzzi.
  • Goodwood Circuit opened with its first meeting organised by the BARC.
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The first Silverstone grand prix layout

1949:  

  • Silverstone hosted its second Formula 1 race on a revised circuit using only the perimeter road except a chicane running on to the runway at Club corner. It was the first British Grand Prix, so named after the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) granted the RAC’s race Grande Épreuve status: equal with that of the French and Italian races as the most prestigious events of their kind. It was won by Baron ‘Toulo’ de Graffenried in a Maserati. Raymond Mays demonstrated the BRM V16, built and operated along the guidelines from Cameron Earl’s study of the pre-war German teams.
  • Goodwood hosted its first Formula 1 race, the Glover Trophy, won by Reg Parnell in a Maserati.
  • British industrialist Tony Vandervell, producer of ‘thin wall’ bearings and an early investor in BRM, began to grow wary of the ambitious V16 project’s potential and negotiated with one of his customers, Enzo Ferrari, for the purchase of one of the Italian’s Formula 1 racing cars. The car was painted green and renamed the ‘Thin Wall Special’ for use in Formula Libre races and occasional grand prix outings.
  • Britain’s Board of Trade unsuccessfully attempted to block the import of foreign racing cars. Tony Vandervell argued that a supercharged Ferrari was required as a development mule for improved engine bearings for the British motor industry. A compromise suggested by the BoT was that the car should only be in the country for a maximum of 12 months and only used for testing work rather than competition. Vandervell then offered the customs duty and tax that was levied on the car’s purchase price for the government to shut up and go away – which worked! It also set a precedent that ensured very few aspiring racers could afford to import their cars and would have to rely on home-built machinery.
  • Motorcycle racing commenced at Mallory Park.
  • Lord Selsdon entered a Ferrari 166 MM into the Le Mans 24 Hours, which claimed victory having been driven for almost the entire duration of the race by Luigi Chinetti. An HRG won the 1.5-litre class driven by Eric Thompson and Jack Fairman.
  • Ken Wharton and Joy Cooke won the Tulip Rally in a Ford Anglia.
  • Donald Healey and Ian Appleyard won the 3000cc class of the Rallye des Alpes in a Healey Silverstone. Betty Haig won the Coupe des Dames in an MG TC.
  • Harold Daniell became the first rider to win Isle of Man TT races before and after the war, claiming the Senior TT event for Norton, while the Junior TT fell to Freddie Frith for the second year running.
  • Les Graham won the inaugural 500cc World Motorcycle Championship for AJS, while Freddie Frith won the inaugural 350cc World Motorcycle Championship with five wins in five races with Velocette. Ian Oliver and Denis Jenkinson claimed the Sidecar title for Norton.
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The Jaguar XK120 won rallies and races with alacrity

1950:  

  • Silverstone hosted the 11th Grand Prix d’Europe, the first ever points-scoring round of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. The occasion was attended by HRH King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and the two royal princesses with all pomp and the band of the grenadier guards in attendance. The race was won by Dr. Giuseppe Farina’s Alfa Romeo.
  • BRM made long-overdue debut at Silverstone, although the mighty V16 cars did not shine. Only one car was in a fit state to take the start, driven by Raymond Sommer, but it shattered a driveshaft on the startline and pennies were thrown by the booing crowd as it was wheeled off.
  • Autosport magazine was founded by Gregor Grant and John Bolster, supplementing the monthly output of Motor Sport.
  • Ian and Pat Appleyard won the Rallye des Alpes in their Jaguar XK120.
  • Stirling Moss won the Daily Express 1,000-Mile Rally of Great Britain in an Aston Martin DB2.
  • Sydney Allard won the 8-litre class and finished third overall at the Le Mans 24 Hours, sharing the car with American driver Tom Cole. Aston Martin finished first and second in the 3-litre class, with the Jowett Jupiter of Tommy Wisdom and Tommy Wise beating the MG TC of George Philipps and Eric Winterottom to the 1.5-litre class.
  • HWM built a new Formula 2 car with the pre-war Alta engine, performing well.
  • After strenuous lobbying, Brands Hatch owner Joe Francis was convinced to lay a permanent asphalt surface at Brands Hatch for 500cc motor racing.
  • The second Glover Trophy race for Formula 1 cars at Goodwood was won by Reg Parnell again, in his Maserati.
  • Motor racing spread westward when motorcycle racing began on the runways of Thruxton airfield and on the perimeter road of RAF Castle Combe.
  • Jaguar revealed a highly-evolved racing model of its celebrated sports car, the XK120-C, better known as the ‘C-Type’.
  • Rising 500cc racing star Stirling Moss announced his presence on the international stage with a sensational drive to victory in the revived RAC Tourist Trophy at Dundrod in a Jaguar XK120.
  • Newly-promoted Clubman rider Geoff Duke stunned the motorcycling establishment by winning the Isle of Man TT Senior race for Norton using the new ‘Featherbed’ frame.
  • Ken Wharton won the Tulip Rally in a Ford V8 Pilot, with J. Graham Reece winning Class 2 in a Ford Anglia and Joy Cooke claiming the Coupe des Dames in another Ford V8 Pilot. Wharton also won the Lisbon International Rally.
  • Italian manufacturers dominated most classes of the World Motorcycle Championship but Bob Foster maintained Velocette’s unbroken run in the 350cc class, while Ian Oliver retained the Sidecar title for Norton with Italy’s Lorenzo Dobelli alongside him.

 

1951: 

  • Silverstone hosted the third British Grand Prix, ending with Scuderia Ferrari’s first world championship Formula 1 win, taken by Argentine driver José Froilán Gonzáles in a Ferrari 375. The BRM finished fifth.
  • Jaguar won the Le Mans 24 Hours, with Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead sharing a Jaguar C-Type. They became the first British drivers in a British car to win since Johnny Hindmarsh and Luis Fontès in their Lagonda in 1935. In a brilliant weekend for Britain, Aston Martin won the 3-litre class and a Jowett Jupiter took the 1.5-litre class win.
  • Stirling Moss won his second RAC Tourist Trophy, this time at the wheel of a works Jaguar C-Type.
  • Ian and Pat Appleyard won the Tulip Rally in their Jaguar XK120.
  • The RAC Rally was revived as a 1000-mile run to Bournemouth from various starting points across the UK. An award for ‘Best Performance’ was made rather than declaring a win, and it was handed to Ian and Pat Appleyard in their Jaguar XK120.
  • Geoff Duke and Norton dominated the World Motorcycle Championship, claiming both the 350cc and 500cc titles, winning both the Senior and Junior TT on the way. Ian Oliver won his third straight Sidecar world championship for Norton, with Lorenzo Dobelli riding beside him.
  • Frazer Nash became the first British manufacturer to win the Targa Florio, with a car driven by Franco Cortese.
  • Aston Martin employed pre-war Auto Union technical chief Robert Eberan von Eberhorst to redesign its sports cars, resulting in the DB3.

 

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Jaguar won its first Le Mans 24 Hours in 1951, 16 years after the last British triumph

1952:

  • The BRDC took over the lease of Silverstone Circuit.
  • Goodwood became the first circuit in Britain to race at night, like Le Mans, with the inaugural Nine Hour race for sports cars. Floodlights were put in place to illuminate the grandstands and pits, the kerbs were given a coat of luminous paint, a beer tent was erected (although due to post-war licensing laws it had to stop serving before the race ended) and sponsorship came from theNews of the World. The event was not well attended by the public, for whom nine hours was simply too long, but it was won by Aston Martin’s works team after the Jaguars faltered.
  • Lotus cars was founded by engineers Colin Chapman, Colin Dare and investors Michael and Nigel Allen, opening a factory in Hornsey, North London.
  • Sydney Allard won the Monte Carlo Rally in his self-built car, with Stirling Moss finishing second in a Sunbeam shared with Desmond Scannell and John Cooper.
  • Leslie Johnson and Tommy Wisdom won the 5-litre class and finished third overall at Le Mans in a Nash-Healey in the Le Mans 24 Hours, with a Jowett Jupiter again winning the 1.5-litre class.
  • Godfrey Imhof and Betty Frayling won the RAC Rally in a Cadillac-powered Allard.
  • Ken Wharton won the Tulip Rally in a Ford Consul.
  • John Cobb was killed attempting to beat the Water Speed Record on Loch Ness in his jet-powered boat Crusader.
  • Maurice Gatsonides won the Alpine Rally overall in a Jaguar XK120, with George Murray Frame winning the up-to-3-litre class in a Sunbeam.
  • P. Denham-Cookes won the Scottish Rally in a Jaguar XK120.
  • The British Grand Prix at Silverstone was won by Alberto Ascari in his first dominant world championship season to Formula 2 regulations, driving a works Ferrari 500 F2. He finished a lap clear of team mate Piero Taruffi, who was a further lap clear of Mike Hawthorn’s Cooper-Bristol in third.
  • A Jaguar XK120 won the Liège-Rome-Liège Marathon de la Route in the hands of Jean Heurtaux and Marceau Crespin
  • Former spy Cameron Earl died after crashing ERA R14B on a test run at the Motor Industry Research Association track (MIRA) in Warwickshire.
  • HWM closed its Formula 2 team.
  • Scuderia Ferrari attended the Easter meeting at Goodwood, where British youngster Mike Hawthorn challenged the mighty Italians in a home-prepared Cooper.
  • Stirling Moss made his Grand Prix debut.
  • Charterhall Circuit opened on another ex-RAF airfield in Berwickshire.
  • Geoff Duke was beaten to the 500cc motorcycle world championship but retained honours for Norton in the 350cc category, while Cyril Smith triumphed for Norton in the sidecar class, joined by both Bob Clements and Les Nutt in the sidecar on points-scoring rounds.

 

1953:

  • Maurice Gatsonides and Peter Worledge won the Monte Carlo Rally in a Ford Zephyr.
  • Scuderia Ferrari signed Mike Hawthorn to drive for the team in Formula 1 and sports car races. At his first Grand Prix for the team, in Argentina, the Englishman was honoured with a bright green paint job. In arguably his greatest race, Hawthorn beat Juan Manuel Fangio in ‘the race of the century’: the fraught French Grand Prix at Reims, in which they passed one another several times per lap all the way to the flag.
  • Aston Martin won the second Goodwood Nine Hours. Without the same level of off-track excitement as could be found at Le Mans, the News of the World had abandoned its sponsorship and it was sparsely attended.
  • Petrol rationing ended in Europe and branded fuels went on sale again, leading to massive investment in motor racing. Shell launched its first ‘premium’ fuel since 1939, promoting it through racing success with Scuderia Ferrari.
  • Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt won the Le Mans 24 Hours in their Jaguar C-Type, despite having been excluded after qualifying and retiring to an estaminet to drown their sorrows. Ken Wharton and Laurence Mitchell took honours in the 2-litre class in a Frazer Nash. Le Mans was a points-scoring round of the inaugural FIA World Sportscar Championship.
  • Alberto Ascari won the second and final British Grand Prix held to Formula 2 regulations at Silverstone Circuit. Ascari’s works Ferrari 500 F2 finished a minute clear of Juan Manuel Fangio’s works Maserati, while Mike Hawthorn’s challenge was blunted by a gigantic spin and other issues that dropped him three laps behind.
  • Ian and Pat Appleyard won the RAC Rally in their Jaguar XK120. George Hartwell and F.W. Scott won the Touring car class up to 2.6 litres in a Sunbeam-Talbot and Denis Scott the over 2.6-litre class in a Jaguar Mk.VII.
  • A Jowett Javelin won the Tulip Rally in the hands of Count Hugo van Zulyen.
  • D. Airth and R. M. Collinge won the ‘less than £800’ class in the Coronation Safari Rally in a Standard Vanguard.
  • An Allard won the third 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland in the hands of Vilho Hietanen and Olov Hixen
  • A Jaguar XK120 won the Acropolis Rally in the hands of Nick Papamichael and S. Dimitrakos.
  • After a year off in 1952, the RAC Tourist Trophy counted as a points-scoring round of the inaugural FIA World Sportscar Championship. It was held at Dundrod once again and won by Peter Collins and Pat Griffith in an Aston Martin.
  • Former 8th Air Force bomber airfield Snetterton in Norfolk became a licenced circuit
  • Oulton Park circuit was formally paved and opened.
  • Crystal Palace circuit reopened for motor racing after wartime bomb damage and other wartime materiel was finally cleared away, allowing a 1.39-mile layout to be used.
  • The Monaco Grand Prix was staged as a sports car race as the Automobile Club de Monaco had no interest in holding a Formula 2 event. The race was won by Stirling Moss in a Jaguar C-Type.
  • British riders reigned supreme in world championship motorcycle racing – but they rode for foreign manufacturers. Geoff Duke won the 500cc title on a Gilera and Fergus Anderson won the 350cc title for Moto Guzzi. Eric Oliver won his fourth sidecar title for Norton, with Stanley Dibben alongside him.
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Ferrari’s young British star Mike Hawthorn at the 1953 British GP

Where now for the Tourist Trophy?

The announcement that Silverstone – and therefore the UK – will be missing from the FIA World Endurance Championship calendar from now on is not a surprise. There has been much hoo-ha on social media about it from British ‘fans’ – although it’s quite likely that more people have taken the trouble to post their outrage than ever bought a ticket.

Of rather more pith and moment is the fact that at present the Royal Automobile Club’s Tourist Trophy has no home – and there is no obvious candidate to replace it. But why, after so many decades, is top flight sports car racing abandoning the UK?

In 2011, the S&G worked on behalf of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest to promote the event. A phone call in mid-July basically said that there was a budget to promote the race, which was in mid-September, and as everyone in France takes August off would we mind awfully doing what we could to sell some tickets.

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The Tourist Trophy has been awarded to the winners of the Silverstone 6 Hours in recent years

It was the dream brief: a client who gives you a budget first and asks questions later. It was quite possibly the most fun that will ever be had in this working life.

Local radio stations from the Solent to the Black Country ran adverts that used Steve McQueen’s movie Le Mans as the theme, with a heartbeat getting faster and engines bursting into life while a sonorous voice spoke in wonder about the world’s most advanced sports-prototypes and the elegant GT cars, Audis, Peugeots, Aston Martins, Porsches, Corvettes and Ferraris.

Every station that took the ads got pairs – sometimes several pairs – of VIP hospitality tickets to use as competition prizes. So did any local newspapers that we advertised in, which from memory was about a dozen from Herefordshire to Suffolk and Watford to Uttoxeter.

On the PR front, we realised that it was the 35th anniversary of the first Silverstone 6 Hours race, and got the winner of that inaugural race, John Fitzpatrick, to describe his giant-killing act alongside Tom Walkinshaw in a home-brewed BMW against the might of the BMW and Porsche works teams. We also got Desiré Wilson to talk to the press about being the first and only lady racer to win the event.

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The girls of the Silverstone 6 Hours with Dunsfold’s P-51D

There was a media day at Silverstone where home favourite Allan McNish took journalists round the track in a race-prepared Audi R8 GT car. Among the victims we sorted out for the day was BBC Radio 2 Drive Time sportscaster Matt Williams, who did a brilliant piece for roughly five million listeners which basically involved him asking questions in a panicked scream and Nishy laughing like a drain in reply.

Northampton railway station was completely wrapped to look like the grid at Le Mans (a little tribute to how our Bahraini friends promote their Grand Prix so well), and at every station between Euston and Birmingham there was advertising to be found on the platforms.

Finally, we found some of the finest-looking promo girls in Britain, dressed them in replicas of the iconic and much-lamented Hawaiian Tropic girls’ outfit and sallied forth to as many other motoring events as we could – armed with a barrel-load of flyers with unique 10% discount codes. At Dunsfold Wings & Wheels we took along one of Trackspeed’s Porsche GT3s and a Gulf Aston Martin DBR1/2, at Chelsea Autolegends we had the Aston and the Strakka Racing HRD that slotted in to the Le Mans-themed main display, and the ACO came and did a press conference.

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On the lawns of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea alongside a few billions’ worth of classics

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If in doubt, grab a Chelsea Pensioner.

Because enthusiasts of motor racing tend to like having models of the cars in some shape of form, we did a deal with the now sadly defunct Modelzone company to put posters in the windows of their 46 shops across the country and for each shop to have a prize draw for a pair of hospitality tickets. They also ran a competition on their website and to their email distribution list to win the opportunity to wave the flag that starts the race.

We had branding all over Autosport.com, a competition to do the grid walk on Pistonheads and yet more competition prizes of hospitality. As a final offer, we contacted the marque clubs of every brand with cars taking part in the event and offered them display parking on the infield with a sliding scale of up to 50% off the ticket price, the more cars (and therefore people) that came with them.

As a final treat to reward the hordes of people that we hoped would be coming, we got the distributor of SCX slot cars to set up a tent with a massive track in it and plenty of Audis and Peugeots to race. We got John Fitzpatrick and Desiré Wilson to come along and do autograph sessions. We got Porsche 956 chassis 001, the 1982 Group C class winner and founder of 12 years of success for Porsche, together with a BMW CSL representing the inaugural 6 Hours and a Porsche 935.

All of this was done in six weeks from a standing start. All of this was done on a total budget that would scarcely pay for a tatty second-hand Porsche. All of this reached an audience of millions and we sold… something like 8,000 tickets. It was raining at Silverstone and there is seldom a more desolate part of the world on a soggy September day than the old airfield, especially when one is wandering round looking at the fruits of one’s labours and seeing not one soul between Copse and Stowe other than the ever-hearty marshals.

With heavy hearts we reported in to the ACO folks, expecting to be informed that we’d never work in this town again. They were… coq-au-hoop! Refreshed from their month in Provence, they couldn’t believe that they’d sold around 15% more tickets than the previous year with a campaign that lasted six weeks instead of three months.

It’s Silverstone, they said, with suitably Gallic shrugs. Everything costs too much because they have to fund the Grand Prix. The Wing stood empty above the paddock because it was too big and infeasibly priced, so all the hospitality had to be done in the old units on the old start/finish straight and guests had to be bussed the mile in between lunch and the working area.

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We even had a page in The Sun – although the cars were notably absent…

The only location that could be found for the marque clubs, slot car track and historic racing cars display was exactly half-way between the two paddocks, meaning that few people bothered to get off their buses and brave the rain to come and have a look. As it was, neither the tent for the historic cars or the security person to look after them had shown up, so we had to send the Porsche 956 back to its owner and keep the BMW and 935 outside while a short-notice tent was found to house them.

When the S&G returned to the event in 2014, it was the first round of the new season and there had been much excitement on social media about the return of Porsche and all the rest of the pre-season chatter. There had been a photo call with the cars in central London but very little in the press had resulted from it, there were no adverts to speak of and no campaign of the sort that we’d done but the weather was uncommonly pleasant on the Saturday.

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Le Mans brings fans together from around the world – especially the UK

There was still barely a soul in the public areas around much of the circuit. If more tickets were sold the difference was marginal. Yet at Le Mans one can barely walk a step without falling over roaming families, all eagerly discussing the race in every accent and dialect of the British Isles. Chuck a rock into the crowd at Le Mans and you’re far more likely to be told to ‘eff off’ than you are to ‘va te faire foutre’.

So now the ACO has decided to abandon its crusade to give British fans a treat on home soil. It’s not possible (as so many of them have wished) to return to Brands Hatch because the circuit isn’t to modern endurance standards – and anyway the 1000km races there in their 1980s heyday were fairly processional because there’s no room for overtaking.

People remember those races so fondly because there were big crowds, in part due to the presence of Jaguar and Porsche’s great ace Derek Bell as national heroes… and also in part because everyone buying a ticket to the Grand Prix at Brands got a free ticket to the 1000km. Sometimes, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

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Brands Hatch had a packed house for Group C sports cars in the 1980s

So, a chapter closes and all that remains to be said is what the future holds for the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy, the world’s longest-serving motor sport prize? It’s only warranted a small mention in the World Endurance Championship arena, but this grand old prize was awarded to the winner of the Silverstone 6 Hours.

In 112 years it’s been awarded at a sports car race 29 times, GT races 11 times, to races for Grand Prix cars three times and for touring cars 25 times. Perhaps Alan Gow and TOCA might like to use it for a non-championship touring car all-comers race as they did 20 years ago? Or maybe the thriving British GT series should take it on? Undoubtedly there will be a lobby for reinstating Britain’s round of Formula E and using it for this purpose… it’s the in thing to do these days, after all.

Perhaps the most pragmatic suggestion is to permanently base the TT at Goodwood, where the current tribute race for 1960s GT cars can be restored to full glory. After all, there are few events in Britain that attract a similar size of crowd, and the prestige of winning it is enormous amongst a group of drivers and owners who actually care about its heritage and history.

At present, the longest-standing prize in motor racing history, a trophy that unites C.S. Rolls, Tazio Nuvolari, Sir Stirling Moss and Alain Menu is rootless. Steps must be taken fast to ensure that this grand old prize remains fixed to the greatest motor sport occasion on the calendar, the most stylish, the most glamorous and the most relevant – because if we lose our sense of identity at this moment of crisis for motor sport in Britain then we might as well all pack up and go home.

Beyond the British Grand Prix

This week’s announcement that the British Grand Prix is to cease in 2019 is not a surprise. Although it was the first country in the world to build a permanent circuit for motor racing, Great Britain has had a dysfunctional relationship with the sport right from the outset.

In the 1890s, the advent of internal combustion caught the imagination of brilliant engineers in continental Europe and North America – but not so Britain, whose Empire was built using iron, steam and the old school tie.

Johnny Foreigner’s preoccupation with noisy, unreliable new inventions became the subject of amusement in polite society.

While all but a few British folk scoffed, however, it was through competition that Johnny Foreigner refined motor cars and achieved the dream of powered flight.

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Passions were aroused on the continent: eyebrows were raised in Britain

The great city-to-city motor races at the turn of the century inspired engineers to travel further and faster, tearing off into the distance while British motoring was pegged back to walking pace – literally, with the legal requirement for a man with a red flag to walk 60 yards ahead of ‘horseless carriages’, lest they scare the horses or interfere with the good order of the railways.

It took the legal test case lodged by Farnham engineer John Henry Knight in 1895 to release British motorists from this constraint. He successfully triggered the Locomotives on Highways Act of 1896, which increased the speed limit for “light locomotives” under 3 tonnes to 14 mph.

To celebrate this boundless new freedom, the ‘Emancipation Run’ was organized for motorists to drive from Whitehall to Brighton – an occasion later commemorated through the Royal Automobile Club’s annual London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. While the 33 intrepid Britons tiptoed down to the coast, however, the Panhard et Levassor of Émile Mayade scampered the 1710 km from Paris to Marseille and back to win the biggest race of the year.

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Good order was enforced upon British motorists – with a flag

A few of the more enterprising British motor companies, such as Arrol-Johnson, Wolseley and Napier, began to dip a toe in the water of the European events. They soon discovered that there was much to learn not only about car design but also ancillaries such as tyres and spark plugs if they were to compete.

Thankfully, some were determined to learn, improve and win.

In 1902, the British-built Napier of Selwyn Edge triumphed in the Gordon Bennett Cup, winning the honour of hosting the race in 1903. The birth of British motor sport did not greatly interest the nation or its politicians, however, who grudgingly permitted roads to be closed in the wilds of County Kildare for the occasion.

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Britain belatedly came to the party – but soon mastered the art of motor racing

A year later, the Isle of Man was selected to become the new home of motor racing in Britain. The Gordon Bennett qualification race of 1904 gave rise to the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy in 1905, the world’s longest-running motor race whose place on today’s FIA World Endurance Championship calendar warrants not a mention in the press.

The Isle of Man was and remains a mystical place to go racing but the rest of the British Isles were still subject to a blanket 20 mph speed limit.

The British motor industry needed somewhere to drive fast and it found a benefactor in the form of Hugh Locke King who, egged on by the likes of Napier and its great showman Selwyn Edge, constructed the Brooklands motor circuit – the first permanent track in the world – and almost ruined himself in the process.

It was only after World War 1 that Brooklands became a success. Many young Englishmen – particularly the aviators – found that excitement and esprit de corps in the face of danger had become addictive. Racing around the great white bowl near Weybridge offered them blissful release from the hum-drum world of peacetime, and the ‘right crowd’ flocked to witness the thrills and spills.

Brooklands was the crucible from which sprang the Bentley Boys, John Cobb, Malcolm Campbell and the first gilded generation of British racing motorists. Le Mans was conquered and Grands Prix were won. A decade later, these pioneers celebrated the rise of a second generation, including Dick Seaman and A.F.P. Fane, who punched above their weight in small but potent cars from Riley, MG and ERA.

The ambitious Fred Craner turned leafy Donington Park from a provincial motorcycling track into an amphitheatre for the Silver Arrows; hillclimbs and sprints flourished and the Tourist Trophy grew in stature to rival the Targa Florio and Le Mans 24 Hours in status.

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Brooklands, Bentley and Birkin – landmarks in British racing

Despite all this success, despite the fervour that surrounded motor racing as a spectator sport and despite the quality of engineering that had gone into every component of the cars, there was little recognition.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the body charged with promoting the interests of the UK automotive industry at home and abroad, prohibited the British manufacturers from bringing their racing cars to the Motor Show because it believed that they were ‘vulgar and irrelevant’.

Only in the aftermath of World War 2, when the next generation of racers flourished and British motor racing sat at the top table of the sport worldwide, did the entire nation take notice.

The defining moment came at Silverstone in 1950, when His Majesty George VI and Queen Elizabeth led a quarter of a million people to Silverstone for the Grand Prix d’Europe, the first ever round of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Motor racing hit the tabloids and the elitism of Brooklands was replaced with the grassroots movement from which produced raw young talent both at the wheel and at the drawing board.

The workmanlike bomber training airfield at Silverstone hosted its first Grand Prix in 1948. Meanwhile on the south coast the Westhampnett fighter station at Goodwood provided a more convivial atmosphere for the old ‘right crowd and no crowding’ set to party on in the grand old manner.

They were joined by more former airfield venues – from Boreham to Croft. The parkland circuits followed – Oulton, Cadwell, Brands Hatch – and Aintree set out its stall as the ‘Goodwood of the North’ with its blast around the fabled Grand National racecourse.

For the next 30 years, British motor sport expanded into a bona fide industry – and a successful one at that. Even the press took notice – The Sun, The Mirror, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Daily Telegraph and The Times were all sponsors of races and teams in all categories. Right through to the 1980s, they reflected the public’s passion and sold the sport with vigour.

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The triumph (and tragedy) of motor racing folklore: Hawthorn and Jaguar in action

When the British Grand Prix’s financial troubles began, the industry in this country was still riding high in strength and depth, interest and involvement across the board. British teams not only dominated the Formula 1 world but also every international discipline.

Moreover, pretty much every Indycar, F3000, F3 and junior category chassis was designed and built in Britain by Lola, Reynard, March, Ralt and Van Diemen. Meanwhile, young drivers from around the world had to come and compete in Britain if they wanted to make a name for themselves – driving the reputations of the specialist teams who ran their cars.

 

Yet over the past 20 years, most of that thriving industry has been burnt as fuel in order to keep the British Grand Prix shunting along towards the buffers. We watched it happen. Some of us reported on it happening and warned of the outcomes… but many did not.

The prevailing attitude of “I’m all right, Jack” has indeed meant that the seven UK-based Formula 1 teams have prospered – although all but one is now under foreign ownership and remain here only for as long as it is financially and logistically beneficial to do so.

In the meantime, pretty well every major manufacturer team outside Formula 1 has migrated to Germany – and that includes the Japanese and the Koreans. The notional ‘motorsport valley’ that is claimed to nestle half way up the M40, from where it pumps billions to the British economy, hasn’t existed in any meaningful sense for years. Brilliant businesses are there – but in many ways to their detriment.

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Britain is one big ‘motorsport valley’, apparently

In 2013, a rescue plan was put forward by the Welsh government. It was a dedicated hub for the high-tech motor sport sector in a Tier 1 Enterprise Zone where their utilities would be subsidised, salaries funded up to 50% and every wind tunnel and laboratory would be built for them.

Such a stiff resistance was put up by the British Grand Prix lobby and the ‘motorsport valley’ brigade that the only issue upon which press and the public could fixate was the Circuit of Wales, adjoining the technology hub. What was the point of building a circuit when there was Silverstone? Who would travel to Wales for the British Grand Prix?

The fact that the Circuit of Wales was never designed for Formula 1 did not matter. Nobody wanted to understand what the project was about and now the idea has died. The proponents of the ‘motorsport valley’ myth believe this to have been a victory – but they are deluded.

If you want to buy a single-seater or sports car chassis these days, you don’t call ‘motorsport valley’. Most likely it will be a Tatuus or Mygale from France or an Italian Dallara.

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Fleets of one-make series cars are now built overseas

Young British drivers, if they really want to get ahead, must plan to hop out of their karts and straight into European championships if they are to stand a hope of getting noticed – increasing their annual budgets by up to 50% and reducing the strength and depth of the talent pool by a similar factor.

And of course the well of talented young foreign drivers following in the footsteps of Piquet, Senna, Häkkinen and Magnussen has dried up completely, seeing teams close down for the want of talent and funding to employ them.

The Scarf & Goggles celebrates the ripping yarns of earlier eras, but it exists in the here and now. The spirit and the achievements of those times have been betrayed many times over in the name of preserving the unworkable British Grand Prix and, as a result, the ‘motorsport valley’ myth.

Perhaps the final, belated loss of the Grand Prix will be the jolt that knocks a bit of sense into people. Facts must be faced and plans must be made. We hope that, finally, they might at least be valid ones.

We still have the Tourist Trophy. We still have the Isle of Man. Goodwood is thriving. The British touring cars are still wowing people and nobody holds better rallies, rallycross or short track races.

The landscape is changing but the most valuable bit of real estate in any sport – that of historic racing and our motor sport heritage – keeps going from strength-to-strength. Plan for the worst and hope for the best. This is not the end.