Historic Motorsport International

Londoners tend to treat motor sport as something that pro-Brexit hillbillies from the countryside are interested in. This is a grave error on their part, which is being addressed this weekend at the inaugural Historic Motorsport International, which is part of the annual Classic Car Show at London’s ExCeL.

Yesterday the event was opened by Jacky Ickx, winner of eight Formula 1 grands prix, six Le Mans 24 Hours, the Bathurst 1000 and the Paris-Dakar rally, to name but a few achievements in a career that is, by any standards, rather special. Apparently, Jacky never considered motor sport to be a viable career and wanted to work in horticulture as a lad – at which point compère Henry Hope-Frost invited him over for a few laps of the lawn with his ride-on mower.

“Honestly, Henry, you can’t afford it!”

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Amid such good cheer the gleaming paintwork was admired, the dazzling array of products and services was digested and many an interesting confab occurred. The ExCeL is a sea of wheels and oils and panel shapers and engine fettlers – all with a display of their wares to be found and dribbled over .

Of particular note was a panel discussion on the eligibility of historic cars and policing the numerous ways in which owners will try and gain an unfair advantage.

Let’s be frank: if you can afford to own and drive a historic racing car then you’re not the sort of person who likes finishing second. At anything. And if you’ve also spent a small fortune on hospitality with which to entertain and impress people, you want to finish in front. Which means that all sorts of clever engineering is being funded, from high performance Honda pistons in a Mini-Cooper to traction control on a Jaguar E-Type.

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The effect that this is having upon the sport is potentially profound. Are fans being cheated? Do they care? Is it dangerous? Can the circuits cope? What about insurance? The session was led by former Le Mans winner and GT impresario Jürgen Bärth, who now tries to keep order over such matters on behalf of the FIA Historic Commission. The result? Inconclusive.

There are so many variables to consider – not least the quality of the drivers. Some owners will only drive themselves, with variable results, while others will happily pay a young up-and-coming hotshoe or veteran professional to get in and have a thrash. Equally some cars that were race winners are now worth eight-figure sums and driven with a degree more caution than more modest equipment of less value.

It made for a fascinating conversation revealing sufficient parameters and variables to make one’s head spin. Results were inconclusive, save for all scrutineers pledging to be more rigorous when Adrian Newey’s name appears on the entry list!

Still more such discussions were to be had for event promoters, driving standards officials and other key elements behind the organisation of historic motor sport events. All of them raised strong points and were well worth the asking price. How big can events become? How many events can the global calendar sustain at the present time? How can owners be tempted to keep bringing these cars out when their value increases by telephone numbers each year?

Now, though, the show has kicked fully into public mode, it can be enjoyed at leisure. There’s even a very suitable bar for yarning further about the why’s and wherefore’s of running a historic motor race… the cheeky beggars!

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So get on down to the ExCeL, it’s February and there’s nothing happening on track for months to come so why not make the most of what is a very entertaining weekend. Here’s a little preview of what’s in store…

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Has the Revival jumped the shark?

The best of all worlds? The Revival is a fancy dress race meeting.

Where should the Fancy Dress end and the race meeting start?

“That first year I was working on our car on the grid and I got the damned thing started and I looked up… well, it almost moved me to tears. I mean there simply was not a hair out of place among the cars, the mechanics, the marshals or the crowd. Apart from the drivers’ helmets you could have been standing there in about 1958 or 59.”

So said a veteran of the inaugural Goodwood Revival of 1998 who has been a regular ever since, courtesy of the fairly exotic assortment of ancient automobiles that he knows how to cajole into competitive life. But my friend won’t be on the grid or, indeed, among the crowds this year.

“It’s got bloody silly, really. It’s become some outlandish sort of theme park that bears no resemblance to the Goodwood I remember,” he said trenchantly. “You can’t see the cars for all the bloody vintage supermarkets and so on, and it’s a very different crowd these days.”

Kinky boots, kohl and psychedelic swirls - someone's idea of the 1960s

Kinky boots, kohl and psychedelic swirls – Goodwood’s reincarnation.

The phrase ‘jumped the shark’ is one used in the TV industry when a series has toppled past its peak into an often irreversible slide. It stems from an episode of the comedy Happy Days, when its nostalgic look at 1950s family life was becoming a little over-familiar to the audience, prompting a key character to waterski and jump over a live shark for no obvious reason.

Can a motor race be compared to a sitcom? Well, both are in the entertainment business. Fickle public affections have afflicted motor sport, such as the decline of the British Touring Car Championship from its late 1990s boom to today’s pale imitation. The apparently relentless expansion of NASCAR in the 2000s appears to have been well and truly checked, while endless Audi dominance has dented the lustre of the Le Mans 24 Hours.

The Revival was all about the racing for many years

The Revival was all about the racing for many years

The Revival is different because it is an occasion, rather than a contemporary racing series. It is a celebration of the past – albeit a past which increasingly few people remember. Yet it has also been brilliantly marketed and become a fixed point in the social calendar: a place where Glastonbury togetherness meets Last Night of the Proms Englishness with a bit of Rocky Horror Show dressing up thrown in.

Back when the Revival started, Lord March brought together the best parts of the original International Historic Festival at Silverstone, mixed in some of the best air display pilots and machines and put them out to a small but well-informed group of fans and veterans of the period with very fixed ideas of what was about to take place.

If you wanted to park in the circuit you had to have a car registered before 1966, the year when racing originally stopped. If you wanted to get into the paddock then a jacket, tie and shoes were mandatory for men and a frock was preferred (with or without hat) for the fairer sex. Period accessories were smiled upon. All was well.

Ray Hannah's famous 1998 flypast, as seen from the grandstand

Ray Hannah’s famous 1998 flypast, as seen from the grandstand

In those early years there were magic moments, such as the late, great Ray Hannah flying the ever-fabulous Spitfire MH434 below the height of the pit garages and the appearance of Bernie Ecclestone’s Vanwall VW5 on the grid of the main event.

The problem is that racing genuine period cars on a genuine period track inherently brings with it genuine period safety concerns. The Revival has survived numerous scares such as the 1998 accident which saw Neil Corner ejected from a barrel-rolling Ferrari 246 Dino, Sir Jack Brabham’s injurious crash in 2000, Willie Green’s bone-crunching 2005 collision with a TV camera in a vintage Maserati and Jochen Mass being pinned under a Lancia D50 in 2008.

How many more of these incidents the Revival can sustain in the increasingly litigious and invasively nannying world of the 21st Century is open to question. Racing cars crash and, when they do, 1960s standards are no longer palatable. Add in the precedent of  ‘bend it and mend it’ court action witnessed earlier this year when a journalist was effectively bankrupted for blowing an historic engine and the day might yet come when racing is legislated out of the whole show.

Presumably it was this reality which prompted Lord March to team up with fashionista Wayne Hemingway for the 2010 Revival to create Vintage at Goodwood as the theme for the Revival. The grand plan was to merge the worlds of fashion, film, music, art, design and photography to celebrate five decades of British cool (the 1940s to the 1980s) as a backdrop to the traditional Revival meeting.

‘Vintage’ added concerts by Sandie Shaw, The Wailers and The Buzzcocks, with a period street featuring vintage John Lewis stores and beauty parlours where women could get made-up in the style of the decade of their choice. While aficionados came to see Norton versus Moto Guzzi and Ferrari versus Jaguar on the track, a whole new crowd appeared for the catwalk shows, Burlesque evenings and dancing lessons.

Behind the Grandstands a new world has emerged in recent years

Behind the Grandstands a new world has emerged in recent years

The relationship with Hemingway lasted only one year but the effect on Goodwood was profound. The movie set of period shops, streets and fashions has become the major selling point for many at the Revival, putting the racing in the back seat for many visitors. As m’colleague Mary, over at WeHeartVintage, puts it: “I loved all the vintage fashion, and the boys in my family loved the cars and planes, so we were all happy!”

Quite probably Mary is in the majority on this, but in return it means that the perception of the Revival is increasingly less that of a race meeting and more of a fancy dress party. This has left many purists, such as my friend quoted earlier, feeling somewhat adrift. They are not alone: the letters pages and online comment boards of the classic car press are stuffed to the gunwales with protest at punters turning up in wigs, moustaches, psychedelia, Dad’s Army uniforms and Thunderbird outfits, with trainers on their feet and iPhones clamped to their ears.

Certainly this chap, pinched from WeHeartVintage wouldn’t pass muster either based on the old dress code or as a re-enactor:

Stick-on moustache and mobile phone: double no-no, surely?

Stick-on moustache and mobile phone: put that man on a fizzer, sergeant!

I shall be going to the Revival this year but I shall be paying very close attention to what people believe is appropriate dress for a race meeting in the period 1948-66. While I’m sure that some outfits will titillate, it is to be remembered that it was the Morris Minor, not Union Flag-bedecked E-Type Jags or Mini-Coopers, which was the best-selling car of the era and psychedelia came a long way behind taupe in the fashion stakes.

That’s not to say I’m a curmudgeon. Lord March and the team at Goodwood still have the rosette for best in class when it comes to the welter of classic car events that fill almost every weekend of the British summer these days, from Chris Evans’s ‘CarFests’ to the bijou gatherings around London’s more elitist environs.

In the meantime, the Scarf & Goggles will be maintaining a series of features on how to get the most out of the Revival, the do’s and don’ts and the must-not-misses, in readiness for a weekend that remains unique.