That time at Sandown…

Here’s a little something that pops up every so often – the racy demonstration of Sir Jack Brabham in his Brabham-Repco and Juan Manuel Fangio in his 1955 Mercedes-Benz W196. Both cars had been recently restored by their owners in Australia, and as a support to the 1978 Australian Grand Prix at Sundown they were to be reunited with their original drivers.

All the hype and Fangio’s own insistence was that this was not a demonstration by two champions but a race. Perhaps it was, but it’s worth remembering that, in their heydays, there was a full minute’s difference between the two cars over a lap of Spa-Francorchamps and 13 seconds at Monaco.

Nevertheless, while Black Jack is the perfect gentleman and makes a show of it, it’s clear that Fangio is properly ‘on it’ for a recently-restored car that was worth a major sum of money even 40 years ago. And both men clearly wanted to be first past the chequered flag.

Incidentally, the Australian Grand Prix was a Formula 5000 race, won by Graham McRae in his self-built Chevrolet-engined car in a highly attritional race that saw two drivers hospitalised.

It’s thanks to this sort of enthusiasm for old cars, so clearly on show at Sandown that day, that the Silverstone Classic, the Goodwood Revival and the Nürburgring Old-timer exist as some of the best-attended motor sport events in the world. This is why…


The Scarf & Goggles Awards

A whiff of the original Scarf & Goggles made a return to Silverstone this summer, in the form of a small but perfectly formed bar set on the Village Green at the Silverstone Classic.

The Scarf and Goggles bar at the 2015 Silverstone Classic

This year’s running of the event carried with it a celebration of 25 years since Silverstone first premiered its International Historic Festival, the first event of its kind in Britain that brought together marque clubs, autojumbles, live music and period family entertainment from the 1920s-1960s to support a full race card of historic action.

Today, the world is a very different place. The old Festival went into hiatus during the dark days of Octagon’s reign at Silverstone, during which time the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Revival meetings kicked into high gear and ensured an unprecedented level of success.

In 2015, the classic racers gathering for Silverstone's festival are of a later generation

In 2015, the classic racers gathering for Silverstone’s festival are of a later generation

As a result of this, when Nick Wigley and the guys and girls of Goose reimagined Silverstone’s original prestige event as the Classic, they sought to get away from Goodwood’s cast iron grip on all things tweed and British Racing Green. Thus the Silverstone infield now throngs with Nissan Skylines and 1980s BMWs rather than Aston Martin Ulsters and Bugattis – but it is indeed a thriving place, dedicated towards the finer things of the past 40 years.

Of course it is rather galling to see the cars with which one’s own career has been associated being shown off like brachiosaurus bones to an incredulous new generation. “This is a Vauxhall Vectra BTCC car, son,” said a chap near me in the paddock. “Years ago, John Cleland and the BTCC were the best things ever…”

Internally the S&G was screaming: Arrrrgh! Hold on! There’s JC over there and he hasn’t aged a day since 1999. Which was only five minutes ago, wasn’t it?

Oh well… Despite being made to feel rather venerable, there was some cracking racing to enjoy, not least from the Sixties GTs. A four-way duel for the lead in Saturday’s race between a TVR, a Cobra and two Jaguar E-Types boiled down to a ripping tussle between the Cobra and the faster Jag, the former boiling out of every corner on opposite lock while the ladylike E-Type darted around daintily looking for a way past.

The racing highlight was this duel for classic GT glory

The headline event was an hour-long race for Group C cars, running at dusk for maximum headlight glare and exhaust gas flare. The entry was a little thinner than hoped – it seems that the cost of running these 240mph beasts is becoming a burden – but the quality was superb, with the early race battle between the F1-powered Jaguar XJR-14 and the turbocharged Nissan R91CK being worth the entry fee alone.

Glorious Group Cs remain the crowd favourite

Your scribe’s vote for car of the day went to the unique EMKA Aston Martin, vintage 1985 and driven in period by a young Tiff Needell (actually, scratch that… Tiff was never young!)

However, the inaugural Scarf & Goggles Award for the Most Admired Car at the event, named after and presented by Stuart Graham, who created the racing spectacle of the Historic Festival 25 years ago, went elsewhere. It was deservedly claimed by the unique 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO ‘Breadvan’ owned by Martin Halusa and raced in the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy for Historic Cars by his sons Niklas and Lukas.

Nick Wigley (centre) flanked by Janet Garton and Stuart Graham as they prepare to award the inaugural Scarf & Goggles awards

The second Scarf & Goggles Award was for the best off-track attraction or entertainment and named after my father, Mervyn Garton.

After some to-ing and fro-ing on the judging panel between a number of marque clubs, this was eventually presented by my mother to the RAF Benevolent Fund. These chaps built a unique display of a full-sized replica Spitfire that they spent all day sitting people in and describing life in World War 2, plus a host of vehicles that are lovingly tended by the team in their off-duty hours.

As a display, the RAFBF completely embodied the sort of attraction that Dad sought to bring to the event. They are a credit to the RAF and to the men and women their efforts do so much to support in their hours of need.

The winners who created the RAF Benevolent Fund area pose with their deservedly-won trophy

It was a wonderful and nostalgic event, with its future becoming increasingly clear. Status Quo was the headline act onstage this year but the possibilities are limitless – Haircut 100, Matt Bianco, Sade and the Happy Mondays among them. There could be Soda Stream bars and a video rental shop servicing the campsites, offering VHS or Betamax versions of favourite movies like Crocodile Dundee and Pretty Woman for adults and He-Man for the kids.

Personally I’d add a 1978-1988 invitational Formula Ford race for good measure, Pat Sharp’s Funhouse live action TV show on the Village Green and a New Romantic ballroom on Saturday night.

A very fetching MG Metro - typical of the new generation of classics drawn to Silverstone

A very fetching MG Metro – typical of the new generation of classics drawn to Silverstone

Goodwood may well have mopped up the 1940s to 1960s, but if you are someone who sighs wistfully for lurid Benetton polo shirts, stonewashed jeans, mechanics with mullet hairdos and the days when British Touring Cars gave F1 a run for its money then the Silverstone Classic is an unmissable occasion.

Here’s to 2016…

Mervyn Garton, 1937 – 2013

Mervyn having fun in a historic motor...

Mervyn having fun in a historic motor…

It is perhaps worth reflecting that historic motor racing in the UK – or at least those who pay to enjoy it – lost one of the sport’s unsung heroes when Mervyn Garton died on September 30th 2013. It was he who created and managed the many and varied off-track attractions which supported the original International Historic Festival at Silverstone, thus creating the die from which today’s Silverstone Classic, Goodwood Festival of Speed and Goodwood Revival were cast.

Although his early life was filled with enthusiasm for high speed – of which motor sport and aviation were foremost – it was only at the age of 40, during a colourful career in banking, that Mervyn indulged his passion to the fullest.

Becoming a member of the Silverstone-based Jim Russell Racing Drivers’ Club, Mervyn raced at Silverstone and Snetterton alongside the likes of Daily Express sports editor Ken Lawrence and the vivacious and speedy Sue Dutson, now a doyenne of Italian motor sport after more than 25 years of domestic bliss with Piercarlo Ghinzani. Later he became an instructor, teaching Land Speed Record holder Richard Noble how to go around corners, among many others.

Branching out from amateur racer to racing instructor, by the late 1980s Mervyn’s commercial background was also being brought to bear in the Silverstone arsenal. At this stage, historic motor sport in Britain was still very much a club-level activity focused upon the participants having a good weekend’s racing.

Historic racing at the 1981 British Grand Prix

Historic racing at the 1981 British Grand Prix

If people wanted to come and enjoy seeing some famous old cars racing that was fine – but there was precious little else to occupy them. There were support races at contemporary British Grands Prix but when Silverstone decided to try and establish something like the Nürburgring’s established Oldtimer event, it called upon Mervyn to create the off-track activities and entertainment… which he did with gusto.

Immediately he established a framework for marque clubs of all denominations to have their own bespoke display areas, allowing owners of classic cars the chance to become part of the show itself. Whether it was the Renault-Alpines, the Droop Snoot Group or the Jowett Jupiters, all were made to feel as though the Festival was their own annual jamboree and created an 800-acre sea of polished bodywork stretching to all points of the compass.

Marques great and small flocked to the Festival

Marques great and small flocked to the Festival

Filling the circuit with cars and owners was one thing, but entertaining spectators was quite another. A gigantic outdoor shopping mall of automobilia, intended to rank alongside the Beaulieu Autojumble, was also among the early additions to the Festival experience.

Activities for those with wider interests than old cars soon followed. Live jazz and big band music, craft areas and children’s entertainment were added. So too were vintage aircraft, motorbikes, trucks, buses and tractors. A steam-powered vintage fairground sat atop the Copse runway and of course there was the social heart of the event – the Scarf & Goggles bar – which became the epicentre of the social scene.

Each year the Festival – initially sponsored by Christie’s and later Coys of Kensington – would have a theme, such as British Racing Green or Italian Racing Red, for which Mervyn would diligently create display areas and schedule autograph sessions. Auctions were staged, as was the Louis Vuitton Concours d’Elegance.

Mervyn took an active role in the presentation of each Festival

Mervyn took an active role in the presentation of each Festival

Finally there was the addition of the Garton-designed Retro Run as the ultimate hands-on experience for those taking their own classics to the Festival. Routes included stops at such sites as the former RAF Twinwood, from which Glenn Miller flew off never to return, and the Bridego railway bridge, where the Great Train Robbery was perpetrated – always ending with a parade lap of Silverstone in its pomp for the ‘Runners’.

The BRDC was always happy to give Mervyn carte blanche to create all of this, with Andrew Marriott handling the PR and John Fitzpatrick linking in with the on-track action. In 1993 the Club also provided sufficient budget to support a full-time assistant – who appeared in the form of James Beckett, the driving force behind today’s celebrated Walter Hayes Trophy weekend.

It is a measure of the Festival’s success that when Lord March was looking to create the Festival of Speed as a precursor to restoring motor racing at Goodwood, he asked Mervyn to jump ship. Although he remained at his Festival post until the event was shelved, Mervyn became a great supporter of Goodwood’s growing prominence on the calendar and thoroughly enjoyed the early Revivals.

Mervyn became a regular on 007's set

Mervyn became a regular on 007’s set

When not submerged in Festival business, as he was wont to be for many months of the year, Mervyn relaxed by driving trucks for fun. Taking priceless cars over to Italy for the Mille Miglia, carting the star cars from James Bond movies from set to set or taking the Group 4 prototypes around the countryside only added to the appeal.

After almost a decade in retirement in Lincolnshire, Mervyn fell foul of long-term illness two years ago and died peacefully in St. Barnabas Hospice leaving a tremendous legacy. The revived Festival, renamed the Silverstone Classic, together with Goodwood’s main events and such newcomers as Chris Evans’s CarFest can trace the sum total of their participatory appeal to the pioneering work begun by Mervyn almost a quarter of a century ago.

Mervyn and his wife Janet: always at home at Silverstone

Mervyn and his wife Janet: always at home at Silverstone

He was also my father, and he will be profoundly missed by all of our family.