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.

 

Classic buildings in miniature

After cornering the market in ultra-refined models of classic GT racers to go on your 1/32 slot racing track, Graham Poulton has done it again with a collection of iconic trackside buildings.

There are many schools of thought when it comes to decorating a slot car track, from minimalist to full-on scale model venue. It’s always nice to have something dressed to fit the era or type of cars that you particularly like to run – and for historic fans, Graham has produced just the sort of set dressing that is going to go down a storm.

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Scenic slot tracks can vary in scale of ambition

Reims, Goodwood and the earliest post-war Silverstone buildings feature large in the collection, which come as flat pack assembly kits with all the hard work of decorating them done for you.

Compared to the price of cars these days, the buildings look extraordinary value and can be ordered direct from Graham or via Pendle Slot Racing. Here’s some of the loveliness that Pendle has on sale:

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Reims pit boxes (could double for Brooklands)

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Bumper box set of Goodwood timing tower and pit boxes plus the grandstand

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Another Goodwood icon: the SuperShell building

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Typical of the wartime buildings at Silverstone for its first 40 years: the original timekeepers’ hut

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The original press box from Silverstone faithfully recreated…

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…along with the press box from Reims

We’re sure that there will be many similar additions – Le Mans is always a favourite, maybe some pit scenery from Monza or Spa would be fun too. Well done, Graham – keep up the good work.

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…

Working with a racing legend

There are very few times in one’s life when the opportunity arises to say: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the seven times world motorcycle racing champion and 1964 Formula One world champion, John Surtees.”

But that is exactly what happened at Goodwood last month.

Big John‘ and self were engaged by Shell to bring the Revival to life for its guests and to mark the restoration of the Shell Classic X-100 motor oil as a brand. Not only is Shell bringing back an icon of the 1950s and 1960s to the shelves of your local retailer, but with every can sold it is raising money for one of the best causes out there – the Henry Surtees Foundation.

At Brands Hatch in 2009, a promising and personable young racer, Henry Surtees, was killed. Your scribe was at Manston that day, but had been at Brands Hatch the day before, when I was introduced to Henry by a mutual friend and was deeply impressed by his wit and easy confidence. When the news came over the radio that he had been lost, I was not alone in feeling his loss very sharply indeed, even after such a short meeting.

It wasn’t until 2010 that I first met Henry’s celebrated father, when he was among the champions who had gathered in Bahrain to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Formula One world championship. His early arrival and eager presence around the paddock – accompanied at every turn by the stalwart artist, Michael Turner – became a welcome feature of the weekend.

Then came the matter of climbing aboard his car for the parade of champions: the wickedly beautiful little Ferrari 1512, which now resides in Bernie Ecclestone’s very private collection. John was rather uncomfortable about this, as it was to be the first time he had gone on track since Henry had died and his family was far from thrilled about it. Then the car broke. Bernie was annoyed, spotted windmilling his arms in the collecting area, but Surtees himself was outwardly unmoved.

The following day, with the car miraculously fixed by the genius who cares for it, the host of champions mustered once again. First out of the blocks was Nigel Mansell at the wheel of the glorious Thinwall Special Ferrari. He was followed by the likes of Damon Hill in his title-winning Williams, Mario Andretti in his title-winning Lotus and Jody Scheckter in his title-winning Ferrari.

I was stationed beside ‘Big John’ in case there was another problem. Here was a rather wiry, almost nervous old gentleman, far removed from the confident, beaming figure that we all recognise in the photos from the mid-Sixties. He seemed ill at ease while the likes of Keke Rosberg and Jackie Stewart set off on either side amid the yowl of Cosworth DFV power – but then came the most unforgettable sight.

First of all, the Surtees chin jutted. Then he snapped his goggles down and the years fell away. Everything about his body language changed – as if to say: “I’m still a bloody racing driver, like it or not!” And with that he dumped the clutch and left two black lines running down the immaculate Bahraini pit lane. It was an astounding demonstration of courage.

Fast forward to this year’s Revival, where John was to be found signing autographs at every turn, posing for selfies, doing interviews and generally being pressed into action. He drove a Ferrari 250 LM to lead out the Lavant Cup competitors, helped to open Shell’s new vintage-looking aviation refuelling area and he played a key role in the Bruce McLaren tribute.

In the midst of all this, he came and spoke to a lot of bigwigs from Shell. As MC for the event, I had seven questions to make sure we said all the right things – and didn’t need one of them. Surtees has been a Shell ambassador for decades and knows, very precisely, what to say and when. Then I asked him to tell the audience something about Henry and what the Foundation is doing in his name. And what a response.

John talked us through his time as a karting dad, about Henry’s life and loss and then about the work that the Foundation has done since 2009. He spoke brilliantly about the lives saved because the Air Ambulance now has blood transfusion equipment. About his determination not only to make the world safer in Henry’s name but also to use motor sport to bring wayward and disadvantaged kids back from the brink.

All of it impressed upon the guests how important every can of Shell X-100 oil sold will be. And, equally, it also showed the determination and energy of a man who, even in his ninth decade, is determined to work harder than ever in his son’s name to bring some measure of good from his horrendous loss. This is the John Surtees that I have come to know. These encounters have been a pleasure and a privilege and I hope that our paths cross again before long.

Scarf & Goggles to return to Silverstone!

Some rather fantastic news follows from Silverstone – the original Scarf & Goggles is to be revived as a place of conviviality, refreshment and general period automotive-and-aviation-themed excess at the Classic, when it marks the Silver Jubilee of the mothership for high-end classic and vintage events. Even the old ‘pub sign’ that has sat in the shed for a couple of decades will be hanging from on high once again.

Rather than blather on, I shall leave you with the words of MPA Creative:

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The special Silver Jubilee celebrations at next month’s Silverstone Classic (24-26 July) will see the introduction of two new awards honouring the two driving forces behind the circuit’s first-ever historic motor sport festival 25 years ago: Mervyn Garton and Stuart Graham.

Paying tribute to the pair’s pioneering achievements in creating the blueprint for what’s now The World’s Biggest Classic Motor Racing Festival, the Stuart Graham ‘Scarf and Goggles’ Award will be presented to what’s judged to be the most admirable car competing at the Classic while the Mervyn Garton ‘Scarf and Goggles’ Award will acclaim the best off-track visitor attraction. Both will be perpetual accolades awarded annually as from next month’s event.

“It’s the original ground-breaking vision of Stuart and Mervyn which remains right at the heart of everything we do at Silverstone Classic today – that’s why we are so delighted to be acknowledging both their foresight and achievements with these two very special Scarf and Goggles awards,” said Nick Wigley, Event Director.

“The Scarf and Goggles bar, after which these awards are named, was such an integral part of those early events. Now I’m pleased to announce we will be further evoking its fond memories with the opening of a new Scarf and Goggles pub bar on our Village Green.”  

Back in 1990 when Garton and Graham first put their heads together, there were very few major events dedicated entirely to historic racing cars. The Oldtimer Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, the L’Age d’Or meeting at Montlhéry and the Monterey Historics at Laguna Seca were already established, but in England, the world centre of historic racecar preparation and ownership, there was nothing to compare.

Stuart Graham made sure that the BRDC pulled in the finest racers worldwide

Stuart Graham made sure that the BRDC pulled in the finest racers worldwide

As well being a TT winner on both two and four wheels, Graham was a director of the BRDC, the organisation that runs Silverstone. He was keen to see the circuit expand its portfolio of events in order to broaden the base that supported the British Grand Prix, upon which the venue was heavily reliant.

Graham realised that there was wide support at home for his idea of a Silverstone Historic Festival and it was agreed that the first two-day meeting would be held a fortnight after the 1990 British Grand Prix. This would have the added advantage of being able to use much of the infrastructure already in place for the F1 meeting.

The tented city - racers, collectors, automobila-ists and, of course, the steam-powered fairground!

The tented city – racers, collectors, automobila-ists and, of course, the steam-powered fairground!

The modest opening 12-race timetable and seemingly notable 426 racing entries laid the foundations to what’s now not just the biggest historic race meeting on Earth but also the world’s biggest annual motor racing event of any genre. Last year’s record breaker featured an unrivalled 1,125 entries – a figure that could be topped again in July.

Over the last 25 years, of course, the scope of the thriving historic scene has widened considerably and now includes many classes which were front-running categories in contemporary racing at the time of the first Historic Festival. These include categories such as Group C sports cars, 90s GT Legends and Super Touring saloons, each of which have now earned their place in the Silverstone Classic line-up.

“This award is a very kind and thoughtful gesture,” said Graham. “It is amazing how quickly 25 years seems to have passed, since we first got the idea of a major classic festival at Silverstone off the ground. I was very fortunate to have a small but equally enthusiastic team to provide valuable help in many areas thus ensuring a successful first event.

“Today it gives me – and I am sure everyone involved in the early days – a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction to see the eminence of the Classic as it continues to grow, thanks to the excellent work of Nick Wigley and his team who have done a fantastic job. I now wish this great meeting continued success for the next 25 years and beyond.”

From the outset, it was also planned that the Festival would be more than simply a series of races. Considerable thought was given to activities and attractions away from the track in the hope that the event would appeal to motoring enthusiasts and families beyond those who would be satisfied by the race programme alone.

The silver Audi Coupé in which Mervyn thundered around the Festival, putting on the show (replaced by a BSA motorbike on public days!)

The silver Audi Coupé in which Mervyn thundered around the Festival, putting on the show (replaced by a BSA motorbike on public days!)

To that end, the late Mervyn Garton was appointed to mastermind the off-track activities. The revolutionary formula he created has been adopted at most other large-scale motoring events since and continues to thrive at the Classic.

Right from the beginning it was anticipated that car clubs would be keen to attend if they were allocated dedicated spaces in which their members could meet and display their cars, and so it proved.

Mervyn’s fertile mind also introduced air displays, live jazz music plus the creation of trade and automobilia malls. By the time of the third Festival, another of his innovations appeared in the shape of the ‘Scarf and Goggles’ bar, which became a very popular social hub close to the paddock, and somewhere where racegoers could enjoy a convivial atmosphere and meeting place during and after the racing.

“Silverstone was the core of our family life and Mervyn made it his mission to cultivate a unique experience of live entertainment, classic motoring and aviation with the Scarf and Goggles at its heart,” said his widow Janet Garton. “He was delighted to see the rise of the Classic and would have loved to see Status Quo at Silverstone! He would also be deeply honoured to be associated with an award that recognises the most impressive off–track attraction for visitors.”

Mervyn took an active role in the presentation of each Festival

Mervyn took an active role in the presentation of each Festival

From an estimated attendance of 20,000 in 1990, the 2014 event played host to 94,000 spectators with the milestone 100,000 landmark set to be surpassed for the first time this summer. The car club feature conceived by Garton has spiralled in popularity, too. At the inaugural meeting 21 groups were represented, a figure that has grown to an unprecedented 120 in 2015.

Tickets for the 25th anniversary Silverstone Classic must be purchased in advance. Adult admission starts from £40 and, as well as pits access, ticket prices include booking fees, parking, infield, grandstands, live music – this year topped by rock legends Status Quo – and the vast majority of the numerous attractions. Full details – together with hospitality packages and weekend festival camping – can be found on the official website: http://www.SilverstoneClassic.com.

-Ends-

Editor’s notes: The Silverstone Classic – celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2015 – is firmly established as the World’s Biggest Classic Motor Racing Festival with a record 1125 race entries in 2014 watched by a record crowd of 94,000. The spectacular event – winner of the prestigious ‘Motorsport Event of the Year Award’ as judged by the International Historic Motoring Awards in 2013 – is staged at the famous Silverstone circuit in Northamptonshire, birthplace of the FIA Formula One World Championship and home of the Formula 1 British Grand Prix. The three-day festival features the very best of historic racing covering more than eight decades of motor sport as well as live music from classic rock bands (topped by Status Quo in 2015) and a wealth of family entertainment. This includes a free fun fair, retail outlets, a host of interactive activities, a two-day classic car auction and air displays, plus huge showcases of classic cars often celebrating important milestones in automotive history. In 2014 a record parade of 84 Grand Prix cars celebrated Silverstone’s 50th Grand Prix as well as special cavalcades to mark Maserati’s centenary and 50 years of the Ford Mustang. The Silverstone Classic is promoted and organised by Goose Live Events Ltd. Goose manages international events for companies such as AstraZeneca, Bacardi, Bentley, Lamborghini and Unilever.

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.

José Froilán González

There was something about José Froilán González which seemed indestructible… making the announcement of his passing this weekend, even at the ripe age of 90, something of a shock. Known as the ‘Pampas Bull’ by the British press and ‘El Cabezón’ (fathead), by his countrymen, he was the Argentine star who claimed Enzo Ferrari’s first Grand Prix victory as a constructor enjoyed tremendous affection from fans both in his prime and in his latter years.

The Pampas Bull prepares to wrestle his Ferrari, 1952

The Pampas Bull prepares to wrestle his Ferrari, 1952

Rotund and ready-smiling, González was born in the city of Arrecifes and was a keen athlete in his youth – whose competitiveness was somewhat at odds with his naturally chunky frame. At 10 years of age he got himself behind the wheel of a car and this produced an even bigger thrill, so he contrived to find ways to drive vehicles of all shapes and sizes from that moment on.

Racing duly followed, at the age of 24, when he embarked on some of the great cross-country events of the era. He took a typically South American approach by using a pseudonym to avoid his family finding out about his antics – although they did, despite his best efforts. His father then helped González establish a trucking business – no doubt hoping that this would occupy him too fully to go racing – but although it was successful, the whole operation was duly sold after a couple of years in order to pay for a Maserati 4CL with which to make his international debut in Buenos Aires.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ferrari's first Formula One win

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ferrari’s first Formula One win

González clearly had talent and this earned him sponsorship from the Argentine government of Juan Peron – just like his older rival from national road races, Juan Manuel Fangio – which took him to Europe in 1950. Once again his talent was clear and he was signed up by Enzo Ferrari – although with some reservations from the Old Man about the state of high anxiety that González would work himself into before a race.

On July 14th 1951, fate decreed that it was González who would enter the record books as the first man to drive a Ferrari to victory in a Grand Prix, when he mastered a race-long battle with Fangio’s Alfa Romeo 158 to win the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. He drove out of his skin that day, hurling the big unblown V12 around with all his might to hold the waspish supercharged Alfetta at bay in what was undoubtedly his finest Grand Prix performance.

There was no onward momentum from that first victory, however, in what fast became the ‘Fangio era’. He would win at Silverstone with Ferrari once again in 1954, the year when he also anchored the Scuderia’s victory at Le Mans with Maurice Trintignant, but spent the majority of his European racing days as a journeyman. González not only drove for Ferrari but also Maserati, BRM and Tony Vandervell’s Thinwall operation – the British teams usually in non-championship events such as Goodwood meetings.

Gonzales (no.5) blasts off in the BRM at Goodwood

Gonzales (no.5) blasts off in the mighty V16 BRM at Goodwood

González returned to live in Argentina before the start of the 1955 season, establishing a successful car dealership business. He did not often choose to hark back to his racing days, but when he did he was always cheerful and grateful – if somewhat bemused – by the affection in which he was held by fans of the sport from thousands of miles away. He will be missed.