GRR

Doug Nye – Goodwood's Pre-Revival Life

17th May 2016
doug_nye_headshot.jpg Doug Nye

Last weekend at Monaco’s Fairmont Hotel – the old Loews’ Hotel, sited beside the Grand Prix circuit’s former Station Hairpin – I was involved with Goodwood partner Bonhams’ auction Sale. Star car on offer was the 1953 Jaguar C-Type ‘POV 114’ which has been in one family ownership since it was bought in March 1963… It sold for £5,661,967 which was not too shabby compared to its 1963 price of £635.

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The great thing about the old car was that there were only eight C-Types that ever raced at Le Mans in period. Of those eight the Jaguar factory dismantled the first three, which left only five survivors to posterity. Amongst those five genuine Le Mans C-Types only one has survived with its original Le Mans paintwork notionally intact – under several other succeeding paint layers, because it has never been fully restored. And that sole survivor conserved in ‘time machine’ condition is ‘POV 114’, ex-Ecurie Francorchamps, ex-Dunlop, ex-Mike Salmon, ex-Gordon Lee and ex-Robin Sturgess… three great club racing names from 1957-60.  Robin Sturgess and his two sons were actually at the Fairmont for the Sale, and Robin received a great ovation when introduced to the audience as the Lot was launched, by Bonhams’ auctioneer, James Knight.

Now sorting out the true history of ‘POV’ has occupied a recent five months of my life. The task became a real mission, as explained in a recent issue of ‘Octane’ magazine. It turned out that the crucial moment in the car’s life was when – in the winter of 1954-55 – the factory – yes, the factory, blast it! – changed the stamped-in chassis number on the car’s frame from its original ‘XKC 047’ to the identity ‘XKC 011’ which the vehicle has carried ever since. Meanwhile its original ‘047’ stamp was conferred upon former works car ‘011’ which had been loaned to the Belgian Ecurie Francorchamps team to campaign in 1954.  They had done so well with it that Jaguar head William Lyons allowed them to retain that disc-braked car for private sale, while taking their previous year’s drum-braked C-Type (‘POV’) onto the factory inventory in its place.

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Now in essence, once I had got my historically-minded head around that shuffle, it became possible to ‘read’ the fabric of the car itself, and trace all its changes through from origination in 1953 to Monaco Sale in 2016. I photographed the car from every angle to preserve the evidence – just in case some future owner might grow bored with its paint cracks, dents and chips, and (stupidly in my view) ever restore/repaint it – because full restoration is also, inescapably, a process of obliteration. Once original evidence has been lost, it can never, ever, be retrieved. And as the world’s treasury of original, unspoiled-from-period, great cars loses examples to unthinking restoration – so they become ever more rare. Rarity enhances value within a connoisseurial market. Hence the £5-million-plus price just achieved for ‘POV’.

This warming experience took me back to the day in the winter of 1997-98 when I tramped around a lap or two of the Goodwood Motor Circuit, taking record photographs simply to preserve a proper idea of how it was before restoration commenced to revive its active racing career.

Here are just a few of the shots I took that chill but bright and sunny day. as it was before the inescapable restoration work began which won a track licence again and enabled us to resume racing on the old site.

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Flicking through the prints is quite a nostalgic experience by itself. Here’s the old parachute drying building with its clerestory roof, standing isolated betwixt track and main entrance. Don’t those trees look small back then? And doesn’t the mouldering old wartime building show its age, weathered alarming close to a point of no return.

Out on circuit near the outside of the left-hand curve early in the Lavant ‘Straight’ there was an area of stony rubble with a small stand of daffodils sprouting from it.  While I recall that as being the site of the tragically concrete-protected marshal’s post that Bruce McLaren’s CanAm car hit in his June 1970 accident, I’m not so sure that’s right from the aerodrome buildings background. Maybe it was one of the former posts, or even the filled-in spectator tunnel mouth, further along the Straight towards Woodcote Corner.

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Then there’s the patch-surfaced final right-hand tweak before the braking marker entering Woodcote. The tyre marks are off-line – in my estimation – the dope who left them should have been aiming square at the end wall of the AeroShell building… but never mind, it looks as if he (or she) got away with it.

Further into the corner there are the 1990s race driving school red marker posts for clipping points, and what concentrates my mind (from a 21st Century perspective) is the threat presented by those tumbled tyres against the old, eroded, sloping earth bank.  A safety retaining wall – or a launching ramp?  It’s interesting too to see Freddie March’s famously preferred concrete post and lintel barrier behind the earth banking. That enabled us to move the wall face back in restoration while staying true to the original course itself.

Woodcote Corner approach as it used to be, patchy surface, sloping earth banks, and some advisory track boards
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On the outside of the Motor Circuit between Woodcote and the chicane, one-time spectator access to the viewing area behind the old concrete barrier and the later 1950s earth bank, had been blocked by a considerable coppice of young trees and bushes which had colonized the area. The tumbled old tyres themselves from years of test-circuit duty were also almost engulfed by vegetation and scree from the eroding banks behind…

And up there beyond the chicane on the main pit straight, with my back to the site of where the main grandstands once stood – and soon would stand again – the pit and paddock area just looked aerodrome-flat. No height, no pit structures left apart from the vestigial ‘Ted’s Shed’ way down at the pit-lane’s entry end. And there’s the old pit-lane barrier installed in the 1960s, where for years only a grass median verge – mowed flat – had discouraged out-of-control cars (and drivers) from penetrating the pit area.

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But we used to wander up and down that unprotected pit lane in total confidence, feeling happily secure – because all of our conditioning and training was to keep half an eye, sub-consciously, on all fast-approaching traffic.

Times change. Time changes cars, and conditions, and concepts. But in essence, for any enthusiast, history has its own life. And when a time machine enables us to revisit it – just appreciate the opportunity. From a safe distance – and with full benefit of hindsight – it’s a comfy place to be…

Photography courtesy of The GP Library

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