This week, I write about another historic motorsport venue. It's one which never competed with Goodwood in period for visitors because it stopped hosting races before the war after which Goodwood was inaugurated. And today Brooklands, a focal point for all manner of motoring and aviation history, gives car nuts the perfect excuse to begin the New Year in the correctly automotive frame of mind.
JAN 23rd 2017
John Simister: Starting 2017 right – Brooklands New Year's Day gathering
The Brooklands Museum's New Year's Day gathering begins at 9am, so you'll need to have gone easy on the celebratory liquids a few hours earlier. It's worth the abstinence, because several hundred cars will arrive to cover the banking, the Finishing Straight, the area around the clubhouse, and anywhere else they can be fitted in among aircraft, hangars and workshops. Cars should be at least 30 years old, the older the better, and the assemblage of automobiles can be amazingly eclectic.
And, of course, there's the pleasure of getting there, best enjoyed if you can gather together a posse of like-minded mates. Trouble is, the weather forecast for this year's gathering was gruesome: rain and more rain. A lot of classic-car owners would be staying at home, I reckoned.
But I was determined to go. It would be interesting to see who the all-weather diehards are, and what cars they would bring. Besides, all that rain would wash away the lashings of salt spread on the roads in previous days, so our old cars wouldn't be suffering too much.
Friends Bryan Smart (a serial collector of lovely machinery) and Peter Burgess (fellow motoring scribbler) agreed so we all gathered at my house on the Herts/Bucks border for 8am. Of rain, there was little sign beyond a feeble drizzle, which stopped even while Peter, his nose and fingers numb, was re-erecting the hood of his 1970 Lotus Elan. He had set off from home with fresh-air thrills in mind, but hardy had turned to foolhardy and snugness was his new goal.
Bryan arrived in his latest acquisition, an original chrome-bumpered MGB GT V8. It's unrestored apart from paint, seemingly never even welded and a delightful machine with its lazy, torquey engine in a compact GT body. Classics come no more usable and undemanding than this. In the passenger seat was friend Robert Lancaster-Gaye, who ought to have been in his Escort Twin-Cam but was making some excuse about the straight-cut rally gearbox being too noisy and the clutch too fierce. A more road-friendly transmission, to original spec, is Robert's 2017 project. And then he might actually use it.
My machine of choice was my Sunbeam Stiletto, which has already appeared in Andrew Frankel's column following our foray to some Welsh mountains last year. It's fairly standard apart from an engine enlarged from 875 to 998cc, and following an engine rebuild last year, it's behaving well. This was to be its first long run since I got the rev-counter back from its refurbishment, and very useful that instrument would prove.
The plan was to rendezvous with another mate at Beaconsfield Services, Simon Worland who is an even longer-standing fan of the Imp breed than I am. His 1966 Singer Chamois has been in his family since he was three years old and it a year, and it's both pristine and cleverly modified. Fuel injection and mapped management for its 1040,cc engine are the centrepieces here; on a run to Le Mans a few years ago, in company with a 911 Carrera 2.7 RS, it used precisely half as much fuel as its similarly rear-engined running mate.
So four cars arrived at Brooklands and parked among diverse other machinery. Yes, numbers were down over previous years, but the weather threat hadn't deterred doughty drivers of vintage Bentleys, Lagondas, Austin Sevens and more. Nor need they have worried, because not a drop of the predicted rain fell at Brooklands while we were there, from bacon rolls to lunchtime.
Among the post-war cars, whose owners tend to be more worried about rain and salt because most of their cars are built of sheet steel, it was noticeable that most present wore an obviously driven-and-enjoyed aura, be the cars immaculate, rat-look or somewhere in between. Their owners were not precious about using their cars; being there, and being part of the scene, was more important.
Eclectic machinery spotted on the famous banking included a Reliant Sabre Sports car and a Citroën CX convertible. Outside the clubhouse a Ford Model T sat next to a Morris Eight and a pair of Bentleys. In our part of the car park a Series 1 Land-Rover (hyphenated back then) was juxtaposed with a bright yellow modern Defender on gigantic wheels. There were hotrods, vintage motorcycles, a Triumph Toledo with a Ford V6 under its bonnet. Such a brilliant mix, all to the backdrop of Brooklands' major restoration work which has just revealed the old Finishing Straight thanks to the relocation of the Wellington Hangar.
The rain finally fell, in sheets, on the way home, just as the Stiletto's speedometer failed in a spasm of needle blur. No need to worry, though, even as I passed under the M25's cameras. 70mph corresponds to exactly 4,666rpm on my newly-alive rev-counter.
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