‘I only started out casually, just helping, really,’ says Historic Automobiles boss Simon Blake of the time, many years ago, when he began his association with Lanzante Motorsport. ‘It got to the stage where I was actually needed there, so I started working full-time!’
His stint at Lanzante lasted 24 years, after which Simon enjoyed a brief spell at GTO Engineering before setting up his own company Historic Automobiles almost 10 years ago to the day. ‘I don’t know where the time has gone!’ he concedes, reflecting on the decade that’s passed since he set up his race preparation business.
His timing was good though, because today’s strong historic racing scene has spawned a huge industry of companies and personnel required to keep all the cars on-track and looking the part. Currently occupying his workshop are four Ford GT40s, two Bizzarinis (one of them chassis number 1), a McLaren M8D, Lola T70, two Lotus Cortinas, a GT350 Mustang, the Moss/Salvadori Maserati 250F, a McLaren M6/M12, a C-Type Jaguar, a Mini Cooper, and a brace of AC Cobras. ‘The Bizzarini (chassis number one) I’ve looked after for over twenty years from Lanzante, GTO and now here, in which time it’s had three owners!’
All those cars (and many more) require a sizeable commitment to keep racing. ‘There are so many historic race meetings now. If you’re prepared to travel then you could take part in one almost every weekend of the year’ he explains, ‘three events at Goodwood, the Spa 6 hours, Silverstone, Le Mans, Monaco… the list goes on, and we’re involved in almost all of them. It’s a huge responsibility, because first-and-foremost the cars must be safe. After that our priority is that they finish races.’
The thing about historic racing though is that more and more people are getting the bug, as the growing grids and number of meetings is testament to. Historic Automobiles’ customers, like many, tend to add to their racing stable in order to take part in more races at each meeting. First they acquire a GT40, then a Cobra, then a Lotus Cortina, and so on. ‘For this reason versatility is important,’ Simon divulges. ‘If a customer has paid to enter various races then their cars simply have to be there. We simply cannot say “sorry but we can’t get it done on time.”‘ They haven’t missed one yet …
A further complication for the current-day historic race engineer is that nowadays owners want their cars to be prepared as they were back in the day. ‘People didn’t used to be too bothered about correctness in the Eighties and Nineties; Electronic ignition systems, incorrect wheels, anodised Aeroquip hoses and so on…’ Simon explains. ‘At least Aeroquip do their fittings in black now so they look the part as well as being safer than original items!’ Pushed as to his area of expertise, he reluctantly concedes; ‘it’s most important to be versatile, but GT40s and Bizzarinis do it for me. Both are strong, powerful machines. Men’s cars! They can be a bit of a handul, too, but as soon as we unload either at a circuit there is always lots of interest. Also, each is as fast as their more exotic counterparts, but less expensive to run.’
But what about Simon’s own pride and joy? ‘Well I do have a DB6, but I never get round to putting it on the road. I’ve had it for 6 years and promise myself that I’ll take it to the Revival meeting each year but it just never happens! Maybe next year…?
‘But really it’s an honour to be trusted with so many wonderful cars. We’re very lucky that their owners want us to run them for them.’
Simon grins. ‘Actually, scratch that. They’re lucky to have us!’
Photography by Tom Shaxson