As anyone who knows me will attest, fashion is not exactly my thing. I’ll pull out an old tweed jacket and some cords for the Revival but that’s almost a requirement of entry. The rest of the time, my clothes come from catalogues chosen by my long-suffering missus.
But there is one item of apparel in which I am very interested. It’s not clothing as such, but if you are in any way involved in the historic racing world, it’s very much part of the uniform. It’s not the car you’re racing, but the car that gets it to the racetrack.
I don’t think there is such a thing as a cool brand-new tow car. Modern Range Rovers and their kin are effective and desirable but you’re never going to cut a dash in the paddock in one. By contrast, a 40-year-old Range Rover with three doors and a rusting tailgate is about as cool a way to make an appearance as exists. In the new car world – now that the Defender is no longer made – I think a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen is the only new car that could possibly augment your paddock credibility among your peers, and the problem with that is the cheapest now costs £87,000.
Of course there is the default position, namely the tried and trusted battered old Toyota Land Cruiser Amazon. Anyone turning into the circuit gates with their race car hung off the back of one of these is entitled to and will receive instant, unquestioning respect. The Amazon’s extraordinary achievement (and don’t let anyone try to kid you a normal Land Cruiser is any kind of acceptable alternative) is to not only make everyone know there is a proper person passing, but also to be the most effective working tool any small race team can own. Their construction owes more to a lorry than a car; they’re nicely run in at 250,000 miles and have interiors sufficiently vast to swallow back axles, gearboxes and an entire weekend’s worth of spares.
My only problem with the ‘cruiser is that these days it is perhaps just a touch predictable. Walking around Spa yesterday I saw five, yet not a single Nissan Patrol, its equally large and rugged rival.
What I did see however was this fabulous Ford Woody Wagon (see lead image) which, I think, is actually the superbly entitled Country Squire model, playing cart horse to the racing Mustang on the trailer behind it. What a way to arrive! Not an easy rig to park and not a nice fuel bill to swallow I am sure, but when the package is so ineffably right, counter-intuitively cool and fun to rumble across Europe in, I expect it’s more than worth it.
Not as cool, however, as the rig I saw earlier this year (above) while testing one day at Silverstone, namely a Bugatti Type 46 towing the owner’s Type 35 Grand Prix car. I don’t imagine there’s been a more expensive combination in history. Pre-war Bentleys have been used as tow cars too, and more than once: veteran car stalwart Johnny Thomas has used a 41/2-litre Bentley to tow his ancient Napier, and Alain de Cadenet used another to tow his prototype sports racer all over Europe in the 1970s.
In my more limited world, I think the most fun I’ve ever had out of any tender car was at the Le Mans Classic in 2012, thanks an Alfa Giulia Estate, whose owner had it painted in the yellow and black livery of Monzeglio Squadra Corse with ‘Servizio E Assistenza’ written down its flanks. So armed and without a pass to our name, we were waved past every barrier and were therefore able to go anywhere and everywhere we wanted, unimpeded by officialdom. Sadly it broke down and ended up on a trailer itself, but not before we’d had a weekend hooting with laughter at just what can be achieved with a car that looks the part and a slightly dodgy paint job.