Stephen Errity, GT Correspondent
Down and Dirty
The great Concours events on the automotive calendar, of which Pebble Beach is the most famous, are undoubtedly a fantastic showcase for some of the finest automobiles on the planet. But a certain breed of enthusiast prefers to see cars getting used as they were designed to be, rather than displayed like an oil painting. At Race Retro in the UK, you’ll find an entire show dedicated to this philosophy. This annual gathering is all about using classic racing machinery for its intended purpose, and using it hard. Historic racing and rallying car preparation experts, event organisers, parts suppliers, drivers, teams and fans come together to show off their wares and prepare for the year ahead. The place is full of appreciation for the greats of the past, but there’s also a strong sense of wanting to enjoy cars to the full in the present.
The event highlights a ‘chosen marque’ each year, and this time around the honour fell to Porsche, with some highly significant pieces of the Stuttgart firm’s motorsport history on display. The oldest was a very special 1961 718 Spyder RS 61 – one of only 14 ever built. This car will forever be known as the one Stirling Moss was driving when he finally decided to hang up his helmet for good during qualifying for the Le Mans Legends race last year.
Group C fans had a special treat in the form of Porsche 956 chassis number 001 – the very first production example of the car that utterly dominated endurance sportscar racing for most of the 1980s. This one finished on the podium in two-thirds of the races it entered – but then it only entered three events: the 1982 Silverstone Six Hours (the second-ever race of the Group C era, where it finished third), the 1982 Le Mans 24 Hours (where it was used as a spare car and didn't actually race) and the 1982 Norisring 200 Miles (which it won).
Also present was Porsche 962C chassis 010 – the Shell-livered car driven to second place overall at Le Mans 1988 by Hans-Joachim Stuck, Klaus Ludwig and Derek Bell. The final Group C Porsche at Race Retro was another 962C – chassis 116. This also appeared at Le Mans 1988, wearing Blaupunkt livery and driven to third place by Frank Jelinski, Stanley Dickens and the mysterious German gentleman driver 'John Winter,' real name Louis Krages.
Of course, Porsche had an illustrious record in sportscars well before the 956/962 appeared, as evidenced by the presence of two 908s. The first was chassis 006, finished in the Gulf livery it wore for the 1975 World Sportscar Championship, driven by Herbert Muller, Gijs van Lennep and Leo Kinnunen to a handful of podium finishes. The other was chassis 012, a veteran of no less than 45 races from 1971 to 1980, but only one win: the 1975 Vallelunga Two Hours.
The live action stage is one of the biggest draws of Race Retro every year, thanks to a guaranteed line-up of some of the most spectacular and historically significant rally cars you'll see at any event. This year's star attraction was a Porsche 914-6, owned by musician Jay Kay but driven by the man who took it to third place on the 1971 Monte Carlo rally – Sweden's Bjorn Waldegaard. But the star driver turned out to be Ryan Champion. The British Rally Championship entrant drove his ex-works 1996 Group A Subaru Impreza on the limit, kicking up the dirt at every corner and keeping the many photographers present on their toes. Other notable entrants included John Hanlon in the ex-Stig Blomqvist 1983 Audi Quattro, Ian Gwynne in the ex-Henri Toivonen 1981 Lotus Sunbeam Talbot, Duncan Holder in the intimidating ex-Tony Pond 1986 Rover Vitesse, Tim Bloxham in an ex-Waldegaard Ford Escort MkII and the unusual Fiat X1/9 of Philip Morton.
The Club Lanciasport and Abarth UK stands were to be found next to each other in the display halls, offering plenty for fans of Italian metal to drool over. Highlights on the Lancia stand included a works 037 rally car from 1984, in black-and-yellow Olio Fiat livery, as driven by Fabrizio Tabaton. A second works 037 was finished in the classic Martini livery and presented in full, beefed-up Safari Rally specification. This car was driven in-period on the 1984 Safari by Antonio Bettega and also won the African Championship in the hands of privateer Vic Preston Jr. Over in the Abarth enclosure, every stage of the famous company's history was represented, from early collaborations with Fiat in the shape of the 500-based 595 SS to the latest showroom-fresh Abarth Punto and 500 models. In between, there was a 1966 Abarth Fiat 1000TC Berlinetta Corsa and the very elegant shape of an Abarth Simca 2000 Corsa.
Fans of American muscle could appreciate a very rare example of a racing Shelby Cobra. Fully restored in 2009, COB 6008 is one of only three right-hand-drive competition Cobras built for private customers. Despite having a relatively unremarkable period race history, it has been driven by some of the most famous names in the sport at historic events since the 1990s, including Jack Sears, Jackie Oliver, Gerry Marshall, Dan Gurney, Derek Bell, Stefan Johansson and Richard Attwood.
The Art of Restoration
Four years and seven thousand man-hours: that's how long it takes to turn a twisted lump of rusting metal into a flawless, gleaming historic racing car. The Lindner/Nocker E-Type was one of the stars of Race Retro, fresh from winning 'Restoration of the Year' at the International Historic Motoring Awards. It was one of the original 12 lightweight E-Types produced by Jaguar in 1963, but the following year it was returned to the factory to get an experimental low-drag body, and was the only lightweight E-Type to have this body fitted by Jaguar. The car crashed in 1964, not long after being rebodied, and its running gear was fitted to another body, leaving the badly damaged original to languish in a French garage for years. Amazingly, 90 percent of the original metal has been preserved in this restoration: a testament to the skill, patience and craftsmanship of today's best historic car restoration specialists.
See the full Race Retro photo gallery here.