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Rare Vintage Whine
Bob Ottum
December 20, 1982
When old racing cars in new battles go wheel to wheel at full cry, Britons get a corking show
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December 20, 1982

Rare Vintage Whine

When old racing cars in new battles go wheel to wheel at full cry, Britons get a corking show

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Look! Here comes a passel of cars, every damn one of them sliding through the corners, with the drivers sitting upright, the way the Good Lord intended. There's a tricky chicane going into Silverstone's main straightaway, and any driver worth his silver blazer buttons comes blasting out of it with his arms crisscrossed, fighting the wheel, looking this way while the car drifts that way. It makes hearts leap up. Perfect little balloons of smoke puff from many of the cars each time they downshift, leaving a scent of castor oil, and there's—do you hear that?—the squeal of tires. Nowadays, race cars look and sound as if they're on rails.

Watching intently from the paddock is Stirling Moss, England's ace of aces in the late '50s and early '60s. Moss is 53 now, and he hasn't raced for real since his crash at Goodwood 19 years ago, but from the gleam in his eye you can tell he'd like to be out there mixing it up. "The only thing historic around here is me," Moss says. Clearly he believes the old cars will never lose their fascination. "You say, 'This isn't the work of some modern engineer. I'm balancing the ruddy thing all by myself.' "

There's no time for pit stops in a 10-lap race, but here comes Hoole's Cooper-Climax down pit road, with Sid the Chip looking grim—one can actually spot expressions beneath those vintage helmets—and holding the car in gear with one hand. "It's very worrying to drive like that," he says, dropping out on the fourth lap. Pole-sitter Harper drives his own peculiar race in the giant Connaught. "It's very, very, very fast in a straight line," he says, "but otherwise a bit clumsy. So I barrel down the straights and absolutely creep around the corners." Fine, but what makes that scary is that Harper still cranks out a dazzling 102-mph lap. Harper will eventually finish second to a Cooper 51, driven by Willie Green.

Based on the season's points, the overall series goes to sixth-place Mike Salmon in a 1955 Aston Martin DBR-1, which has one of the more impressive pedigrees in the field. It's fully certified as having been raced by Roy Salvadori, Carroll Shelby and Stirling Moss; it has been everywhere and done everything. The darn thing ought to be covered at night with a trench coat, collar turned up.

Me? I'll take that shining Lotus 11 over there, the open-cockpit, two-seater Le Mans model. It's not powerful enough to win anything, what with its little old Coventry-Climax engine featuring a golden medallion of Lady Godiva, but the tiny car is dashing enough to turn any devotee's head. Owner Dr. David Springett owns six Lotuses—"When you own six, they're called Loti," he says—and what he lacks in trophies, he more than makes up for in the almost sensual pleasure he gets from racing his cars. "You look down that bonnet," he says, "and you know that this is what driving a car should feel like."

Well, sure it is. And after 10 lovely laps, just 29.32 miles, the drivers end their day with a civilized glass or two. Another race, featuring more contemporary vehicles, is going on, but they pay it no heed. They gather around one of the trailers in the infield, sipping fine white wine and nibbling little munchies. Parked all around them are the shining bolides of yesterday, and in the late afternoon sun, with dust motes dancing in the air, there's a sense of a more golden and better time.

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