While there was a vast selection of race cars from all racing disciplines represented at the Historic Motorsport International show at London Excel last week, sportscars were out in numbers and stole the show.
From the 1920’s all the way through till the early 2000s, representatives from almost every decade were present, from Group C Le Mans winners, to British GT specials, this year’s show was a sight to behold for fans of long-distance motorsport.
A hint of the early years
The elder statesman of the group was this mock up of a 1929 Bentley ‘Blower’ Vanden Plas, which way back when would have been driven by the likes of two-time Le Mans- winning ‘Bentley Boy’ Henry “Tim” Birkin.
Originally an un-supercharged 4 1/2 litre model, this one was was eventually converted into Le Mans-spec, and still races today.
Following the second World War, showcasing the dramatic differences between two endurance sportscars designed just a few decades apart was this Matra M650.
This model – chassis #1 – competed in a wide variety of endurance races during 1969 and ’70, the highlights being a fourth place finish at Le Mans in ’69 and top five finish at the Daytona 24 Hours a year later.
Its one (class) win came in October 1969 at the 1000km of Paris with French legends Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Henri Pescarolo at the wheel.
Born from the same era, but from the other side of the English Channel meanwhile was this immaculate Lola T282. This model, which replaced the T280, housed a Ford Cosworth DFV engine.
Here it’s seen in the Gitanes livery which it was campaigned by Scuderia Fillipinetti and driven by Reine Wisell and Jean Louis Lafosse in ’73, competing in multiple endurance races.
That year the duo competed in the Daytona 24 Hours, Monza 1000km, Six Hours of Vallelunga and Dijon 1000km, scoring two sixth-place finishes in their trips to Spain and France.
At the show, there was a fine tribute to the career of Belgian Le Mans legend Jackie Ickx, with various cars from his stunning CV available to marvel at.
The earliest of the trio of Le Mans winners which made the journey to London was the Gulf Mirage GR8, which Ickx won Le Mans with in 1975 with Derek Bell.
Built around a 3-litre Cosworth DFV V8 F1 engine, it was known for being fast but fragile (vibration issues plagued the DFV’s endurance exploits). In ’75 however, it prevailed and managed to complete the twice-around-the-clock classic, completing 336 laps, beating out the best from Ligier and Porsche.
The GR8’s big win with John Wyatt’s Gulf Research Racing team was the first of the duo’s three victories at La Sarthe as teammates.
Also on show, sitting next to the Gulf-Mirage was Ickx’s Martini Racing Porsche 936 which won the 1977 Le Mans 24 Hours with, sharing it with legendary American racer Hurley Haywood and German engineer turned driver Jürgen Barth.
The victory in ’77 was a dominant one, with the trio steering the 2.1L Turbo Flat-6-powered 936 to an 11-lap victory despite having engine issues in the closing hour. It was the best of the bunch in what was a historic race of attrition at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
In fact, all three wins which Ickx took in the 936 at Le Mans were dominant, with his victory a year earlier in’76 with Gijs van Lennep also by 11-laps and his third (second with Derek Bell) in 1981 by a record 14-laps.
Group C heavy hitters
Into the 80s era there was plenty of iconic Group C machinery to whet the appetite of the show goers.
The highlight of the quintet of C1 and C2 cars present was arguably the 1988 Le Mans-winning Jaguar XJR9 wearing its iconic Silk Cut colour scheme.
Driven by Jan Lammers, Andy Wallace and Johnny Dumfries, the car saw Jaguar take its first win at the French classic since 1957, covering a distance of 5,332.79km and 397 laps in one of the most competitive fields ever to compete in the race.
The third and final sportscar driven by Ickx meanwhile was also an instantly recognisable Group C machine.
The Rothmans-liveried Porsche 956 is one of the all-time greats, scoring an all-important Le Mans win in its first attempt in 1982 at the dawn of a new era for sportscar racing.
Ickx and Bell headlined a Rothmans Porsche 1-2-3 at the head of the field, three and 19-laps clear of their teammates making up the podium.
The #1 car on display though, wasn’t the Le Mans victor, instead the developmental 956 from that season, which Ickx and Bell scored pole and the win at the maiden Group C race at Silverstone.
Another Porsche on hand was a Daytona-spec Joest IMSA GTP 962 with in-house aero modifications (featured image), which failed to finish the 1993 Rolex 24 Hours after its water pump failed.
It did however qualify 3rd on the grid with a 1:36.197, in what was the last appearance of the 962 at the Floridian race.
And finally, a pair of C2 Spices were also present on the show floor.
The first (below) a 1986 Spice Hart SE86C (chassis #2) which competed at Le Mans three times, its claim to fame a class pole in 1988 with Chamberlain Engineering before DNF’ing in the main event after Nick Adams, Martin Birrane and Richard Jones completed 223 laps.
The other, Spice SE86C chassis #1, which raced at Le Mans five times and won the C2 class the same year which chassis #2 scored pole.
At the event, Gordon Spice and his team that included Ray Bellm and Pierre de Thoisy alongside him in the cockpit took a 33-lap win the fiercely contested but attrition-hit category.
Grand Touring oddities
Of the more recent cars at display, there were two fan favourite GT cars, both will be very familiar to long-time DSC readers.
The first a Team Marcos LM600 from 1995, driven by Chris Marsh, David Leslie and François Migault which failed to finish the Le Mans 24 Hours after electronics issues.
The car, or rather the pit crew run by Dave Prewitt, did thoughtake the ESCRA prize, a trophy handed to the mechanics showing the best competitive spirit.
The second was the infamous Rollcentre Racing TVR Tuscan R, which raced two seasons in British GT during 2001 and 2002. The car won six races across the two years and scored five further podiums during its pair of domestic campaigns and would have won the 2002 title had it not been for a mechanical failure at the Donington Park deciding round that year.
It was also the first Tuscan R to feature in an international race, when it competed in the Suzuka 1000km with Martin Short, Rob Barff and Richard Stanton against a full Super GT field. The car, which was the first chassis built, but second to debut, finished in the top 20 and second in its class.
It was also part of one of DSC’s all-time great April 1st tricks. With a combination of Marcus Potts’ photoshop genius and GG’s comedic talents, DSC managed to convince Martin Short that his new driver Simon Pullen was getting serious air at Dingle Dell on his debut with the team.
“That young lad of yours was well off the ground at Dingle Dell,” Goodwin said to Short.
“Yeah well we all get air there mate,” Short replied.
“No no, Martin,” Goodwin stressed. “He was seriously flying!”
It took a little while to calm Shorty down after he’d seen the ‘evidence’. It’s a shot that still pops up from time to time as an internet ‘Alternative Fact’ even today!
With thanks to John Brooks & Richard Webb