Silverstone, Northants 20-22 July 2018 Words & Photography: Steve Havelock
Way back in 2005 I interviewed ex Formula One driver and 1969 Le Mans winner, Jackie Oliver who was at the time, the Chairman of Silverstone Circuits Ltd. and he told me “Running race meetings does not have the popular spectator appeal it used to in the Sixties and Seventies. I just don’t think that the paying public are prepared to come in their tens of thousands and watch race cars go around. I think you have got to provide other elements.” Prophetic words indeed and something that the current team who organise the Silverstone Classic have clearly grasped. They not only lay on one of the largest historic race meetings in the world, they also put on a show, with plenty of live music, a funfair, a gigantic big wheel, a trade village, hot air balloons and aerobatic, stunt driving and drag racing displays. They also encourage the participation of scores of car clubs whose members are made to feel part of the event rather than mere onlookers and they even get a chance to parade around the circuit. This three day event kicked off on Friday under Sahara like conditions. Then at around 6.30 pm, just as the American “Transatlantic Trophy” race cars came out on track to qualify, the heavens opened up. I bolted for the cover of the grandstands, where I was entertained by watching the cars slide and slither around while over yonder on the Live Stage, “Noasis” started their gig. An hour later, the stair rods turned to light drizzle so I ventured across, arriving just as “U2-2” took to the stage and very good they were too. They were followed by “Soul II Soul” whose driving rhythmic beat got the pac-a-mac clad, umbrella wielding crowd dancing around. The following evening, “UB40” had the luxury of performing under warm, glowing skies. I was up and about at 7.30am on Saturday morning and headed off to the “Ace Cafe” (who had taken over from Silverstone’s caterers for the weekend) for a full English and a mug of coffee. I love watching events coming to life first thing in the morning. Bleary eyed folk appearing out of their tents and camper vans, covers being rolled off race cars, streams of classics pouring in and the smell of sizzling bacon. Then race engines burst into life and the track action begins. `Watching the world go by was Iain Dunkley and his friend Nigel Costin, utilising the flat bed of Iain’s big block 1977 Ford Ranchero as a table for their coffees. “A really enjoyable event” they both agreed. Next door was the Mustang Owners Club where I got chatting to John Warren from Croydon with his lovely and well travelled ’66. “This is my 9th Silverstone Classic. It’s great to see the whole range of Mustangs, but I also enjoy the wide variety of other cars, old and new. There’s always another pretty motor on another stand somewhere.” The Classic Corvette Club U.K. produced a good turnout and so did the Cobra Register, which was only formed nine months ago. There were numerous American cars and trucks dotted around including a rare Nash Healey two seater soft top. Then, even above the noise of the racing, I heard the unmistakable cacophony of drag race engines. The crowd pleasing Streetcar Shootout had begun. Now Silverstone is a massive place and started life as a WWII airfield, so there is no shortage of flat land. So why oh why do the organisers give the drag racers a pathetically short patch on which to race, half of which is the steeply downhill section of the old race track layout called “Bridge”? Not only doesn’t it allow the cars and drivers to show what they can do, but a downhill braking zone is not a good idea in anyone’s books. There were some awesome cars this year, prodded along by some ridiculously powerful engines. It’s hard to believe that they were street legal but they are. Andy Crockett from Oxford brought along his gorgeous Apple Red Kandy 1941 Willys Coupe powered by a monstrous 468cu.in. supercharged and fuel injected 710 horsepower Chevy motor. He says “It’s all original steel. I bought it like this three years ago from a 73 year old chap in America who’d owned it for fifty years. He phones me every week to say he wants it back. It’s basically a show car and I drive it on the street but I don’t mind Run What You Brung events and fun demos like this.” Even more outrageous was the spaceframe chassied 1957 Chevy Bel Air of John Dewey that he’s owned for fifteen years. Its whopping 616cu.in Jeff Bull built motor, in spite of being normally aspirated, pumps out 880 horsepower. Looking inside, I was intrigued by the sight of four gearlevers atop a massive casing. John explained “It’s a Lenco ST1200 gearbox which was derived from a bulldozer gearbox. You use the clutch to start off but thereafter you just grab a gear without using the clutch. I bought it in Florida, stripped it down in our hotel room and brought it home in suitcases. I’ve run a best standing quarter mile time of 9.60 seconds, 142 mph.” Jeff Thurston from Romford has owned his 1967 Mustang for over twenty years. In spite of him being a senior citizen, he’s not afraid to unleash all 620 horsepower of his 557 cu.in. Ford motor as he provided possibly the smokiest burnouts of all. Simon Rickwood’s “Bossa Nova”, a ’69 Chevy Nova, should be renamed “Purple Haze” because that’s all you could see through the tyre smoke. With 635 bhp on tap from its 434cu.in motor, he competes in “Nostalgia Superstock” and has run a 9.9 secs/134mph. Justin Woolner from Peterborough prefers the Rat Rod look to these shiny marvels but engineering-wise, his car is anything but ratty, boasting a supercharged Rodek 481 cu.in motor. In addition there were crazy V8 powered Fiat 126s, Ford Pops, a Consul and a superb tricked up turbo’d Jaguar E Type. As a grande finale, the crowd were treated to some burnouts and runs by “Mental Breakdown”, a full blown 1700 bhp Hemi powered dragster thinly disguised as a 1965 VW single cab pickup truck. This insane piece of kit, built by Wayne Allman of The Intergalactic Custom Shop has run 7.17 seconds at 196.19mph. Now come on Silverstone, for next year let’s have more space to run on and see what all these beauties are capable of. Out on track, Cobras, Daytona Coupes, Corvettes, Falcons, Mustangs and Galaxies were in the thick of the action. Martin Hunt and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards fended off the hordes of E Type Jags to win the prestigious RAC TT in their Cobra and the Ford Falcon Sprint of Mark Gardiner and Andy Wolfe won the Transatlantic Trophy for Pre-’66 Touring Cars from the Mustangs of Craig Davies and James Thorpe/Sean McInerney. Another cracking Classic.