Whilst it certainly wasn’t a Festival of Speed, the near COVID-capacity crowd who lined the grassy banks of Oulton Park on Saturday were treated to a feast of rarities and specials, all in a celebration of three, four and six-wheeled gems.

Down south, there was Prosecco to be quaffed, strawberries to be munched-on and fast-paced, tyre-smoking antics to entertain; this would be a far more leisurely affair. There were picnics aplenty, a dazzling array of Concours entries, a challenging Autosolo test, and of course, a full programme of racing, though as the day’s highlight (the Longstone Tyres Light Car race) proved, speed is not the only element required for a fantastic day of motor sport.

Early morning Light Car arrivals in the paddock

Connect the words ‘vintage’ and ‘car’ and it’s easy to conjure an image of something antiquated, oily and predictably unreliable, yet apply ‘vintage’ to almost anything else and ‘antiquated’ becomes ‘chic, ‘oily’ becomes ‘crafted’ and reliability is simply a challenge to be savoured. The Vintage Sports Car Club has recognised this and so whilst the cars remain true to period, its membership is evolving. The ‘olds’ are still deck-chaired in abundance, but their children (who grew-up spending weekends being hauled to trials and hill climbs) have stayed too; and now they’re bringing their friends, and their own little ones. The tweeds and beige are fading; colour has been restored. 

Arriving in the paddock after a pre-dawn drive from London, I was immediately struck by how bare the place looked; a lone race-truck, a converted coach and a handful of vans with scattered trailers and that was it. But as I made my way past, I noticed the tax-disc holders on the sides of a growing line of warm-engined cars, assembling for the day ahead.  A look closer still and there were bags of spanners and rags lying alongside. It might be grass-roots but nobody was complaining. Most noticeable of all though was the sheer number of novice crosses on display. The VSCC and Longstone Tyres clearly working brilliantly together to make this a true parents and pals event and with it, introducing a whole new generation of racers to the sport.

The (now) unique GN Grand Prix of Mark & Hughie Walker was one of many exceptional cars on the bill

The ‘also rans’ were just as special . . just not so light

There were, of course, the more seasoned entries; cars that had once starred at Brooklands and Montlhéry. On any other day, I’d be captivated, yet I found myself time and time again being drawn away from the garages and back to the long line of Austin Chummies and quirky cyclecars.

The 1938 Lagonda V12 is one of the most stunning race cars to have ever emerged from these shores
Yet back in the paddock, most eyes were on the pre-war cyclecars

The Longstone Tyres Light Car Race

This was to be the only running (so far) this century of a race first held back in 1953. The qualifications for entry remaining loyal to previous regulations, stating that all vehicles must be pre-1931, under 1500cc, unmodified (from leaving the factory), and deliver less than 30hp. The 1913, 855cc Peugeot Bebe of Justin & Ben Maeers was the oldest (and one of the most striking) of the entries whilst a dozen or so Austin Sevens would amply demonstrate that for the price of new Vauxhall Corsa, you can buy a car with real history and compete in it. 

The 50-minute practice session was greeted more by a splutter (rather than a roar) of engines but one by one, these marvelous machines took enthusiastically to the track, sweeping down the Avenue, through Cascades and the Hairpin before being faced with the climb up to Hill Top and later the equally daunting ascents of Clay Hill and Deer Leap. These were challenges enjoyed with differing degrees of success but the fingers pointed admiringly from the crowd and the smiles of drivers after the changeover (with one or two perplexed exceptions) told us that this would be a race well worth waiting for.

The Britannia Cyclecar made it to the grid but struggled on the climbs

At 4pm, the safety car slowly led the way around the track for the green flag lap. Not all would or could keep pace but as they headed towards the grid, all that mattered was that nearly all had made it round (the bare-framed, bright yellow Britannia cyclecar being an exception).  

Pole sitters Jeremy Brewster & Dermot Johnson (in the Salmson AL22) led an all-French getaway but soon found themselves slipping down the order under pressure from Hughie Walker’s SIMA-Violet and the Salmson AL of Chris & Michael Hudson. Leading the British contingent was the Morgan Super Aero of David Andrews & Iain Stewart, the three-wheeler very much on a charge but time lost in the pits later would see its challenge fade. Elsewhere, places were traded in and out of corners as speed carried through the tight and twisty sections was lost to greater oomph on the seemingly endless straights. 

With each tour of the track taking upwards of four minutes, driver changeovers were mostly after just five laps completed. Waves from the pit wall and in the pit lane, signalling when and where to stop were assisted by a variety of props. Some had pit boards, others hats, one with a lifesize cutout of a female form . . it might not have been Le Mans but it was, without a doubt, spirited. And the changeovers themselves maintained the theme. There was the occasional need to swap helmets and gloves, reminders of the positions of the gears, reminders to don a race suit, and then the ever regular need for a push, yet once again, as cars trundled back into action, the smiles and laughter remained fixed . . mostly.

The Carden and a Chummy keep the racing close
Longstone's Dougal Cawley helps wife Liz on her way for the second stint

By the three-quarters stage, the Brewster / Johnson car had rediscovered its form and with Walker out, the Salmson returned to the lead, crossing the line to a resounding cheer that continued as each and every car came home. 

The race was won at an average speed of 44.26mph. Short of the 50mph averages that were once seen but I don’t think anyone cared. This was just a wonderful day of racing and events, and the finest of reminders that a good vintage, in the right setting, can always be savoured.

To learn more about the VSCC, head to https://www.vscc.co.uk/

And to see more images from the Vintage Motorsport Festival, see our photo galleries on our Facebook page here

Written By

Steve Hindle
Steve Hindle

Steve has lived his life with motor sport; from childhood years as a fan, to racing around the greatest tracks in Europe, first as a driver and later as a team principal. Today he's a familiar sight trackside and in the pit lane, notebook in one hand, camera in another, capturing moments and contributing to some of the leading titles in motor sport and automotive media.

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