Autosport International, a four-day extravaganza of modern and classic motorsport, returned to the NEC, Birmingham between 12th and 15th January. Spanning eight halls of the exhibition centre, the show is a covered citadel devoted to speed. Thrill seekers get a go-kart track and virtual reality-augmented racing simulators; modern racing fans have manufacturer displays, glitzy sponsors and energy drinks. What does that leave for the classic motoring enthusiast? Plenty, as it turns out.
At the top of the motorsport tree, Williams and Classic Team Lotus celebrated their rich histories in Formula One. On the eve of their 40th season in the sport, Williams showcased a stunning array covering everything from the 1979 FW07 to the 2016 FW38. Display highlights included a pair of championship winners: Nigel Mansell’s 1992 FW14B and the 1996 FW18 of Damon Hill.
Classic Team Lotus looked further into the past with their exceptional display of the seven surviving Lotus 49s. It’s hard to pick a favourite but the blue Rob Walker Racing Team chassis R7 stood deep and striking against the green and yellow Team Lotus cars. R7 also holds the distinction of being the last privateer car to win a Grand Prix, having won the 1968 British GP at Silverstone with Jo Siffert.
Road car enthusiasts were well served by the expansive Coys Auctions display, with the sale staged on Saturday 14th. The cars on offer spanned every corner of the hobby, from the sublime to the ridiculous. A Dino 246 GT with Ferrari Classiche certification exemplified the former and sold for £245,000. Meanwhile, a 1931 Cadillac 355 Golfers Drophead Coupé with Fleetwood coachwork was tipped towards the latter by extensive 23-carat gold leaf, diamond wheel caps and a link to Liberace.
Mid-century grand tourers soon grabbed the attention of this reporter. A beautifully presented Facel Vega HK500, estimated at £90,000 - £130,000, sported right-hand drive and its original registration number while a highly original Iso Rivolta IR 340 with matching numbers was touted as a restoration project and estimated at £26,000 - £35,000.
Keen historic racers also had a reason to bid. Alongside the inevitable Porsche 911s, an ex-works Vauxhall Chevette HS, campaigned by Pentti Airikkala in 1979 and converted to its current HSR specification in 1981, was offered at £60,000 - £80,000. However, the title of strangest potential competition car went to the 1952 Alfa Romeo 1900 M ‘Matta’: a little-known reconnaissance four-wheel drive. The model won the military category of the ‘52 Mille Miglia, making the off-roader one of the least expensive routes into the retrospective at an estimated £17,000 - £25,000.
Like any large motoring event, the heart of the show was in the individuals showcasing their pride and joy. Most striking was the Audi Quattro S1 E2 hillclimb racing car of Dave Rowe which boasts a little over 800bhp and a kerbweight of 1050kg. Dave is planning to take the car to Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in June and hopes to beat Walter Rohrl’s 1987 run of 10 minutes and 47 seconds in a similar car.
A few feet away, there was another treat in store for fans of modern classics. The RS500 Owners Forum brought together 10 examples of the three-door Sierra RS Cosworth RS500 to mark the 30th anniversary of the homologation model. Yet more impressive, each of the cars had a distinguished period history in Group A touring car racing. Championship winners once piloted by Dick Johnson and Andy Rouse rubbed shoulders with lesser known cars from Italy, Japan and Malaysia.
Paul Linfoot, leading Cosworth specialist and owner of an ex-Eggenberger RS500 DTM racer, commented, “All the guys here have owned their Sierras for many years. A lot of them have been racing the cars and were brought up with them. We brought the cars together today just to remind people of the 30th and show the people these iconic cars. It was very, very difficult getting these cars together: it took between three and six months, realistically.”
Once you’ve taken in the show floor, there’s one place left to go: the Live Action Arena. Modern machines make up the bulk of the racing and stunt driving action but there was still something for the classic racing enthusiast to enjoy. Taking to the indoor circuit to celebrate 50 years of their sport, a stunning collection of historic rallycross cars provided variation and excitement. Vic Elford led the display in GVB 911D, the Porsche 911 with which he won the first ever rallycross event. Hot on his heels was John Taylor in the Mark 1 Ford Escort he took to victory in the inaugural European Rallycross Championship.
The years rolled by as the display progressed, theatre filling with burnt rubber and hot oil, horsepower and speed spiralling upwards. An ex-Martin Schanche Gartrac four-wheel drive Ford Escort bucked, barked and rolled around the arena course, recalling the Norwegian’s six European championships, a gaggle of Minis hot on its heels. The classic cars crescendoed with a brace of Group B rally cars that dominated rallycross in the late ‘80s. MG Metro 6R4s and Ford RS200s squatted down and hurled themselves down the indoor straights, spitting great licks of flame under braking before drifting tight into the turns and hurling nuggets of tortured rubber at the front row. What better way to ring in a new motoring year?