Report and photos by Tim Surman
So what makes a car? An engine (of course), four wheels, not in the case of the Morgan, okay not always four wheels. Steering wheel, seat and a frame to bolt it all to. Maybe this is what makes a car a car, but not really what you think of when someone says “think of a car…”
So what about a sports car? Maybe the image of a 1954 Lancia D24, or a beautiful Ferrari would enter your mind. But a sports car is a car that you would enter into a rally, Hillclimb or race. Again maybe not what would enter most of our minds.
Most of these early sports cars have names that most of the world has forgotten, names from the men and given to the cars that they built. And built by men in garages, that would have started out as barns or horse sheds. The world might have forgotten most of these names, but some still are around today. MG, Aston Martin and Bentley, may well still be known, but really only exist in name, the company’s that own them buying history.
But there is a club that remembers these names and still races the car that have survived.
The Vintage Sports-Car Club (VSCC). The club was founded in 1934 by a group of young men, a club that was formed on the proposition of a ‘club for the not so rich’. Their concern that the heyday of motoring was coming to an end. That ethos still stands and the VSCC is still all about enjoying our motoring heritage. The club may conjure up images of men with handle bar moustaches, although there are a number of large characters, handle bar moustaches are not obligatory.
Maybe the handle bar moustache was not obligatory, but a large amount of bravado or maybe a lack of self-preservation is required. The clubs annual visit to Goodwood, a circuit that has changed very little over the years. A high-speed circuit still lined with wooden fences and old buildings from that heyday of motor-sport. Its curves and chicane a challenge for many drivers over the years, still holds that challenge now in modern machines. But add cars originally built over 70 years ago…now that does require bravado.
This was the 2012 running of the VSCC Goodwood Autumn Sprint. One timed lap of the circuit starting from the end of the pit lane, then back in. Exposed valve springs and tappets that require oiling before the run bouncing away, make sure that radiator is full of water, exhaust pipes smoking from oil spray from the engine, seat belts tightened… What seat belts? Visors down and away! The engines continue to spit hot oil and water back at the driver, on the machines not fortunate enough to have an engine hood. Talking to Nev Churcher the driver of the Instone Special ‘Martyr’, it needs a bonnet (hood) or a ‘bit’ at the front, Nev replies “It’s never had a ‘bit’ at the front.” Says it all about the people who race these cars.
This was a beautiful cold autumn day, bright sunshine and the sun low in the sky. The low sun might not have been to everyone’s liking, requiring a hand to help block the sun see down the track. The cold also didn’t help get heat into the tyres, this was only one lap of the circuit, radiators requiring gaffer tape and cardboard to help block the cold air and keep heat in the engine. The morning was practise, a number of drivers hadn’t been around Goodwood before. A map of the circuit, diagram of the best lines around the curves and a couple of laps before the timed runs in the afternoon, that’s it, 70-year-old car don’t have the best brakes, so best not get it wrong!
The beautiful autumn sun didn’t last, the rain adding to the cold for the final runs of the day, of course the times fell off. What it didn’t do was stop the day, open top cars, little wind screens (if at all), almost no brakes and now a wet track. Back to the bravado or lack of self-preservation.
What you really get from attended a VSCC meeting, is the feeling of keeping the heyday of motorsport alive and racing. Meeting the drivers and people involved, the friendly club atmosphere, all help to put and keep a smile on your face. It might have looked like a museum car run around a classic circuit, but all involved are dedicated to keeping these pre-war sports cars racing.
The Goodwood Autumn Sprint was the final public meeting for the VSCC in 2012, but if you get the chance to attend a Hillclimb, Sprint, Time Trial or a race run by the club, then please go along and see how the sport started, and see what these brave men raced, then talk to the brave men and women that race them now. And discover the names that the world has forgotten or rediscover the names that you know started.