No doubt encouraged by the success of the Goodwood Revival and Silverstone Classic this year Wiltshire (UK) based circuit Castle Combe held its own Autumn Classic. A day very well attended by various car clubs and their members including locally based Bristol Motor Club. The clubs added static displays and parade laps to the more usual hotly contested live race action often found at this popular motor sports venue to deliver the makings of a proper classic car event.
I’ve always enjoyed race days at Combe and so when this particular event came up combining two passions, classic cars and motor sport, I knew I had to make the effort. The fact it is also based on the doorstep helps as well of course. A traditional single lap walk around the outside of the circuit enabled us to spectate at every bend and wander freely through the paddock taking in the various classic cars on display. Thanks to Bristol Motor Club (BMC) we also managed to hitch a last minute ride in John Marshall’s Lotus MK6 and quickly strap a camera to Bill Rockstro’s Austin Healey BN6 for the parade laps (see the video clip for a ride with both and much more besides).
The classic cars on display were impressive, BMC attracting an eclectic mix of vehicles under the guise of its ‘Essence of Dyrham’ banner. A tribute to the club’s centenary celebration event held last year at the former Hillclimb venue turned National Trust property. Included in the display was John’s supercharged Ford side-valve powered Lotus MK6, a car he’s owned for thirty years. As well as Bill’s magnificent competition readied Austin Healey BN6 sporting a solid roof, roll cage and rear fog light. Austin Healey’s ruled the roost on Saturday with the owners club located next to the BMC display providing more examples to look at on top of the cars being raced out on track. There is something very special about this mark and when you listen to Bill’s car on the parade laps with its tuned engine popping and blowing back through the carbs on a low throttle before erupting into life when its throat is cleared, you can fully appreciate why.
The start of the Healey race was nothing short of spectacular with a sudden cloud of tyre smoke rising above the grid as all of the super strong seven bearing crank Austin 3.0 litre engines unleashed huge power and torque in total unison. Stood where we were watching the cars navigate Folly Corner on a flying lap was absolutely brilliant. Folly, which is just past the start-finish straight, looks like nothing at all not even a bend from some angles, until that is you approach it at over 100mph. The cart spring rear suspension caused the back of 1950’s designed Healey’s to oscillate wildly as each attempted to deal with the sudden sideways load acting on tyres that were determined to hang on to the tarmac. This was classic car racing at its best with no hint of anyone protecting their precious pride and joy and great fun to watch live.
If the Healey’s were brutish then the pre-66 Jaguars were spectacularly refined by comparison, although thankfully all the saloons, early XK’s and E-Type coupes released a purposeful six cylinder growl from their performance exhaust systems. The advanced rear axle design on these cars meant they didn’t offer the seat of your pants stuff of the Healey’s but instead allowed their drivers to indulge in some very well judged drifting. Cars were held at subtle angles optimised for a quick lap rather than to show off to the assembled crowd. Arguably not quite as engaging to watch as the Healey’s the more sophisticated Jaguars set a devastating pace that completely masked their age. The leading E-Types ended up slicing through the early XK’s like proverbial hot knifes through butter. Quite incredible to watch when you consider how sedately most classic Jaguars are driven out on the highway these days.
If you prefer the sound of a V8 then the Castle Combe Autumn Classic also delivered with a race 100% dedicated to the cause. Bernie’s HRVA V8’s provides an Anglo-American line up of eight cylinder monsters that includes big wing Capris and MGB’s taking on big block muscle cars in form of amongst others Corvettes and Falcons. One even had flames painted on the bonnet to show its full intent. The cars were all once again very quick and came with a menacing soundtrack that only high revving large capacity V8 engines can make. As with the other races on the day this was an endurance style format, 40 minutes in this case, best viewed from one of the fastest parts of the circuit. We chose the end of Dean Straight just before entry into the intimidatingly quick Camp Corner and really enjoyed watching the cars blast past lap after lap.
There are a lot of classic car events on offer and although many hold much notoriety it is nice to know you can still pop out to your local circuit on a Saturday afternoon, hand over relatively modest means and receive back a good injection of both classic cars and classic motor racing.
Castle Combe Autumn Classic provides a decent mix of static car displays and live on-track action made all the better by a relatively low entry fee that can be purchased on the day without having to queue for hours (7/10).
How does this event make you feel?
In one word: Satisfied
As a favourite meal: Classic cheeseburger from a van washed down by contemporary Cappuccino and followed by the still unbeatable Mr Whippy ‘99.
Anything Else: This was a classic car race meeting with classic car displays held on a bright sunny autumn’s day. To add some icing on the cake the organisers might need to consider more displays, wider family entertainment options, better food and somewhere to hide if it rains.
Key Ingredients: Static displays, a chance to drive your own classic on a parade lap and wheel to wheel action out on track.
With thanks to John Marshall (Lotus Mk6), Bill Rockstro (Austin Healey BN6), Phil James (MGB V8 Race Car), Bristol Motor Club and Castle Combe Circuit.
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