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Castle Coombe Autumn Classic is a hit

Published 15 October 2014

Glorious October weather, fabulous cars, some cracking racing and a lovely period atmosphere, all came together to make the ‘Autumn Classic’ at Castle Coombe a success.

Building on the success of the previous two years, the 2014 event had more of everything. The car parks alone were enough to entertain classic car enthusiasts and their families all day long, with national and local car clubs displaying their prized possessions in the sun.

The locally made Bristol cars made the biggest impact, both numerically and physically. A whole section of Combe’s ‘Westway’ car park was devoted to them and it was easy to see why it was the biggest ever gathering of the marque’s many models. Present day circuit owner Pat Strawford recreated the original lap opening lap of the circuit in I950 by the then owner Kitty Thomas, with a tour in a Bristol 401 Farina.

In contrast, there were dozens of smaller clubs, some with just a handful or so members, who were happy to be part of what is now a significant event on the ‘classic car’ calendar.

But there was also enough rarity to delight even the enthusiast who has ‘seen it all.’ Perhaps the most popular amongst the huge crowd were the pair of awesome machines from 1905. Mike Vardy was one of the brave souls who enthusiastically demonstrated his ‘one off’ in between the racing.  Perched on a small seat overhanging the rear axle of his ‘Fiat Land Speed Record’ car, the driver’s bravery in unleashing its 16.5 litre engine was much admired. As was that of Robert Dyke, who just managed to tame the awesome ‘Whistling Billy’ steam powered racing car from 1905, with a potential top speed of 130 mph! Sliding through the corners in a car with wooden wheels and nothing much in the way of brakes provided a lovely contrast to some of the more ‘modern’ machinery, albeit still 50 years old!

Event sponsor, Julian Bronson of Bristol Forklifts, couldn’t resist pushing his 1960 Scarab Grand Prix car almost to the limit and admitted he had been driving ‘about nine tenths’. The sound from its four cylinder Offenhauser engine enthralled the crowd every bit as much as Bronson’s mastery of his local circuit and showed why he is one of the world’s top historic race car drivers.

Similarly impressive was Mark Hales’ demonstration of the 1957 Maserati 250F Grand Prix car owned by Pink Floyd drummer and petrol head Nick Mason who happen to live in nearby Corsham. The Mason family and a valuable part of its car collection was on show and in action, with the unique sight of Annette Mason racing against her two daughters, Holly and Chloe in the ‘Historic Aston Martin’ race. Their trio of cars from 1934 and 1935 were a sight in themselves and whilst the ladies were not the quickest in the field, they certainly added to the ‘feel good’ factor of the event. Somewhat faster at the front was Simon Hadfield, who, admitting his beautiful DB3S was by far the best car, drove off into the distance, finishing a minute ahead of second placed David Reed in a DB2.

The eight, well supported races provided plenty of entertainment and much contrast. Former Goodwood Revival winner, David Smithies, secured a narrow win over last year’s victor David Grace, in the first of the two double header races for ‘Big Healeys’, but had to settle for second in race two, after Grace made a perfect start. Brothers Oliver and Jack Chatham, son of Combe Healey legend, John Chatham, made a great impression. Oliver took their 3000 to 6th in race one, his less experienced brother, Jack, driving a superb race two to claim third. Mike Thorne won the A class in both races in his Healey 100M. Sharing the same car with Sarah Bennett-Baggs, the couple also took a class win and 7th overall in the Fifties Sports Car club’s inter-marque race, which was won by Robin Ellis and Richard Fores after a splendid Lotus Elite battle with Brian Arculus. John Ure’s rare Cooper Bristol T24/25 was in on the action too and finished 3rd.

1988 Le Mans winner Andy Wallace was an enthusiastic pedaller of the sole D Type Jaguar in the packed race for pre 1966 Jaguars. Wallace ran in a strong 3rd for most of the race but was unlucky to lose two places as a result of an incident which brought out the ‘Safety Car’. Martin Hunt was one of the benefactors, extending his winning margin to 17” from fellow E type pilot, Mark Rusell.

The Vintage Sports Car Club’s race for pre war sports cars saw some close racing up front but also an opportunity for many owners to enjoy their cars. Fred Wakeham was one of those who pushed his Fraser Nash Super Sports to the limit, after a to and fro battle with the Aston Martin 2 litre Speed Model of David Freeman.

A highlight for many was the ‘BAC Challenge Trophy’ for 500cc Formula 3 cars. This was the first race at Combe since 1955 for these diminutive machines and it proved to be a belter. Whilst the Coopers of Steve Jones and George Shackleton dominated at the front, the variety and ingenuity of the rest of the field was stunning. With almost 300 different types of 500cc F3 car built in their heyday, the 15 or so marques which took part on Sunday were a great representation in the impressive 23 car field.

Similarly diverse was the opening Formula Junior race, even more well supported, the full grid being headed by John Milicevic in his Cooper T59.

The event also marked the end of an era, when Adrian and Nicki Fawdington were presented with a pair of prints by renowned local motor sport artist Tim Layzell. The Fawdingtons have been synonymous with the organisational side of the race meetings at Castle Combe for the last three or more decades, but have now chosen to spend more time in their house in the USA.

You can see all the action from the Autumn Classic on Motors TV on Saturday, 1 November.

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