Race Retro 2008

For the fifth time, Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire played host to the International Historic Motorsports Show.  By snappily re-titling the event “Race Retro” the organisers had failed to give much clue to uncommitted punters as to the contents of the show, a fair proportion of which is (quite rightly) given over to rallying, while there is also an increasing input from the motor cycle racing and trialling fraternity. What, pray, was wrong with the original title which encapsulated the scope of the event in clear English?

There seemed to be a bit less sparkle than in earlier years, particularly for those from the racing world, and with Ford being the featured marque, it was disappointing to see a display of GT40 replicas outside the entrance. In fact, more and more of the exhibitors were purveyors of replicas of one sort, or another, as this is very much the growth sector of “historic” racing (come and take away your brand new Lola T70, Chevron B8 or B16 – purists, take a lie-down before nurse comes along with your sleeping pill) with less and less of truly 'historic' significance in evidence.

The rally people have always provided some fascinating exhibits, and this year was no exception, with numerous historic Escorts, as well as Maurice Gatsonides’ Monte Carlo Rally Zephyr (wonderfully ‘period’) while there were also some great motor cycles and sidecar combinations, including the Jenks/Eric Oliver world championship-winning Norton/Watson combination. Rally drivers and motorcyclists dominated the personalities who appeared at the various autograph sessions, although Barrie Williams, Chris Lawrence, Tim Parnell and Dickie Attwood represented the racing world – “Whizzo” and Chris Lawrence also launching their biographies at the show.

Outside, on the Saturday and Sunday, the ‘Slowly Sideways’ rally group gave their usual demonstrations, as well as auto-testing and classic karts.

Best part of the show is always catching up with friends before the new season gets under way, and this year the number of familiar faces lurking around every corner was up to par, but my view, having been to all of the shows at Stoneleigh, is that now it isn’t really sure what kind of a show it wants to be, and it is turning into more of a trade show than an exhibition which will appeal to enthusiasts, and is failing to keep the enthusiasts ‘hooked’ when it is numbers through the turnstiles that will make the show viable. I understand that charges to stallholders have risen, and there didn’t appear to be as many booksellers and the like as in previous years with a number of empty pitches noted. Canvassing comments from visitors, the main ‘gripes’ were the £25 entry charge – topped off with an additional £5 for car parking in a field which could be quite a hike from the show halls - and leaving it all up to the exhibitors to provide the attractions. In the days of the long-lamented BRSCC Racing Car Shows at Olympia , (admittedly not a show specifically for historics) the organising club produced extensive main feature exhibits, so it would be nice to see the principle applied here.
For some, the highlight seemed to be the “Wall of Death”, featuring classic ‘Indian’ motor cycles run by the Ken Fox Troupe.

Seeming to echo a general feeling of not quite hitting the target, the organisers’ post-event press release reported: “Following a busy first day, the inclement weather on Saturday and Sunday did impact visitor numbers. Overall, the show (attendance) was ten percent down on previous years, which the organisers feel is a good result in the current economic climate.”

I understand that the show is up for sale and, while it is to be hoped that the “right” buyer can be attracted to allow it to grow and build on Ian Williamson’s bold original concept, it will require revitalising of some of its elements if it is to continue to attract the increasing support which is required to ensure survival in today's commercial world.