An hour of pure tyre-squealing nostalgia is guaranteed as, for the second successive year, the GT & Sports Car Cup roars in to the Castle Combe Autumn Classic’s enduro slot. Now in its 12th season, the GTSCC – promoted by husband-and-wife Flavien and Vanessa Marçais – is Europe’s most exclusive series for Pre-1966 Grand Touring and small-capacity Pre-’63 sports racing cars. Entry is by invitation and driving standards and vehicle eligibility are strictly policed.
A quintet of wailing 3.8-litre Jaguar E-types – one driven by British marque preparation authority Gary Pearson and 2005 FIA Historic Formula 1 champion Christian Glaesel of Germany – and the snarling 4.7-litre Ford V8-powered AC Cobra of Bristolian ace Mark Williams square up to the agile prototypes in the fight for overall victory. Last year’s winners Philip Walker/Miles Griffiths are back in the former’s startling orange two-litre Lotus 15, but can again expect a challenge from crowd favourite Ben Adams’ diminutive 1220cc Lola Mk1.
Also in the GT4 division are the E-types of Autumn Classic evangelists Martin Hunt/Patrick Blakeney-Edwards (omni-present supporters of the event they rate as their favourite), ultra-successful Oxfordshire father-and-son Graeme and James Dodd, Peter Sugden/Peter Rutt and Mark Donnor. Opposition comes from the 4.2-litre Sunbeam Tiger Le Mans – one of three developed by Lister of Cambridge for the 1964 Le Mans 24 Hours – of Michael and Richard Squire, Shelby Mustang GT350-mounted Jeremy Cooke/John Todd and Nick Sleep/Stuart Lawson plus the nimble 26R spec Lotus Elans of Stephen Bond/Keith Fell and Mark Midgley/Robert Rawe, the latter’s a rare Shapecraft Coupe ‘fastback.’
But the race’s nuances run far deeper than the likely frontrunners, with fierce class battles anticipated in the three classes for less powerful GT cars. A squadron of Austin-Healey 3000s – which have a huge following at Combe thanks to the period exploits of local hero John Chatham and Stuart Hands – features two fabled examples of the rorty straight-six machines. Alex Bell’s, shared with Racelogic founder Julian Thomas, is an ex-Sebring 12 Hours contender while Martyn Corfield’s SMO 746 was raced extensively into the 1970s by John Gott, chief constable of Northamptonshire Police.
Also in ‘big’ Healeys, of a type which also won international rallies driven by the likes of flying Finn Rauno Aaltonen, are former motorcycle racer Mark Pangborn and Harvey Woods, Theo [son of Martin] Hunt/Mike Grant Peterkin, Crispin Harris/James Wilmoth and fun-loving Bristol duo Chris ‘Lord Borneo’ Clarkson and David ‘Meerkat’ Smithies.
The Healey posse faces stiff opposition in the GT3 category, for Jersey-based Keith Ahlers and ’Billy’ Bellinger have an astonishing record of success in the former’s rapid Triumph-engined Morgan +4 SLR, one of three aluminium-bodied aerodynamic coupes masterminded by Christopher Lawrence of Sprinzel Lawrencetune Racing. Compare it with the similarly-powered Morgan +4 Super Sport of Simon Orebi-Gann/Mike Bell.
The ex-Neil Dangerfield Triumph TR4-underpinned SLR is also out in the vastly experienced hands of Richard Dodkins and event sponsor Julian Bronson. Again, a production TR4 provides contrast, driven by Allan Ross-Jones and his son Daniel. Completing the class line-up are a pair of early-spec Jaguar E-types, a fixed-head coupe piloted by Stephen Skipworth and Newbury landscape gardener Jim Dean and the roadster of Irishmen Niall McFadden/Niall Murray.
GT2 also holds a tasty mix of cars, headlined by David Clark’s stunning Porsche 904 Carrera GTS. Unbelievable as is may seem, Eugen Bohringer drove one of these svelte rear-engined coupes to second place overall on the snowy 1965 Monte Carlo Rally! Steve Jones’ Porsche 911 also represents the Stuttgart manufacturer, but don’t be surprised if the class falls to one of the BMC B-series engined TVR Grantura MkIIIs. Last year’s victors Malcolm Paul/Rick Bourne are seasoned campaigners, as is Joe Ward whose co-driver Andy Newall finished second in last month’s Spa Six Hours in a Ford GT40.
The MGBs are motivated by identical engines to the TVRs, as is the pretty fibreglass-bodied Gilbern GT of dad and lad Bob and Sam Binfield. One of approximately 280 made by Giles Smith and Bernard Friese’s company, a bold effort by Wales’ only car manufacturer, on an old colliery site near Pontypridd – 60 miles west of the circuit – it is one of two raced regularly half a century on.
Quickest of the MGs is likely to be that of Scottish architect Laurence Jacobsen and his son Tim, robbed of class honours on Silverstone’s Grand Prix circuit earlier this year by half-shaft failure. The husband-and-wife Lambert and Phillips teams are GTSCC stalwarts, but Josh Barnett is a handy driver better known for his exploits in Formula Ford single-seaters.
The GT1 split should see a fight between Steve Wright’s Porsche 356 and the remarkably lithe Lotus Elites – with their fibreglass monocoque chassis and 1220cc Coventry-Climax FWE engines – of Marc Gordon/Nick Finburgh (Vanessa Marçais’ brother) and David Groves, partnered by extrovert Vintage Sports Car Club racer Dougal Cawley for whom having a roof over his head on track will be a novelty.
Taking on Adams’ black Lola – winner of the final race of Goodwood’s first era in July 1966, driven by Christopher ‘Dickie’ Le Strange Metcalfe – in the SP1 class are welcome Belgian competitors Guy Peeters (Lotus 11) and Louis Zurstrassen (Elva MkV), both experienced in their little British bolides.
For more information on the Autumn Classic, please head over to www.autumnclassic.co.uk
For entry lists, it's www.ccracingclub.co.uk