Written August 2019 for Speedhunters
Like many of us Speedhunters, I grew up surrounded by nothing but cars. So it came as no surprise that my father’s love for cars and motorsport rubbed off on me as I tagged along, often acting the nuisance, at various rallies and race meetings over Ireland.
I can remember, as a five-year-old, standing in the freezing cold, soaked to the skin, at the inaugural Rally of Ireland event in 2000. I have fond memories of watching single-seater racing cars battle into turn one of Ireland’s national motorsport venue, Mondello Park.
What’s more, on returning home I would lay out pieces of Lego and Jenga blocks on my bedroom floor in the shape of a track to race my toy cars around, re-enacting what I had witnessed that day.
My father was privileged to grow up through the 1970s and ’80s, a time when some of the greatest cars in history were gracing the roads. His interests in cars, and in particular classic Fords, all stem from this era and so, as a child, the name ‘MK2 Escort’ made more sense to me than the basic math sums I was being taught at school.
Looking back, it was probably this exposure to a certain era of car that shaped why I love classic cars so much today.
While most car enthusiasts in their twenties lust after the latest hypercar, the older I get the more I have grown to love the timeless shapes of the 20th century. Many of my friends (most of whom enjoy cars) question why I sold a modern performance car to buy a 1989 BMW 3 Series.
Why I would swap comfort and reliability for the exact opposite? So without waffling any further, here lies a problem. Hear me out.
The Silverstone Classic is the world’s largest classic motor racing festival, held over three days at the home of British motor racing. The eclectic mix of motor racing disciplines from historic Formula One to pre-1966 touring cars is what makes this event so special.
The cream of historic motorsport provides an all-out assault on the senses – there is no way to describe in writing the sound a Cosworth DFV V8 makes at full chat down the Hanger Straight. There are only a few events each year that allow full access to paddocks and pit garages, providing an up close and personal experience with these iconic machines.
As a photographer attending as a spectator, Silverstone presented challenges I had never encountered before. Thanks to FIA regulations, the circuit is encompassed with 3-metre-high catch fencing and huge run-off areas, so capturing the action on track resulted in some pretty desperate measures. Thankfully, Silverstone have taken the liberty to cut some holes to shoot through, although these are limited to just three corners on the track.
While the Classic was one of the largest motorsport events I have ever attended – 109,000 spectators came through the gates this year – I couldn’t help but notice the average age of those operating the cars on track was significantly high.
On Saturday I strolled through the International pit lane at Silverstone Circuit to the glorious sounds of racing legends from the early ’60s, their engines rumbling and barking as elderly mechanics, hands weathered from years of labour, tweaked idle speeds and mixtures to find the perfect sweet spot. Even through my enjoyment, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad watching on. Here were men, preparing to don musty overalls and step into cars with immense history behind them just to re-live, from the hot seat, the memories of their past.
Inevitably, generations will pass on and these great cars will be left behind in various states of condition. Some, no doubt, will find their way into extensive collections where they will sit as an ornament, a silent memory of the past, while others will gather dust in the corner of a shed, their inherited owners oblivious to the history, the passion, and the comradery they once created.
I discussed this with my father as we watched a stunning Lola T70 growl into life. Today’s generation – my generation – have little interest in these cars. They probably don’t even know what half of them are. Heck, last weekend was as much an education for myself as it was enjoyment.
These are cars that bore ground-breaking designs. There was no wind tunnel analysis or extensive testing or data gathering. Engineers bolted on bizarre aerofoils and canards in the hope of outsmarting the guy in the pit garage next door.
These are cars that need to be understood, appreciated, and respected. It saddens me to think, in the not too distant future, the knowledge that is required to run these cars may not exist.
I really do hope these great cars live on and their owners pass their heritage to their children and grandchildren. I really hope the next wave of car enthusiast grow to love and appreciate these monsters and carry their legacy forward. I really hope, that in 20 or 30 years’ time, I will still be able to photograph the machines on these pages driven in anger.
Event: Silverstone Classic 2019