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Where are the heroes and villains of yesteryear?

23 January 2017

Where are the heroes and villains of yesteryear? Sophie Williamson-Stothert investigates the preservation of motor racing icons.

You may have noticed that there is a new addition to the Historic Racing Technology team, and that would happen to be me – a crazed classic car fanatic with a thirst for petrol.

This means you’re going to be hearing a little more from me and I’ve decided to use this opportunity to flag-up topical industry discussions in a monthly blog post. So, without further ado, I’m kicking things off by looking into the varied maintenance protocols for historic cars.

It pulls on my heart strings when I see a classic car on its last legs; even more so when I find a truly fine example of a British motor racing legend is destined to meet the same fate through neglect. I think I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve discovered timeless classics wasting away in an underground car park or, even worse, a fine shell sitting in a museum with nothing to show for itself under the bonnet.

I’m sure you’ll agree that when components are left dormant they seize. Much like the human body – if we don’t exercise, our muscles begin to weaken. With this in mind, is it not obvious that in order for a vehicle to be preserved, it must first be kept in running order?

Sadly, I’ve come to realise that not everyone shares this view and it’s not always protocol to retain a vehicle’s mechanisms. It’s no surprise, then, that some of the world’s finest historic racers – or at least their ability to fire up their own cylinders – are gradually fading from existence. But there is a margin of hope for at least a handful of iconic racing machines.

This rings true for a personal favourite of mine – Sir Paddy Hopkirk’s Monte Carlo Morris Mini Cooper S, known as “33 EJB”. Many will have encountered the identical replica, but as many of our readers will know, the real McCoy is tucked up safe and sound in the care of the custodians at the British Motor Museum in Warwickshire.

During the launch of the Royal Automobile Club’s Rally of the Tests event, which took place in September, Hopkirk touched on the condition of the real “EJB”, explaining that the original Monte Mini is “no longer a competition car”. How can that be, when it was born and bred for endurance rallying?

Intrigued by what I heard I was keen to find out more, so I contacted the team at The British Motor Museum. “EJB is a running car,” explains Stephen Laing, curator at the Heritage Motor Centre. “We have 300 cars in our collection and we treat each one independently.

“No two cars are in the same condition and we’re not able to keep all of them in ‘working order’. You have to remember that we’re not just preserving the cars; we’re also preserving each vehicle’s
individual history.

“EJB, for example, is still fitted with the original windscreen that was chipped during the Monte Carlo Rally. We don’t want to replace it because we feel this is a huge part of the car’s story and adds to
its authenticity.”

He adds: “Although EJB is a running car, it won’t compete again. The Mini is as close as possible to the original condition it was in when it first came to be in our hands, and so we only prepare it for demonstrations.”

Chief engineer at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, Doug Hill shares a similar philosophy that the best way of preserving older vehicles is to keep them in full working order.

“We aim to fire up and service every car in the museum,” he says. “In my opinion, the only way to preserve a classic vehicle is to keep them in running order.

“The most important thing to remember is that our entire collection is operated with care and constraint. Not all of the vehicles in our collection compete, but a fair few still do – it’s very fulfilling to play a role in keeping these cars alive and enjoying their favourite pastime.”

I think we can rest easy knowing that, although they may be retired and we may not be able to save them all, a healthy number of our childhood heroes will live on in the hands of Britain’s most precious motor museums.

Sophie Williamson-Stothert is the Deputy Editor Historic Racing Technology

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