Pre-war racing cars at Vintage Revival Montlhery
Dear readers, I hope you’re ready. In this article, I’m not gonna talk about normal vehicles. Today, we’re going back to the roots of our passion. I should say, to the essence of motorsport, to the quintessence of automobile. I mean prewar cars. In this article, I’m not gonna talk about another average event. This time you are gonna learn about the Vintage Revival Montlhery. It happened a few week-ends ago, it was fabulous, you’ve missed it, you’ve made a big mistake!
Vintage Revival Montlhery is talking about proper cars
Forgot all your knowledge about electronic devices, health and safety issues, injection, limited slip diff (and even suspensions). These are words which only exist in our yeasty modern world. Back in the days, a car was composed of an engine, a chassis and some wheels. If you were fortunate enough, you had a bodywork. All the rest was not necessary, and it was perfectly fine.
Forget about supercars, hypercars, hypersupercars, hypersupermegacars. They can be driven by everybody. Where is the performance, the prowess to take them for a ride? Certainly, modern cars are quicker, faster, more powerful and accurate than ever. It doesn’t mater, they will never provide as much sensations as can give a prewar.
This article pays tribute to bolides that were made for brave drivers, not for rich footballers or singers. Those man were courageous enough to handle real mechanical beasts which offered danger at every corners. This week-end of May, a band of fools owning those machines had rendez-vous on the Montlhery track, known for its massive banking (52% inclinaison at its top).
Coming from far with a prewar car (by the road)
The Vintage Revival Montlhery is an event which celebrated prewar cars every two years. This year it’s the 5th edition. One must say it’s growing and growing, becoming better each time. An evidence? The crazy amount of English and German teams. At the VRM, they aren’t only present but they nearly represent a majority of the entrants. When you know where are located the most fabulous pieces, it does count.
The drivers not only made a long trip, they played the game entirely by coming with their 1958 Mercedes Lorry towing a few race cars, the crew and an entire workshop. That was also the case of Duncan Pittaway and his group of mad friends who decided to avoid trailers and go accross the channel driving their orange GN and a massive Monarch 1913.
This later particularly impressed me. It’s fitted with a 0X-5, that is to say a 9 litres aircraft engine developing 120 HP. A 9 litres AIRCRAFT ENGINE!! His owner is known for making the show during the Festival of Speed or Goodwood Revival with the famous “beast of Turin”, a 300 HP Fiat S76. Coming by the road wasn’t enough, he decided to make a festival on the track, sliding around corners, drifting at the exit of each curves.
A taste of 30’s in the Vintage Revival’s paddock
The spectacle wasn’t only on the track, we also saw wonderful stuff in the paddocks. The easy way to amaze you would be to talk about this full range of 6C and 8C Alfa Romeos, both Touring and competitions models, four or two and even single seaters. Only Goodwood is able to concentrate as much immaculate and authentic cars.
But prewar automobile world is not only about Alfa Romeos, nor Bugatti. The organization respected the history, trying to present the most diverse and original cars & motorcycles. The category gathering 10’s and 20’s high cubes attracted the most visitors. So did I. I don’t know why, but I love big engines on bare chassis. It’s not reasonable, it’s not intelligent, but it’s brutal. And that’s all you want to see.
They offered a wonderful show when came the time to wake them up. For some cars, it offered a kind of romantic ritual : adjustment of the camshaft, priming of the fuel and oil via a special pump, lubrification of the valves, and then, a big crank.
The other way was to push them. I’ve made a friend that spent his week-end pushing the cars of his friends yelling “caution, caution!”. He passed 8 or 9 times in front of me just for his old Bedelia 1901. You know Bedelias are funny car were the driver is seated behind his passenger. Then he repeated the movement with other outlandish machines in the middle of the crowd. That’s a proper petrolhead!
Accessible despite its success
If you consider that motorsport meetings and car shows tend to be more and more sophisticated or inaccessible, you have to visit the Vintage Revival Montlhery. There, you will not see VIP tents, fence protecting cars, or any organized system of parking for the exposed vehicles. Cars are most of the time aggregated by brands or nationality, but that’s all. It looks like a big open trackday.
Which… is a disadvantage if you are a photographer and you want to take pictures with a nice background. Because there is no background. But most of you are not photographers, so you don’t care about that. On the contrary, the advantage is the accessibility of the cars & drivers. You can touch (at least the cars), discuss with them (at least the drivers). You are close enough to smell the leather of their seats and, if it’s your pleasure, you can walk on the oil leaking from the warm engines.
On the Saturday, weather conditions were a bit difficult, so the cars were parked in the mud and water, which offered incredible scenes. On the Sunday, everything started to dry and it was much better for the spectators. An old and rusty Rosengart made its apparition and realized some tours in the paddock, which finally lasted the entire afternoon, as the different drivers of the family succeeded one to the other on board.
The participants and visitors, performers of the day
At the Vintage Revival Montlhery, you find this friendly atmosphere at a level never reached elsewhere. Everybody is more than happy to discuss with you and present his car. If you ask someone to open the engine hood, he will re-open even if he just closed it, for your eyes only.
But car owners are not the only actors of the day. Everybody participates to the game, as you are strongly invited to dress up like in the old days. I saw the official doppelganger of Tazio Nuvalori, who is present on every main events to make the show. If Tazio says the VRM is a major event, you have to believe him.
During two days walking along the paddocks, I met an incredible amount of friendly petrolheads. A lot of them had young faces. I discussed with this 30 years-old boy who came with a Bugatti Type 35 A present in his family for more than 60 years. His Bug has an authentic chassis, and they bought the original engine in the USA in order to put it back on the car.
He explained me that the dashboard has been horizontally cut because a former owner wanted to reduce the size of the car. The hand brake was modified and received a Brescia one. He gave me all sorts of details about his car, and I really enjoyed this moment because I felt this car had unique history, all those little things adding flavor to its pedigree.
What is like to drive a Darmont at Montlhery
Then arrived his young nephew, who invited us to play on the race simulator installed in the Morgan / Darmont sector. You probably know those little 3 wheelers which made the reputation of these two brands in the 30’s (Darmont was the french Retailer for Morgan). The two brands were celebrating their anniversary. 110 years old for the first, 100 years for the second.
In their stands, they installed a race simulator which made the attraction all the week-end. A real Darmont was placed in front the TV and connected to the computer. This offered the possibility to the public to virtually drive on Montlhery track. At least if you managed to take the monster out of the paddock and and join the track. I’m gonna be honest : with the throttle on the steering wheel, I couldn’t manage to drive it correctly and I never finished a lap. The photographer, Alex, has been a bit better than me, but finally crashed the 3 wheeler on the banking. Anyway, what a laugh we had!
Vintage Revival Montlhery pregrid Session
Between the paddocks and the track, a small pre-grid was organized where everyone was authorized to come. You have to see it to imagine what it does to walk between some roaring beast which took part to the greatest hours of automobile, ready to hit the track again. The atmosphere was embalmed with castor oil. This oil, which pilots used to put in their gasoline in order to lubricate engines, has a particular smell which sends you directly in the 40 and 50’s (and even latter, that’s a pity castor oil is not used anymore…).
If I loved the Grand Prix car pregrid gathering amazing bolides such as MG, ERAs, Maseratis… For once my best class was not a 4 wheelers one. I fell in love with the motorbikes demonstration. More than 60 nutty guys were engaged in two categories. The most impressive, being the fact that despite the age of their machine, some of them pushed their machine at the maximum. Harleys, Nortons, Triumphs… each more gorgeous than the last. And all launched in the same time in a complete din. It was mad, even absurd, to see them driving along the track. Again, it had a taste of Goodwood, despite it was not a race.
Time for me to ride on the track
I probably forgot to tell you that I was myself a driver at the VRM, so I had the opportunity to share the 4 allowed sessions of track with my father. Driving at Montlhery is such a thing. Like Daytona, it combines a road track and a huge banking, nearly vertical at its end. With a prewar, is is difficult to be quick enough to reach even the middle of the banking (however some crazy guys manage to go beyond), but sensations at this level are already incredible.
Fair play and gentleman driving were the main words on the track. But it was not a reason to slow down, and most of the drivers were driving quickly. Which made the event good looking for the spectators. Nevertheless, you don’t have to be a professional driver, even a track addict to come on the ring and enjoy with other drivers. This event is really “come as you are”.
I personally had the fantastic opportunity to drive a GAR 1100 Bol d’Or. This car is a piece of history because it has the original bodywork, engine and chassis which ran what was at that time a major event, in 1927, 1930 and 1931. You may understand why its Chapuis Dornier 1100cc engine fitted with a Cozette supercharger needed some precaution. However, even taking care of this latter, I received powerful sensations, sliding around corners and taking 130 km/h on the straight line. Not bad for an old lady, despite she used to reach 165 km/h in the ends of its drivers in 1927, on the crackling roads. That was another time, and the engine was in better conditions. The GAR, faster than Brescias, BNC and other amilcars offered me one of the best moment in my driving life.
This is the End of the Vintage Revival Montlhery
After 48 wonderful hours spent in this amazing place, it was already time for us to pack away. And to make a first bilan. What an event : amazing vehicles, kind people, big show on the track. What else could we add to this amazing cocktail?
Of course, I’m race orientated, so I appreciate when a stopwatch is involved. But I have to say the quality of the event was so high that I enjoyed it as much as a competition. And there will be Angouleme, in September, that I strongly advise if you want to see some strong action in the streets of an old town.
I’ll only make one observation as I’m concerned by the transmission of the passion to young generations. The quality of the event is exceptional. And it’s a bit too much. Except if like me you have enough chance to drive a car owned by your family, this is really hard to enter a vehicle that you bought with your own means.
Some prewars are accessible for a reasonable price, such as Austin Sevens. But I heard it was difficult to enroll them if they are non modified or have a specific history. Why wouldn’t we create a special class for young owners and drivers. Even if the eligibility conditions are a bit lowered. Just in order to encourage them to participate. They are the futur of these events, and considering the amount of young people present as visitors, there is a huge potential.
Anyway, the Vintage Revival Montlhery has been a crazy experience. I will be back in two years. I hope on the track again!
Wanna participate to the Vintage Revival Montlhery ? Next edition in 2021!