Vintage Revival Montlhery By Actuarius

Le Vintage Revival Montlhéry s’est tenu ce week-end, 6 et 7 mai 2017, sur les pentes de l’autodrome historique du sud de la capitale. Actuarius, passionné britannique, nous livre ses impressions. Afin de satisfaire nos lecteurs anglophones toujours plus nombreux et souhaitant ne pas dénaturer le style de son auteur, nous laisserons ce texte dans sa langue d’origine.

Although my MG BGT is a product of the early 70’s there is something peculiarly appropriate about using her to attend vintage car meetings. Something about the wood rim steering wheel, the lazy but potent V8 and the draughty cockpit with ineffective heater. As such the blast along the South coast of England to catch the ferry for France felt entirely in keeping with my heading to the Vintage Revival meeting at Montlhery, just South of Paris.

Now in its 4th year, this was my first visit and I must admit I wasn’t sure what to expect. Despite the best efforts of the French road-signs and an unplanned but comprehensive tour of the tunnels under Paris I found my hotel and subsequently awoke early on the Saturday, ready for what I hoped would be a very special weekend. A queue leading up the hill to the circuit meant that my first sight of the iconic banking was of the outer, vertical, face being slowly revealed; the raucous sound of small engined 20’s racers adding an extra dimension.

Picking up my press pass at the entrance there was immediately the feeling of this being a warm and friendly event, a small meeting atmosphere that belied the world-class status of both venue and participants. This feeling was only reinforced as I wandered around the small area of stalls and paddock, mixing with those dressed “normally” and others in “vintage”; my own preferred Tweed and cravat for once not standing out as unusual. Even the steady rain, thankfully limited to the Saturday morning, could not dilute the easy going bon homme. It did mean that 80 years worth of dropped oil leached out of the concrete though, helping to limit initial speeds. Voiturettes and small engined 3-wheelers buzzed around, not climbing very high up the precipitous slope but nevertheless evoking memories of myriad black and white photographs from the between wars period, taken both here and at Brooklands.

The cars were grouped by speed with just one group being on track at any given time. After a lap behind a modern pace car they were let loose for 3 further laps at speed. The whole event went like clockwork, the seemingly effortless efficiency a tribute to the organisers and staff. A large number of period bicycles, motorbikes and cyclecars added their own distinctive aesthetic and noise. The most dramatic of these undoubtedly being the near 3 litre twin cylinder concoction which got its own flying laps, avoiding the temporary chicanes set up in strategic positions around the track, and clocking 100 MPH in the process. A phenomenal sight but eclipsed for me by the “big” cars. I would say that I had dreamed all my life of seeing a vintage Bentley at speed on a banked circuit but, to be honest, I never thought I would ever have the chance. Fast Morgans and Bentleys, Bugattis and the monstrous – impossibly charismatic – Edwardian aero-engined specials. To witness them charging along that long sweeping concrete arc, moving higher up the faster they went, was to experience at first hand something I presumed forever lost to the past.

The last run I saw on the Sunday was also the last time these glorious machines were let loose and the chance to set a personal altitude record on the banking was obviously an opportunity not to be missed. The sheer exuberance as ERA, aero-engined special and Frazer-Nash single seater were given their head in an all or nothing run was palpable. A highlight in every sense and an exhilaratingly fitting way to end my first visit. If you see these old cars they evoke a bygone age, to hear them run or to see them driven quickly is to experience something of that age. If you get a chance to see them run at speed at Montlhery though, now that is to be transported back to a magical era. Chiron, Birkin, Barnato, Caracciola and Varzi – all would have recognised the sights, sounds and, most importantly, the spirit of this event. It is not too difficult to imagine their shades gathering under the trees to watch, and to nod their smiling approval. My thanks to the organisers for a quite exceptional experience, I hope to make it back for the next one.


– Actuarius –

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