On track: battlestar Evos, RX-7s, Nissans and Nobles, backed up by a horde of Hondas, Subarus, Fords, Vauxhalls and more. Howling single seaters. Old school Escorts and Sierras. In the paddock: classic hot rods, gleaming vintage engine bays, restorations in waiting, slammed hot hatches, short oval racers and über-drift Volvos. All this pitched against a stormy backdrop that sometimes made day look like night. Snetterton in Norfolk played host to an unholy mash-up of Time Attack, classic car show, on-track demonstrations and public track time for the inaugural running of Retro Kings.
Whilst the second round of the 2015 Time Attack season smashed around the track, Retro Kings took up station within the track perimeter. The show stretched out with a fine display of eclectic machinery from around the country. Some was more familiar, both with the makes on show and the teams behind the builds.
But most impressive for me was the turn-out from the local Norfolk clubs, showing just how strong the local scene is.
From the boat-sized, big-boned Americana which is almost expected around East Anglia through hot rods, slammed modern machines, twists on classic Brit saloons and absolutely unexpected left-field pseudo-replicas, there was a fantastic breadth of cars to soak up – literally, given the weather.
That vintage theme continued on track into the new Classic & Retro class of the UK Time Attack scene, which showed that older doesn’t have to be any less brutal than the more modern kit typically seen in the series. Lloyd Wright’s V8-powered MkI Escort was a case in point. That said, the car might be old but under the bonnet was something else: the engine from a Radical prototype, made of two Suzuki Hayabusa motorbike engines sharing a common crank to create a high-revving V8.
The British twist was evident throughout the day, and not just through the number of domestic cars and builds. Revolting weather ticked another national stereotype, and I’d forgotten about the red telephone box that incongruously stands next against the fence in the field across from the Snetterton pits.
At times the track was absolutely awash, the cars’ aero making visual cuts through the moisture-laden air and tyres throwing up rooster tails behind them.
And the bigger the aero packs, the bigger the wall of spray. The Pro Extreme squadron of Evos looked ferocious no matter the conditions, their downforce-laden bodies scything through the wet patches – but more of that later on.
If the drivers were used to it – and at least protected from the elements – you couldn’t help but feel sorry for those who had made the effort to turn out for Retro Kings. Car shows are tough gigs when the weather decides to be obnoxiously inclement, so it showed the hardy nature of the many clubs and attendees who braved the elements.
But whatever, rain never stops petrolheads putting in maximum effort to show off cars to their best. Stoical as ever, owners fought a constant battle of chamois leathers against rain.
The local club display that really stood out for me was the Norfolk Street Cruisers. The East Anglia counties are dotted with old airbases, home to countless American airmen during the Cold War. Along with the bombers came a whole lot of US auto iron.
Driving the local roads, it’s never a surprise to see an old ’57 Chevy rubbing fenders with a Fiesta, or a GTO alongside a Golf, asylum seekers left over from the abandoned bases. But as importantly, along with the physical cars came a philosophy.
It’s absolutely not that Norfolk is the only area of the UK with a love of hot rods, more that the affinity is far more than skin deep – they learned it from the originators, but now apply the principals with a British twist. A case in point was Pete Huckle’s fearsome Morris 14 of 1936 vintage. During the last decade it’s seen some insane engines under the bonnet, from a twin turbo Rolls-Royce inline six through a 4.2-litre straight six Jag engine to its current supercharged XJR four-litre. Next up will likely be a turbo, perhaps to supplement the supercharger. It’s the do-anything hot rod – a Morris crossed with a lunatic asylum that still drives like a dream, tows a caravan, goes drifting and hits the drag strips at any given moment. I never did get to what the hell the shrimp was doing…
Next to it sat another variation on the theme, a 1934 Morris 8 mounting a Rover V8.
Both wholesome American recipes cooked with proudly English ingredients.
On the end of their row was something neither British nor American: a Ferrari 250 SWB replica built up on a BMW Z3 platform – quite a popular choice as a base for a number of replicas of course. But I liked the honesty about this one. No badges proclaiming it as a Ferrari, no fake look-a-like interior, the original BMW wheels… and rough edges completely unbecoming anybody trying to pretentiously present a fake Ferrari front. You can’t fault the beautiful shape anyway, but as an homage I think this ticked the boxes.
Okay, it’s no Ferrari 250 in the exclusivity stakes, but I think it’s valid to say that the original Mk1 shape is just as iconic, in the context of being a beautifully designed car for the rest of us that still retains its impact after all these years. It’s also a hugely flexible base, able to deliver pretty much any end result from full-blown rally or racecar to this beaten and weathered look.Show & Shine Under The Rain & Cloud
The other end of the Mk1 scale was represented in the Show & Shine display outside the Kleers stand, with this pair of Escorts glistening in the rain.
Japanese and German brands might get all the attention, but I’d always go for a Blue Oval. A humble Fiesta can be brought into line with exactly the same mods you’d put on something like a Golf, and look just as good to my eyes.
For flat and flush there was this incredible 1948 Austin A40 Dorset created by John Stearman. This was another car as English than Marmite on toast – and like Marmite I’m sure just as divisive with people’s opinions of it. The Dorset definitely sported an uncompromising look, but again I couldn’t fault the use of an unusual Post-War British classic as the choice for the build. Everything about it was ultra clean, from the shaved and chopped body to the surprisingly modern-looking and beautifully finished cockpit. In the immaculate engine bay was somehow squeezed a 3.5-litre Rover V8! Suicide doors and the front-tip bonnet tipped their hat at kustoms, whilst the air suspension dropped the whole thing down. It really was an incredible piece of work, the majority carried out by John himself.
Easier to swallow might be this Lotus Europa, which adorned the nearby Appreciating Classics stand. The team scour the land looking for unloved and the abandoned, bringing them up to concours condition. This pint-sized 1971 Lotus in Gold Leaf colours had been fully restored and rebuilt to better-than-new condition. Seeing the car with people standing next to it reinforces just how low the Europa is, at just a metre short (42 inches).
Their next project will be this tatty Lotus Carlton, a real barn-find with the authentic smell to go with it… The Vauxhall Lotus Carlton is one of the original sleeper saloons of the modern age, an underrated gem of a car with supercar-beating performance. Back in 1990, with Ford toting the Sierra Cosworth their arch rivals Vauxhall needed new weapons to fight with, and this 180mph, 377hp Lotus-developed uber-saloon was their answer. The engine in this one looked in reasonably good condition – unlike the interior. But as ever, you never know what you’ll find until you start unbolting things…
Coincidentally, just around the corner was the perfect example of what their labours will result it: a pristine Lotus Carlton. The original planned production run in 1990 of over a thousand across both the British Vauxhall and European Opel factories fell foul of global recession, and eventually just over 300 Vauxhalls were sold. This means they’re pretty rare spots, so another being restored for the road is great news.
Deep in the midst of a clutch of Nissans and Toyotas was something rather more Scandinavian – and instantly recognisable as the work of Marc Huxley even without the stickers. His BMW V8-powered Volvo 240 Estate tore up the drift scene and its rulebook back in 2013/14, and it’s great to see it still driven hard by its latest owner. It headed out for the public track sessions, though it did keep its extreme lock under control given the conditions.
Snetterton is a blast of a track – in the dry at least, and thankfully the rain eased off for at least the fraction of the day that included one of the open sessions. As with so many Brit tracks this is an old WW2 airbase, which means the line of the original main runway is apparent; the rest of the track layout is clearly visible in old photos as the airfield’s perimeter road.
It’s the UK’s longest track at just a shade under three miles, and has a number of super-fast turns that are a challenge no matter the car under you. There are barriers for sure, but the opening first corner’s boundary is… a field. Understeer off and you end up doing a combine harvester impression.
The big tracks naturally get more attention, but there are strong local race scenes all over the country. There was a little bit of local promotion at Retro Kings for exactly that, with the Classic Modifieds series that’s based just down the road at Swaffham Raceway.
Swaffham is a typical tarmac short oval, and these cars must monster it. Using classic shells from the ’70s of everything from Beetles and Anglias to Camaros and Stags, they run super-wide outboard rims with old school high profile rubber. Anything is allowed as long as it’s over 42 years old.
This is a proper enthusiasts formula, with sensible regs that keep costs down and enjoyment high. Engines have to be Ford V6, Essex three-litre or Cologne variants, with pretty much standard tuning and parts. I was amazed at the mounting positions though. Engines are virtually mid-front they’re so pushed back, I also loved that no airbrushing is allowed – everything has to be painted, ’70s style. I will definitely be visiting Swaffham in the near future!
Entertainment at car shows has to extend to more than just the adults. Getting hooked on R/C cars often happens at a young age…
Mike’s recent fantastic post on the incredible Japanese model scene really made me want to dust off my brushes, and Kent Models stand had a great selection of the obscure and rare; I must build my Zakspeed Capri! Maybe that was why they kept driving the R/C R35 GT1 into me…
If you could escape the temptations of the merch area, bike stuntman extraordinaire Lee Bowers was showing exactly how not to ride a bike safely. In the tight confines of the live action arena, he put on an incredible display of tail scrapes, stoppies and various other tricks that sounded like they would require ointment at the very least. Frogger Podium? Fag Dangler? Sarison Wraps?
In between the Time Attack sessions and public sessions, a squad of single seaters also blatted round, headed up by a Formula 3000 car and this F1 replica built around a Formula Nippon chassis. Liveried and modelled with new bodywork to look like Fernando Alonso’s 2008 R28, trying to replicate modern F1 car is quite a target, but this did better than just look the part. Carving round the track, flaming away on downshifts, the car’s V8 soundtrack was appropriately ear-splitting and authentic sounding. Appreciating it didn’t depend on whether this was a ‘real’ F1 car or not: the original Formula Nippon machine was a hardcore piece of kit as it was…You’re Only Happy When It Rains
So, to the Time Attack track action and from the old to the new. From the morning warm-up to the end of the day the conditions were generally horrible, though for UK racecar drivers that was hardly likely to come as a shock. People are just used to it: you pile on as much downforce as is appropriate, bolt on the wet weather rubber and put the hammer down as usual.
The aero cars were demonstrably more stable despite the weather. I had run down towards the first corner to catch the opening warm-up session, and watching the cars absolutely blast up the shallow rise to the first corner took my breath away. Kevin Jones’ 650hp Noble M12 GTO3 was looking particularly aggressive, totally committed right up till the last moment of braking opportunity for the first corner.
It was difficult not to concentrate on the weaponised Evos at the front of the field, and particularly the two fully-armoured versions: SVA Import’s uprated Evo VI and its evil twin, the Black Mamba Evo VIII.
Andy Demetriou’s Evo VIII has already made a huge impact, smashing the opposition in the opening round last month. Originally built up in Cyprus, the car put in a couple of appearances last year before going home for some winter development: 1,000hp is the big headline, along with that insanely aggressive carbon composite body kit and enormous wing.
Both were incredible, with the cut-out rear of the SVA car and its exposed radiator creating a mini vortex of condensed rain, but that’s not to say the other four Pro Extreme Evos out at Snetterton weren’t also impressive. They made up for a relative lack of extreme bodywork with sheer pace and straight-line speed. Evos are clearly still the thing to have at the front of the field.
I was pleased to see the Kermit II RX-7 running in Pro at Snetterton after pawing over it at the recent Supercar Siege event. The 20B is still waiting to get a full allocation of boost, though that was likely no bad thing given the slippery conditions. It still sounded glorious of course.
Similarly green in colour, I was pleased to catch up with Simon Roberts, whose Noble we featured last year. The Time Attack bug has bitten deeply, and the development of his M12 is now fully focussed on track performance. He’s been pushing the flaming RX-7 of Umar Masood hard.
Ah, the flame-throwing RX-7! It fought water with fire almost all the way around the track, providing a virtually constant fireworks display.
The Snetterton pit-lane was the usual hive of activity, with 50-odd cars crammed into the garages and even occasionally stacked up behind: the price of a successful series. That meant most teams were cosily parked up two-deep, two-wide, with the open pit-lane providing a welcome relief.
Joining the series in the Pocket Rocket Ford Fiesta ST guest car for this round was Sam Brabham, son of Le Mans winner and general GT legend David. The eyes gave it away even before you saw any name badge.
Heading out of the pit-lane meant heading into the dark and misty unknown. Out There.
As the cars accelerated, they’d be passed by ghostly apparitions on their flying laps shooting by on their way to the first corner.
Following a brief lull mid-morning for the practice sessions, during the afternoon’s qualifying the rain came down again, descending almost as a solid mass of misery that engulfed the track.
The driver I felt most sorry for was Lee Broadhurst in the open-topped KTM X-Bow, running in the Pro class alongside the Noble GTO3 and Kermit II.
Gareth Lloyd would end up top of the pile in the SVA Imports Evo, just heading off the Black Mamba and Philip Reed’s Evo VI. As time is always the enemy, the great thing for those of us huddled up against the barriers was the non-stop action: there’s none of that F1 waiting in garages for things to improve…
But that Black Mamba looks more than ready to strike again – maybe after another brief recharge in the Cypriot sunshine. Hopefully next time we’ll see it in better conditions, and get a closer look at it alongside the SVA Evo. That’s due to be at Brands Hatch next month, where we’ll be gathering as part of TunerFest South. A bumper turn-out of modified and tuned cars is expected, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we find down in Kent.