Le Mans Classic 2012 

Over 109,000 visitors to this year’s Classic Le Mans it is the World’s top classic car event. Over 400 car entries with the most amazing cross-section of classic and sports racing cars anywhere. Grids included rare exotica like Bentleys, Talbots, Jaguar, Maserati’s, Mercedes-Benz, Alfa Romeo T33, Aston Martins. Lotus, Porsche 356s Ferrari 250 GTs, GT40s, Cobras, Iso Bizzarinis, Ferrari 275 GTBs. D-type, 300SL Mercedes, 1959 Le Mans-winning Aston Martin DBR1, Lola T70s, Porsche 906, 907 and 917, Chevrons, Corvettes, Porsche 935s, BMW M1s and Lola T298s.

Traditional Le Mans starts with drivers sprinting to their cars across the track and all races include a mandatory pit stop and driver change-over.

The Elva-BMW 1600 GT was quick all weekend and another rarity was the Porsche 907 coupé. A collection of 18 Ferrari GTO’s gathered and performed parade laps, and for the record they cost around $4M each, although Sterling Moss’s one recently sold for $35M, therefore averaging $20M each. Millionaire Brandon Wang was there in his dark blue example on the concours stand and joining in on the parade.

Prototypes Gulf Mirage and Lola T286, with a Porsche 936 and a raft of 935s fighting for position with BMW M1s. And 911 Carrera RS. Hundreds of Renualt Alpines and the new concept that was actually doing laps

Between races there were marque parades, with club members out on track in 800 different cars. Derek Bell driving a Porsche 962 from the Zuffenhausen museum.

A brass band on the start-finish straight and a race for children the Little Le Mans piloting electric scale model cars and classic Le Mans start amused the cheered crowds.

Static displays – 18 (of the original 39) Ferrari 250 GTOs (one crashed on the way to Le Mans, £2,000,000 insurance claim) – and trade stalls, while a galaxy of vintage buses and army vehicles did taxi duties.

BMW displays included the club Horizon 2002 (French 02 club) with everything from 02’s, 1 turbo, Neue Klasse, a gorgeous 700 Convertible, CSL’s, M535i E12, M1, the South Africa designed 2000 saloon, to a multitude of Glas cars. Brit’s included Paul and John Hill, Russell Crawford, John Hudson, Hilaire O’Shea and from the Netherlands Guido and Shirley in their 2002 Targa.

The weather played a significant part, dispensing showers and sunshine all weekend. That made life interesting for drivers, especially on the damp track, with plenty of spinners exiting the corners, and a few offs across the board, we even saw a gorgeous Aston Martin DB4 ruin by an idiot in a Sagris. Big crowds watched the racing which was every bit as entertaining. Le Mans Classic only happens every other year, which enhances its exclusivity, and is a must for your 2014 diary!

Some of the images I took here;

 

Why Modern Cars are rubbish!

Our relationship with cars is a strange one. Take our obsession with classics for instance. Do you know anyone who, out of choice, watches TV on a crackly old black and white set with a miniscule screen? Probably not. Have you ever thought, “this computer is all very well but typewriters are so fun and retro”?

But put anyone with an interest in cars in an old classic and they’ll come over all misty eyed and endure all sorts of miseries in the name of retro cool.

Being a tyre or chassis engineer is a thankless task. Just consider this: thanks to both cars now handle better (read, more securely), hold the road far more tenaciously and are therefore safer, more comfortable and faster than ever. And yet, you’ll hear in some circles how the triumph of grip over handling has robbed us of something. Cars now hold on so hard there’s very little sensation of how they actually handle, other than in extremis. Meanwhile an old car with lower grip levels actually tells you a lot more about what’s going on, involving you in the process of driving in a way no modern car can.

Gadget overload

Drive a typical car of even 15 years vintage and you’ll be surprised at just how spartan the interior looks. So accustomed are we to our massaging seats, multi-mode gearboxes and adjustable suspension set ups we wonder how we coped without. The thing is, we did. And what’s more, we weren’t anything like as distracted – many modern cars requiring fighter pilot levels of dexterity and multi-tasking just to adjust the windscreen de-mist. Lotus is among a small number of modern manufacturers bucking the trend and concentrating on making the driving as fun as possible – removing the need for distractions.

Poor visibility

What is it with modern cars and their lack of visibility? The intention is good – namely beefing up the structure to give more crash protection. But the result has been massive blind spots, especially at the base of the A-pillar. Combine this with the huge wing mirrors many new cars have and you end up with a whole corner of the front window obscured, blocking your view at junctions and roundabouts. High dashboards are another problem, preventing you from being able to place the car accurately. Get in an older car and you’ll be amazed at what a difference this makes.

Too heavy

Laden with gadgets and gizmos, bigger and carrying more metal around to satisfy crash regulations modern cars are heavier than ever. Which means they need bigger engines – adding weight – which then demand bigger brakes and beefed up transmissions – adding weight – and the whole thing goes round in a vicious circle. The classic example is the Golf GTI. The Mk1 weighed just 840kg. The current one tips the scales at a staggering 1,347kg. Reason enough for it to need almost double the original’s power to provide a suitably thrilling drive. Hats off then to Mazda, one of the few mainstream manufacturers successfully cutting weight from its new models.

No character

Many of the issues in this list are interlinked and the added weight and complexity of modern cars, plus the much improved roadholding, has dulled character to the point where the driving experience is interchangeable between brands. And with so many modern cars sharing platforms and engines – even across apparently rival manufacturers – they become even more homogenised. There are exceptions – Subaru’s defiant quirkiness, BMW’s marvellous straight-six engines and Honda’s super slick gearchange spring to mind – but there is no escaping the fact that older cars are much more characterful. Of course, such a euphemism hides a multitude of sins but if you like driving character equals fun.

Smaller boots

Cars may be getting bigger on the whole but why are boots getting smaller? Back in the day when you lifted the boot lid of a typical saloon car the car’s outer skin marked the extremities of the boot space and you’d need a torch to find the deepest recesses. And yet these days it seems a carpeted slot between the wheel-arches is all you get. Another issue is the apparent disappearance of properly folding rear seats; backrests flatten easily enough but for proper load lugging you need to lift the rear bench to make a proper level load floor. And for whatever reason fewer and fewer cars enable you to do this.

All look the same

Is that the new Lexus? No, hang on, it’s a Mazda. Or is the new Jag? No, wait, it’s a Mondeo. Try as they might to integrate unique styling into their cars, modern designers are tied to the constraints of aerodynamics and crash regulations. And as a result cars all look the same, the more eccentric flourishes of talented designers never making the final cut. An old Mercedes could only have been a Mercedes, and ditto Jaguars, Saabs and Citroens – all had their own distinctive looks and characters. But now? Without the badges you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart.

No sensation of speed

Faster, safer and more refined than ever, modern cars leave their older cousins for dead when it comes to performance. Which would be great, but we’re stuck with speed limits designed for when vehicles were way less capable. The result? Drive at 70mph on a motorway and you’ll feel like you’re dawdling, while on country roads it’s all too easy to carry speeds in excess of what the visibility and conditions really should dictate. Drive an older car and all of a sudden relatively low speeds become exciting again, providing thrills drivers of more sophisticated machinery can only achieve outside the law.

No handbrakes

Just what was so bad about mechanical handbrakes? OK, so they take up a bit of space in the centre console needed for gadgets and gizmos (see above) but when you want to stop a car from moving a good yank on a lever actually attached to the braking mechanism is far more reassuring than pushing an anonymous button. And what if your car starts rolling back on a hill? Do you want to be hunting the dashboard for a small switch or making a grab for that unmissable big lever between the seats?

Driver alienation

Ever felt surplus to requirements? Modern cars seem able to do everything themselves, from switching on the headlights and wipers to regulating speed and deciding on the perfect interior temperature. Hell, with radar cruise control they’ll even match their speed to the vehicle in front and bring you to halt in a traffic jam. Which leaves what exactly for the driver? Not much more than holding onto the steering wheel and pointing the front end in the intended direction of travel. For those of us who actually enjoy driving demotion to a mere supporting role in the whole process is soul destroying, and yet another reason for choosing an old timer.

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