Minis mix with Le Mans Legends at Chelsea show

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High-performance competition cars and motorcycles took over the Royal Hospital for the 2011 Chelsea AutoLegends on 4 September, with more than 8000 visitors braving the inclement summer weather to admire the spectacular 600-plus cars on display.

From early Sunday morning, residents were woken as exotics of all eras arrived for the second charity event to support the army pensioners – with this year’s show dedicated to celebrating British privateer racing teams among other a raft of other themed displays.

Four Ferrari 250GT SWBs (below) and a superb group of historic Le Mans racers – ranging from vintage 3 Litre Bentley to Gulf-liveried Aston Martin and the latest Peugeot 908 – made an impressive centrepiece to the show. Rarest machine present was Mike Otto’s 1960 Triumph TRS (above), which, powered by a 2-litre twin-cam, finished 11th in 1961 when Triumph took the team prize.

Special guests dodging the rain included racing knights Sir Stirling Moss and Sir John Whitmore – together with rally champions Paddy Hopkirk and Russell Brookes, while the line-up of renowned sports-racing veterans included Richard Attwood and David Piper, along with ex-Ferrari works drivers Tim Schenken and Peter Sutcliffe.

Resident pensioners embraced the event and helped with fundraising despite the weather, none more enthusiastically than 87-year-old Dorothy Hughes (below).  The heroine of the Blitz was one of the first women trained to fire anti-aircraft guns in 1940, and loved the cars on show. “My uncle had a garage in Swansea and owned a Vauxhall 30/98,” recalled Hughes. “During the war, an officer used to take us out in his Morgan on nights off.”

As well as an impressive display of road and race cars, two classic transporters attracted strong interest. The ’65 VW ‘Rennwagen’ carried a Formula Vee racer, with the equipe dwarfed by Dick Skipworth’s mighty Ecurie Ecosse team Commer (below).  An impressive group of Jaguar E-types carried the Swinging ’60s theme.

Invicta stalwart Bob Wood mustered up an impressive eight-car Low Chassis set to mark the 80th anniversary of Donald Healey’s 1931 Monte-Carlo victory. Starting from Norway, Healey, teamed with Cornish friends, survived an early accident to win the tough event outright. Entered for Chelsea by C&SC columnist Alain de Cadenet, this seldom-seen historic rally machine (below) was displayed with winning trophy.

The line-up also featured both Invictas campaigned by Raymond Mays, as well as ex-Prince Bira Low Chassis and a rare Corsica-bodied drophead. Invicta also has local connections as production moved from the Cobham factory to the works service department just off the Kings Road in 1933. Miranda Kelly and Paddy Macklin, the grandchildren of Invicta founder Noel Macklin, made a welcome appearance, with Cornish sailor Paddy just back from an epic 17-month round-the-world journey.

Deeper into the woods, an outstanding selection of 19 Minis (below) celebrated this month’s 50th anniversary of the Cooper with several early ‘S’s, such as the ex-works 1071cc rally car 977 ARX. Rarities included Noel Durdant-Hollamby’s ’68 ex-Liverpool & Bootle Police Morris Cooper ‘S’ traffic car – complete with working blues and twos and Westminster AM15 radio set – alongside Mark Feetham’s dazzling 1960 Mini Sprint GTR.

“I heard about someone having a Mini Sprint in a lock-up from a friend about 10 years ago,” Feetham explained. “I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s believed to be the last one converted in period by Neville Trickett in 1970 – 10 years after the car was built. I managed to track down the people who had it done and they kindly let me have the original invoice and a 1970 article from Car & Car Conversions. It had patches of various shades when I bought it, so I asked about the original colour: they used to overhaul water pumps and had a load of free yellow paint from that!” Nearby was a pair of mint, Mini-powered GTs: an Ogle and a 1967 Unipower GT.

For the first time the show expanded into the wooded Ranelagh Gardens, which featured several dedicated displays mixing with eclectic groups of classics, kit cars and customs including local Robert Wadsworth’s fabulous roadgoing 1982 Lancia 037 (above). “I’ve owned it since 1995 but, after nightmare engine problems, I’ve had a great time taking it on European trips over the past two years. Driving it over the Stelvio and Raticosa passes was fantastic.”

Ricardo Galvani took his fantastic, all-original ’73 Jaguar XJ6, which he’s owned for 20 years: “It’s a rare manual that was bought new by a company director. It must have been to special order because it doesn’t have overdrive and has Ambla upholstery." Charity tour organiser Galvani is taking a group of 20 Jaguars to Australia next February – see www.classicjaguartouring.com – and was at Chelsea to raise awareness of the charity Plan Because I am a Girl – dedicated to supporting girls’ education in the world’s poorest countries.

Alongside the XJ6 was the first Series 2 Lancia Aurelia B20 GT built. It features an early Nardi floor change, competition suspension and a special Nardi twin-carb set-up. The car was driven on the ’52 Rallye des Alpes by Ferndinando Gatta,with Jacques Ickx (Jackie’s dad) on the maps, and retained by Lancia for five years. Other standouts included a fabulous 1974 Australian Ford Falcon XBGT351 coupe (below).

Also making a journey was a cavalcade of current roadgoing exotica – from an Aston Martin One-77, Bugatti Veyron and Ferrari 599GTO to a Pagani Zonda and the new McLaren MP4-12C – that made up C&SC sister title Pistonheads.com’s Supercar Run. The parade kicked off at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall and arrived at the Royal Hospital shortly before noon, where the cars were greeted by Sir Stirling Moss and a chequered flag.

Another Chelsea AutoLegends debut was the inclusion of motorcycles with an Ace Café themed area. Visitors included eight-times World Motor Cycle Champion Phil Read, while George Cohen’s 1948 Norton special was the talk of the ’bike fans.

More photographs from the event follow below. Double click on the lead image above to launch a slideshow.

Ricardo Galvani's Jaguar XJ6.

Chevrolet Corvette.

Invicta line-up.

Lancia Aurelia B20 GT and Lamborghini Espada.

Touring car display.

Triumph Dolomite.

Ex-works World Cup Rally Ford Escort.

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