France’s Le Mans Classic
Le Mans Classic is a spectacular gathering of vintage race cars that takes place every other summer. We witnessed the fifth running of the event this July. For those of us too young to have witnessed the original great battles at Le Mans from 1923-1979, Le Mans Classic is like a second chance prom. All the cool cars, some of the original drivers, and even spectators in period-correct clothing show up for the weekend and the legendary races are recreated, though only for 45 minutes at a time. This year the race boasted 100,000 spectators, 460 race cars, 1000 drivers, and an even more impressive 8000 cars on display in the infield.
Since all the cars are historic, incredibly expensive, and the races span a huge number of years, each grid is assigned three distinct 45 minute sessions on the track. This unique approach ensures there is always action on the track while minimizing the chances of a mechanical failure or disastrous wreck involving the vintage cars. That said, when you put the original drivers in their historic cars next to historic rivals, the tension and competition come right back to the surface. We witnessed racing every bit as good as the original competition throughout the weekend.
As awesome as the cars on the track were, the best part of our Le Mans Classic weekend was driving the legendary Le Mans circuit as guest of the Porsche Club of France. Anyone with a spare 130 Euros and a classic car can get out on the track for a few parade laps. Given the fact that Le Mans circuit only exists as a track a few weeks each year, the experience is worth far more than the modest fee.
After the lucky enthusiasts drive the track, they return to their car club’s area in the infield and one of the most amazing car shows on the planet happens right before your eyes. Porsche 911s of varying vintage are as common as beige Camrys on U.S. interstates. Even the vaunted 356 becomes commonplace. If you prefer early Lotus models, there more Sevens around than we could count. Even Corvette owners showed up with cars from virtually every generation present.
England’s Silverstone Classic
Give it to the blimey Brits for knowing how to have a great time with old crocks. The Silverstone Classic, held at Great Britain’s premier race track is billed as the world’s best and biggest classic racing festival. We’re talking 1000 drivers including 80-years-young Sir Stirling Moss, 22 races, and 73,000 spectators over three days. To celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Formula 1 World Championship, over 120 Grand Prix race cars were present. In addition to the 16 classes of open- and closed-wheel competition, there are scintillating side shows galore: a high-end auction, a celebrity race, tumbling aerobatic feats, hot air balloon ascensions, vintage motorcycle runs, drag race demonstrations, live rock and roll concerts, vendor tents, and amusement rides.
But the best show is the car club compound where each marque is represented by a dedicated throng of passionate patrons and some 6000 of their cars. They polish their prizes to a fare-thee-well, present them for inspection, and wait patiently for their one lap of the circuit reward. For the car connoisseur, there is no better means of brushing up on automotive history in an enjoyable setting.
On our busman’s holiday, we paid homage to a dozen brands ranging from Abarth to TVR. Only here would you find 17 Acura NSX (labeled Honda NSX in England) two seaters in pristine in-service condition.
The Silverstone Classic is held annually at the end of July. This is one event worthy of an A+ on your automotive destinations priority list.