Journal: Are Some Classics Too Nice to Race?

Are Some Classics Too Nice to Race?

By Michael Banovsky
March 27, 2015

Photography by Remi Dargegen

With a collision between classic Mercedes-Benz and Lister race cars at the 73rd Goodwood Members’ Meeting making news headlines around the world, is it time to put away our really nice vintage cars?

Some owners already do keep their precious metal in their collections and take to race tracks in exacting recreations of vintage cars. Given enough time and money, several companies around the world—both past and present—offer recreations of famous racing machines from the Shelby Cobra to Jaguar C-Type. Often customized at the buyer’s request to exactly match a certain body style and period livery, they’re available for a steep price—but still cost pennies compared to the owning real thing.

There’s also a question of approach. In the U.S., vintage racing is often less of a wheel-to-wheel contest as it is in Europe, where thrills and spills seem to be a more regular occurrence. Here at Petrolicious, we focus on the people and then the cars—the reason you don’t see crash-damaged vintage machines here each week is because, well, people always come first.

That said, are some classics simply too nice to race? 

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Steve Crowley
Steve Crowley(@ducktoe)
4 years ago

If it was built by man, it can be rebuilt by man. The cars were built to race, and over there life a lot of them have been, rebuilt, restored, modified, updated or what ever. If they’re not doing what there built for, then you can get into the hobby a lot cheaper with 1/18 die cast models, that just stay on the shelf.

Eric Asselin
Eric Asselin(@me)
5 years ago

The only real car museum is a race track!

Chris Jeffs
Chris Jeffs(@fb_505990819)
6 years ago

Having re-written this comment three times I get to:
[b]Let the owner do what the hell they want – it is their car.[/b]
And if people feel the cultural significance of these cars is such that they shouldn’t be taken around a track I would refer them to the huge destruction of the world’s flora and fauna and ask – as a car enthusiast – have we really got our priorities right? Should we continue to praise part of the cultural significance of a mode of transport which is responsible for such huge levels of destruction to the world?

For my own pure personal pleasure I do like to see the hooning about of some iconic classics by the family who represent themselves as TAXTHRICH100 on YouTube and am indifferent to the damage that occured at Goodwood as these things will happen and it’s not irreversible (unlike the above damage to nature).

John Forsman
John Forsman(@johnforsman)
6 years ago

At an Historics race in the 80s I heard a guy ask a man with a Ferrari GTO (then a $4,000,000 car) how he could race it. Owner/Drivers response was, “I can’t do $4,000,000 in damage to it.

Chris Jeffs
Chris Jeffs(@fb_505990819)
6 years ago
Reply to  John Forsman

Clearly wasn’t being imaginative enough…

Pieter van der Veer
Pieter van der Veer(@fb_685807844)
6 years ago

No, especially cars that are made to race deserve to be seen racing. Every car can be rebuilt if it crashes and if it’s a car of exceptional value, the owner most probably has deep enough pockets to do so.

Jon Bopp
Jon Bopp(@northstarsts)
6 years ago

Last years SVRA event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with 700 ( they reported over 1000 requests) classics and antique cars was spectacular and would answer any questions on this subject…………absolutely fabulous.

Edward Levin
Edward Levin(@edl)
6 years ago

I’d say there are no classics “too nice” to race. But there are historic cars that are too important or too original to race–some cars so historically significant that it would be irresponsible to risk them on a track for anything other than a demonstration run. That’s not because they’re “too nice” or too valuable, though. In fact the more valuable a car gets, the less it costs to repair relative to its value; it’s nearly impossible to total a $16M Ferrari California Spider. But you can’t rebuild originality or history. So that’s really the determining factor for me.

Stuart Brown
Stuart Brown(@fb_550369264)
6 years ago

In Australia Mike Roddy regularly races the Spa and Bathurst winning, Immaculate XJS. One of only 7 XJSs and the most successful
Awesome to see and hopefully it won’t get damaged…
Photo is of the car winning Bathurst in 85 with John Goss at the wheel..
A google search of “Mike Roddy XJS” will show many more images

Sandy Ganz
Sandy Ganz(@fb_730417288)
6 years ago

First off I want to THANK any of the many vintage car owners I have enjoyed watching at the race track for taking the risk of racing their vintage car.

I have been to many vintage events and no one expects a problem, but sometimes it just happens. I think most owners have that fear but also understand that as soon as that car is on the grid it has a potential for a disaster. Fortunately it doesn’t happen often. And lets face it racing and owing some of these vintage racers is not for those with thin wallets.

Some cars, as many said are just too special to be in a pack of cars. Some of the drivers range from aggressive to not so, and I see that as one area of a problem, next race watch for them. These guys drive balls out, other the exact opposite of the spectrum are many drivers as well. The mix is often not a good thing.

Again, YES bring them cars out!

Paul Steel
Paul Steel(@steely)
6 years ago

Owning a race car and not racing it is like marrying a super model and not… her (or him).
It should be part of the cost of ownership, written into the buyers contract, if you can’t afford to race a race car, (even if it’s only once or twice a year), buy a road car!

Colby James
Colby James(@fb_753278455)
6 years ago

Rarely, but my hart does sink every time I see a wrecked car from the carrera pan americana, especially the 53 and 54 Studebakers.

Sebastiaan Bleuanus
Sebastiaan Bleuanus(@sebastiaan)
6 years ago

Absolutely these cars should be raced. [url=””]This[/url] is what they were meant to do and it is exactly like this that these cars should be used and enjoyed. Be it by the driver or by the (many!) enthousiasts that can and do only dream of driving these classic cars in anger.

As someone before me said: old racecars have probaby been raced, wrecked, patched up, wrecked, rebuilt and raced before. So why stop there? These are machines, not “art” (whatever that may be….)

Benjamin Shahrabani
Benjamin Shahrabani(@ben-shahrabani)
6 years ago

A very good question. That being said, I have HUGE respect for the owners (or stewards) who drive their GTO’s, SWB’s…or whatever rare, expensive car comes to your mind first…in the manner, and for the purpose they were created. One of the best events at Monterey car week was the Historics at Laguna Seca, and it was amazing to see these cars being power slided around the track, just like their creators intended.

Another good question to ask (for another article) would be when is a car too nice to drive? At which point does it become just a “point A to point A car”?

Patrick Frawley
Patrick Frawley(@fastpatrick)
6 years ago

There are some cars which are already permanently retired from racing: the 300SLR, the Le Mans-winning Mark IV, Porsche’s historically significant museum pieces. Absolutely no way are those ever going to see competition again, and rightly so.

For less priceless machines…actually, the thing is that racing cars can always be rebuilt. More than a few multimillion-dollar vintage showpieces were once badly damaged in crashes or left to rot and then brought back to life. And the older, simpler cars aren’t that difficult to reconstruct in the right hands. Safe to assume that both the SL and Lister in that crash will be returned to better-than-original condition within a year or so.

Besides, incidents like this are exceedingly rare. People know what they’ve got and even if vintage races are full-on races, the willingness to take chances is heavily reduced compared to, say, NASCAR.

So no, let ’em run. Even Cobras and D-Types and prewar Alfas and the good stuff.

More interesting is the decision about including modern safety gear in vintage cars, which obviously benefits the driver but debases the sense of period. Is a HANS system reasonable in a race-prepped TC? Should 250GTOs which see track time be plumbed with built-in fire extinguishers? If we want to continue to race vintage machines with a reasonably clear conscience, what safety updates are appropriate?

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange(@365daytonafan)
6 years ago

This can be a very emotive subject, but ultimately I think it has to be left to each individual owner to decide if it worth the risk? If the owner is not driving themselves they also have to decide if they also entrust the drive to be competent with the car and either way that they have adequate insurance cover (think of the Mark Hales/ David Piper Porsche 917 track test).

angus pattison
angus pattison(@angusdavid)
6 years ago

It depends. There are definitely cars that are just too valuable to risk damaging during a race. Whether it is pedigree or rarity, the potential financial and historic loss is too great. That being said these are classic race cars that have been built to perform not just too show and in that case I think not racing them and enjoying them would be a disservice to the car and the owner. In my opinion the decision to race a classic car or not depends on its collectability and whether they own the car to look at it and drive casually or to experience the full ability of its performance on a race track.

Nate Jones
Nate Jones(@computinateor)
6 years ago

There are some that are too nice to race, like the perfect-condition never-tracked Porsches of the 50s and 60s. But remember that the old race cars are very likely rebuilds themselves, patched back together after a race’s on-track incidents bent the bodywork. These cars are race cars, albeit very special ones, but still racecars. Drive it like you mean it!