The Coupes de Printemps Is A Prime Place To See Vintage Cars Lapping Hallowed Ground
Photography by Mathieu Bonnevie
Saturday, March 25th, 8:00 AM: The mythical Autodrome de Linas-Montlhéry opens its gates for an open track day with classic cars under a shining sun.
Built in 1924, just south of Paris, the track used to host the French Grand Prix, the 1000km of Paris and the Grand Prix de l’Age d’Or, not to mention the numerous world speed records that were set on its speed ring! Historically, the Coupes de Printemps, which we can translate as the “Spring Cups,” used to be the inaugural event of the automobile season, with hundreds of cars racing on the Autodrome in a single day.
The track is no longer homologated as of 2004, but the Historical Coupes de Printemps took the event back to the circuit, albeit the “new” 3.4 km-long track, with its legendary ring and three chicanes. This event is no longer a competition, but a driving day with gorgeous cars to admire for the spectators, and a chance to drive on a venerated track for the owners of the impressive automotive lineup that inevitably shows up.
This track day was for pre-1972 cars in order to fittingly remember and pay tribute to the golden age of Montlhéry. Most of the drivers come here for fun, but some of them use this day for a last check-up before starting the race season (the Tour Auto is in only few weeks after all!).
The paddock is opened to the spectators, which allows the treat of getting to be up close with some very rare metal. The paddock quickly fills in the morning as everyone flocks to see which cars will be on track later in the day. Most of the cars are brought in on trailers, but the bravest just drive straight to the event in their cars. One such car made a pretty special entrance: we could hear the 3.0 CSL climbing the road to the Autodrome long before anyone could see the car.
For the on-track portion of the day, the cars are placed in two grids depending on their performance, then are warmed up briefly before joining the pre-grid in front of the stands. There are a few choice vantage points around the track, but perhaps the best is watching from the top of the pit stands; this is where the mythical atmosphere of the Autodrome is truly felt in my opinion.
The first grid, the A-grid, was mainly composed of touring cars, including a French DB HBR5 and an incredible 1932 Bugatti Type 51—famously owned by Ralph Lauren in the past! The dry track allowed them to drive hard in the chicanes, and seeing the open-wheel Type 51 lean through the corners was quite the sight. I’m also pretty sure that the Panhard Z12 that day was as fast in the chicanes as it was around the ring! For those looking for a little more speed, the B-grid was host to some great action, with the fastest race cars of the day making up the field. The Ford Escort RS 1600 was hardly fighting with an Austin Healey 3000, the BMW E9 CSL’s straight-six screamed through the air, and that 1934 Maserati 8 CM was just breathtaking to watch!
This year, the organizational changes resulted in fewer participants than usual at the Coupes de Printemps, but I am sure that everyone involved is doing their best to give back to this event all the importance it deserves. As is though, this sunny day was really a pleasant way to spend the weekend, what with interesting people, a great location, and of course, the rolling pieces of art. What a great feeling it was to watch them driving on the banks of the concave ring, pedal to the metal!