The forecast had promised rain, lots of it – and it later proved not to be wrong – but undeterred, enthusiastic crowds came flooding through the gate for the second annual AutoLegends event even before the official 10am opening time on Sunday 4 September.
Last year some 5000 made their way to The Royal Hospital Chelsea’s fine grounds to savour a spectacular display of cars old and new. This year that figure was bettered by over 50%, but with the vehicles now also lined up among the trees and rhododendrons to the east of the ground’s ‘Mulsanne Straight’, there was substantially more elbow room for the 8000 or more to saunter and savour.
The theme for this year’s event was the Swinging Sixties, with displays of Le Mans racers and privateer cars of the era that were entered by the ‘Patrons’ of the time such as Rob Walker, Tommy Sopwith, Col. Ronnie Hoare and others.
Greeting visitors before the entrance was a fine trio of sixties supercar exotica in the shape of a Ford GT40, a Bizzarrini GT Strada and a Lamborghini Miura, and once through the gates the quantity – over 600 this year – and quality of the cars on display was almost too much to comprehend, even for seasoned classic car fest devotees.
This being the E-type’s 50th anniversary it was no surprise that these Jaguars were again thick on the ground, with several famous racers, lightweights and prototypes with outstanding histories among them. The Mini Cooper was another icon of the trendy 1960s Kings Road scene that was especially well represented.
Celebrating the 80th anniversary of Invicta’s victory in the 1931 Monte Carlo Rally, the winning car driven by Donald Healey was flanked by no fewer than seven other immaculate 4.5-litre ‘Low Chassis’ S Types. A rare sight indeed.
Even rarer, and eclipsing even a lightweight E-type and a near-perfect DB4 GT on the Bonhams stand, was the ex-works, ex-Lance Macklin Austin-Healey ‘100’ Special Test Car which competed in the Carrera PanAmericana, Bahamas Speed Week and scored a class win in the ’53 Le Mans 24 Hours. It was also the car involved in the catastrophic Le Mans disaster of 1955 when, avoiding Mike Hawthorn’s D-type, Macklin was rammed from behind by Pierre Levegh’s 300SLR.
Having been impounded by the French authorities, the aluminium-bodied car was released blame-free back to the Healey factory in Warwick where, for reasons unknown, its damaged panels were replaced with steel bodywork, which can now been seen beneath various old coats of paint. Having been in storage with one owner for the past 42 years, Bonhams’ James Knight expects this ‘barn find’ to realise “in excess of £500,000” at the Mercedes-Benz World sale at Brooklands on 1 December.
Other trade stands with impressive displays included Classic Driver dealers Desmond Smail, HR Owen, Frank Dale & Stepsons and many others, while there was little missing from the Supercar Paddock which boasted an eye-watering selection of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, McLarens, Porsches and Paganis, as well as, in no particular order: a Mosler, a road-registered Aston One-77, a Veyron with a registration number that must’ve been almost as expensive as the car (F1), a black Stealth, a KTM X-Bow and, rather oddly but not least, a post-war Riley two-door drophead coupé!
As an antidote to all this exotica, Chelsea AutoLegends also had much to please more humble tastes. Far, far too many to mention, but a Nash Metropolitan, a Ford Anglia, a ’65 East African Safari Peugeot 404, a Fiat 500 with matching trailer, a ’57 Chevy coupe, a few diverse motorcycles and a ’55 Swallow Doretti were just a few of those to catch your writer’s eye (particularly the Doretti as I learnt to drive in a ’54 model).
Famous faces around and about included Chelsea AutoLegends Patron Sir Stirling Moss OBE, rally champions Paddy Hopkirk and Russell Brookes, eight-times World Champion motorcycle racer Phil Read MBE, sportscar veterans Richard Attwood and David Piper, current works Peugeot ace Anthony Davidson, plus ex-Ferrari works drivers Tim Schenken and Peter Sutcliffe.
Additionally, they’re still counting at the time of writing, but thousands of pounds were raised for the Royal Hospital’s Chelsea Pensioners, many of whom also enjoyed a splendid day.
Any downsides? Well, the fish and chips stall I queued at for my late lunch suddenly ran out of fish. And sausages. And chips. Hey ho.