The Finest Pageantry

Stately homes and motorsport: two great British passions, and two things the British public seems to have an insatiable appetite for. So it’s only logical that these two domains have begun to overlap more and more in recent years. Lord March’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, held near Chichester in the far south-east of England since 1993, was the trail-blazer, but it now has a Northern rival in the form of the Cholmondeley (pronounced in oh-so-English fashion as ‘Chumley’) Pageant of Power.


The event takes over a large part of the estate surrounding the eponymous castle, which is nestled in rolling Cheshire countryside, four miles from the village of Malpas. Long-time visitors to the Goodwood Festival of Speed will spot many familiar touches here: a hay-bale-lined hillclimb course that doubles as the castle’s driveway, a bustling trade village of motoring and luxury goods sellers and a crowded and lively paddock where the public can get up close and personal with the drivers and their machines.


But there’s also some unique aspects to the Cholmondeley experience. There’s no missing the large lake, which plays host to inshore powerboat demonstrations for the duration of the event. And then there’s the huge military presence, including a demonstration of an attack on a fortified enemy position, using helicopters, live ammunition and all manner of threatening-looking hardware. These additional attractions no doubt do their bit to bring in the day-tripping family crowds, but for the hardcore, the cars are still the stars. And the Pageant’s 2011 edition didn’t disappoint on that front.


With another Northern English motorsport institution, Donington Park, located not far away, it was appropriate that several machines from the late circuit owner Tom Wheatcroft’s storied collection made an appearance at this year’s Pageant, including the museum’s full complement of distinctive green Vanwalls. But for fans of historic Formula 1, it doesn’t get much better than seeing the Rob Walker Racing Lotus 18, as driven by Stirling Moss to a famous against-the-odds victory at the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix. Pre-war Grand Prix history was also represented in the best possible style by 1938 Auto Union D-Type, these days valued in the region of $14 million.


Cholmondeley also played host to some very interesting German visitors this year, hailing from the Sinsheim Auto & Technik Museum. First up was the innovative 1925 ‘Böhmerland’ three-seater motorbike, a real crowd favourite whose further development was sadly curtailed by the Second World War. And the museum owner’s wife, Michaela Layher, also tackled the hillclimb in an immaculate 1938 Bugatti T57. The other significant German offering was ‘Brutus,’ which, although looking every inch an early-20th-century racecar, is actually a far more modern Frankenstein creation, built by mating a 1917 46.5-litre BMW aero engine to a 1907 La France chassis. This howling, chain-driven, rear-brakes-only beast was one of a trio of crowd-pleasing aero-engined specials, with the other two coming from Vintage Sports Car Club member Chris Williams.


His Packard-Bentley, better known as ‘Mavis,’ is a 1930 8-litre Bentley chassis that has been retrofitted with a 42-litre Packard V12, producing 1450bhp and some enormously spectacular flames. The finishing touch comes in the form of two dummy torpedoes mounted along the flanks that are in fact auxilliary oil tanks. Williams is also responsible for the only slightly less mad 24-litre Napier-Bentley, finished in a cheerier bright red colour scheme with prominent Union Jacks.


Bentley’s status as ‘founding sponsors’ of the event meant the Crewe marque had a significant presence. Le Mans legend and brand ambassador (and these days a Bentley dealer in Naples, Florida) Derek Bell was on hand to demonstrate the 2003 EXP Speed 8 LM-GTP car, while Finnish rallying great Juha Kankkunen showed off the production-standard Supersports Convertible he used to set a new ice speed record of 205mph on the Sea of Bothnia in Finland earlier this year.


Every significant motoring event in the UK this year is making some effort to mark the 50th anniversary of Jaguar’s truly iconic E-Type, and Cholomondeley was no exception, with noted collector and historic racer Peter Neumark bringing along his impressive stable. The standout example was his recently restored 1964 low-drag lightweight model, the only one of this type built by the Jaguar factory.


Other notable sportscar entrants included Colin Chapman’s Can-Am effort, the Jim Clark-driven Lotus 30; and the 1964 Bizzarini Corsa – the independent, Chevrolet V8-engined creation of the man who designed the Ferrari GTO. The star of the the show, for this writer anyway, was the screaming 1974 Matra 670C, looking glorious in period livery and driven with commitment and aplomb by Rob Hall.


The final element of the four-wheeled side of the event was a lineup of the latest road-going supercars – a phalanx of Bentley Continentals, an Ariel Atom V8, the 2011-model Nissan GT-R, Lamborghinis, Nobles, Jaguars, Aston Martins, and a Lexus LF-A wearing an absolutely stunning Royal Blue shade that suits this car better than any other I’ve seen. And even the dizzying price tag didn’t stop the driver from piloting the LF-A as its maker intended – as evidenced by an extremely close call with the scenerey at a tight and tricky left-hander towards the end of the course. Confirmation, if it were needed, that these ‘Pageants’ and ‘Festivals’ are still serious business once the flag drops and the hammer goes down.


All images: Stephen Errity
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