“Round-the-houses” racing is a great tradition which is still practiced here and there with historic events in West Australia. In continental Europe it was once the way most motor racing was done, with meetings usually embracing both bikes and cars. Perhaps Pau and Monaco are the only survivors running to contemporary car formulae.
Angouleme in western France was one of those towns where the annual races were an important part of the social and sporting calendar. Starting in 1939, the first main race for grand prix cars was won by the great French hero Raymond Sommer in an Alfa Romeo 308. Racing recommenced in 1947 and continued until the Le Mans tragedy year of 1955. In 1978 the meeting was revived as a historic event and has continued ever since.
The old town, of Romano-Gallic origins, occupies a fortified craggy plateau high above the surrounding country, and around the plateau are the remains of over 2km of ramparts after which the race is named. A mere 1.2 kilometres long, the course runs along the ramparts, plunges downhill between packed houses, streaks along the bottom of the fortified cliffs then zig-zags back up to the plateau again. It is tight, roughly surfaced and wholly unforgiving as far as run-off is concerned. An ‘off’ generally means contact with a stone wall or armco.
This year saw the 39th running of the modern ‘Circuit des Remparts’. Somehow or other the pits were created in the middle of the town next to the hotel de ville, armco was erected here and there, and entries for prewar cars up to 1500cc, 500cc cars, 1965-1974 GT cars, group B rally cars, Bugattis type 35, 37, 51 and 59, post 1974 GTs, pre-war racing cars over 1500cc and pre 1965 GTs were invited to race on Sunday 17 September 2017.
The first voitourette race was led, almost from start to finish, by Morgan ace (and old mate of Loose Fillings) Chas Reynolds who has, over the years, perfected a racing engine with speedway top-end bits on the robust 1323cc DTZ rail trolley motor. As you can imagine, the big-twin exhaust note reverberated splendidly though the tight streets of Angouleme and not a beat was missed.
The second race, being for 500cc cars, was for our air-cooled brethren and it was pleasing to see that these days the once ubiquitous curved tube Cooper is being challenged by a wide variety of other makes and models.
For a start there were no less than 6 DB (Charles Deutsch and René Bonnet) cars which were initally built around a modified Dyna Panhard flat twin engine mounted ahead of the front driven wheels. There was an Arnott, a Staride, a Martin, an Effyh, the Waye special (late of Australia), a Revis, an RJ, a Cousy and several more-modern blow-ins such as a Vixen (1966) and a Boyer (1960). All were allegedly 500cc and why the latter two were there was a moot point.
The flat-twin DBs are fierce looking creatures
Further inquiries on the Internet revealed that the ‘Boyer Racer 500’ was conceived about 1998 for a French formula. It had a Honda V-twin Transalp engine developing 50hp at 8000rpm, with a five-speed gearbox. Yet in the programme it is listed as 1960 which is patently not true. Whether the same may be said of the ‘1966’ Vixen VB1 I have not troubled to find out as it finished well down the field. Suffice to say it should be totally unacceptable to genuine historic 500 racers to have this sort of pretend car in the grid.
The race was to be over 23 laps, which was to be a bit much for some people fuel-wise, and they and others wanted a rolling start as they are now accustomed to. At a post-briefing conference it seemed to be agreed with the organisers that a shorter race with a rolling start would be run, but in the end it didn’t happen; indeed there were two standing starts from the grid – one for a parade lap and one for the race.
Being on holiday and not at work, Loose Fillings was not really keen enough to keep a lap chart, hadn’t done the usual homework in the paddock and found it impossible to question the blow-ins about their equipment and its dubious presence. Indeed the winning car simply wasn’t even in the paddock after the race although the driver turned up to stand on the podium.
As far as the race is concerned, some notes and results might suffice: Xavier Kingsland in his Norton engined Staride set a cracking pace and had a long dice with George Shackleton’s lovely Mark 11 Cooper which stopped on lap 12. Xavier was to finish on the same lap in second place behind the Boyer, while Oliver Rinaldi’s DB was 30 odd seconds adrift. Then followed Andy Raynor (Cooper Mk5) and Roy Hunt (Martin 500) with Martin Sheppard in the Effyn Brynfan Special. Yes, only one Cooper in the top six.
For Loose Fillings, a star attraction car-wise was the Waye JAP sold to England a few years back by Sydney’s Halliday family. It was bought last year by Simon Dedman from Essex who, over the winter, did a chassis-up rebuild including some new body panels. It looked splendid. After a few hillclimbs, this was Simon’s first race meeting as the French organisers seemed not to require a full race licence. He went well but fried his clutch after 14 laps, in which he was not alone.
Simon Dedman has done a terrific job with the Australian Waye JAP
It was great stuff, the 500s looking and sounding terrific in amongst the limestone walls of the old town. The atmosphere was true round-the-houses racing. It was tight on space, sociable, friendly, competitive and apparently well organised. In other words, great fun and well worth the trip if only for the sights, noises, smells, food and drink.
Highly recommended/Four and a half stars.
Raymond Sommer won the 1950 F3 race in one of Harry Schell’s Coopers and here he is superimposed on the unchanged but now full-colour townscape of Angouleme.