Grandpa Webb's blog

Thursday, 04 April 2013

My car has a Bugatti badge, but it isn't worth millions

Find out more about Grandpa WebbI belong to the Bugatti Owners’ Club.

I don’t own a Bugatti, worse luck. Good vintage examples are worth millions of pounds. In fact, according to my internet sources, a 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic is the world’s most expensive car sold at auction. It fetched £27 million.

Luckily, the club lets in owners of other cars, like me. I have a 13 year-old Mazda MX5 which is not worth much. One reason for belonging to the Bugatti Owners’ Club, is you get to drive up its speed hillclimb, a twisty strip of tarmac at Prescott, just north of Cheltenham. The other is that you get a Bugatti badge to stick on your windscreen.

If you ever wondered what happens to racing drivers or motorsport fanatics when they get a bit too old for racing round Monza or Silverstone (or find they cannot support a racer’s lifestyle on a pension), go along to a speed hillclimb. You’ll find them there.

Grandpa Webb’s chariot The sort of cars they drive range from hugely powerful single seater racing cars that accelerate off the start as fast as a Formula 1 car, to more sedate road-going saloons. All have the same aim - to get to the top of the hill as quickly as possible. Because the cars go up one at a time, it’s safer and cheaper than circuit racing.

My first event this year is at the end of April. Time to tax and insure the Mazda, pump up the tyres, connect up the battery and drive it out of the shed at my brother-in-law’s farm, where it spends the winter, and get it ready for the new season.

The MX5 is entered for a series called the B Licence Cheltenham Porsche Specialists Challenge (Cheltenham Porsche Specialists are our sponsors). It is a handicap event for road-going cars. The regulations do not allow you to fit lightweight body panels, or take the interior trim out to make the car lighter and faster.

Our class attracts a wide variety of cars, from old VW Golfs and Skodas to TVR and Lotus Elise sports cars. Despite their widely differing performance, the handicap system theoretically gives everyone an equal chance of winning. 

It works like this: when you enter your first event, the club allocates you a handicap time. From then on it’s a bit like golf. If you get under your handicap, your faster time becomes your new handicap. My current handicap is 55.62 seconds which is quite slow. The racing cars get to the top in less than 40 seconds.   

The MX5 is a pretty good driver’s car. It handles well on the corners, the engine is strong and there’s not much you can easily do to improve it. You can get a tiny increase in power by feeding extra fresh air into the fuel injection system, but that’s about it.

Fast drivers get to the top of Prescott in less than 40 secondsTyres are quite important. Prescott is 12 feet wide, 1,127 yards long, and has two hairpin bends, a wiggly bit called the Esses and a bend called The Semicircle where, if you’re going a bit too fast,  you think you are about to fall off the edge of the world.

My Mazda originally had Michelin tyres. They were quiet, gave a good ride, but the car wiggled a bit when rushed through some of Prescott’s curves. After a couple of years I switched to Toyo R888 tyres which are road legal, but sold as track-day tyres. They have a low profile and rigid sidewalls so the car has a much firmer ride, and handles better through the bends. They also hum quite loudly on the road.

These tyres grip very well when it’s dry, almost as well when it’s wet, but if you come across any standing water it’s best to drive slowly because they don’t have a lot of drainage channels to discourage aquaplaning. My back tyres are a bit worn, so I’ll fit two new ones this year.

What else do I need? Well, I need to renew my non-race B Licence with the Motor Sports Association. This year it costs £42. Beginners who want to compete will also need to join a club, get an approved helmet, a set of fire-resistant racing overalls and gloves.

If you’re interested, the Hillclimb and Sprint Association has a good beginners guide on its website. The Bugatti Owners’ Club website lists all its events and it runs a hillclimb driver’s school for those who want to take their road car up the hill. You can find them on Google. This year the Mazda and me will be competing at Prescott on Saturdays on two-day events. Maybe I’ll see you there…

Got a question for Grandpa Webb? Send him an email.

Go back