Over ninety years ago racing started at the Autodrôme de Linas-Montlhéry. Robbert Moree took his camera to France to witness some old fashioned racing.

With its sloped curves an Autodrôme looks like a walled fortress protecting its visitors. A cathedral would shield its visiting followers from evil, the intimacy of the Autodrôme Linas-Montlhéry offers protection to the practitioners of the noble car- and motorsports. Like cathedrals, who are cherished and restored where necessary, this 1924 Autodrôme thoroughly deserves to be refurbished to its former glory. Something that has only partly succeeded, since only one of the typical sloped curves is usable during the Vintage Revival Montlhéry.

With every downside having its upside this means I have plenty of time to depict the concrete that saw so many narrow race tires hurling by in its days at the parts of the track that are not in use. A colleague photographer is on the same quest, photographing the holy 1924 concrete track with a camera from that same year. Holy concrete, I hear you ask? When you reflect on the almost forgotten heroes of the past that raced here, there is no evil in calling it that. André Boillot in his Peugeot, Contantini on Bugatti and Ascari in his Alfa Romeo, to name only a few. When in 1925 the first Grand Prix was battled at Montlhéry, the Autocar reporter counted exactly 59 visitors at noon. Car racing was a relatively unknown sport, early adapters enjoying the secretive open air sermon.

 

Return to the now, where the ‘cathedral’ offers a haven for many attendants. I see children running amongst the old bangers. Some passing them as if they are forgotten toys, others look forthright interested. Besides them a relatively large number of women, behind the wheel as well! Others accompany their spouses, like the elderly lady I meet, who out of love doesn’t mind following her husband to the event, but prefers to stay quietly inside the car with a good book. Other women nose about through spare parts or form a classic racing team. I even run into a bunch of teenage ladies that swear that one day they’ll drive around the cars there parents are now racing at Montlhéry.

The Dutch Vintage Revival Club is here too. Ab van Egmond for instance, with a magnificent deep blue 1937 Lagonda Rapier, fitted with a compressor in 1951 and, according to the orange dots on the rear of this automotive heritage, run on ethanol by its current owner. The engine delivering approximately 150 horses. That doesn’t look like much in modern terms, but the combination of a light car, narrow tires and a wet track still means wheel spin even in fourth gear. The same club supports a Belgian member, driving a special bodied Austin 7. He bought the body from a gentlemen that had spend twenty years scavenging all the parts before he got unluckily struck by a cerebral hemorrhage. The current owner proceeded the project and had the final result approved by its former owner. While I’m talking to the man, some frustration rises to the surface, the French don’t think his car is quite as original as it should be. ‘What they want is carburetors sucking in 1920’s air.’ He prefers the British anytime, as they allow the cars to have peculiarities of their own.

At Montlhéry, vintage also means cycle cars, vintage motorcycles and bikes. Often with riders in matching gear. Despite the rain the faces on every single competitor show broad smiles. Sometimes a hint of worry, when the machines seam to be too brittle to survive the challenge of the beaten down track, but nothing really seems to bother them. All hail to the organisation, that manages to keep the legend of Linas-Montlhéry alive by offering us a high mass celebrating petrol fumes and burning rubber.
Robbert Moree