The world’s premier rally for vintage motor cars returns to British soil for its 12th edition, promising plenty of the magic that has made this enduring event so popular. After a pandemic enforced hiatus, the Flying Scotsman is ready to steam onward again, on a tremendous route from Hexham to Gleneagles, in a moving museum of automotive history. Forget your static displays, this event celebrates the motion of these machines, out of the garage and onto the road, being used with purpose and sharing the magic of vintage motorsport.
The event was the brainchild of ERA legend Philip Young, and whilst the route changes, the values of that original rally and those of Young have remained at the core of every single Scotsman since. It celebrates the original record-breaking run of the famous LNER Class A3 4472 ‘Flying Scotsman’ steam locomotive that hauled the express passenger train between Edinburgh and London, the respective capitals of Scotland and England. It was the first train to travel the 392 miles non – stop in just over eight hours in 1928, around the same time many of the vintage cars on this event were built. Six years later in 1934 it became the first train to be timed at over 100 mph.
In this instance though, the car is of course the star, and 100 of them are due to take the flag when the event begins on the 1st of April, and whilst the prospect of several hundred miles of competition in nearly 100-year-old cars may seem like folly to the casual observer, these competitors are no April fools. The entry list is as exquisite as they come, and the difficult bit is choosing a favourite machine. In a field where Bentley’s almost become commonplace, picking out the really special machines is a sport in itself and it is no wonder that the spectacle of 100 of these cars rumbling through the Great British countryside is so enduring with the public.
The oldest car in the field is 100 years young, a 1922 Bentley 3-4 1/2, driven by the Belgian pairing of Lieven van Hoylandt and Wim de Sutter. It is perhaps the 1931 Bentley 6 1/2 Open Tourer of Germans Giselher Stauzebach and Gerd Kaut, at a mere 89 years of age that might be making the most noise, with its 6516 cc engine, the largest on the event. At the opposite end of the scale, and sure to be dwarfed by the giant Bentley machines is the Austin 7 driven by father and son team Angus and Archie Forsythe, the 1930 car perfectly illustrating the contrast in vehicles on the entry list.
As well as the large and the small, there are one or two machines that stand out for other reasons, such as car 43, driven by Bicester Heritage supremos Dan Geoghegan and Pip White. They will be piloting a Riley MPH, of which only 12 were built, and if that isn’t special enough this supercharged 6-cylinder machine is the factory prototype, adding an extra dimension of provenance to an already special car. The engine too, should see them tab along nicely, and it ought to be a particular delight on the tests.
The tests, along with the regularity sections are of course a reminder that this is a competition, and many will be hoping for success. Paul Crosby, in his faithful supercharged MG TB, is always one of those that looks at anything lower than the top step as a bit of a failure. He finished second last time out on the Scotsman, after pushing winner Bill Cleyndert hard, and had to suffer the dissatisfaction of watching Bill’s gutsy Model A Special, Betsy, drop her guts all over the floor as she suffered a mechanical failure after the cars had been lined up for the winners photograph. But for a few miles eh Cros?
Precious winner Bill on the other hand must have felt tremendous relief, but as one of the great characters of the sport nobody would have begrudged him the win. He is back this year to defend his crown, and is easily recognised in the shimmering Betsy, leather cap perched upon his head and perennial roll-up hanging from between his lips. He will no doubt be dismissive of his chances, but with Elise Whyte on the maps he’s every possibility of retaining his title.
In truth there are any number of crews and marques that could be at the top of the leader board come the finish at Gleneagles, but all who finish will have done extremely well to pilot their machines to the end of this 3-day adventure. The challenge begins in the grounds of Slaley Hall in Northumberland, a favourite haunt of many a HERO-ERA event and the golf course surrounding the hotel will again kick off proceedings with a test, feel free to bring your plus fours. Between Hexham and Gleneagles there will be many miles covered, and by the finish the crews will have navigated forest tracks, ascended mountains and mastered tests, including a couple of venues that are not traditionally associated with this era of motorsport, but ones that will instigate some exuberant driving (particularly from the Bentley Boys) and will certainly entertain drivers and spectators alike.
It is all part of the comprehensive examination of machine reliability, driving skill and navigational proficiency that must all come together to succeed at this event, as well as the unique challenge of completing the route in vintage vehicles. This mixture, along with paying homage to the legend of the Flying Scotsman locomotive and holding true to its core values, is what makes this such an enduring event, and one that continues to attract a field of entrants from across the globe. Some will be veterans of the run, some will be taking on the challenge for the first time, but all will become part of the story of this tremendous celebration of motorsport, motorcars and vintage engineering, all conducted within the spirit of camaraderie that is unique to the Flying Scotsman.