Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Chelsea Auto Legends - Preview

Crisp morning sunshine. Perfectly manicured lawns. The incongruous fusion of Champagne and bacon sandwiches. What a glorious and quintessentially English way to launch an event!

Ever keen to get under the skin of the car show scene for you, dear reader, SuckSqueezeBangBlow attended the press launch of the increasingly muscular Chelsea Auto Legends show not as a journo on a jolly, but with sleeves rolled up as part of the logistics team. And believe me, there is no better way to start a spring day than pushing a GT40 around a fancy lawn…
I arrived at the crack of dawn, before London began to rub the sleep from its eyes, and reported to event MD Max Wakefield, who assigned me to the high-vis jacketed logistics team. They’d already been busy with the few cars that had eagerly appeared at some obscenely early hour of the morning; a Ferrari F40, a Lola T70, the well-known ‘Hairy Canary’ Cobra (which Goodwood fans will have seen racing at the Revival), Nelson Piquet’s Benetton B190, and a current Marussia Formula One car. As the sparkling, easy light of the May sun began to bleed through the courtyard of the Royal Hospital, a steady trickle of exotic cars arrived in the historic grounds. Those that came under their own motive power were directed to park on the green, the Lamborghini MurciĆ©lago SV and Ferrari 599 GTO blowing away the cobwebs and scattering the pigeons with their throaty, raspy exhaust barks. Those that arrived in the various containers, lorries and trailers were winched onto the asphalt, and that’s where SSBB and the logistics team got properly stuck in: manhandling a cornucopia of retro exotica into photographically appealing formations. This isn’t as easy as it sounds - each car has its own unique physical characteristics that require care and sensitivity so that you don’t apply weight and pressure to the wrong areas and cause damage… as well as owners and operators who are very keen to tell you, in no uncertain terms, what will happen if you bend their toys!
Take, for example, the gorgeous late-fifties Maserati 300S. It took eight of us to push, but this wasn’t because it was particularly heavy. Indeed, as a superleggera aluminium racer, it was something of a featherweight. No, the problem lay in that beautiful, pristine aluminium bodywork: it was wafer-thin, and any kind of manual pressure would dent and deform the sumptuous curves. Have you ever tried pushing a priceless racing car by its tyres over lush, spongey grass? It ain’t easy…
The same goes for the Aston Martin Vantage GT2. While the bodywork was rather more robust and could take a bit of shoving, it’s surprisingly tricky to push a car that’s wearing wide, yielding slicks across a lawn. The nosecone of a Ford GT40 is worryingly pliant and fragile to the touch. And the Porsche 911 GT1? That was somewhat dramatic to manoeuvre, as the diff was making ominous clonks throughout (the owner assured us that this was normal!), and made everyone rather nervous and tentative about shifting the old girl for fear of mechanical tragedy. These racing cars are expensive!
You see, these kind of set-up issues aren’t something that people normally give a lot of consideration to when they attend car shows and events, but there’s a hell of a lot of thought and action put into what goes on behind the scenes.

After a few hours of pushing and shoving (and, to be honest, quite a lot of ogling and drooling too), the gates were flung wide and the press began to descend upon the Royal Hospital en masse. When the time came for the official press briefing at 10:15am, I hung back. Normally it would be the place of the car correspondent to allow themselves to be swept up in the pomp and ceremony of proceedings, to grab the complimentary Champagne and help themselves to the goodie bag, but I wanted to see how this event grew and blossomed from the ground up. While the likes of model Jodie Kidd, Ferrari racer and dealer Joe Macari and Octane founder Robert Coucher streamed past, we headed back out onto the lawn to remove the polythene covers from the show cars (fact of the day: these are called ‘condoms’), to allow them to bathe and luxuriate in a little natural sunlight, untroubled and unpestered in the calm before the  media tsunami. For the logistics team, this was a little treat to reward their endeavours; primed with coffee and bacon sandwiches, their initial work done, they were free to enjoy a few moments’ respite and experience their own private car show before the crowd re-emerged, and a different kind of logistical project would occupy the rest of their morning inside the conference rooms. As the press, dignitaries and celebrities circulated, members of the set-up team passed almost invisibly through the crowds ensuring that information boards were correctly placed, the right people were standing with the right cars for photo opportunities, and the Chelsea Pensioners, resplendent in their scarlet regalia, were fully involved in proceedings; all the while, other members of the team were shifting equipment in and out of the building, a well-oiled machine working to an intricate schedule to keep the event running smoothly. Like a duck gliding across a lake, the atmosphere was serene and relaxed, while furious activity went on beneath the surface.

Max Wakefield is an ex-military man and racing driver, and it’s clear to see how this coalescence of disciplines has resulted in an event that is as slick and millimetrically precise as it is passionate and enticing. If you’ve attended Chelsea Auto Legends before – it’s now in its third year – then you’ll know just what a special and thrilling place it is, with a heavy focus on heritage, diversity and, above all, quality. If you haven’t been… well, what are you waiting for? This year’s event takes place on Sunday 2nd September – get yourself some tickets and start getting excited.

1 comment:

CianHa said...

Bleddy Heck Dbiz, that's impressive. Seething with jealousy over here! :D