Nestling in the hills west of Shrewsbury is a hidden gem in the British motor sport pantheon : Loton Park. No, not Oulton Park. I know, I know – say it quick and they sound much the same. Geographically they are not very far apart either. That’s probably why this place is in the ‘hidden gem’ category, even though it’s been a thriving venue since the early 1960s. No doubt a lot of people still think it’s a circuit in Cheshire owned by ex F1 driver Jonathan Palmer.
In fact the owner lives next door in a lovely and ancient stately home that features in one of Pevesner’s famous architecture guides. He’s Sir Michael Leighton bt. who’s family have been in residence in this part of the country for about 1100 years. He’s also a serious car enthusiast, owner of various models of motoring thoroughbred from Alvis, Aston Martin and Allard (I’m sure there are a few that don’t begin with A to boot) and his cousin was the Marquis de Portago, the famously sporting 1950’s Ferrari racer, Grand National jockey and Olympic bob-sleigh driver.
The hillclimb course runs through his picturesquely wooded deer park on roads that were built for an army camp during the war. The bases of numerous huts remain, largely hidden, among the bracken and if that makes it sound a little bit like Slverstone in days gone by it’s a long way from that. The paddock is opposite the Church , entered via suitably tall wrought iron gates and sits among the trees. Its just the most lovely location for a vintage car event and one of the favourite events on the Vintage Sports Car Club’s seasonal calendar.
The only problem is it often clashes with Goodwood. That meant no ERAs in the paddock this year as there was an 80th anniversary race for them down at Lord March’s place on the same day. But that aside we had a healthy entry featuring Bugatti, Maserati, Alvis, Frazer Nash, GN, Morgan, Amilcar, Hotchkiss, Cooper Lagonda, Bentley and even Chalmers … No I don’t remember those either, but the 1913 Chalmers ’17’ (above) pulled up outside my stall for a while and looked suitably rakish. Straight out of a Peter Helck painting in fact.
The whole event ran very smoothly but for one barrel-rolling Austin 7 in Saturday’s practice sessions. Luckily the driver got up from the tarmac and walked away. Later, after the free hog roast (a thank you to the Barker brothers for their generosity in providing this now traditional feature) I was invited for some cheese and wine by Nimi and Jon Mellor (who’s AC/GM Beetle is below left with Winston’s Teagues suitably liveried WASP). They hosted a nice informal get-together of what seemed to include the entire Yorkshire branch of the VSCC. As darkness fell we all sat around nibbling Staffordshire Blue and drinking Italian Red beside their much travelled motor home. Next to me was Stephen Jones, the Austin 7 driver, who was in good form apart from some bruises and cheerfully accepted being the butt of much good natured banter. It was a good night.
Making a Loton debut was John Huntley with his distinctive battleship grey Bugatti T30 (right) a car that has some 1920s Brooklands history and seems to sport the most authentic looking narrow tyres in the paddock! John comes from a rallying background and found the course very much to his liking being right on his handicap time almost from the first run. The fastest car overall however boasted six times the engine capacity of his rasping 2 litre Bug’. Tom Walker’s Amilcar packs a 12 litre WW1 Hispano Suiza V8 aero engine under the bonnet so the power to weight ratio can only be imagined! As you can see from the photos below it doesn’t look a lot bigger than Charlie Martin’s Morgan special(right) and you know how small Morgans are!
It was all over and done by about 3.30 on Sunday and one of the most relaxed and enjoyable weekends I can recall. The weather was good, the usual wind didn’t blow, the usual rain didn’t fall and while it was not Goodwood, it most definitely was good motor sport. You really should give the place a try.
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