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Introduction to collecting auto-racing memorabilia.As well as the classic cars that I have lots of time for, my other main interest is historic racing cars. Originally it was the pre-1970s Grand Prix race cars that interested me most, but in later years I've also got into the later machines, especially the turbo era. Although I'm not in a position to lay out a bundle of cash on a real racing car, I pursue collecting the next best thing, namely motor racing memorabilia.
Categories of Motor Racing.
Other popular forms of motor sport include the Touring Cars(the BTCC - British Touring Car Championship) and World Rally Championship (WRC). Interesting in the WRC is growing rapidly now, thanks not least to the latest innovations in broadcasting of the live event stages. Top teams from mainstream manufacturers are all vying for success in this high profile sport. Like the BTCC, WRC is beginning to show signs of a revival in interest following a few years of decline, partly through a shortage of top line works entries in recent seasons.
The best seasons of recent years were back around 1993 and 1994, when there were some epic battles between the works cars from Vauxhall, BMW, Toyota and Ford, with Cavaliers, M3s, Carinas and Sierras piloted by great names such as John Cleland, Andy Rouse, Steve Soper, Will Hoy (RIP) to name just a few.
The turning point in many ways came around 1994/5 when the works Alfa Romeo team wiped the floor with the opposition, earning Alfa the manufacturers title and their #1 driver Gabriele Tarquini the drivers Championship. Much of their advantage lay in their interesting interpretations of the regulations regarding aerodynamics and the rules deciding what was and was not legal. Alfa introduced the front splitter which caused a great deal of controversy back then, so much so that they were hauled over the coals at Oulton Park to an extent that Alfa packed up their bags and left the circuit before the race began, in protest at the stewards disagreements over the cars spoilers. Following seasons saw all the key rival cars from Ford, Mazda, Toyota and Volvo adopting similar methods to increase aerodynamic efficiency .. it may have done wonders for the cars grip, but many believe it lead to less exciting duels on the track, due to the problems of cars following too closely to those in front losing aerodynamic efficiency, and therefore having to drop back a bit into 'cleaner' air in order to maintain grip, but lose the opportunity to make an overtaking move. The other highlight of racing in the mid 1990s was the appearance of the TWR-run Volvo team with their mighty 850 estate cars. Some believed the shape was more aerodynamic, whereas others saw it as a marketing ploy to gain attention in the worlds motoring press. Either way the cars were mighty successful during their season of glory, although in the following year Volvo chose to run with the saloon 850 instead. Both years of competition helped Volvo shift their perceived image of producing sensible but fantastically dull road cars, into one of producing sensible yet high performing motor cars. This image has been maintained to this day, and the motor racing programme back then was the key thing that helped them succeed in altering the publics perception of their cars. There's an old saying that 'motor racing improves the breed' and in Volvos case this couldn't have been more true. Same went for BMW which although having a good brand already, found that the racing programme ensured that sales of the 3 series would secure that model as 'the' road car to have.
Of course there are lots of other formulae to collect memorabilia for, some of which are still around, others which have been and gone. There are plenty of collectibles that relate to single seater racing categories such as Formula 3, F3000, Formula Renault, Formula Palmer Audi, F5000 (popular in the 1970s) and others such as Formula Ford. Or if you look beyond our shores their are series such as the US Indy and CART open wheel series for which collectables are readily available. Prefer sportscars? Then you could concentrate on memorabilia relating to the Le Mans 24 hours endurance race, which has been running in varying formats since the very earliest days of motor racing. How about sticking to Can Am car material? Mille Miglia or Targa Florio collectibles? road races such as the TT at Dundrod in Ireland for example?, scene of epic dices between the D Type Jaguars and Mercedes SLRs for example in the mid 1950s, back when top grand prix drivers would often have more than one series of racing running in parallel.
Many people concentrate on collecting all memorabilia for a particular team. So someone who collects articles and items relating to, say, Jaguars racing exploits, will have a very broad spectrum of material to look out for. Jaguar have been involved with many forms of motor racing going back many decades, and even pre-war if you include the rally and speed trial exploits of drivers in the old SS (Standard Swallow)
Back in the 1970s, Jaguar supported broadspeed-prepared XJ12C saloon cars for drivers such as Derek Bell, run back then by the Tom Walkinshaw, and had reliability been better they'd have beaten the 'Batmobile' BMW CSLs and V8 Rover 3500s. Also across the atlantic the Group 44 team ran a succession of Jaguars in the 1970s, from the wild open exhaust V12 E Type through the XJS and onto XJR sports cars in more recent years.
So choosing a collecting area may well depend to a large extent on the size of your wallet. Collect Jaguar and be prepared to invest significant time and money in chasing those items, whereas if you specialise in collecting team memorabilia for a smaller concern such as BRM, ERA or later teams such as Prost GP, the extent of memorabilia available may be reduced and, in the case of Prost for certain, possibly more affordable through being less of a high profile team such as the Ferraris of this world, memorabilia for which can run to many thousands for the rarer sought-after items.
Another thing to bear in mind is that if you choose a current team, as with everything in sport there will be new memorabilia being launched every year, and it takes a disciplined mind to not get sucked into collecting everything and anything produced by or for a team!
And then there are those who collect everything they can find for a particular driver. In recent years, Lewis Hamilton, Damon Hill and Nigel Mansell have commanded a great following from fans of their motor racing careers in Formula One. Most current drivers, especially in F1, have fan clubs from which special memorabilia can also be obtained. The breadth of drivers, both famous and obscure, is vast, and often great cunning is required to track down those illusive driver items. Focus on say Colin Mcrae, who has piloted WRC & Dakar rally cars for a number of years and starting a collection will not be too difficult. However if pre-war giants of the race track are more your area of interest, then be prepared to hunt long and hard for items - popular drivers to collect for from before WW2 include Tazio Nuvolari (who drove for Auto Union and Alfa Romeo amongst others), Achille Varzi, Rudolf Caricciola, Richard Seaman and Hermann Lang.
Another popular collecting area, which comes under the general term of motor sport, is that of Land Speed Record (LSR) activities, whether it be drivers (such as Malcolm & Donald Campbell, Art Arfons, Craig Breedlove, George Eyston and Richard Noble to name a few) or their evocative 'cars', such as the various Bluebirds, Spirit of America, Blue Flame, Thrust 2 and Thrust SSC being some of the more well known examples.
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Easy things to find.
If starting out with a new collection, the basis of the collection can be built fairly rapidly. Budget can play a large part in what you choose to buy, but the breadth of material available makes this hobby accessible to all ages and budgets. If spare money is tight, then stick to the more affordable things such as postcards, posters, small toys and models, and the like - some items may even be available free of charge from car dealerships that have an involvement in current racing series, though ask nicely.
Games are a popular collecting subject, as are jigsaws (some are 3D), and make nice display items in any room devoted to your hobby.
Such games and cheap toys can be found in the most unlikely of places - cheap "Pound" shops can turn up unusual little oddities sometimes. I recently discovered an unusual F1-style pencil sharpener in a local stationery shop, which made a different and quirky addition to the collection. Likewise wandering around a supermarket I stumbled across F1 style battery operated toothbrushes! OK they weren't in the style of any particular team, but they are different, and like all the best collectables, are things that generally won't survive for too long before normally being thrown away - thats what may make them a rare thing a few years down the line.
Freebies can sometimes be found at petrol stations and other high profile companies that sponsor motor racing in some way. Pop down to your Shell garage and its not uncommon to find some leaflets or promotional goodies relating to their support of Ferrari for instance, in fact there was an advert on the radio only recently for a competition to win tickets for this years British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Models of racing cars, both famous and obscure, can be found quite readily and cheaply in many places. The quality of models varies enormously, although quite decent represenations of race cars can be sourced quite affordably, from makes such as Corgi, Onyx, Vitesse and Minichamps, and in many different scales - 1/43 being a popular choice for large collections if space in your house is at a premium. For those with deeper pockets, specialist companies such as Amalgam with build you a 1:8th scale model of a classic Grand Prix car, such as the front engined Maseratis. You can read more about this company, their models, and the history of this Italian GP car, on the Maserati 250F page.
Programmes are another popular and usually affordable way of building up a motor racing memorabilia collection, usually available for a few pounds each for recent events, rising to 30 pounds+ a copy for prewar events at tracks such as
Items specific to racing drivers are sometimes a little more difficult to find, although books on well known contemporary drivers can usually be found in plentiful supply. If you have a particular favourite, join their fan club and take advantage of any special offers there may be for their own merchandise. Some retailers specialise in motorsport collectibles, and offer to add you to their mailing list, so that you can receive updates of any special offers they may be running. They buy in bulk and can pass on smaller items, or items from previous seasons, at greatly reduced prices. Baseball caps, keyrings, stickers, pens, photographs, postcards, books and videos can all be successfully amassed this way.
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Tricky things to find.
Diecast is the most popular material, and toys made from this have been available for a long time and usually survive reasonably (depending on how well they've been looked after!). Popular makes of die-cast toys include the classics such as Lesney, Dinky, Corgi, Matchbox, Solido, Timpo, Crescent, Zylmex and lots of other more obscure makers. Or you could decide to stick to the old tin plate toys. Beware there are many modern replica tin plate toys around, usually produced in China, which can be passed off as the 'real thing'. They are fine in their own way, but collectors of racing memorabilia always prefer the originals of any tinplate toy. Many were decorated with brightly colour paint scheme, often applied using a process called lithography, Early (say pre-1950s) toys can be fabulous display items, but in good condition can cost a small fortune!! Most are motorised in some way, either clockwork or battery, and some perform pre-programmed routine, twists and turns when you set them off across the floor. Most tin plate toys are highly prized and usually the preserve of the wealthy collector. Plastic and bakelite toys were also commonplace after the war and into the 1950s, although they don't often survive very well and as such are often very hard to find, certainly in the mint & boxed condition that your serious collector insists upon.
Early toys still in production can be a good way of bulking out your collection - just take a look at the vast range of clockwork racing cars available from the Schuco concern in Germany, still making Mercedes, Alfa Romeo and Auto Union racing cars to the original style and quality - when buying a so-called original 1940s item, make sure it is just that and not a later 1990s version of an earlier toy!
If toys are not your thing, then how about printed products such as early event posters and racing books? Most posters were thrown away following an event so finding surviving originals can take some perseverance, and paying for them can take some committment also!
Books on motor racing have been around from the year dot, although subject and not always the age of the book can dictate its collectability and therefore value. It is not uncommon to find a particular book from the 1980s that had a small print run commanding a few hundred pounds, yet pre-war books written by legendary drivers can often be found for around 20 GBP in good condition - subject matter counts for a great deal when valuing out-of-print motor race and racing books.
Then theres always the obscure desire to own actual parts of racing cars, F1 wheels and tyres being well known for making excellent coffee tables once their working life is over, and usually cost anywhere from 30 GBP for a normal 1970s Avon tyre, through to maybe 300 GBP for a nice recent Goodyear on a BBS alloy rim, with certified history. But collecting old racing car parts neednt be limited to items that could be pressed into another use, as theres a healthy market in dealing in crashed damaged suspension parts, front or rear wings, engine
If your budget extends yet further then you could choose to invest in drivers helmets, many examples come on to the market and are priced in direct relation to the success of the driver and to a lesser extent the team they were with at the time. Find a Mclaren Senna helmet and relieve yourself of 20-30k, whereas find one for a less successful driver and maybe secure a helmet for 1% of the cost of a Senna example.
Obscure items relating to motor racing appeal to me, and probably the most interesting (and certainly largest!!) item in my collection is my ancient racing car transporter, as used during the 1940s and 50s to carry a prewar supercharged Alfa Romeo. OK it needs lot of restoration, but I suppose it still counts as motor racing memorabilia!
I'm interested in acquiring photographs of old race car transporters 'in action' during the 40s and 50s, so if you can help me with my research, please drop me a line.
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Where to buy racing-related collectibles?
Motor sport memorabilia can be found in all manner of places, if you hunt hard enough. Local newspaper small ads can turn up things occasionally, although you might have to wade through endless adverts for display cabinets and electric fires before finding what you want.
Collectors fairs and specialist toy fairs are excellent hunting grounds, and manys the exciting piece of treasure that I've found while rummaging around such fairs, and despite more stalls being occupied by hard nosed traders, it is still possible to purchase interesting motorsport items for remarkably small amounts.
Then there is the medium you are looking at right now, the world wide web! If like me you tire of watching lousy programmes on TV, spend your time hunting the internet for either dealers' websites or the online auction houses, such as eBay and yahoo auctions, off which I've acquired lots of interesting stuff.
If your wallet is indeed weighed down with surplus cash, then highly prized items can be bought at specialist motor racing auctions at race events such as those held at Goodwood by high-brow auction houses such as Sothebys.
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