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Goodwood FoS: we drive Baby Bertha
The last time anyone drove Baby Bertha up the hill at Goodwood, it was Peter Brock at the wheel. Aussie touring car legend, very quick driver. The time before that, it was steered by Gerry Marshall. Legendary British racing driver with over 600 wins to his name, also a very quick driver.
This weekend it’s being driven by me. Distinctly average Top Gear journalist, rather slow driver. Hope the crowds weren’t banking on this being a vintage Festival of Speed.
Baby Bertha is a Vauxhall Firenza silhouette racer from the 1970s, when she was raced by Marshall to devastating success in the Super Saloon championship. The pair won 33 races in 1975/76, thanks to the exuberant driving style of Marshall and the 495bhp V8 engine.
I’m not doing much for that average this weekend. But I’m not sure anyone cares. The marshals love it when it drives past, and it’s getting plenty of thumbs up from the crowds. And I KNOW that’s nothing to do with how I’m driving.
This is a beast of a car. There’s virtually no steering lock, and the steering itself is so heavy that six months of solid gym work wouldn’t make me strong enough for it. It’s a two-handed tug on the wheel, plus comedy grimace, to get it shifted round the car park. Then press the clutch. Jeez - even this is hard work. Effort at every stage.
But as soon as I fire Bertha up, I suddenly understand the appeal. The V8, with no silencer, exits just under my door. This is no V8 burble - it’s a roar that a lion on steroids, with a megaphone, would be proud of. Terrifying, but also addictive.
When you drive away from the start line, that noise dominates every fibre, and when you lift off the throttle, the pop and bang on the overrun is actually painful. It physically hurts my ear drums.
To be honest, how the rest of the car drives is secondary. The steering is still heavy, the gearbox weirdly precise and light, the brakes unsurprisingly stiff. But the noise dominates, like a great shouty god getting right in your face and telling you exactly where you’ve gone wrong in your life. It must be epic for the crowds.
Gerry is sadly no longer with us, but I like to think he would be happy that his car is getting used again. One thing’s for sure, I’ve got a huge amount of new respect for how fit he must have been to race this thing. And I’ve no idea how he wasn’t as deaf as a post.