Malta is a stick of Mediterranean rock with the word Britain running right through it. That’s what you might read in lazier publications than this. This red-hot, jaggy lump of limestone has had many more invaders over the years than just us Brits; Byzantines, Normans, Arabs and French, for example. That’s reflected in the beautifully higgeldy-piggeldy nature of it’s architecture and, co-incidentally, the nationalities of the cars and entrants in parc-ferme which, because this is Malta, is in the moat of a castle built by the Phoenicians. What a setting for some thoroughly MotorPunk-flavoured motorsport. This is the Malta Classic and we think it’s the best event in Europe. Here’s why…

In it’s twelfth year, the event is actually three rolled into one; a hill climb, a concours thing, and a good old-fashioned street race. The hill climb is on a Friday at Mtahaleb hill near the unpronounceable Miġra l-Ferħa. The Maltese language has its own alphabet and is descended from Sicilian Arabic. Nowhere is pronounceable and there appear to be multiple spellings for every place. The hill climb concludes with locked-up brakes at the top of a cliff. It was a tiny clip on YouTube of a Honda Civic driven by one of the brothers Pace (both compete in ‘70s Civics), screaming it’s 1.2 litre engine out while slewing around a hairpin that alerted me to this brilliant event. That, and hearing stories such as the organisers had painted a finish line on the road in the wrong place, contestants screeching to a halt 50m short of the actual finish line, thus buggering up the times of the unaware. The Civic, this year, came third behind two Austin Minis. There was less than hundredth of a second between second and third. This is close racing.

The rules for all three events are happily loose but seem to centre on the cars being pre-’76 and the entrants knowing the organiser. There are standard and modified classes, no race licences needed and seemingly no insurer will take your money. That’s not to say it isn’t well-organised. Marshalls were mostly British and really switched on, Alexandra run the site efficiently and security seemed switched on. Perhaps that’s because, in a previous year, someone nicked the all marshals sweeping brushes while they were at lunch. The food is good here. The roads are closed and tourists seem unaware that, beneath Mdina’s silent walls, a full-scale motorsport event is happening. Leyland buses, now restored and pressed back into service for the event, make you smile before you’ve even boarded. They are the acceptable face of public transport. And above, sitting on the walls of the castle, you can see the roads zig-zag away through the spiky countryside for miles before returning here. That takes me to the race, on Sunday.

As first I assumed that because of the crusty walls, potholes and narrow roads, the race would be a timed sprint. Here, even the fruit is prickly. Opuntia ficus-indica, also known as the Barbary fig, is cultivated here. Locals call it the prickly pear. In England, you might slither into a mossy ditch beneath green trees. Here it’ll be a head-on into some pre-historic stone wall topped with weird fruit with the culinary appeal of barbed wire. And so when I read that cars were sent out in small groups to do three laps, wheel-to-wheel, I was rather surprised. I took a seat at the old train station, now a brilliant restaurant, and sat perhaps 6 feet away from a nasty chicane that seemingly took every driver by surprise, every lap. Why is the photography so poor? Well, I forgot my spare camera battery, but remembered my spare beer money. You don’t get this close to the action anywhere else with a cold one in hand in the sunshine. The win was taken by Nigel Webb in an XK120, but the field included more modest machinery such as a ‘standard’ Triumph Herald which sounded suspiciously V8y, the pace brothers in those mental Civics (the acceptable face of JDM?) and many Minis. A Bizzarini looked good in a straight line (and strangely ugly when stationary) and who doesn’t want to see a Ferrari 304 GT4 pitched against a Lancia Beta MonteCarlo? There were two Alfa Romeo GTA-Rs entered, one in the race, and another from the same owner in the Concours de elegance. The Triumph eventually vaulted a haybale and last year a Fiat 500 rolled at the corner facing the little grandstand. Driver, Alan, is typical of the entrants here, laughing it off and coming back for more.

The Concours de elegance thing. That was fun. Judges lightly poked at panels of a group of cars parked in St Pauls square in the shade of the Cathedral. The diversity of the cars was brilliant. From the blue pre-war Delahaye (driven here and competed by a disabled Frenchman using hand controls) to a bronze Fiat X1/9, and plenty of old Fords. Yes, we all love the Porsche 356, and the aggressive young lady driving it, but us ‘punks are inexplicably drawn to the more obscure exotica here and a beige Renault 6 was our winner. In beige, the car was owned by a serial Renault lunatique who shared pictures of his other classics including a magnificently modded Renault 8 with all the spoilers, and a pretty A110. Like many successful events, it’s the people that make it interesting, not just the cars or racing. There were many Brits, Italians, French and (of course) Maltese people mingling. There was a catwalk event for vintage style in which our Lex minced up and down in a posh frock to warm applause. What surprised me was that, leading up to the event, I had spotted only one classic on Malta’s mostly broken roads. Yet at the event there was a large turnout of cars. Even more surprising is that the Concours event (I feel a prat saying concours de elegance, it sounds so pretentious) has a rule that cars may only enter once, so in it’s 12th year there must be hordes of old Fords, Citroëns and what-have-you, all safely squirreled away from Malta’s humid, corrosive sea air. Our winner? An Austin Allegro Van den plas, pipping an Escort. Fancy spotting a ‘Plah’, here! On the roads in the Island’s quieter north we indulged in a spot of rental car off-roading and passed an Ital estate with rear screen held in with tape, a spotless Austin 1100 in what I think is signal red, and more than a few shagged Land Rovers languishing in arid fields. Publisher Adam, along with fellow plastic-car pervs, no doubt enjoyed the pic I stuck on Twitter of a Mini Marcos GT. There is rather a lot of Britain in Malta, after all, and we’ll be back next year without doubt. I have a bit of a plan…

I am told it costs c.£1800 to ship and return a car here from the UK. The organisers will put on an entry packaging comprising of hotel, food and hob-nobbing, at extra cost. We stayed in a great little hotel a short walk from Mdina’s main gate, a converted cinema, with camera still in the reception. It wasn’t expensive. Flights are peanuts with Ryanair. I would love to chuck an early XJ6 in a container and fly down for this bit of Goodwood in the sun, competing with an eccentric bunch and enjoying this little island’s hospitality. Decent brakes, rubber and suspension should sort it and it can run in the standard car class, meaning no HANS or racing footwear nonsense and competing with standard Minis, MGBs and Cortinas. A Jaguar would be perfect. What looks like rust in the Midlands will be charming patina in the Mediterranean sun. I’m more Norman Stanley Fletcher than Norman ‘Jaguar’ Dewis and so would appreciate some help to make this happen. I am, at time of writing, 86.5% serious about competing in the 2020 Malta Classic. If you’d like to join me, drop me a line and we’ll try to add a bit more Britain to what we think is the best motorsport event in Europe.

About The Author

Rich Duisberg

Rich Duisberg* has had work published in Classic & Sportscar, Practical Performance Car, Modern Mini, Banzai, MogMag, Evo, GT Porsche, Complete Kit Car, Absolute Lotus, Alternative Cars, Classic Retro Modern, and elsewhere. Rich often appears on CBS’s XCAR and Carfection channels, and Motors TV, plus JayEmm on Cars, enthusing about historic motoring. His latest book (find his work on Amazon) was described by SniffPetrol as "hilarious", although he was also threatened with legal action by elderly DJ Tim Westwood. In his Midlands man cave is a 1972 Fiat 500, a Lotus Elise, a BMW barge and a vintage Royal Enfield pushbike. Previous machines of interest include an Mk1 MX5 (owned for 14 years!), an Alfa GTV6, a Porsche 968 and a Sinclair C5. The Metro (right) was bought for an experiment, and abandoned in Africa. "I am not getting in a car with him" -  said Le Mans winner, Derek Bell. *A nom-de-plume inspired by the BBC's League of Gentlemen.

One Response

  1. Den O'Vinic-Whitty

    Top stuff Dickie. Sure Daz will get one of his BL relics up and running by next year for that! Looks a complete hoot. Make it happen MotorPunk. That is all.


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