" We love hill climbing. Simple format; there’s a track up a hill - you have to be quickest. Unlike gridded wheel-to-wheel racing, there are no tactics, no strategies available and no one to show you the way. It's just "
Classic Speed Championship – Hillclimb Event
Classic Nostalgia is an annual celebration of stuff we love
Damp air on wet gravel. Molasses-gloopy tar hangs in the air, acid grass cutting through the base notes.
Up on the hillside, hooded jackets and umbrellas sprout from under the canopy. Orange-suited marshals fuss around their posts: taking half a shelter under jutting coats or wooden roofs, flags twitching with lighthouse-keeper anticipation. A voice crackles through a radio system, ‘Section Clear!’
Action bursts through the raindrops, tyres squawking at the foot of the hill, far out of sight, as a couple of hundred necks crane closer to anticipation. Not yet. But soon. Down in Vox Villa, the antique commentary box clustered high above the thin-laned pits, a pair of Queen’s English annunciators wax poetic on the approaching racer’s backstory. ‘Wobbly web’ and ‘period racing history’ crackle through the megaphones, doing what they can to fight through the rising murmur of a hard-working engine.
We’re at Classic Nostalgia, an annual celebration of the high-speed and the historic based at Shelsley Walsh hillclimb, buried deep in a Worcestershire valley. The hillclimb has been hosting events continuously, world wars excepted, since 1905 and it’s a location that retains strong links to its past. Over the last hour, we’ve been treated to everything from home-tuned Austin 7s to a stately Maserati 8CM but now it’s time for my favourite classes of all: the Classic Speed Championship.
The Bugatti Owners’ Club Aldon Automotive Classic Speed Championship, to give it its full name, offers a home for purpose-built racing cars built before 1972 and sports and saloon cars constructed prior to 1977. In those later two categories, cars can be as standard or as modified as the competitor chooses but must remain road-legal. The car’s silhouette must remain near standard, while engine, transmission and suspension alterations must have been possible in period, but, overall, the reigns are loose and creativity guides the builds. Where else will you see a Beetle fitted with a 2.7-litre Porsche flat six and whale tail spoiler face off against a visually standard MG, or a bright orange Broadspeed Jaguar XJC replica trade blows with a turbocharged and V8-swapped TR7?
“It’s been a really good weekend for all involved,” Simon Braithwaite, who runs the classichillclimb.com website and competes in the championship behind the wheel of a seriously quick Mark 1 Escort. “It’s well organised, there’s a great atmosphere in the paddock and the track conditions are pretty good.” One element that’s shaken up the championship this season is handicap scoring, where each competitor has to match a predetermined target time unique to their car as closely as possible. It’s a simple but effective way to make every car and driver competitive: now a family car has the same shot at victory as a fire-breathing thoroughbred.
Huddled on the bank above Top S, it’s the variety of shapes and sounds the series provide that keeps the sodden fans in their seats. The engine note has risen to a crisp blare now, punctuated by a crisp gutter and flare as the driver shifts down a gear and turns in. The car pitches into view, the slippery smooth body of a Lotus Elite, leaning hard onto its outer wheels as it skates across the track and snaps into a drift. It slithers up the hill, rasping back to the redline: the front tucked into the next right, the rear yawing on behind as it shoots beneath us and onto the finish.
Over the next 15 minutes, car after car tries to top it. A Mini shoulders by, one rear wheel hoisted in the air; a broad-hipped Jag fights for a losing battle for traction, snapping sideways; an AC Cobra burbles through, smooth and collected. They shoot up the hillclimb, each a cacophony of distinctive noises, looks and lines.
Old cars, big speeds and an even bigger dose of individuality: it’s a compelling recipe, even on a showery Sunday afternoon.
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