Kop - A famous hill

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We think of speed hill-climbs taking place at Shelsley Walsh, Prescott, Wiscombe and other venues but many of the older hills used by racing cars are still extant and may be driven up without the realisation that they are becoming quite historic, having ceased to be used after 1925, due to the RAC banning such events on public roads. Locations like Spread Eagle, South Harting, and Caerphilly come readily to mind. Perhaps the most famous is near Princes in is Kop, near Princes Risborough in because it was a mild accident there which resulted in the aforesaid ban — a spectator who had refused to move to a safer viewing point was hit when the inexperienced Giveen in a Bugatti momentarily left the road. Kop could not be blamed; the ever-growing interest and easy accessibility by car made such a ban inevitable.

Not all that long ago I drove the 1913 5-litre chain-drive Bugatti ‘Black Bess’ up this hill for the BBC, so am aware that it is still a public road. The first event up this straight loose macadam 1-in-5 gradient was in 1910. Kop looks much the same now, though better surfaced and wider, and the banks where onlookers stood too close to the speeding cars have largely gone, But the whiff of a famous place still surrounds it.

After the war, the place saw some famous drivers and cars, such as Malcolm Campbell, ‘Archie’ Frazer Nash, and Henry Segrave no less, in his Brescia Bugatti. Large numbers of Londoners drove out and lined the roads to J G Ballot, taking FTD in 26.8sec from a 50-yard flying start, Le Champion running the 20.5 litre aero-engined Isotta-Maybach, and Humphrey Cook, fastest of all in 1923 in his TT Vauxhall. Lots of Bentleys did well and Ivy Cummings was second in her class in ‘Black Bess’. Later in 1923 there was an ACU meeting at which Cook did it again (27.8sec) beating Mays’ smaller Bugatti and the big Bugatti with its girl driver. Cook’s Vauxhall scored again the 1924. But the clouds were gathering, the storm breaking with that spectator’s broken leg in 1925. Thereafter, The Ban stopped all such public-road fun. But Kop went out on a high note, with Segrave, famous after his Grand Prix victories, making FTD in a 2-litre GP Sunbeam in an exciting 28.8sec. If you happen to he in the vicinity you may perhaps like to trundle up this hill, thinking nostalgic thoughts.