RAC hillclimbs fifty not out
The evergreen RAC British Hillclimb Championship celebrated its Golden Jubilee in style at Shelsley Walsh on June 6, when all but two of the 19 living champions returned to the classic hill which with the Bo'ness venue in Scotland, scene of the inaugural event, no longer available hosted the second round on June 21, 1947.
Six-time champ Tony Marsh (who first won in 1955 in a Cooper-JAP, and still competes with the 4litre, 575bhp Cosworth V8-powered Roman built by 1989 series winner Ray Rowan), earned a rousing cheer from the 6000-strong audience as he blasted his ingenious four-wheel-drive 1967 Marsh Special up the 1000-yard course in the cavalcade of champions. With the unavailability of ERA R4D, in which Raymond Mays secured the '47 and '48 crowns, the demonstration was led by Bruce Spollon a competitor at Shelsley's first round in the Triangle Skinner Special in his ex-Earl Howe R8B/C. Seventeen champions, with 38 titles between them, followed the blue ERA to the summit, all bare-headed to enjoy the fresh Worcestershire air.
'Welsh Wizard' David Boshier-Jones, one-armed David Good, 72-year-old Arthur Owen (who flew in from his home in Portugal), Peter Westbury, Peter Lawson, Roy Lane (the five-time champion, with a record 73 round wins to his name), Alister Douglas-Osborn, Martyn Griffiths, Chris Cramer, James Thomson (at 21, the youngest ever winner in 1981), Martin Bolsover, Charles Wardle, Rowan, David Grace and Andy Priaulx followed Marsh up, some reunited with original cars.
Sir Nicholas Williamson Bt and Michael MacDowel had planned to complete the roll of honour, but for a hospital stay and a leg injury respectively. Apart from Mays, and his successors Sydney Allard, Denis Poore and Ken Wharton (who was totally invincible from 1951-'54), the sport is only without David Hepworth.
Hepworth's eponymous car, resplendent in its Guyson Sandblaster livery of 1971, made a rare appearance in the display of championship cars, which also included Westbury's '63 and '64-winning Felday-Daimler (undergoing total restoration) and Ferguson P99 Grand Prix car, the latter like Lawson's tiny '68-winning BRM P67 on loan from Tom Wheatcroft's Donington Collection.
With MacDowel indisposed, Wardle was delighted to reacquaint himself with the phenomenally torquey 5-litre Repco V8 engine in the newly-restored Brabham BT36X, which carried Mike to back-to-back titles in 1973-'74. Fifteen years later, the Australian-developed engine also motivated Wardle's winning Pilbeam.
Apart from tireless competitors Marsh, Douglas-Osborn, Lane and Grace (who won the RAC round on which the Jubilee was built by Tony Fletcher and the MAC, organiser of Shelsley events since 1905), fellow champions Franklin and Cramer broke long layoffs from the hills, the latter driving a state-of-the-art Gould Ralt-DFR as brilliantly as ever.
Half a century on, the RAC British Hillclimb Championship continues to develop the sheer precision and driving skill which stood four of its champions Wharton, Marsh, Owen and Westbury in good stead when they went on to race in Grands Prix, while MacDowel did it all in reverse. As the last bastion of traditional amateur motorsport, albeit an incredibly competitive one, racing uphill against the clock will always have a special following, especially at some of Britain's most scenic and historic courses. Here's to the RAC British Championship's next 50 years! MP