Discovering shere bliss

Old-fashioned pursuits brought alive in a quiet Surrey village

When a friend invited me to a hill climb in Surrey I thought he mean rambling; instead we watched E-type, Bentley, ’Nash, Integrale, 2CV, Griffith and a puttering two-stroke 360cc Subaru slither up a narrow lane and disappear over the crest of the North Downs. An untimed event raising charity money, the Shere Hill Climb ran on a closed public road and attracted 123 cars to the normally quiet Staples Lane, offering sinuous bends, high hedges, straw bale chicanes and a magnificent view out across the Weald – if you weren’t trying to slow down before reaching the tree-tunnelled double downhill hairpin of the exit route.

It was Kop Hill without the historical precedent though, according to Julian Hunt’s gloriously detailed Motorsport Explorer, there was a climb near here in 1921. In fact the return loop took cars up it, that long A21 haul up to Newlands Corner.

With a stubble-field paddock, a burger van for refreshments and a ‘run what you brung’ ethos, this felt a bit like the Fifties – just enthusiasts eyeing each other’s cars and having some fun on a hill. Especially when the rain arrived. That made traction tough for the heavy hitters – the Jaguars, Healeys and Ferraris – and for the lone Morgan

Three-Wheeler with but one toe on the ground. It didn’t seem to affect the pre-war cars so much – a low-chassis Lagonda, the ex-Hawthorn Riley Ulster Imp, a polished AC Sports, and unusually an SS90 – but then no one was timing.

Replicas galore gathered mud as the rain fell – C, D, GT40 and two V12 Ferraris, a very persuasive Testarossa and a short wheelbase without the capital letters – while a McLaren MP4-12C and the AC Zagato prototype kept things up to date.

Organiser Esmond Foster (who once loaned me a Renault Turbo 2 for a day, a riotous roller-skate that never let on which way it was going next) says the road closure was no problem – until there was a backlash after extensive closures across Surrey for this year’s cycle races. “Then it became a nightmare! But when we made clear it was cars, not bikes, it went through.” That’s not a sentiment we hear often nowadays.

Having raised £10,000 for a local school and other charities, Foster aims for another event next September, with a longer course and better viewing: “We’re going to cut the hedge back!” That’s the sort of ‘facility enhancement’ I endorse, even if it took a helpful pal and a pressure hose to clean my chrome wires afterwards.

Gordon Cruickshank