Prescott Classic Hillclimb

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Stars in their firmament

Almost as if it were a public backlash against the growing and often unpleasant public face of over-commercialism in top motorsport categories, audiences at the large number of events being staged for classic machinery this year have been visibly growing. Benefiting not only by way of a large crowd but also a huge entry for its “Classic” hill-climb recently was the Bugatti Owners Club at its beautiful Prescott venue in Gloucestershire.

The entry was star-studded — that is if the cars are the stars to you, rather than tobacco-sponsored prima donnas hiding in motor-homes. Rodney Felton, for example, drove his Alfa Romeo single-seater 2.9 special to the event on the road, Rivers Fletcher brought the Ronald Stern-owned Malcolm Campbell TT Mercedes SS38/250, Heiman the Bugatti “Black Bess” Garros, Woodward a Bentley Donington and “Jenks” his “Tribsa” 650cc hill-climb motorcycle.

The paddock was more interesting than any museum or show. Competition was stiff among the 157 competitors, but the atmosphere was relaxed, friendly and helpful. Machell’s amazing Berkleye B90 won the class for sports-cars up to 1100cc, whilst in the up-to-1500cc event Dudley Sterry’s indecently quick MG J2 just lost out to the stirringly-driven MG TB of Edney from Bishops Stortford.

The 1945-65 1500cc sports-car class went to Bradshaw’s polished aluminium-finished Lotus XI, and the up-to-2000cc sports class to May’s very stable Lotus Elan. Weedon’s TR4 just beat Kirby’s AC Ace into second for up-to-3000cc sports-car honours.

Ronnie Farmer looked likely to break Michael Bowler’s 1982 record of 50.44 sec on his second run with the Aston Martin DB5 he jointly owns with Stephen Wakefield. Probably the most powerful DB5 yet built, sporting parts from the ill-fated Nimrod Le Mans cars, this car is raced every weekend by one of the two owners, and the week prior to Prescott Wakefield had the throttle jam open at Mallory and glanced the Armco. Still bearing the scars, the silver DB5 scorched to a first run time of 54.95 sec, and was visibly much faster on its second attempt when a rear tyre dug in on the exit to Pardon, and Farmer had an exciting ride through the undergrowth before stopping just short of a stout oak. That first-run time won the class, however, and an attempt at the record will have to wait.

The 500cc single-seater class was packed with cars and nostalgia. Cameron took the spoils in his wheel-waving Cooper Mk2 with 49.03 sec, with Oddy’s Cooper Special second. Tiedman’s ungainly-looking Lola Mk2 took the racing cars up-to-1500cc award and Fortescue-Thomas’ time of 47.50 sec was not only good enough to top the over 1500cc racing car category, beating the raucous Alfa of Felton, Lord Raglan’s Bugatti T51, White’s Vernon-Derby special and Thurston’s Triumph TR2 special (a spectacular car very much in the Brooklands and Donington tradition even if road-sports purists might object), but also to claim Fastest Time of the Day.

The venerable and very brave Sam Clutton manhandled the Itala to the Edwardian class win, the fact that he had only Heiman’s Garros Bugatti to beat detracting not at all from his energetic efforts. Sam has owned this 1908 French Grand Prix shaft-drive car for 54 years, so he’s now used to its quirks. The Morgan three-wheelers were not only plentiful but spectacular. Tuer, the experienced circuit racer from Halewood, took the class with a stirring 54.95 sec, and in the motorcycle event for competitors in the National Hill-Climb Association the amazing Phil Gregory set an unbeatable 50.51 sec.

This vignette of Prescott with its “right crowd and no crowding” on a beautiful summer’s day would not be complete without the characters which are as much part of the long tradition of the place as the hill itself. 84-year-old Ossie Neal from Cambridge has been competing with his Scott motorcycle combination since Prescott opened; at first his wife was his “passenger”, but now the very determined and still competitive Ossie has his granddaughter in the “chair”. The sight of him, grimacing as he tweaked opposite-lock through the final hairpin was no less emotion-stirring than the sight of Jenks fighting a “wheelie” off the line, beard streaming backwards in the wind, looking as much like a high-speed Father Time as ever.. BH

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