The Shelsley Walsh Jubilee Hill-Climb

Author

I. G.

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It was a great occasion at Shelsley Wlash on August 28th, for the Golden Jubilee of this classic British speed hill-climb was celebrated in great style. Guests were received by S. H. Newsome, J.P., President of the Midland A.C. in a marquee at the triangle (he drove Warwick and Lea-Francis cars at Brooklands, the Becke Powerplus at Shelsley Walsh, in the nineteen-twenties), amongst them F. S. Bennett, who competed at the first in 1905 in the same one-cylinder Cadillac he drove later in the day; Raymond Mays, so many times holder of the record: Archie Millarship, who competed with Lanchesters in the dark ages and as recently as 1925 in the Rapson Forty single-seater: Kay Petre, and others too numerous to mention individually, not forgetting the Midland A.C. Secretary, Leslie Wilson, himself.

In the Paddock the one and only Basil Davenport had his 2-litre G.N. Spider, the V-twin with f.w.b. and H.R.G. chassis, covered over against the dust which is as much in evidence today at Shelsley Walsh as it must have been in 1905! Davenport told me that it has caused him to miss a change of speed due to binding the dogs. He is not getting proper filling of the Spider’s 1-litre cylinders but hopes to cure this during the winter with some fine new carburetters he has had fabricated in his own works, using Solex jets — and where else but at Shelsley would you encounter Prof. C. F. Mucklow busy designing ram-pipes for these carburetters of Davenport’s in a Paddock bay? The same Professor who worked the magic on his brother’s G.N. Akela and the G.N. Spider thirty years ago. In contrast, the gas-turbine Rover took Newsome and Bennett up the hill to open the course.

Rupert Instone was, another old-time Shelsley Walsh exponent who was present (his father made f.t.d. at the first climb of all in a Daimler which still exists at the Coventry factory). Noel Carr drove a Lister-Bristol, and Southon had the Becke Powerplus which S. H. Newsome used to drive, carefully working up the revs, of the blown Wolseley Ten engine on the line before engaging the clutch.

Very much in the Shelsley Walsh tradition was Chris Summers’ Farley Special with 996c.c. V-twin engine at the back of its bedstead frame and two superchargers, necessitating at least four threshing chains, the whole mechanism naked and unashamed, to the amusement of Ken Wharton’s lady friend.

Instone’s Djinn-J.A.P. was suffering from the after-effects of bent valves.

Lots of drivers used twin rear wheels and Leslie Marr had stripped his Alta-engined Connaught for the occasion, saving some 200 lb., while J. B. Welton, Cooper 500 driver, had stripped himself, driving in trousers only. Alas, Robins blew-up his 2.3 Bugatti on its first ascent. A. R. Marsh was cautious in his personal-road-transport, a beautiful 300SL Mercedes-Benz, more interest in this class attaching to Angela Brown’s DB3 Aston Martin coupé and Mrs. Fielding’s H.W.M., which were within .01 sec. of each other on their first runs! The Allards were trying hard for the team prize, but unhappily Alexander’s Cadillac-engined car was suffering from trouble said to be either fuel starvation or over-richness, which added up to no urge save in a straight line. “Happily,” said Alexander, “I’m running next week at Brighton, where there are no corners!”

Naturally, as this was the Golden Jubilee Meeting, there had to be a cavalcade of old-timers up the hill, the fastest of which were timed on their ascents. W. T. Grose’s 1902 10-h.p. Wolseley failed but, after a little pushing, F. S. Bennett’s famous 1903 6½-h.p. Cadillac got up in style. It was disappointing that the 1914 G.P. Opel, the White steam car and the Wilson Pitcher defaulted, but Davenport’s original 1½-litre G.N. Spider, exuding methylated spirit smells and noise indescribable, together with Sears’ T.T. Rolls-Royce carrying Leslie Wilson as passenger, the 1914 T.T. Sunbeam and the Aston Martin Razor Blade more than made up for the missing ones. Interesting was a sleeve-valve 1912 Argyll yellow tourer with four-wheel brakes, but its crew’s lighthearted approach did nothing to help it up the hill and the 1905 T.T. Rolls-Royce passed it at the S-bend.

Of the competing motor-cycle entries some, like Tomkinson’s Velocette, were definitely vintage. Eric Findon and Alan Hess were commentators, to heap on the nostalgia.

A special Jubilee Programme was issued and if some former eminent motoring journalists got a bit hazy in their greetings-letters, one recalling how Mays’ Bugatti lost a wheel at a corner (which surely happened at Caerphilly?), and another telling a story of how it was said in fun that the four-wheel-drive Bolster came to the start with chains so arranged that the front drove backwards while the rear drove forward, and the middle of the car bent (but there never was a four-wheel-drive Bolster, this legend originating round Dorcas), and if the compilers mis-spelt Segrave and Zborowski, at all events Leslie Wilson’s story of the very first Shelsley Walsh hill-climb of all, fifty years ago, was alone worth the two bob! Moreover, the Birmingham Post issued a good Shelsley Walsh supplement, although one picture here, supposed to be of the Aston Martin Razor Blade, showed a two-seater Aston Martin of that period.

A good day, of which a report follows. — W. B.

Tony Marsh in a supercharged 1,098-c.c. Cooper succeeded in taking the class record away from Ken Wharton, who was the previous holder in this up-to-1,500-c.c. class with 36.60 seconds, Marsh’s time being 36.08 seconds. Don Parker in a Kieft succeeded in improving on his own old record by 0.3 seconds, but Wharton in the 1,501-2,500-c.c. class, driving the modified ex-Mays D-type E.R.A., was unable to better his previous standing record of 35.80 seconds, his best time on this occasion being 36:15 seconds. Other fast runs were made by C. P. Tooley in the Steyr-Allard; Frank Le Gallais in the L.G.S., a car with rear-mounted Jaguar engine and Citroën gearbox; Peter Stubberfield in the 1926 35B Bugatti, cornering with inside wheels off the ground; and Michael Christie, who did four-wheel drifts in the 1,098-c.c. Cooper. Spectacular antics were displayed by the Becke Powerplus on corners, the rather uneven surface appearing to upset the front suspension; the Porsche of Lt. S. F. Wilder did some oversteering at the Esses, and Berry’s Type 55 Bugatti, tired of wearing rear wings, shed one of them on the way down in front of Eaton’s Lister-Bristol; marshals hastily bundled the offending piece of metal into the cockpit and Berry continued his descent.

Motor-cycles were also evident and a contest for cars v. motorcycles was scheduled, the cars being the winners by a small margin. Brown on a Vincent and Ferbrache on a J.A.P. were the star turns, along with Cyril Hale on a sort of home-grown Morgan 3-wheeler with passenger Fred Hadley doing the usual “suicidal leanings” on corners. Ladies competing were, Miss P. Brock in a Cooper, Mrs. Fielding in an H.W.M., and Angela Brown, who cornered her DB3 Aston Martin like an express train.

Between the first and second runs the vintage and veteran cars took part in the cavalcade, the youngest cars ascending first, which meant that the Barnato-type 4½-litre Bentley of Alick Pitts started off, followed by Bennett’s Ulster Austin Seven, Rohll’s 36/220 Mercedes complete with traditional blower whine, Davis’ f.w.d. Alvis with attractive lady passenger, the ex-Zborowski Razor Blade Aston Martin, G.N. Spider, G.P. Opel, T.T. Sunbeam and Watson’s beautiful 1913 Rolls-Royce, winner of the 1913 Alpine Trial. These cars were all able to ascend the hill with some degree of rapidity or at least certainty, the remaining half dozen or so, however, were some source of amusement since their progress was a little doubtful. First of these to appear at the crossing was Stothert’s 1912 Argyll, and for a time all manner of machines came up thick and fast: Pilkington’s 1908 12/14 de Dion Bouton, Steel’s 1905 10-h.p. Alldays & Onions, which proceeded to overtake the de Dion; next came S. E. Sears (1905 Rolls Twenty), who hooted at the Argyll, which had acquired additional manpower at the rear by this time, and then passed on the wrong side of the road in the Esses. Finally came the two oldest, vehicles, the 1902 10-h.p. Wolseley of W. T. Grose, who was overtaken by bowler-hatted F. S. Bennett, the guest of honour, driving the same 1903 Cadillac that he drove at the first Shelsley meeting in 1905, and who was later presented with a silver tankard by S. H. Newsome., president of the Midland A.C., after he had carefully brought his car to rest against a bank lest the brakes should fail. He was last seen coasting engine-less down the hill, with increasing speed, raising his bowler to the crowds as he went; presumably he did reach the bottom in safety.

In contrast with this old car the Rover Car Company produced their gas-turbine test car Jet 1, which made a very rapid ascent with only a slight whistling sound. No times were disclosed, however, but let us hope that fifty years from now Shelsley will again see as much progress as has already been portrayed in these first fifty. — I. G.

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