Shelsley Walsh's 90th

In the old-fashioned English summer we have been experiencing this year, the 90th birthday of the oldest speed venue in this country, Shelsley Walsh in the peaceful Teme Valley, was celebrated on August 13. It was also the occasion of the 13th round of the RAC Hillclimb Championship — the 12th, at Craigantlet, another long-lived venue, had been abandoned after the fatal accident to Mark Colton in practice on August 5. The interest now was whether Andy Priaulx would win and thus clinch the Championship, with his Pilbeam MP58. In fact, he did, in 26.12s.

The birthday party was held in a marquee with tables at which to enjoy an excellent buffet lunch — so much nicer than having to stand, trying to balance glass in one hand, plate and cutlery in the other! The Midland AC Chairman, Mr A W Moody, was greeting his guests. The guest list had brought together many who had contributed to the history of the famous hill: Alan Good (McLaren), Patsy Burt (McLaren), Gillian Goldsmith who is now enjoying circuit racing, R E Ansell (ERA), Sir Nicholson Williamson (Brabham), Malcolm Dungworth, Brian Eccles (Brabham V8), Martin Bolsover (Pilbeam MP45-Hart 26.78s, no less!) Charles Wardle, etc. Other celebrities were actually competing Joy Rainey, fastest lady at 28.32s, but driving her Alfa Romeo 6C at this birthday meeting (52.83s), Julian Ghosh who had at last made the Vauxhall-Villiers behave (40.68s), Duncan Ricketts with ERA RIB (36.08s), and Tony Marsh (with a dozen FTDs to his credit between 1955 and 1967 in Cooper, BRM, Lotus 18 and Marsh Special) in the 4-litre Toleman-Merlin-Cosworth (28.42s).

For our further delectation, outside the marquee some historic Shelsley-orientated racing cars were lined up. Both the Basil Davenport Spiders were there, as was Stafford-East’s so original GN “Kim II”. The exciting 4WD March Special was present, as was “Salome”. John Roberts had brought the interesting vee-twin “Djinn”, on larger wheels than when Rupert Instone ran it, but with a corroded electron alloy original there to prove why. Sadly. Instone, the MAC Vice President, had recently died. Roger Willoughby had the hairy s/c vee-twin 1100cc Cooper Mk 6. Keith Knight brought the ERA-Riley, and it was nice to see Bruce Spollon fit again, with his 30/98 Vauxhall.

But of the 4WD Bugatti, not sight nor sound. Miss Angela Hucke was to have driven it but it has been an unlucky car. Jean Bugatti crashed it at this very venue in 1934. The previous Sunday at Prescott it had proved a disappointment for Ben Collings, its engine stalling at the start and its clutch slipping (50.64s), so that Dean’s T59/50B Bugatti in the same class was faster (47.71s) before it, too, expired… Rumour now whispered that the steering-box had cracked.

The rest of the invited “birthday” cars gave demonstration runs. The commentator described Johnson’s ascent in “Spider II” as “almost alarming”. The older “Spider” (41 .22s), “Salome” (45.38s) and, of course, the ERA-Riley (36.98s) were quick, and if I heard correctly, Tony Marsh went over the line in the Marsh Special at 109 mph (30.99s). The Cooper did 38.28s, the “Djinn” 42.70s, Ward’s Lotus 61 clocked 34.07s, but “Spider” was the outstanding performer in my estimation; some demonstration! And such a happy day…