Marcus Pye's Diary
A brace of anniversaries means two busy weekends on the trot and the chance to race a Chevron B1 at Oulton
With virtually every living British Hillclimb champion present — either taking part or spectating on the wooded upper fringes of the hallowed course — August's centenary meeting was always going to be unmissable. And thus, 100 years and nine days after Ernest Instone's inaugural triumph in 1905, it proved.
Nowadays it's relatively common for drivers of single-seaters — and not just the big Pilbeams and Goulds — to cover the 1000-yard sprint in less than a third of the 77 seconds that it took Instone's passenger-laden Daimler to reach the summit The sheer acceleration of their carbonfibre composite missiles defies belief on the same narrow hazard-lined farm road.
Intriguingly, Raymond Mays had slashed the original record in half with a 37.37sec ascent in ERA R4D before 1939's hostilities. During the Saturday championship round, newly-crowned king Martin Groves shaved 0.09sec from his own target to leave it at 23.77sec!
Of the many 'magic' milestones between Mays and Groves, the fall of the 30-second barrier was perhaps the most keenly anticipated. It finally fell to Yorkshireman David Hepworth in June 1971, when he cut 29.92sec with his eponymous Chevrolet V8-engined four-wheel-drive special en route to his second title.
Hepworth died in 1992, but his ochre-yellow machine, familiar from Great Auclum's RAC rounds in my youth, was back. Like his father, son Andrew also appeared to sit on, rather than in, the car, and it looked a handful (as it often did) as he wrestled it to the top. "David's in there with him, you know," a family friend told me. "The boys thought he deserved a run up on this great occasion, so they put the urn of his ashes in the footwell!"
One week after Shelsley, the 40th anniversary of the late Derek Bennett's Chevron marque was the next momentous landmark to be celebrated. Many of the models and great names that made Chevron so beloved were reunited at its spiritual home.
Evidence that Chevron came a very long way in a short time is indisputable and was laid bare before thousands of fans. Both B1 Clubmans cars of 1965 contrasted with the immortal B8 and B16 sports-racers. Single-seaters ranged from a '68 B9 F3 screamer to an F2 B42, a decade younger.
Tragically, Bennett died in '78 in a hang-glider crash, but the reclusive genius, who could jump into any of his own designs and lap Oulton or Aintree as quickly as the best, is remembered as one of the sport's most gifted intuitive constructors.
As Brian Redman, who scored many Chevron models' maiden wins, recalled: "We were struggling with McLaren's M18 F5000 car and went back to the old M10B, so I asked Derek if he could build me an F5000.' He replied, 'Yes, give me an engine and gearbox, 10 weeks and pay for the materials.' We did, and £3000 later we had the first B24."
A winner out of the box, the model became fabled after Peter Gethin won the Race of Champions in 1973, to the immense chagrin of the F1 teams. Lancastrian Anthony Taylor claims his car, later butchered into a centre-seat Can-Am racer, is chassis 3 (the Gethin car), and gave it its comeback in original Marathon Oil livery at Oulton.
There is no greater Chevron nut than Vin Malkie. Employed by Derek Bennett at the former cotton mill factory in Bolton from the late '60s, he has built his thriving business around the marque.
Malkie bought the second B1 (originally Brian Classic's car) from Harry McLaughlin in '68 and still treasures it. I was privileged to be able to race the beautifully proportioned ally-bodied masterpiece at Oulton and was amazed by its handling, and its performance with a 1.5-litre pre-crossflow Ford engine.
Pity I couldn't get a bit closer to Classic, in the evolution B2 he bought years later for £400 and kept in his garage roof. The motor trader extraordinaire — who raced several Chevrons in period — owns two of the four '66 cars.
Bennett's B1 has been with Geoff Temple long-term, incidentally, and there is talk of it being restored.