What a lot of Kop!

by Paul Hardiman
11 November 2013 4 min read
What a lot of Kop!
Why they came: The Napier-Railton blasts up the Kop Hill Climb course.

It wasn’t Brooklands. It wasn’t even Goodwood. Here, on the edge of a small Buckinghamshire town, the mighty Napier Railton, the Brooklands Outer Circuit record holder, ran on a public road for the first time. And bookending that, the Dick Skipworth Ecurie Ecosse collection made its last outing before its auction sale in December. All in all, the fifth running of the Kop Hill Climb revival reached dizzier heights than ever.

Around 400 classic and historic vehicles ran up the hill, first used for competition in 1910, and these included Alfas, Bentleys, Jags and racers including the oldest existing Aston Martin, A3, which Lionel Martin drove to victory here in the 1920s. The paddock heaved with more classics, including the only running example of a locally made car, the Cubitt from Aylesbury, plus car clubs, a Wall of Death, the 1907 Curtiss-powered Berliet on the Hagerty stand, the Soapbox Challenge for 10 to 17 year olds and, straight from that other big Revival near the south coast, the much-loved Haurel and Lardy novelty act. This can be as big a day out as you want to make it, or as the organisers put it: ‘Petrol head heaven melded with fun for the family’.

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When the event first ran in 2009, it attracted mostly local racer types excited by the prospect of having a blast up the historic hill for a bit of a giggle. Then, half a field accommodated all the visitors’ cars; this September they spread down the valley over two massive enclosures, spilling out 14,000 spectators, and those numbers included some very serious heavyweight race iron.

The hill was opened on Saturday by ‘GO 54’, the ex-Earl Howe 1931 Talbot team car, flagged off by the present Earl and Countess Howe. Rally legend Paddy Hopkirk opened the Sunday sessions in an electric BMW. The 24-litre W12 Lion-engined Napier Railton, which ran 143mph at Brooklands in 1935 and which broke 47 world speed records there and at Montlhéry and Bonneville, had been road registered for the first time in its life just so it could run up the hill, which remains a public thoroughfare — the return route runs through the centre of Risborough, so locals line the roads to see the cars pass. Yet this all-encompassing event retains the feel of a friendly local car club gathering, and entry costs just a tenner.

Kop Hill is one of the oldest hill climb venues in England, one of several in the Chilterns, and became a major event on the early motor sports calendar, attracting big-name drivers and riders such as Malcolm Campbell in his 12hp Talbot ‘Blue Bird’, Raymond Mays in his Brescia Bugatti, Henry Segrave in a 2-litre Grand Prix Sunbeam and Archie Frazer Nash in Kim II.

The fastest time recorded for a car was in 1922 when Count Zborowski’s aero-engined GP Ballot achieved 26.8 secs up the 2709-foot run. The motorcycles were faster; in 1925 Freddie Dixon set a time of 22.8 seconds on his 736cc Douglas — an average of 81 mph. Then, the fairly straight 1 in 5 hill was loose and rutted and accidents did happen. Following an incident involving a spectator on 28 March 1925, the RAC put a stop to motor sport on public roads. Kop Hill isn’t timed any more, and that could just be part of the appeal as anyone can take part, with final selection at the discretion of the organisers; entries, costing just £30, are always oversubscribed.

Dick Skipworth, Ecurie Ecosse collector extraordinaire, lives locally and has supported the event since its inception. This year, as a swansong before he disposes of the cars he has painstakingly collected over two decades, he brought the lot: the 1952 Jaguar XK120 campaigned in period by Sir James Scott-Douglas; the 1962 Tojeiro-Buick Coupe; the 1953 C-Type raced in period by Ninian Sanderson, Jock Lawrence, Jimmy Stewart and Frank Curtis; the 1956 D-Type raced by Ron Flockhart; a 1959 Tojeiro-Jaguar, a recent star of Goodwood Revivals with Barrie Williams; the 1960 Cooper T49 Monaco driven by Jackie Stewart; the 1961 Austin-Healey ‘Sebring’ Sprite raced by Ninian Sanderson and Bill Mackay; and the fantastic 1959 supercharged two-stroke diesel Commer Transporter. Alongside in the paddock were Jaguar Heritage’s XJR13 and the Win Percy TWR XJS and poignantly, the Flag Metallic blue cars were led up to the starting line by a piper playing a lament.

Motorcycles feature heavily too. Across the paddock, Richard Martin from the Shuttleworth Collection circulated on a 93-year-old Stafford Mobile Pup, one of three left and just one of a display of early bikes, including Aurora cycle pacer from 1920s. “I’m trying to raise interest in the Collection,” he said, pointing out that it holds the oldest flying aircraft in the world.

You’d think a bunch of dyed-in-the-wool petrolheads would be behind this motoring extravaganza: instead it was the brainchild of the local Rotarians, under the leadership of Tony Davies, who recognised the resource they were sitting on and, more presciently, realised they could channel the huge upsurge in interest in ‘revival’ festivals to create funding for local charities. Kop Hill was initially organised under the auspices of Risborough Area Community Action and is now run by Buckinghamshire Community Foundation. All of the organising team are volunteers to keep costs down, and for that you can forgive the early tainting of the dreaded ‘corporate sponsorship’ and dealer displays of modern cars.

The first revival was in 2009, though there had been a commemorative run in 1999 run by the Town Council and the Bean Car Club as part of the Risborough Festival. In 2012, more than 400 historic vehicles ran up the hill, a further 200 were on display in the paddock with a crowd of over 14,000. This year topped that, say the organisers, and takings were claimed to be up by three quarters.

Provisional dates for 2014 are 20-21 September, and booking for entrants – be quick – will be open from April.

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