I don’t really need much convincing to travel to the UK for a race. I am ready to go anytime. When it comes to motor sports it’s very difficult to top England. The Brits just plain understand it. There seems to be an awareness of racing that you really don’t find anywhere else in the world. From the casual fan to the factory backed race effort, the passion runs deep. So deep in fact that England is home to the World’s oldest motor sport venue in continuous use, Shelsley Walsh.
The 1000 yard long hill climb venue started in 1905 and is older than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Monza and Le Mans. Over the years the famed track has been tested by greats like Raymond Mays, Hans Stuck, and Stirling Moss.
Shelsley Walsh is located at Worcestershire, in the Midlands region just a few hours north of London and was founded and continues to be operated by the Midland Automobile Club. I stopped by Silverstone on the way from London to pick up a friend. We made our way over to the M40 and headed north. If you are going to Shelsley Walsh for the first time make sure you have Sat Nav. Once you leave the M40 the route to the event becomes a veritable labyrinth of roads through the lush countryside. I’m sure I would have been trying to find the track to this very day had it not been for the navigation system. Once we arrived at the event two things became very apparent. First is the humidity in the air, although living in Los Angeles makes everyplace in the world seem humid. The air was so heavy and wet you could almost see it. Second is the scent of race fuel floating in the thick air. The two mixed to create an intoxicating blend of race nirvana that I can promise you will not find anywhere else.
This particular round of the MSA British Hill Climb Championship was a must for any Lotus devotee. In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Lotus Elan, the marque was celebrated with a special affair at Shelsley Walsh. There were over 200 cars in total entered for the event with the occasion attracting no less than 30 historically significant and notable Lotus competition cars thanks to the help of Paul Matty Sportcars . There were two Lotus invitational classes to represent the development of the brand including lightweight road cars to all out formula cars.
Walking through the open paddock was sensory overload. It was hard to stay focused on anything because you want to see everything. Cooper JAPs on the left, oh wait, Lotus Cortina on the right not to mention the symphony of sound coming from all types of engines. Although I came to enjoy the collection of Lotus racecars, there were many other interesting cars to see.
The facility at Shelsley Walsh is impressive to say the least. The paddock area features covered work areas near the starting line with a magnificent clubhouse and restaurant nearby. The food here is far above the standard at most motorsport venues. I enjoyed a UK standard, steak and ale pie with sweet British summer peas.
There are also several observation stands along the route in key locations with excellent vistas to take in the action along the route. Once you climb up the pathway along the track, the dramatic elevation change becomes apparent rising 328 feet (100m) from the start, with an average gradient of 1:9.14.
Having the chance to see these rare and beautiful cars stationary and in action is an incredible experience. The collection of Lotus Elan’s was impressive as were the Lotus open wheel cars. One of the real highlights was the Ian Walker Racing, alloy body Lotus Elan 26R. This car is a one of a kind, purpose built special for Le Mans in 1964. Now owned by Martin Stretton the car made several passes up the hill in excellent form. The typical twin cam chatter made pleasing music to the ears as the 26R slid through the first corner, now damp from a slight mist.
Then there was the 1964 Lotus 23B Rotorvic powered by 6 linked Ariel Arrow motorcycle engines configured as a V12 1483cc two stroke engine that produced an exceptional uproar even though it was only revving to 7000rpm. Apparently ignition problems kept it from reaching the normal 10,000 rpm limit. The 23B Rotorvic had spent most of its life on display at various museums but was recently re-commissioned. I expect that once a few issues are sorted out, it will be in full form once again.
The Lotus 35 F1 powered by a 3.0L Martin V8 and driven by Charlie Lucas and Piers Courage in 1966-67 was also unique and interesting. Chapman’s open wheel creations from the fabulous 1950’s were well represented featuring the Lotus 6, Lotus 9 and Lotus 11. The swinging 1960’s collection featured the Lotus 18, Lotus 20 and 22 all powered by the likes of Ford, Lotus or Coventry Climax. Many of these cars were once piloted by Jim Clark, Graham Hill, and Jackie Stewart and represent the pinnacle of open wheel racecar development of the day.
Of course there was also a gathering of newer Lotus cars including Elise and Exige models. Although these Hethel creations are very impressive to watch, very fast and are certainly fun to drive, they don’t exhibit the same flare and excitement the more senior cars do. I guess the refined chassis, modern tires and power train contribute to advance vehicle control.
Not all of the action was on the track or in the paddock. The car park was sectioned for the Lotus owners to display their pride and joy for everyone to see. Elan’s, Seven’s, Elite’s and Cortina’s were proudly parked in formation and ready for viewing.
Surrounded by so many interesting and beautiful cars coupled with the surrounding atmosphere made the Shelsley Walsh Lotus event seem almost surreal. The chance to see a collection of such prominent Lotus cars in one location again and actually racing will be challenging. However, that does not mean you should pass up any hill climb event at the legendary Shelsley Walsh, you will not be disappointed.
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