The link between the RAC and the world’s oldest hillclimb

The link between the RAC and the world’s oldest hillclimb
The Shelsley Walsh hillclimb, in Worcestershire, is the oldest continuously operated motor racing event on the planet.

It first ran in 1905 and, apart from wartime interruptions, it has been running ever since. What’s more, the same course has been used throughout, and the 1000-yard length has been the same since 1907. It is a genuine living piece of automobile history.

The Shelsley Walsh hillclimb is run by the Midland Automobile Club and it is renowned for being one of the steepest hillclimbs around – it’s as steep as 1 in 6 in places. This makes it a real power circuit, only adding to the excitement of spectating at Shelsley. More than anywhere, fast and exciting cars excel here.

It’s a thrill for the drivers too, because in places, the course is just 12 feet wide…

How does a hillclimb work?

Shelsley Walsh

Hillclimbing is one of the purest forms of motorsport. The premise is simple: complete the course in as fast a time as possible. At Shelsley, a gentleman called Ernest Instone set the first-ever time of 77 seconds in his 35hp Daimler. Today, the course record stands at just 22.58 seconds…

Competitors don’t race wheel-to-wheel in a hillclimb, and each takes to the course one-by-one. The challenge is chipping away at your time, in front of thousands, making it a uniquely thrilling form of motorsport.

Which famous drivers have raced at Shelsley Walsh?

Because of its age, many famous names have taken to the track at Shelsley Walsh. Stirling Moss, for example, turned up to drive back in 1947, but the organisers told him he was too young. He returned the following year, and won.

The 1930s was a golden age for Shelsley Walsh, with world-famous names from Grand Prix racing turning up to drive. The legendary Hans Stuck drove at Shelsley in his mighty Auto Union; the equivalent today would be Lewis Hamilton driving his Mercedes-AMG Formula One car up the course.

In 2016, Stuck’s son, Hans Joachim Stuck, recreated history by driving his father’s Auto Union at Shelsley, for yet another memorable day in the course’s history.

What is the Shelsley Trust?

The Shelsley Walsh course is leaseheld, with the landowners agreeing to a 99-year lease back in 1905. Come 2004, this created a dilemma – particularly as the landowners did not want to sell the land. They instead offered another 99-year lease, but at a cost of over £1 million.

The answer was the formation of the Shelsley Trust, which was charged with raising the funds through innovative schemes such as letting enthusiasts by buying the custody of a ‘Yard of Tarmac’. It all proved an enormous success and the club raised the necessary cash in 2005 – securing hillclimbing at Shelsley for another 99 years.

What is the link between Shelsley Walsh and the RAC?

The Midland Automobile Club was, in 1901, the first motoring club to be affiliated with the Automobile Club of Great Britain. Founded in 1897, This gained royal approval in 1907 – becoming the Royal Automobile Club, or RAC. This was thanks to King Edward VII’s eager interest in all things motoring.

Coincidentally, 1901 was a significant date in both organisations’ history. Not only was the MAC founded in 1901, this was also the year uniformed patrols were introduced onto British roads!

What have the two organisations agreed to do?

Today, the two organisations have pledged to build upon their shared heritage and work closely together in preserving and promoting classic motoring events.

“It makes perfect sense that two organisations that have so much joint history should continue to work together in some way,” said RAC spokesman Simon Williams, “particularly as the Midland Automobile Club still runs the oldest operational motorsport venue in the world – the Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb – and the RAC is Britain’s oldest and most influential motoring organisation.”

Look out for some exciting events coming in 2017 and beyond…

What is on the calendar for 2017?

Shelsley Walsh’s headline event is the Classic Nostalgia weekend. This year, it will celebrate Group A rally cars, which ran from 1987. These were the machines that dominated the contemporary RAC Rally, with the late Richard Burns dramatically winning the 2001 event. It’s a must-attend event on 22 and 23 July.

The life of Donald Campbell will be honoured, 50 years after the death of the legendary British speed record holder. His daughter Gina and nephew Don Wales will attend Classic Nostalgia – and Wales plans to reveal a car dedicated to Campbell’s famous speed machines, Bluebird. 

Classic Nostalgia will this year be supported by the RAC, and we’ll be visiting the event to bring Drive readers a flavour of all the sights and sounds. 

What is the Rally of the Tests?

The 2016 RAC Rally of the Tests, in association with the Historic Enduro Rally Organisation, will see 200 competitors enter an epic four-day drive from Bournemouth to Chester, taking on a number of competitive driving challenges along the way.

Period classic competition cars will be pitched against one another as the RAC returns to the competitive motorsport calendar for the modern running of an event it created back in the 1930s.

RAC Rally of the Tests returns for 2017 running from 9-12 November. Route details will be announced nearer the time. Meanwhile, you can read about the 2016 event here.