[Words: Colin West and Paul d’Orléans]

In the heart of Buckinghamshire Country, deep in the British countryside, the Kop Hill Climb is among the most historic of all road races. The first race was held in 1910 as a test of machinery on the unpaved, winding road up the tallest local hill. The course begins gently, but the mid-section is a 1-in-6 grade (17%), and steepens to 1-in4 at the end (25%), which seemed nearly insurmountable in those early years of single-speeders with slipping belt drives.

A 1922 shot of DF Fitzgerald on a Norton 16H with sidecar – look at that crowd! And the lack of spectator barriers on the rough dirt road…

Over the 15 years of its original existence, many famous names competed, on many long-gone marques, once bathed in glory from such competition – Duzmo, Motosacoche, Zenith, Douglas, etc. By the early 1920s, he event became more a speed trial than endurance run, as machinery grew multiple gears and respectable horsepower, and riders like Freddie Dixon, the original Iron Man, flew up the final steep section, catching big air at the top of the hill, setting record times. A variety of events, car and motorcycle, were held on this lonely stretch of road, including local owner’s clubs, University racing teams (Oxford seemed especially keen), and allcomers races.

Freddie Dixon on one of his own creations – a Works racing Douglas TT Model 500cc flat-twin with tuned OHV engine, here being aviated at the top of the hill

As the power of vehicles increased by the 1920s, the skill of the rider/driver became critical, and with no ‘test’ for entrants, the quality of some competitors was sub-par, and accidents drew negative attention from both press and government. By 1925, Kop Hill was in a precarious spot, and an accident that year – a spectator refused to move from an unsafe spot and was struck by a car, breaking his leg – put an end not only to this event, but all racing on public roads in Britain. Kop Hill was thus the last race held on a public road, and sprints/hillclimbs moved onto sympathetic private estates for the next half century.

Plenty of women raced too; this is Mrs. DeLissa on a Ladies’ Model Motosacoche in 1913. Her husband was the British importer for Motosacoche in those early years

Kop Hill was revived in 2009 as a non-competitive ‘parade’, and this year saw over 400 historic cars and motorcycles tackling the famous hill, and many more displayed in the paddock. Vehicles range in age from the early 1900’s to modern day exotics, and included the amazing crowd-puller Napier-Railton from the Brooklands Museum. This huge 24 litre, two-ton goliath is an awesome sight, and with a top speed of over 165mph, it had no trouble on the hill. Another star was the 1922 Isle of Man TT winning Sunbeam Grand Prix car, joined by a replica of the 1936 6.7L Cummins-Railton Special, the Napier-Railton, and the 1922 7.2L Leyland-Thomas No.1 recreation.

The immortal Bert LeVack in 1920, here with a Duzmo-JAP single. LeVack was the development engineer for JAP, and later Motosacoche.

Kop Hill is a charity event, and in addition to the stunning machinery, there’s a challenge for the local school kids on a ‘soap box’ circuit, where future motoring stars can cut their teeth under the guidance of motoring legends such as Paddy Hopkirk, a regular supporter of the Kop Hill event. Youngsters (and oldsters) can also ride a traditional steam-powered Merry-Go-Round and a Helter-Skelter. Charity stalls, food, bars and the famous ‘Wall of Death’ stunt riders make this a low-key alternative to Goodwood in September.

A 1932 Scott Flying Squirrel smokes off the line

Amongst the motorcycles this year was a stunning Brough Model W flat-twin (featured on TheVintagent.com), which was recreated from the 1922 drawings by Dave Clark, after he sourced the original engine – it’s a unique machine. Richard Duffin was seen to abuse the rear tyre of his 1932 Scott before disappearing up the hill in a cloud of smoke, closely followed by a gun-toting Alastair Flanagan on his 1944 Harley WLA in full military livery. Amongst the various two-strokes were two extremes of the Scott design with a 1977 Silk 70ss ridden by George Silk and a 1929 two-speeder Scott Super Squirrel ridden by Bob Woodman. For fans of historic cars and motorcycles being used ‘as the maker intended’, Kop Hill is an event in rare company.

The aero-engined Napier-Railton from the Brooklands Museum
Art is where you find it; the gearshift gate on the Napier-Railton
Thundering Land Speed Racers at Kop Hill
Dave Clarke’s astonishing W.E.Brough flat-twin racer re-creation
The business department of a 1922 Sunbeam 8-cylinder 3L DOHC motor

The event originally included plenty of touring cars, although this Frazer Nash ‘Byfleet’ was a hot rod

The inimitable Archie Frazer-Nash piloting a 8.7L GN racer in 1923 – her name was ‘Kim II’
1920; a Mr Wallace rides a Duzmo with very wide handlebars, as Dr. Archibal Low officiates. Low was later known for his rocket-powered motorcycle experiments!
1914 competitors; Ms Berend and Ms.Davies sheltering from a deluge that year. I presume Ms Davies was the daughter of ‘Ixion’, the famous writer for The Motor Cycle, and author of ‘Motorcycle Reminiscence’ and ‘Motorcycle Cavalcade’, both of which are fascinating accounts of coping with very early motorcycles, from a talented writer.
Not a Ladies’ Model – the 17 year old daughter of Cyril Pullin, one of the first women to gain a motorcycle license in Britain, aboard a hotrod Zenith-JAP with a 2.5hp OHV racing engine. Read about her father’s motorcycle projects here.
In the early years, the rider was weighed as well as the bike. This is the 1913 weigh-in.
A Distinguished Gentleman – H.V. Colver in 1913 aboard a rare v-twin 2 3/4hp Royal Enfield with all-chain drive
1910: W.A. Cooper on a 3.5hp Bradbury at speed
1910: B.A. Hill on a 2 3/4hp Douglas – looks lonely!

The Soap Box Derby was a hit with future road racers
Youngest on oldest – a 1900 Singer bolt-on motorized wheel

 

 

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