Petrolheads of all ages ready to celebrate 50th anniversary of those Harewood Hill climbers

Geoff Hill was 24 years old when he first competed in the Harewood Hill Climb.

Throughout the coming summer, Geoff, now 71, will don his racing overalls, pull on his helmet for the umpteenth time with the express aim of bombing up a Yorkshire hillside as fast as he can.

Why? He is an adrenalin junkie, who lives for fast cars and the thrill of stopping the clock faster than anyone else... if he can.

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And the beauty of this story about a Doncaster petrolhead is that he is not alone.

Of the 200 cars that will help celebrate 50 years of the Harewood Hill Climb this year, a remarkable 20 drivers will be back to contest a race first run in 1962.

The actual meet, to commemorate the half-century landmark, is on September 22-23, but the seven-race season begins on Sunday with the Spring National Hill Climb.

There are five more weekends of action before the members celebrate their golden jubilee, starting in May and running once a month with two meetings in August. Such a structured season was something as distant as the finish line for the drivers who took to the start gate for the very first speed hill climb which was held on the Stockton Farm course at Harewood on Sunday, September 16, 1962.

The course was 1,200-foot long and rose 250 feet.

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Run as a time trial, drivers were challenged to get up the Harewood Hill Course in the quickest time possible.

For that very first meeting they were divided into 14 classes from touring cars with 1066cc engines to sports cars with 3000cc of power at their feet.

Marque sports cars were represented by an Austin Healey Sprite, which in an homage to the day the chequered flag was first dropped at Harewood, is the same car Geoff Hill is currently preparing for September’s meet.

“I’m building a special body for an Austin Healey Sprite,” he said. “My son Michael will drive that.”

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There was a class entirely for Jaguars, from XK120’s to an E-type. Formula 1 cars were on show, courtesy of entries from the successful Lotus team of the 1960s, plus cars that competed in the Le Mans 24-hour race.

Despite the interest – entrants were turned away at the gate – it was very much a fact-finding mission for the organisers; the Yorkshire arm of the British Automobile Racing Club.

As the official report distributed to members noted: “Nigel Scott in the ancient GN got sideways on coming out of a farmhouse bend and rolled over sustaining cuts to the head and neck and doing his beauty a power of no good.

“This was the stage when we realised we had made our first big mistake, we had only one ambulance in which all the St John’s personnel departed, leaving the meeting with only one doctor.”

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The fastest time 50 years ago was set by Tony Lanfranchi in an Elva Mk 6. Mr Lanfranchi – “in a very spirited ascent” according to the report – stopped the clock on 51.61 seconds, so setting a mark and winning a race drivers would aspire to repeat in the ensuing years. One hundred drivers contested the first Harewood Hill Climb, and according to the four-page programme – which cost 1 shilling – prizes for the top three drivers in each class, plus an award for the leading lady driver, were presented at the Annual Dinner Dance of the Yorkshire BARC, which was held on December 13, 1962, at the Queens’ Hotel in Leeds.

Apart from the requisite health and safety improvements and a decline in attendance the Harewood Hill Climb organisers hope to arrest this summer, not much has changed in the intervening decades.

Cars can still hit 120mph-plus and take between 45 and 75 seconds to make the ascent. Geoff Hill, who will be driving his Alpine GTA will be happy if the needle touches 75mph.

The cars on show are names from the past that evoke a special glimpse into the history of engineering: Speedwell GT, Ferguson P99, Hepworth FF, Cooper Buick, Lister Jaguar and Frazer Nash Alvis.

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The star attraction is the Ferguson P99, once driven by Sir Striling Moss in F1 and also driven by Peter Westbury to the 1964 hill climb title. Peter should be at the event in September.

Other anniversary highlights in September include an historic class involving Formula 2 and Formula 3 cars. There will also be production car trials, an autotest competition, and displays of classic cars from MG to Triumphs, Jaguars to Lotus’s.

Away from the course, a gala reception is planned for drivers who continue to come back to this famous race.

Geoff Hill said: “I still race for the sheer love of it. I’m within the time requirement to compete still so that’s why I do it. While ever I’m competitive, I’ll have a go.”