Back in the day – between 1910 and 1925 – Kop Hill was considered one of the most important speed hill climb events on the calendar. Year after year thousands of motorcycle and race car enthusiasts flocked to the venue in an attempt to post the quickest time up the ¾ mile course.
And then Francis Giveen came along to tackle the hill in the ex-Raymond Mays Bugatti Cordon Bleu, and his inability to keep control of his vehicle saw him colliding with a spectator – breaking his leg – before continuing to the top.
The stewards quickly called a halt to the meeting, and the fallout from the incident has been that, until this very day, any form of racing on public highways in Great Britain is forbidden. Well, without special dispensation, anyway.
After an 84 year absence, Kop Hill Climb was resurrected in 2009 as a non-competitive two-day event, and since then it has witnessed massive growth in spectator and entrant numbers alike, with a record number in attendance in both categories this year.
Thousands descended upon Princes Risborough last weekend, with Saturday producing a single-day record of 12,000 visitors – on par with the total number who attended last year – as people of all ages marvelled at what accounted for more than 100 years of motoring history.
There was a real breadth of automobiles on display this year, a total of 405 in fact, with hundreds more in the two-wheel department. Emphasis this time around was on a number of Edwardian vehicles built between 1905 and 1918, with Earl and Countess Howe flagging off the hill’s first contender – Nick Pellett in a 1914 GP Sunbeam.
Other notable entrants to tackle the course – which features a grimacing 1:4 gradient at its peak – included such rarities as a 1903 Humberette, and a Rambler H and Wolseley Racer from 1904 which, when combined, have as much horsepower as a conventional outboard motor!
With Model T Fords and a De Dion Bouton Z Type intermingling with Tabolts, Bentleys and modern-day exotica like a Nissan GT-R and Ferrari Enzo, there’s no denying that the Kop Hill Climb provides a wonderful cavalcade of motoring history.
There really is no better way of seeing how cars and motorbikes have developed over the past century, and it’s certainly more revealing – and entertaining – than wandering around a stuffy old museum and reading placards.
But – and you knew this was coming – I do have a few concerns as to how this event will continue to flourish in the future.
Firstly, the A4010 – one of the main arteries into Princes Risborough – came to a standstill on Saturday as the roads surrounding the venue became gridlocked with spectators, entrants, and the general public out to do a bit of weekend shopping.
Perhaps there is a case for adopting a park and ride scheme to operate within the surrounding area and alleviate congestion and any complaints from local residents in the future?
Secondly, with more and more people arriving at each event, finding a decent vantage point to watch the vehicles embark on their ascent of the hill is becoming increasingly difficult. There are now insufficient stands available to view from, and the hedge that runs parallel with the course is too high for those vertically-challenged, like me.
And lastly, I believe there needs to be more contemporary vehicles on display. Only half-a-dozen or so cars accounted for the past four decades of motoring, which seemed rather bewildering to me. And, based on the interest generated by the arrival of the new McLaren MP4-12C Spider, there clearly is demand for them.
As someone with a keen interest in seeing this type of grassroots event succeed – not least because of the vast amounts of money it raises for local charities – I hope that some of the points I have raised will be considered when it comes to future Kop Hill Climbs.
Yes, attendance figures are on the increase, but for how long? That all depends on how well the organisers can maintain interest and enthusiasm for it, and now is a good a time as any to review how they can further improve their visitors’ experience.
But gripes aside, the fact remains that the Kop Hill Climb is a nostalgic treat and is unquestionably a must-attend event on the historic motoring calendar.
Speaking of which, a provisional date of 21st-22nd September has been set aside for next year’s event. One for the diary, I would have thought.