Taking It To The Top At Retro Rides Gathering

This year’s Retro Rides Gathering returned to the magnificent Prescott Speed Hill Climb, buried deep in the rural countryside of Gloucestershire in the UK. It was a fantastic day of sun and amazing builds, and the Gathering showed off its expectedly hugely eclectic turn-out of cars in the club corrals under the orchard trees at Prescott – which I’ll cover in the next story. The day’s activities were supplemented by the opportunity for attendees to take a run up the hill-climb course itself for a nominal fee.

Morning and afternoon Run What Ya Brung sessions were organised, both selling out early on in the day, so with the sun burning through the cloud by mid-morning and the voice of our very own Bryn Musselwhite streaming commentary over the PA there was plenty of opportunity to check out the machinery taking on the hill. Some of the kit was a lot more dedicated to the task than others…

The narrow strip of tarmac that threads its way up the hillside is challenging enough for dedicated hill-climbing racers. The 1,127 yard course rises over 200 feet via a series of hairpins, short straights and chicanes and is rarely more than two cars wide.

Prescott is used for competition hill-climb events and is home to a round of the British Hill Climb Championship, although Retro Rides ascents wouldn’t be timed. That wouldn’t stop people trying of course…

Anything and everything took on the hill. From stock Minis, VWs, Mercs and Fords through to Healeys with Chevy engines, Triump Heralds sporting MX5 blocks and a whooshing MkI Astra GTE that was definitely anything but stock with a 2-litre turbo, 350bhp on tap and all-wheel drive.

Every hour or so, the RWYB drivers would regroup whilst the set of hotly-anticipated demo cars stepped in. Doc Merfield’s Fraud Cortina lined up next to its Japanese super-saloon brother, one of only two genuine KPGC10 GT-R coupés outside Japan.

Also taking pride of place during the demo runs were Michael Flynn’s Kamei MkI Golf recreation seen above, Chris Williams’ 24-litre Napier-Bentley, a Morris Minor hill-climb special, a Ford Escort Pro Street, an Audi Quattro replica, a Frankenstein Opel Manta and more.

Thanks to the venue being home to the UK arm of the Bugatti Owners’ Club, Prescott is absolutely pristine and the perfect home for a show like the Retro Rides Gathering. The BOC bought the land in 1937 and ran their first event a year later; Stirling Moss tackled his first hill-climb at Prescott in 1948, and times are now down into the mid-36-seconds for the fastest ascents. Prescott even brew their own beers, which not many venues can claim to do.

Starts are all-important in hill-climbing, and when combined with a non-competitive hill-climb run double so. Style and control should rightly give way to the show: depending on how many tyres were available and the value of the car…

The start was less rigidly controlled than a timed hill-climb, but still the norm was to be launching straight into the barely-cleared pall of smoke left by the previous car.

The demo cars were where it was at for the most part, but some monsters emerged from the clubs, such as the Chevy 383CI-powered Pro Street Escort that was able to deploy a whole lot of Hoosier rubber off the line. The majority of RWYBers joined in the fun, lighting up the tyres up when the horses were available and keeping the big crowd around the start-line entertained.

But the winner every time was the Napier-Bentley. Probably the car that caused the most indifference at first glance, it was also the car that everyone cheered for by the end of the day. Every time Chris fired up the spluttering, constant-explosion of an engine the entire crowd would perk up and line the fences, knowing the spectacle that was in store. A slow-motion apocalypse off the line, as the Napier built up a head of steam it just catapulted down the following straight.

The Fraud Cortina, like the majority of the demo cars, ‘suffered’ a surfeit of power of grip, leaving big fat lines as the car crabbed up the road at full power, lock on and foot to the floor.

Five years of transplants and a roll or two later and this is the Monza GSE built up by Retro Rides paddock organiser Ian Marsh: 250bhp and a whole lot of fun, all from a non-runner.

Straights are not in abundance at Prescott: everything between the actual corners curves, dips and rises. It’s all about putting power down efficiently, and if you’ve got an Audi Quattro at your command then the box could be considered ticked. This replica short-wheelbase S2 was put together from a donor Quattro and is now living a turbocharged, 650hp second life.

The cars flash under the spectator bridge across the course, through the constant left of Orchard; this is Zurawski Motorsport’s mid-engined S14.

Arcing through Orchard, the cars then head up to towards the Ettores switchback – the grass banks rise up to where the top of the course loops round to the highest point at Prescott.

Half a dozen hard-working marshals surveyed the most likely points of trouble from the side of the course. Prescott veterans all, a lot of fun could be had listening to them talk through each cars chances of making it to the top…

A couple of wheezier cars even had trouble with the slight rise up to Ettores, eliciting whistles from the crowd. You put yourself on track, you have to face the consequences! Other cars looked like they wouldn’t even be able to get round the tight hairpin when they did have power, like this Cosworth-powered stretched Granada. Then again, this is where extra power could help shove the back of the car round!

The only noticeably downhill bit of track followed: the short chute down from Ettores to the uphill Pardon hairpin. A chance to hit the gas and build some speed up.

The only thing being that the speed you built up had to be scrubbed off pretty damn quickly as Pardon loomed up within seconds.

Unfortunately the smoke from this stripped-out Supra wasn’t from an awesome constant drift.. But it kept going, which was the important thing.

Given the enjoyment-centric approach of Retro Rides Gathering, speed also wasn’t always necessary. Or even available. This Nissan Prairie had been butchered modified with the exhaust rerouted… out of the side window. A multi-toned horn handily warned people of its approach. Awesome and wrong on so many levels at the same time. Fine work; it’s all about making something different.

The 911-engined Concept Racing Single Cab VW van won the ‘build of the day’ award: uber low-slung and packing more Porsche DNA than just its power unit, this van drew deserved praise all round.

As each car passed them the marshals would radio in that the track was clear, allowing either the following car to set off once Pardon had been negotiated or the track to be neutralised if a car was stuck or worse. This flaming, crackling Volvo 850 T5 (pumped up with a 304 ECU and reversed intercooler pipework) threatened the peace of the local nature with both its speed and fire-throwing exhaust.

Pardon really does deserve its name: it’s what you pray for when you overcook things into the seemingly vertical braking area – as so many cars did, requiring the services of the local tow truck when the short gravel trap sucked them in. Several immaculate S30s tackled the hill during the day – the prettiest cars on the course?

After hooking the car around Pardon drivers then had to thread their cars through the eye of the needle: the shallow uphill run kinking left and right through Halfway and on to the Esses.

Passengers have a lot more chance to relax, unlike the drivers.

There’s absolutely no place to lean back and take things easy even on a fun-run to the top, as blind corners and some scarily open areas devoid of barrier await a single lapse in concentration.

Domestic houses back on to this part of the track, their traditional dry stone walls a contrast to the moss-covered Armco barriers.

VWs old and new, slow and fast, high and low took part. My old 1303S always needed a run up and a half to get up any kind of gradient, but the Beetles at Retro Rides seemed rather more sorted…

…with some even more sorted than others.

Like the club areas – from which the majority of the RWYB participants emerged of course – the hill-climb provided a constant roundabout of styles, models, power and stances.

At Prescott, how your car puts the power down is all important. The narrowness of the track precludes too much worrying about lines: it’s about getting your braking and apex right, then nailing it out of the corner. The Napier-Bentley would merrily light up its tyres out of every corner, flailing around and turning into a smoke machine as it powered away; some of the hotter road cars could manage it with as much speed if not the drama.

The Esses is a key point on the ascent, the serrated kerbing on the inside and outside to be avoided.

Here’s another visual counterpoint that sums up the rich variation throughout the day: the ’80s Toyota above compared to the sleek lines of this Volvo 122S Amazon – an Amazon sporting some rather nice rims and looking just as racy through the corners.

Head-on you can see the vicious kerbs and just how tight the Esses section is. Getting through was easier said than done…

…and once the car was going, it was quickly gone.

There would be crackling radios and red flags, and all the cars out on the course would be brought to a stop beside the nearest marshal’s post whilst the spinner was recovered.

Power at the rear is normally not going to recover you in this situation, but the driver of this Escort MkII put in a stunning performance to pull the car back round after an extreme oversteer moment.

At first glance I thought this was a Matra-Simca Bagheera – a car I hadn’t seen in the flesh for years – but it’s actually its replacement, the Murena. The mid-engined Murena used the same underpinnings as its predecessor, but had important changes to the spaceframe that mostly eradicated the main problem with the Bagheera (and so many cars of the same era): rust.

During the early morning runs the trees kept this upper area of the course in shade, but during the afternoon the high sun painted dappled shadows across the Esses, making visibility that bit more difficult.

Hard braking was the only thing that would save you from the Recticel barriers lining the edge of the track for the sharp left-hander that followed.

Run off? Negative. Brake hard, and pick your turn in…

Reliant is a name better associated with three-wheelers and ’70s British comedy, but this Kitten owner has taken things to a whole new level. Throw out the original unit in what was already an incredibly lightweight car and replace it with a 230bhp Cosworth and the Kitten gets claws! There were rumours that nitrous was also involved… Where’s the vet?

The next section caused one of those ‘what were they thinking?’ moments. The last uphill section is easy enough, lined with Armco on the left and a bank on the right…

…but then the final corner, Semi-Circle, is a long arcing right with no barrier on the outside! It’s hilariously open given the relative safety precautions taken lower down. The track is as narrow as ever, and understeer is a devil…

…which is when you end up meeting nature head on. Maybe just after answering a call of nature. The driver of the Lancia Beta S2 had a three-centre holiday of tarmac, grass and bushes, but the point of the marshals is that most drivers have slowed down considerably by the time they slide into the greenery without harm to them or the car – and usually scare themselves silly, meaning they won’t do it again!

The Hakosuka was suffering a bit: a week sat out in the rain on Nissan’s stand at the previous month’s Le Mans Classic in France had wreaked a bit of mischief – a misfire hobbled its runs, but didn’t detract in any way from the pleasure of seeing such a magnificent car. One of many aural and visual delights on a great day out at Retro Rides Gathering.

Jonathan Moore



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Volvo 850 was actually Turbocharged, supercharged and nitroused.


Volvo 850 was actually Turbocharged, supercharged and nitroused.


more on that mid engine s14 and vw truck aslo got any hillman imps? never seen any on speedhunters


Feature on the black MGB GT please!


Saw the black V8 Escort mk1 at Street Rod nationals this weekend, did some siiiiiick burnouts!


Great to see my friend Mike's Kamei mk1 Golf in this feature - great work guys.


Thanks for the mention and photos of our Kamei Golf


Great write up, my 7 year old and I had an awesome time, with my son even getting a ride up the hill in THAT Prairie tooting the horns all the way up with a HUGE grin on his face!
Thanks again to the RRG organising team!


Why is it a 'Fraud' Cortina?


 @benpopham I was wondering the same thing!


I don't know if they are covering it in a future entry on the show, so I won't spoil it, but if they don't I'll come back and explain..  Or search for Doc Merfield Ford Cortina Super Saloon :)  @benpopham




great write up for a great show thanks for the mention and pic of my pro street mk1 escort as well it was a real grin to take up the hill and even surprised me how well it coped with stuff its really not used to lol 


great write up for a great show thanks for the mention and pic of my pro street mk1 escort as well it was a real grin to take up the hill and even surprised me how well it coped with stuff its really not used to lol 


 @luvlsd thomas zurawskimotorsport facebook page :) is all there.


That would have been a VERY good watch :)


 @HoTWire  @benpopham Ha yes, hopefully we will have a feature on this car. It's amazing. But in short it's a MkII Cortina Super Saloon from the'60s with a V8 shoehorned in...  Not exactly a standard Ford Cortina!


 @NightmaresRacing I can imagine! It looked great going up: completely incongruous for a hill-climb – yet perfectly summed up all that makes Retro Rides great. 


I think we need to get in touch and take more photos of your Golf!


 @Jonathan Moore
 No problem cheers, email me on fthaimike@hotmail.com


Not a single MK2 Astra GTE 16v?


maybe a high res of the civic in the trees?


castrol crx and mr2 look awesome. is it possible to have them in bigger resolution?


Thanks for the picture of my fiesta, love all your photos!!


 @Jonathan Moore
 didn't get a reply....


 @Michael Flynn Messaged... :)


 @Michael Flynn Messaged... :)


 @Michael Flynn Messaged... :)