In my first story from the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb, I checked out the pits of Classic Car Friday and came across some really precious metal.
Seeing these classic cars up close is pretty rad, but no one wants to see stuff like that just standing still. Like many, I came to watch them race.
The hillclimb is held on a 1.9km-long (1.18mi) section of closed public road in the tiny coastal town of Knysna, South Africa. The road is unforgiving at best; its surface is rough and there are some really bumpy sections with pretty much no run-off. If you get it wrong here, you’re into dense forest or off the side of the mountain.
The start line is a pretty epic and loud place to be. As soon as something interesting pulls up the crowd get pretty ridiculous, which of course doesn’t make the track marshals very happy – they’re constantly shouting at and chasing people away. Yes, there are safety issues, but these guys can be a little over the top at times.
The BMW 3.0 CSL and ’59 Corvette were definitely some of the biggest attractions, which may have had something to do with their massive burnouts every single time they lined up for their runs.
Wet & Wild
The weather in Knysna can be pretty unpredictable and volatile, and every year no one knows whether there’ll be rain or sunshine. This year it was pretty wet and cold early in the morning, which made the racing quite sketchy for these old dogs. For the historic stuff, it wasn’t so much of an issue, because although their tyres are almost comparable to those of a bicycle, they don’t make much horsepower.
But for cars like the Ford GT40s, Porsches, and open wheelers, it was a different story. Things got real hairy at times, and early on the blue GT40 managed to smash up an embankment, doing a 360 in the process. A lot of these old beasts are pretty resilient though, so despite the crash looking spectacular the car didn’t sustain any real damage and continued racing for the rest of the day.
The Opel Rekord driven by 77-year-old Willie Hepburn was by far the loudest car of the day. When this 7.0L V8 monster made its way to the start line and up the track, you could hear it before even seeing it. Willie wasn’t just loud though – he was also fast.
He usually competes in the King of the Hill category with the modern cars, but decided to enter it here instead this year. His best time was a quick 43.140-second run, which was enough to take class honors by more than five seconds, and rank third overall for the day.
With Jaguar being the title sponsor, it was really nice seeing at least one old school Jag entered into the competition. The fact that it was a E-Type coupe made it even better.
While many of these old cars had plenty of body roll through the corners, there were plenty of machines that were really well set up for the hillclimb.
Alfa Romeos are always welcome, and, believe it or not, none of them even broke down. Also, how gorgeous is that 1964 Sprint Speciale…
It was no surprise that the Porsches were fan favourites. Let’s face it, most petrol-heads love Porsches and even non-car guys can recognise and appreciate them as well. The variety was also great, from the 365C, to the 924 and 944 Turbo, to quite a few 911s. There was even an Outlaw, RSR, RSR Turbo, 911R and more.
The single-seater class was home to some of the fastest cars of the day – these are purpose-built machines that make decent power and weigh next to nothing. There were two Chevron B1s, a Renault Sports racer, Lotus 23, Pilbeam MP58, Reynard 87, and a Lola T460 all competing in this very competitive category.
The Lola T460 was driven by Andre Bezuidenhout, or ‘Frisco’ as he’s better known. This car was originally owned by racing driver Tim Coconis, and was raced in 1978/79 with the Carmel Plaza livery it still wears today. The Lola placed second, running a blazing 42.651 seconds up the hill.
No one could catch the Gunston-liveried 1970 Chevron B19 though. Its driver, Franco Scribante, has five Classic Conqueror titles already, four of them earned consecutively. The Chevron is powered by a high-revving 2.0L BDG Cosworth engine, and Franco managed to cross the traps with a winning time of 42.574 in his final run, and even after missing second gear on the initial straight just after the start. At the 2017 event he ran a second faster, and that time – 41.554 seconds – remains as the current record for classics.
You’ll be reading all about Franco soon, as he also competed in the King of the Hill event over the same weekend. For this hillclimb, he was behind the wheel of a pretty extreme Nissan GT-R, which has been making waves all over the internet because of all its crazy aero.
I really hope classic car racing never fades away. It’s not about the extreme performance, precision and latest technology – it’s all about the culture, the nostalgia, and just having a damn good time doing what you love.
If you’re a fan of the modern stuff though, stick around as I’ll be sharing that part of the event with you soon.
Cutting Room Floor