I recently took a trip over to Oddicombe beach hill in Torquay to take a little walk down memory lane. You see, Oddicombe hill used to be a venue of a speed hillclimb event organised by Torbay Motor Club, and I spent many happy days there competing and marshalling.
Now a speed hillclimb is where you race cars from the bottom of the hill to the top. Awards go to fastest time of day, and then 1st-3rd in class. Classes range from road-going production cars through to modified production cars using slick tyres. There are even classes for single seater racing cars with front and rear wings. You would get 2 practice runs in the morning, and then 2 official timed runs in the afternoon.
So why does Oddicombe hill hold so many memories for me? Well its because I used to compete in the event using my modified Ford Escort Mk2, and a couple of other cars I had over the years. Speed hillclimbing was part of my life for over 10 years, and I used to compete all over Devon and Cornwall in the South West Speed Hillclimb Championship.
Every time I visit Oddicombe it brings back so many memories. The smell of tyre rubber & petrol, the sound of tyres squealing for grip as the cars launch off the start-line. Not forgetting the tannoy system which kept the spectators and drivers informed of the times and information.
The course length at Oddicombe was around 750 yards and consisted of 4 hairpin bends up a steep single track road. The event was started back in the 1960's and continued right through to the last event held on the hill in 2000. It was one of the steepest hills in the country and Oddicombe Hillclimb was held twice a year in March and October.
If I remember correctly the hill record stood at around 36 seconds - which is phenomenally fast. This time was posted by a single seater racing car, which were always the fastest up the hills. My own personal best was 46.xx seconds - all I remember was 46 seconds, I can never remember the fractions of a second haha.
It was an event that I absolutely loved. It was very demanding on the driver, there wasn't much chance of making a mistake and getting away with it. The road was greasy in many places, off camber in some of the turns and very narrow at times too. The hill demanded respect and any slight mistake would send you off into the scenery, as I well know, because I crashed on the entrance to turn 3 one year!
Chasing 1st in class in my Subaru Turbo 4x4 car, it was the last run of the day to make my time count. I obviously felt the pressure, and over cooked the breaking into turn 3, locked up the wheels and straight lined into the rocks and bushes at the side of the track. I bent the front suspension wishbones, and the front wing was a mess. There ended my chance for 1st in class - and a lesson learnt! haha 🙁
It was, and still is a very friendly sport. The camaraderie of the drivers and marshals is superb, it is just one big family. If somebody had a problem with their car, other drivers will pitch in to help to get them back out on the hill. I will never forget seeing the hustle of around 5 drivers all working together to change a head gasket on a Mini in the 1 hour lunch break at Oddicombe - and they completed it, and got the driver back on the hill for the timed runs in the afternoon!
In the video above I take a walk up the hill recounting my memories of competing on the demanding course. Thrown in is a load of old photos I have collected over the years, and they are also reproduced below so you can have a closer look.
Hope you enjoyed this walk down memory lane with me!
I have also managed to find this video on YouTube of a Vauxhall Chevette HSR competing at Oddicombe in 1987! Enjoy!