Travel: Hillclimbing at Chateau Impney is a Heaven of Smoke and Oil

Hillclimbing at Chateau Impney is a Heaven of Smoke and Oil

By Nat Twiss
July 11, 2016

Photography by Nat Twiss

Before I even begin, I feel like I need to apologise. I’m a photographer, and as you might know, photos don’t move much, and they definitely don’t smell or make noise—and you really need all of your senses to experience a vintage hillclimb. Alas, in times like these, all I can do is apologise profusely for the fact that my photos don’t come with Smell-O-Vision. Let’s soldier on anyway: imagine an entire event based around machines like the Beast of Turin, slap it down on the grounds of an old manor house near Birmingham, and you have the Chateau Impney Hillclimb.

If you didn’t know better at Chateau Impney, you’d almost expect to run into a gang of Peaky Blinders. Not to say that the event is full of criminals, but like the Goodwood Revival, it manages to send you down a wormhole to another time. Unlike the Revival, however, with its tweed and floral dresses, Impney is of an era where the good old boys came to the podium with a face covered oil and grease, when the cars didn’t have seatbelts, and the capacity of each cylinder rivalled what your bowler hat could hold.

When cars shared components with airplanes—and similarly, you hoped you’d be ejected when you crash.

This is a rare event where grit and grime can be really quite appealing to me. As nice as a shiny car is, there’s just something intangibly real and more interesting when the car is used and dirty. Stories can be made of scratches, gravel, and patina just as much as they can be of words. Beasts which look as though they’ve only awoken from a century old slumber, brought out of the darkness of some rural hidey-hole, and somehow still with functional engines, cajoled to a start line to try and set a fast time.

Much like last year, the collection of machines running up the hill were an eclectic selection stretching from the very birth of the motor car to a greatest hits playlist of prewar racers. Watching a steam-powered car racing is absolutely fascinating, and a rare enough thing that it was my very first time. Ultimately, these cars are a celebration of a time that’s unfortunately not going to return, where if you wanted to go fast, you had to put yourself out there, not just in the engineering of your car, but physically too.

Although some of these machines are the best part of a century old, it’s plainly obvious just how cutting edge they are. The field is full of speed record breakers, lap record holders, and championship winners. The effort required to take these cars even up a track as short as Chateau Impney’s is surprisingly high, and it’s hard not to respect anyone at the wheel of a ten cylinder, flamethrowing beast.

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Doug Miller
Doug Miller
5 years ago

What is the beautiful blue car #45 – side view photo at the top of the 3rd set of pics? It has an emblem on the side with a “V” on it. I love it. It’s gorgeous!


Stuart Davidson
Stuart Davidson
6 years ago

Great report and photography, Nat. Last year’s inaugural event was fabulous, and this year’s was, I think, even better (even though there were only four ERAs, as opposed to the nine that appeared last year). The organisation was superb and Rod Spollon and his team had taken on board a lot of comments last year and was clear to see that they are very keen to please the event’s supporters by the thoughtful changes that they had incorporated.
The obvious comparisons are made with Goodwood, but this is a seriously competitive historic motor sport event with all, bar a couple of, cars being timed and without the ‘personalities’ and GP drivers, who now seem to be the raison d’être of Goodwood, getting in the way. It also succeeds in avoiding the overt ‘corporate-ness’, as here it is all about the glory of the cars, and the owners who are keen to spread the word to anyone who wants to talk about them.
Long may it continue in this mould.

Ruby Mora
Ruby Mora
6 years ago

Great photo’s. We attended last year, but missed this one. It’s rather like a mini-Goodwood Revival. It’s worth attending for the cars and the atmosphere. The course can’t really be described as a hill, as it’s almost level – and a mere 1,000yds, but that really misses the point. You just need to suck-in the great atmosphere….! This year, there were entries from as far away as the USA, so word is spreading. This event also precedes the Classic Nostalgia weekend at nearby Shelsley Walsh Hillclimb – the oldest car-racing track on the planet. This year, Hans-Joachim Stuck’s similarly-named son is driving his father’s mid-engined Auto-Union up Shelsley as his father did in the 1930’s. More EPIC motoring nostalgia….!

Rhys Nolan
Rhys Nolan
6 years ago

Great article, it nearly gets the smell!