If I was to say the words "Shelsley" and "Walsh" it might fall on deaf ears, but to us petrolheads it is known as the birthplace of the motorsport venues and once a year is host to the frankly mad Retro Rides lot, and when I say mad I mean 'will put a go kart engine in a lawnmower' mad.
The event in question is the Retro Rides Gathering, a giant piss up come tat auction come hoonfest of cars that most would have banished to the scrapyard long ago. Held once a year towards the end of August it is a good blowout before a good portion of these Frankenstein creations are put into hibernation for the winter.
When I told my girlfriend that I'd booked us on a couple's weekend away, she knew what was coming, not a spa weekend or a new city to explore. No, this meant a grotty field filled with people who can name that engine from a mile away. Oh great! Thankfully she's a good egg, as were the rest of the 'significant others' lucky enough to be invited, and who, turns out can't wait to go back.
Of the NMR crew, the veteran gatherers (Ian and Paul & family) turned up early Thursday morning to help set up for the event after months of preparation and carefully choosing the cars to go up, hoping to ensure their hard work all pays off. These guys, simply NMR folk lore, always put an incredible amount of effort into this volunteer-based event and deserve a huge shout out, as do the rest of the volunteers giving up their time for our pleasure. Because of the effort put in by these guys, they were excused from the tenting option and chose the 'lodge down the road' option instead, apart from Tom, who was ordered to camp with the rest and save enough space for when we rocked up a day later.
Friday saw the arrival of the NMR Seat Leon Cupra R, which arrived late Friday night and were subjected to putting up their tent in the twilight under the light of whoever was willing to swap their beer for a torch. Apparently it was an abnormally cold and classic miserably tenting evening. I wouldn't know because we 'got lost' and ended up at a local hotel instead, easy mistake to make I guess... We arrived on Saturday morning after having read the reports of torrential bank holiday rain Saturday afternoon, the kind of rain that puts off most to question leaving the house, let alone go camping. Thankfully we managed to assemble our tent in our designated zone kindly cordoned off by our comrade days earlier, turns out it's much easier in the light, who knew? This was shortly followed by team Integra in the missus' 206 daily.
Tents up we decided to go for a walk up the hill to discover, yes it's a hill, and, oh my god it's a really steep hill! Half way up we decided we were certain it's a hill and chose to venture back down again having played the inaugural drinks bottle downhill racing race, I think it'll catch on! Recce completed and camp base established, next up was to venture into Worcester, the nearest town to stock up. As it was dry we thought the rear-drive BMW and rear-drive MX-5 were fine choices, how wrong we were. Having left, what can only be described as apocalyptic thunder and pouring rain turned this innocent campsite into a god-awful mudbath. We got our first glimpse of this when driving back and the clay hills had turned the road red and unrecognisable. The campsite was ok until the odd few have-a-go-heroes chose to spin the wheels up and deemed the BMW immobilised and unruly. Cue the Sierra Cosworths and lowered cars which innocently made this a green-laner's wet dream. Where's a mountain rescue team when you need one?
Saturday night falls host to possibly one of the most humbling experiences of my life, the tat auction. In short, it's the shit you can't even give away, donated to a charity auction and makes for a bloody good laugh. For example there was a blow off valve that was simply descrbed as "fits all suzuki's" and a framed picture of every BMW made until 1984, what? But, as it's for charity it generates a surprisingly fierce marketplace. It really makes you proud what people will do for charity. Unfortunately we couldn't stay to watch all of it as we went for the worst meal of our lives in the local pub, which would have been quite nice if the staff would have had basic training on what makes a half decent waiter. Having left before a fight would have undoubtably started, we once again braved the mudbath of a campsite before the curfue of 10pm. Beers consumed and banter exchanged, we headed to bed to get the best night's sleep you can on a blow-up mattress ahead of hill-climb day.
Sunday is the main event and started with the regulation junk-food breakfast consisting of bacon, pain au chocolat and Sunny D, lovely job! The event itself consists of a morning and afternoon group all taking turns getting up the 1000 yard 1:9 gradient sprint in the shortest time, simple right? No, have you ever tried to walk up a 1:9 gradient? We had the day before and I feel sorry for those poor machines subjected to 9 hours of relentless battering. A hill climb is great because you get a huge variety of cars all out on a personal vendetta to defeat the hill in the quickest time they can. The cars ranged from from the spider 2, a car built in WWII era specifically designed for this track and looks like something from a Marvel Movie, to a Trabant. If you don't know what a Trabant is, google it but I'll give you a clue. 2 Stroke and Soviet built.
One of the best spectating spots is at the start of the hill climb watching people warm their tyres enabling maximum grip for the hole shot with the aid of the classic hill-start chock. I'm not sure about you but the sound of a turbo and the smell of burning rubber is verging on therapeutic, something which is in abundance for the attack on the hill. Having had a fair share of starts, we ventured up the hill for the half-way rest spot with complimentary toilets and seating for those of us not cut out for walking up hills, it's also a great spot to watch and photograph those brave souls risk it all for 0.5 seconds off their time. Inevitably the rain came but it never seems to deter those set on watching and when there are spectators, there will always be those willing to show off, and for those brave few I say "thank you!"
As I had previously mentioned, Ian, an NMR founding father, is one of the chosen few who decides who goes up the hill. Ian likes a huge variety of cars and knows what the people will like. So when you see 600 horse power Audi quattro, followed by a turbocharged Austin Mini, followed by a Celica Rally replica, followed by a Renault Twingo fitted with a 5 turbo engine, you can thank Ian and his fellow guru's for that.
You know, just a rally car followed by a single seater racer followed by a custom built hill climber.
Because this is a Retro Rides meeting, there's also a static display of some childhood heroes and modern day classics polished to perfection and modified to a taste which is unique but at the same time loved by all.
Towards the end of the day, the crowds began to thin and that meant the hill climb was left for those passionate about the sport and are willing to share this experience. We were therefore lucky enough to passenger up the hill. I cannot thank these drivers enough who never doubted to offer up their spare seats and welcome those mad enough to enjoy the experience.
The 2017 tickets are released soon so watch this space and, if you've been intrigued by what you've read, I implore you to attend, even if it's just for the day.