PetrolBlog presents: Hillclimbing on a budget


This weekend sees the return of Formula 1. Which is nice. But how about something a little more exciting? A little more frantic? Something that’s infinitely more accessible. PetrolBlog has been speaking to esteemed engineer, journalist, author and all-round good egg – Ralph Hosier – about hillclimbing on a budget. Or sprinting on a shoestring. Maybe even motorsport on a bag of sand.

Treat this as a ‘putting it out there’ exercise. A random suggestion made at the bar. Should enough people support it, then PetrolBlog and Mr Hosier may have a race series to organise. Make of it what you will.

Last year, during the run up to the Pentillie Festival of Speed, Ralph and I started talking about the prospect of running a ‘Bangernomics’ Hillclimb. It’d be like a normal hillclimb, only with cars that are significantly cheaper and slightly more rubbish. But naturally no less appealing. We use the ‘Bangernomics’ name loosely at this stage as we’d need permission from Sir James Ruppert before rolling out the fabled moniker, but it sets the tone for what the ‘race’ is all about. Crucially it’s not a ‘banger race’. The plan here isn’t to wreck cars. It’s to give them a new lease of life. 

Proton PersonaIn short, the actual plan is to run at least one hillclimb or sprint for old bangers. These cars must be bought for less than £500 and may be modified in any way the owner sees fit as long as the car still complies with MOT standards. Crucially, the modifications should not cost more than £300. On top of this there will be a list of mandatory safety standards to adhere to which will require specialist equipment. More details on this further on.

The ‘Race’ cars will perform a number of timed runs – probably five depending on how the day goes – with the best three times contributing to the final score. There’s also the potential of a bonus run in which drivers can do a timed run in a competitor’s car of their choice. An interesting end to the proceedings.

Naturally all cars need to be road legal, so there’s also the prospect of a road trip and/or race car gathering for the competitors.

Other ideas being considered include:

  • An opportunity for those who aren’t driving to submit designs for a race series logo.
  • Entrants to be automotive bloggers, journalists, writers and tweeters – therefore creating race teams with a brand/potential livery already in use.
  • Some kind of charity involvement – spectator ticket prices donated to charity for example.
  • Ralph’s car would be the ‘people’s choice’ – basically chosen by the power of social media. Interesting suggestions would be put forward for a vote on PetrolBlog, meaning that Ralph could end up with anything – just as long as it’s under £500! Being PetrolBlog, a Shatchback would appear to be an obvious candidate.
  • To spice things up even further, Ralph’s budget could also be pre-determined. In other words, if it’s decided that Ralph’s maximum bid on eBay is £411.12, then that’s his limit. Should make things even more interesting.

Mitsubishi CarismaRalph would then use his engineering knowhow to identify the car’s best features (assuming it has some) and develop them whilst simultaneously reducing the problem areas. Modifications could include reducing the ride height by hacksawing the springs, buying a good set of dampers, putting new standard brake discs and pads in, stripping and rebuilding key parts, reducing weight, removing the rear exhaust silencer and having a side exit pipe. Not forgetting a trick plywood aero package.

The entire process from purchase through to track testing will be captured on video – showing the momentous success or glorious failure (delete as applicable). All other entrants would be encouraged to document their own progress, creating a catalogue of events which, although ultimately falling short of broadcast standards, would be far more interesting than most things on television.

Mandatory equipment will include:

  • A good harness – at least a four point properly attached (about £50).
  • A crash helmet of some sort (roll cages are prohibited as these are road cars).
  • An FIA type engine/battery cut off switch (about £25).
  • On board and properly secured handheld fire extinguisher and first aid kit.

Car guidelines:

  • Seats must be secure and sturdy with working head restraints – if in doubt then a cheap race seat should be fitted.
  • The battery must be secure enough that in a shunt it won’t break free. It should be separate to the passenger compartment or in a sealed box.
  • The door handles both inside and out must work properly, just in case a rapid exit becomes necessary.


  • Ideally everyone should run on the same type of tyre.
  • If this is not possible then tyres have to be no more than three years old and in excellent condition.

So in principle at least this has the makings of an exciting alternative take on an established form of racing. It feels distinctly PetrolBloggy!

Naturally we’d need a venue or two. With Pentillie Castle taking a break from the Festival of Speed until 2014, we could approach Ted and Sammie about hosting an event there. It’s a magnificent setting after all. There’s also the possibility of running a drag race, perhaps at Santa Pod.

Proton CompactClearly it’s early days, but Ralph and I have been talking about this idea for a year now. The thought of a dozen or so cheap cars being rescued from death or obscurity and turned into heroes for a day sounds like the stuff of fairy tales. Who wouldn’t want to see a Proton Compact, followed by a Kia Megantis and a Hyundai Accent going hell for leather along a twisting stretch of tarmac? Or a Citroën Xsara roaring across a finish line in a cloud of blue smoke? You simply don’t get to see such a spectacle in Monte Carlo or Sepang.

So throwing it open to the people – could it work? Do we have some support?

Answers on a postcard to the usual address or on twitter @RalphHosier and @MajorGav. The will is there and the enthusiasm certainly isn’t lacking – even if it means spending this year planning and launching in 2014. We know that Matt Biggs of Project924 and Phil Huff have expressed an interest. So who knows?

In the meantime I’m off to find a Proton Impian for £500. Handling by Lotus, don’t you know…


About author

Gavin Big-Surname

The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. So you can blame him. Has an unhealthy obsession with cars of the 80s and 90s. The more rubbish, the better. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.


  1. Simon Hingston 15 March, 2013 at 18:37 Reply

    Does your local motor club have a series/venue you could piggy back onto? Doing it by yourself isn’t impossible but the MSA might not share your enthusiasm, which would be bad. I had a Motorsport Rescue (Rally, which covers hills & sprints too) license for years and they can be great sport as well as pretty safe unless you have really bad luck. Certainly a lot less expensive than single stage rally or circuit work. Plus circuits tend to be rather dull.

  2. Matt 15 March, 2013 at 18:56 Reply

    As you mentioned Gav, I would love to see this happen! If it gets off the ground will need to see what’s involved and whether Project924 will qualify. This has the potential to be fun, and quite hilarious!

  3. Peter Counsell 16 March, 2013 at 00:44 Reply

    This is highly appealing and i am very keen. Feel like it needs a Le Mans style start. Perhaps with a suitable twist. Eat a Ginsters, then jog to car etc etc

  4. Antony Ingram (@antonyingram) 16 March, 2013 at 13:44 Reply

    I’m ABSOLUTELY up for this. The Magentis was one of the first cars to come to mine for me, for some reason. I can’t get the thought of “really, really bad NASCAR” out of my head. Suitable paint job may also be required.

    That, or a Suzuki Swift from the days when they were rubbish. They did at least have quite sporty seats. And there was a shatchback version.

  5. Damien McCormack 17 March, 2013 at 00:24 Reply

    I wish I lived over in the UK as this sounds like a hoot.
    Maybe we can start a pacific series like in the old days, we have some great hilly roads over here in Oz that used to run hill climbs years ago.
    Track days are easy and we used to do it in a Datsun 120y on a very tight budget, working for a wrecking yard and tyre shop on weekends for parts and tyres for the car.
    I’m thinking a early 2000’s Nissan Pulsar with an FJ20i or a twin cam carolla, mid to late 90’s through.
    Should be able to pick up either over there for that sort of money.

  6. Ton D. (@Tonsty) 17 March, 2013 at 18:15 Reply

    Really rather excellent idea. As a matter of fact I’ve been toying with the idea of something proper cheap for ‘racing’ (naturally not in the competitive sense, but driving on a track of sorts). Unfortunately, once more, I’m not in the UK but I’m one of those dreamer types who never says never..

    Naturally, me being me, I’d be most interested in doing so in a Porsche of sorts and actually I’ve been greatly inspired by Matt and have been keeping an eye on 924’s on various sites. However, it seems prices are rising and I can’t find runners even at double the allowed budget!

    Will follow this topic with much interest, and who nows. If all else fails, I’ll try to talk myself in #Project924 as a co-driver, with an unlimited supply HobNobs as form of payment 😉

    • Matt 17 March, 2013 at 18:56 Reply

      Not to take away your motivation for sorting something for yourself, but I think we could probably arrange something. I’ll still bring the Hobnobs, maybe just a donation to Mission Motorsport instead? I think you should focus on finding your own 924 – everyone needs a track toy 😉

      • Ton D. (@Tonsty) 17 March, 2013 at 19:08 Reply

        One doesn’t necessarily gets in the way of the other. Flying to the UK is cheap, bringing a motor there isn’t… Still need a track toy for back home. I like your idea of MM as well!

  7. darrenvleslie 18 March, 2013 at 10:07 Reply

    Sounds like a grand idea, if you can keep the safety costs down. Perhaps there could be an additional rule along the lines of a swedish (I think) rally series that Top Gear featured a while ago. If the total amount spent is roughly £800, then anyone can buy that car for £800. It might stop people getting a little carried away on what should be budget motorsport.
    Now, I’m off to eBay…..

    • Antony Ingram (@antonyingram) 21 March, 2013 at 20:35 Reply

      I do like the idea of being able to bag a go in someone else’s car though.

      I’ve already started hunting on ebay. Have something in mind. It’s ugly, but should handle okay and there are plenty of cheap tuning bits available for it. Has motorsport heritage too 😀

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