Reg Phillips

Reg Phillips, probably the hill climber held in the highest affection by the sport, died on 15 May 2008, aged 93. Best known in the last 25 years for his indecently quick driving of a road-going MGF, racing Peugeots 106 and 205 and a Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, his motor sport career began before the Second World War in trials. He was a leading light in this discipline in the post war years, which indirectly led to a trials driver team including Reg entering the Monte Carlo Rally in a works Ford Zephyr.

In this age of specialization in motor sport, it's good to report that Reg seemed to excel in all fields. When the 500 movement started, he used some of his stock of Austin 7 chassis and a Norton engine to form the simple but effective Fairley 500. The car, named after Fairley Steels where he was Chairman, came 7th at the 1948 RAC British Grand Prix meeting at Silverstone; the first race to take place at the venue. This was no mean feat, as the race was over 48 miles, and many famous names fell by the wayside.

As Reg moved in the 1950's to hill climbing he first built the brutal but effective Fairley Ford side valve V8 (1954) and in 1955 acquired the ex-Guy Arengo Cooper V-Twin. At the wet June Shelsley he achieved a 47.28, compared with Tony Marsh's 42.6 in another V-Twin. The August meeting brought a 46 in a Cooper 500 and a sub 40 in the twin. Always one to modify and improve, the Cooper became more famous – and quicker – when fitted with a Coventry Climax 4 cylinder engine. In order to make the installation as simple as possible, it was set transversely across the frame, driving through the V-Twin's motorcycle gearbox. Cooper enthusiasts may wince at the idea of cutting about a classic, but remember that in 1957 it was just an old racing car, and was little different to the practice of recent years in modifying ex-circuit Ralts and Dallaras into winning hillclimb cars.

The Fairley Climax metamorphosed into a specially built hill climber, with which Reg achieved a Shelsley BTD in 1961 and 1962. It was later replaced by a Chevron B19 sports racing car, a Chevron B25, a Ferrari 308, TVR, AC3000ME (turbocharged) and the saloons mentioned earlier. Without exception they were driven with verve and enthusiasm.

What made Reg stand out was his constant delight in the sport and his almost boyish enthusiasm. He was rarely seen without a smile on his face. He was known to many for his kind and generous gestures, which included providing the cold pop at the top of Shelsley – always welcome! - and providing a £1,000 prize for the first sub-25 at Shelsley. And of course, he was the inventor of the word “Locaterfield”.

In 1996 we invited him as a guest at the 50 years of 500's AGM lunch, where the company of Reg and his inseparable wife Peggy was utterly charming. As one of the last driver/constructors of the early years of 500's he will be greatly missed, but as one of the best liked characters hill climbing has seen he will be remembered with a smile for many, many years.

Our thanks to Tony Cotton.

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