Something Old, Something New – by Craig Harper

Racing to the Simola Hillclimb

In August 2021, Matthew Campbell called me to say he had made up his mind. He wanted us to build him a Harper, Type 6. We met in Chelsea Village, just down Wynberg Hill from my workshop, to discuss exactly what he expected from me and thence a deal was struck, amounts agreed, and a timeline laid out. My team and I were to build Matthew’s dream car. It was to be a Harper Type 6, with Audi V8 power and a manual 6 speed gearbox. The colour was specially selected, and this was to be the finest Harper Sports Car we had ever built for anyone. Not only that, but Matthew had also set his heart on entering the Simola Hillclimb for 2022.

With this commitment made, we set to work building this car. It was to be named “Edys,” after Matthews Grandfather, a true petrol head and a racing inspiration for Matthew from an early age. During this process, after Matthews Simola Hillclimb entry had been accepted, but before Edys had actually been born, Matthew convinced me to enter as well, which of course I did. The opportunity of racing another of one my cars up that hill was impossible for me to pass up.

A quick respray and an engine rebuild later

And so it came to pass that last week found me dusting off my overalls, locating my gloves, my boots and Helmet etc.And facing the challenge of getting my car back into hill climbing shape. The car is powered by a rare Turbocharged 1600 Toyota RSi unit. It has been running a bit rough lately. It was down on power and desperately needed a rebuild. The car in general was looking scruffy, and so we decided to give it a super quick refresh.

A quick respray and an engine rebuild later, it was off to Hermann Mahnke, my choice of tuner. He set the engine up with two maps, a road, and a race map in a single day. For the road, it was to be 0.6 bar on pump fuel. The race map for an Ethanol/Petrol mix and 1.2 Bar Boost. He squeezed a record 216Kw out of this amazing engine. Exactly the same output as Matthews V8.

So finally, after several months of tense and sometimes stressful building, both cars were ready to be driven to Knysna for the weekend. I could bore you with the details of our drive up together, but suffice to say it was brilliant fun. If rather chilly and dark at the end as we approached Knysna in the misty darkness. The energy and excitement was everywhere as we arrived.

2000hp, 7.5 sec road legal drag car

Friday was chilled, with scrutineering and documentation in the morning and a quick visit to the Classic Car Friday after lunch. It was my great pleasure to meet Dan Hirsch. A Chicago Native, currently residing here in the Cape. He told me how he loves to drive his ’68 Ford Mustang. A 2000hp, 7.5 sec road legal drag car, 1600km to a drag meeting before driving it home again. Only towing his race fuel and tyres, we were obviously going to get on famously. Dan joined us for dinner that night. It was such a pleasure to offer good South African hospitality and warmth to him.

Saturday dawned wet and our first runs were very tentative as we felt our way up the hill. With several cars going off, Haydn on his very first run, we remained very calm. The fact that we had to drive our cars home on Monday morning was front and centre. So keeping it in the middle of the road was our main goal. I was quicker than Matthew in our first runs, with Matthew showing the biggest rate of improvement, narrowing the gap. This was his first time out in his car, and they were still getting acquainted, but the relationship was moving fast.

back to Simola and rebuilt the back of the car

The track dried out later, but I snapped a driveshaft launching off the line which was the end of my practice for the day. The team leapt into action, removing the broken shaft while I began to search for a replacement. I found the parts, but they were in George, an hours drive from us. To save you the long version of the story and simply say this. I managed to persuade Willy at Wholesale Scrap Yard, and Ryan at Midas to remain open until we got there. Neither charged me a premium and I am in debt to both gentlemen. Triumphant and with parts in hand, we headed back to Simola and rebuilt the back of the car with the new parts.

Unfortunately, we did not get the car back together in time to make the final qualifying run. So into Sunday I went with limited practice.

Sunday dawned dry and the times started to tumble. I was about 0.8s faster in the warmup and in our first proper quali runs Matthew went quicker by just 0.1 seconds- it could not have been closer between us. Unfortunately, during that run I sensed a serious engine problem with my car, and it turned out it had lost oil pressure.

I was out of the Simola Hillclimb.

Matthew pressed on, searching for the quickest way up the hill. He did indeed go quicker but clipped a policeman and had his time disallowed as a result.

Interestingly, our cars were very evenly matched, despite the dramatic difference in power units. My car is 150kg lighter, his has 30% more torque. We ran exactly the same tyres. We used exactly the same amount of fuel on the drive up together too, both averaging about 13l/100KM. He has 6 speeds with a relatively long top gear, mine has 5 and a shorter final drive. We both drove at EXACTLY the speed limit. Sometimes.

simola hillclimb

However, Matthew’s car never missed a beat while I broke mine twice so we can safely conclude that I have reached the limits of what this power train can deliver. Maybe it’s time to get another 4 cylinders…

the joy of this man literally living his dream

My highlight of the weekend was sharing the joy of this man literally living his dream and loving every second of the experience. Another highlight as always- the new friendships. Craig Czank and Dan Hirsch, what a pleasure to meet you both

My biggest disappointment was to have to send my broken car back on a transporter. She has a 99% success rate of getting me home after race meetings but leaving our preparation so late was always going to be risky. Also, being not able to bring my entire team to the Simola Hillclimb was sad, they put so much of themselves into Edys.

To Connor, Simon, Juanne and Rick, our fabulous pit crew who looked after us through thick and thin (and serious babbalaas). Our women, Troy and Simone, having you with us made it a truly family affair and so much better for it.

finding the limit at the Simola Hillclimb, and surviving

And to Matthew, thank you for trusting me to deliver Edys and for driving him so beautifully- finding the limit and surviving. That V8 sounds amazing!

We will be back to tackle the hill again, and we will be aiming at low 43s next year. Naturally, I will try to be fastest, and so will Matthew but you would expect nothing else from us. We will hopefully have some more Harpers joining us too which will be a real treat.

The Hillclimb itself is an amazing event, a real focus of some incredible machinery, huge horsepower, and a bunch of passionate petrol heads all in one place. With the coming electric car revolution, such petrol heads may become something of a rarity in future, and so to be able to celebrate our shared passion together is a privilege I cherish.

Thanks to the Simola Hillclimb and to Knysna for having us- you can expect our entries for 2023.

A huge thanks to Craig Harper for writing this account of their experiences for us. Craig’s car is apparently running again and hopefully we’ll see them on the hill again next year!