George Hill – Obituary and memories

First published October 2014.

Obituary – George Hill – 1947-2014.

Renowned British road and stage rally driver George Hill from Oldham died on 25th August after a short and sudden illness.  He achieved great success in the Motoring News Road Rally Championship from 1969 to 1974 driving first a Mini, moving on to an Escort and then Vauxhall Vivas, Firenzas and Magnums (with Dealer Team Vauxhall and the Martin Group (a chain of car dealerships in northern England)). With his long-term friend and navigator Keith Wood he won the MN Championship twice, in 1971 (Escort) and 1974 (Vauxhall).  They were especially successful in the Tour of Mull which they won four times, including the very first event in 1969 when George was only 21 years old.  In all George won 14 MN rallies and was renowned for an exceptionally smooth but effective driving style.

From 1975 he moved on to stage rallying, still sponsored by the Martin Group (who had their HQ in Oldham), tackling National Championship events and home Internationals and continuing to drive Vauxhalls, including the Chevette when it became available.  His road successes continued onto the stages with numerous event wins, winning the Castrol/Autosport Championship and a 10th place on the RAC Rally.  As well as Keith Wood, his co-drivers included Phil Short, Ron Varley and fellow Oldham resident Peter Bryant.

George’s ethic of putting family and work at his timber company ahead of rallying probably cost him the opportunity of featuring in a full works team; he did however put up some amazing drives in vehicles as varied a works 4wd Capri, Jolly Club Lancias, DTV Firenzas, and BVRT Escort Twin  Cams.

Despite his successes, George remained a ‘clubman’, retaining his links with High Moor Motor Club throughout and always being very unassuming and approachable. Many of his friendships developed from local motor club members who also played key roles in supporting and servicing his exploits.  Brian Race, Neil Whatmough, Richard Wood and Chris Ogborn were particularly close comrades in arms.

In later life George had devotedly nursed his wife Pat (who had often been out on events supporting George) through her long and dreadful illness before she died three years ago and now he too is gone.  Rallying and George had already sadly lost Keith Wood when he died some 10 years ago.  George leaves behind three devoted daughters, Jane, Rebecca and Gemma and his son William, as well as his grandchildren whom he adored.  He will be greatly missed.

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Memories of George Hill by Nigel Raeburn:

I first got to know George and Keith through High Moor MC around 1968 when I lived in Sheffield and a group of us used to drive over the Pennines to the weekly High Moor meetings at the Parkfield Country Club in Oldham.  When I teamed up with Will Sparrow we started meeting and competing against George and Keith at MN events.  With Will living in the Midlands, I often travelled to and from the more northern events with George and Keith.  Our friendly rivalry continued for quite a number of years.  One particular memory is of the very first Tour of Mull in 1969 when we did our first recce and pace note making with me in the back of George and Keith’s car (actually George’s father’s Rover 2000).  None of us had been to Mull before and it was like exploring a foreign country!  Will arrived in time for the rally itself and we had a close battle throughout with George and Keith winning and Will and I coming second.  1971 saw our rivalry at its peak as we battled out the MN Championship, winning 5 events each.  The final and deciding event was the Targa Rusticana, starting at Brecon.  There was an electric atmosphere at the start, and as the rally progressed both crews led at different times.  Eventually we got stuck on a three-ply white for quite a while and George’s engine gave up a few miles later – we came third which was not quite good enough and George and Keith won the Championship by one point.  Our links continued as we both moved to Vauxhalls running in Martin Group and DTV colours.  At the 20th (or was it 25th) anniversary of our 1971 battle we all four had a hilarious party at Keith’s home with our wives to mark and relive those great days.

George had close connections with Knutsford &DMC – as a two time winner of the Plains Rally he with Pat attended the annual Dinner Dance on quite a number of occasions.  Through his timber company he donated stakes to the Club for our grass autotests and PCTs.  More recently, he attended the 2014 Tour of Cheshire in support at a passage control.  The memories will live on.

 

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Personal memories of George Hill by Peter Bryant:

This sudden tragic event has hit northern rally enthusiasts hard.  I was privileged to navigate for George a number of times, usually when Keith was organising an event; the three of us were quite close having attended the same school in Oldham.

The overriding memory that I have of George is as a dedicated very calm, competent driver, successful in a wide range of vehicles from Minis through Escorts, Capris, Vauxhalls et al; quiet but very determined. He did not let fame go to his head, his feet remained firmly on the ground and he was usually chaperoned by life-long local friends who served as mechanics, service crew, butty suppliers, marshals etc etc.

I was talking to Geoff Hope a few days ago, who used to run Greenfield Service station, who was very much a mentor to George and many other young would-be motor sport enthusiasts in the sixties- he also was an excellent rally car preparer.  He worked on the preparation of Reg McBride’s Anglia.  He told me that the first time he met George was when George’s father arrived at the garage and asked Geoff to tune George’s freshly acquired Mini Cooper. He asked what event is was for, and was told that it was a sprint on Blackpool promenade. Now this was a well known event with lots of good drivers. Geoff did as requested, this involved removing the air filter and altering the jets, and away went George for his first event.  The following week Geoff saw George’s father and asked “how did it go?” to which he received the answer “oh, quite well – he won”.  Geoff was so amazed at this that he actually parted with the necessary shekels to buy an edition of Motoring News, and to his amazement found that the story was completely true. The start of things to come!

George had only recently started to re-engage with friends in the rallying world, and it will be some time before we can really come to terms with this tragic turn of events.

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