Almost as soon as the car was invented, somebody thought it would be a good idea to see how fast it could get up a hill. Because of the varying topology available in European countries, two quite distinct traditions evolved which will be joined together on these pages in a way that some readers may find unsatisfactory. In the north of Europe, and in the lower countries, events tended to be quite short and on a hilly road. In central Europe, especially in and around the Alps, events were much longer and ran up a mountain. Hill-climbing and mountain-climbing are in many ways the same and in many ways quite different.
The first hill-climb event was at Chanteloup-les-Vignes, near Paris, on 27 Nov 1898, organised by Paul Meyan, editor-in-chief of La France Automobile magazine and also the organiser, just a few months later, of the first Land Speed Record competition. The following summer, the first hill climb event took place in England, on Petersham Hill, Richmond-on-Thames and just six years later the first event was held at Shelsley Walsh in Worcestershire, now the world's oldest continuously staged motorsport event.
Further south, the first mountain race had been held between Nice and La Turbie on 31 Jan 1897, nearly two years before Chanteloup-les-Vignes. Unlike the gently-sloping 1700 metres of the northern hill climb, the climb to La Turbie was 16 kilometres long. It was actually the final stage of a three-day event from Marseille-Nice-La Turbie so its claim to be the first hill climb is often disputed - especially in Chanteloup-les-Vignes.
From these first two events evolved the largely British tradition of short hill climbs and the central European tradition of long mountainous ones. The European Hill Climb Championship specified a minimum distance so has never had a round in the UK in its 53-year history. The Swiss, Italian and German hill climb championships are almost always held on mountain courses but the French series has both short and long events, some being almost flat.
Other speed events that evolved in different countries, for example Sprints (road sprints or Speed Trials) in England and Slaloms in Switzerland, will also be covered on OldRacingCars.com. Other forms, such as regularity trials and sand racing, will not.
Chris Mason's excellent book Uphill Racers: The History of British Speed Hill Climbing is a very good read on this subject.