Spider II, the famed Shelsley Special, is set to return to the competitive hill climb scene this season after a painstaking 16-month rebuild.
The car, the second of the Specials created by renowned competitor Basil Davenport to conquer the famous Shelsley Walsh hill climb course, has been meticulously restored using original plans from almost 60 years ago.
Still one of the quickest cars off the start line, Spider II suffered a catastrophic component failure at the end of the 2018 season, which has seen it missing from competition ever since. “The bevel gear in the rear axle exploded, meaning we blew the transmission to pieces,” said Phil Spencer, who owns and campaigns the car with his son Martin at various events across the UK. “As a result, we have had to make all new components.”
A skilled machinist, Phil has been able to fabricate the parts he needs in his home workshop. Through a combination of Davenport’s unique drawings and notes – combined with his first-hand experience of working on the original GN Spider – he has been able to cast parts that matched Davenport’s original specifications, ensuring that the repairs have been made in a way that are sympathetic to the original car.
Spider II was an evolution of Davenport’s highly successful GN Spider, a car built to conquer the famous Worcestershire hill climb course. Such were the success of the cars, he achieved Best Time of the Day (BTD) on seven different occasions, humbling some of the fastest factory team cars and drivers of the day.
While the original Spider was an ex-works GN featuring a custom body, Spider II – or Big Spider as Davenport called it – was built on a pre-war HRG chassis, utilising a vintage 1920s GN transmission and a completely custom body. Despite its power, Davenport kept the vehicle looking modest, with a plain aluminium body that often left the car described as “scruffy”.
Since acquiring the car 20 years ago, Phil has completely renovated the existing engine, upping it from its original 2-litre form to a 2.4-litre, and has added numerous modifications to make the ‘giant killer’ even swifter – something that Davenport would have surely approved of.
“The car’s very, very fast – our greatest claim to fame is two years ago, we were quicker than ERA R4D at Shelsley. So yes, the car is very fast, very competitive and very well sorted out,” Phil continued.
“But we don’t tend to keep a record – we just drive it for the love of the sport. We thrash it, wear it out, suffer with it when it doesn’t want to play. It’s the sort of car that if you don’t do that with it, you’re going to be sorely disappointed,” Phil concluded.
Spider II will be making a display appearance at Race Retro on 21–23 February as part of the Midland Automobile Club stand, before it takes to the hill again at Shelsley Walsh for Speed into Spring, its inaugural 2020 meet on 2–3 May.