ON THE INFLUENCE OF SLIME-STORMING

ON THE INFLUENCE OF SLIME-STORMING

• pRESENTDAY trials are excellent as a pastime, but unfortunately they do not prove anything in particular about car-quality or performance and I rather feel that the interest now displayed and the enthusiasm expended in storming slimy gradients is detrimental to sports-car design in general. I am the last person to throw cold water on the modern trial, miscalled " reliability " trial, for rallies are not an everyday event and racing and sprint meetings essentially call for special equipment, which is not within reach of the average club member: But it cannot be overlooked that slimestorming exerts a very big fascination over those who practise it and that the trials fraternity is as a class apart. A trial is, to them, what golf, cricket or tennis is to other sportsmen, and women, and the motor that they drive is regarded as part of their equipment, as the golfer, Cricketer or tennis-player regards his clubs or bat pe racket. The more perfect for its particular job this equipment is, the better is its owner pleased ; the more effectively can he or she play the chosen game. In consequence, the habitual trials competitor develops a mental outlook quite distinct from that of the ordinary enthusiast who enthuses over fast motors of all kinds. To the latter class of individual it is essentially the car that interests and fascinates and competitive events, Whether trial, speedtrial, race or rally, are regarded merely as a means: of putting the carefully-tuned motor to good use, or of proving its fitness in rivalry with other inodels and marques. This outlook is reflected in the cheerful psychology of the true enthusiast, who is amused at the temperament displayed by different motors and entertained rather than upset by untoward incidents that occur on the road

or in the workshop. Essentially of engineering instincts, your dyed-in-thewool enthusiast, with as " pur-sang " a motor as his purse Would allow, was originally to be met amongst the miscellaneous members of the better motoring bodies, which attracted the forerunner of the present-day trials fan, car-Owners who Sought social uplift by attending the annual club dinners, and all those other car-owners who were not racing drivers or even serious competition men, who yet found club membership of value. Later, the Bugatti Owners' Club claimed many of these " dyel-hi-the-wool " folk (a crude term ; can anyone improve On it ?) and nowadays the Vintage Sports Car Club is definitely their club. All the smaller territorial clubs now consist primarily of a membership composed of trials fans. And a trials fan today is a sportsman who likes motors, enjoys driving and appreciates getting far afield in different directions, different week-ends, and who, in particular, likes to pit his skill against other car

owners in storming slimy grades. He (or she) regards the car, sports or otherwise, as part of his (or her) equipment and endeavours to obtain the most suitable engine, most suitable chassis and most appropriate accessories (of which competition tyres loom so important) for the ;oh in hand. Gone are the v when gradient alone was sufficient basis for competition and when trials showed up serious defects in all manner of engine and chassis components, so that they were heartily supported by manufacturers and the results carefully noted by tliscerning, prospective purchasers of new cars. Ever since cars: have been able to climb up Nelson's Column, mud and slime have had to be

introduced into trials. And, in spite of the apparent childislmess of it all, slime-storming can be remarkably fascinating and it is also about the only form of interesting competitive event, embracing driving skill, now staged on the public highway and partaken of week-end after week-end by hundreds of happy enthusiasts Without undue expenditure. So, not unnaturally, the bulk of small sports-car makers have catered for the

not inconsiderable demand for the main factor in this slime-storming game, which is the motor-car. Now this is -where the outlook becomes unsatisfactory if you have the interests of the Sports-car industry at heart. I have, I believe, not incorrectly, written of the " not inconsiderable demand " for cars suited to Modern trials conditions. But the publicity manager of one of the largest sports-car manufacturers in this country, whose cars have been outstandingly successful in trials, has told me that, great though the number of their cars running in trials is, actually by far the greater proportion of their sales goes to folk who seldom, or never, display

competition-numbers. Now clearly, if slime-storming tends to develop a rather special sort Of sports-car, and if that sort of car is in consequence not altogether suited to fast main-road motoring or to other forms of competition work, and if lots more people buy sportscars to drive normally about the world, rather than to enter for a continuous string of trials, then any such development can only be regarded as a bad thing. I believe, whatever the sales proportion really is, that more fast motors go through life without competition numbers than With, and I am practically certain that trials are having a bad influence on the character of cars sold for ordinary motoring or for semi-racing work. There are many and divers ways of deciding a trial, and if Major Montague Johnstone has covered every current regulation in his book " Alotor Trials," which I confess I haven't road, he has done yeoman work. But for the purpose of this argument we can confine ourselves to the influence of slime-storming in general. And I repeat that I consider that influence an unfortunate one; for reasons which I will in a moment outline. First, let us convince ourselves that the sports-car, and, in particular, the cheap-to-purchase, economical to run and to tax, small sportscar is pureintsed primarily for fast road travel. If you add up the membership of all the motor clubs that exist to rim mud-wallows you will get a most imposing, total and you will say that here is the basis for a •very worth-while market. But wait ! One of the weak systems of our existing club motoring is that membership.overlaps veryconsiderably. Confine your total to regular trials competitors and it will not look so healthy, especially if you are the owner of a comfortablesized factory waiting to turn out inexpensive sports-cars on semi-mass-production lines. After all, what is the average trials entry ? If we say sixty we shall be quite generous, How many trials are there whose entries are quite separate,

and distinct ? And if these regular entrants change their cars -every season, which all of theni do not, your nice new factory is going to have a lean time if it sells to them alone. So now you can see why I am agitated that lots of sportsear designers seem to design motors expressly for slime-storming, to the detriment of good road qualities. You can take the matter deeper than that. Sooner or later a man who has got through several seasons of slime-stcrming will want to race, and he will find his Or just as unsuited to Donington and Brooklands as it is suited to Widlake and Collie. S. H. Allard, wl,,o is one of our finest trials drivers, reeently told me that he is becoming interested in racing at Darlington, and may enter there next season. But he knows very well that the ideal trials car may not be ideal for racing, nor is he the owner of an inexpensive sports-car that he cannot change for a year or SQ. You see, by building cars expressly for slime-storming, manufacturers may quite likely do themselves harm in Other branches of the sport—racing for clubmen is on the upgrade-apart from giving ordinary buyers sports-cars that are not so suited to everyday fast road work as they should be. • Perhaps you will say that it is ludicrous for makers who produce sports-cars in considerable quantity and sell the greater proportion to ordinary non-competitive drivers, to pay such attention to the requirements of the slime-storming minority. But there are reasons for this apparent insanity. In the first place, such makers' production methods usually favour one model only and if that model is unsuited to severe trials conditions it will be a bad advertisement if used for such work by an owner who has developed a liking for competition driving. The M.G. Car Co. Ltd. sells by far the greater bulk of its output to ordinary men and women, yet it finds success in trials of such value to its sales policy that it

regularly enters what amounts to a works team of trials cars. Similarly, the Austin Motor Co. Ltd. enters its " Grasshoppers " for trials and actively supports speed events with a team of very expensive racing " Sevens," although it no longer lists a sports model. Consequently, it would be fatal for a firm, particularly if it also made utility cars, to have its sports jobs failing continually in trials. Another reason is bound up with the pig-headedness and short-sightedness of the more casual of the sports-car buying community, whose competition exploits, if any, end with the M.C.C. holiday trials or a few rallies. They inspect successful trials cars, talk about their special features with the pot-hunting owners, and want their road motors to possess as many identical characteristics as

possible. But racing-cars they know to be always vastly removed from normal practice, and they cannot think deeply enough to apply racing features to their everyday motoring. Then, naturally, there is a temptation to capture that trials market, even if it be only a small proportion of the sales total, and

so the makers' technicians think in terms of muddy mountaineering, particularly as successes in trials is good publicity ; the ordinary road-farina sports-car user must tolerate the sacrifices involved. Having suggested that the typical modern trial has this unhappy influence on small sports-car design in general, I shall be put in the witness box to answer the charge. I have my defence ready and will endeavour to be brief :—(a) Road I once read a road-test of a very successful small trials car in. which it was admitted that road-holding had been sacrificed to achieve greater success on the slime. And a very successful driver of a cut-about Ford V8 remarked not long ago in my hearing that he seldom drives above fifty on the road lest he hops off the highway. Watch how trials cars roll on slow main road corner. Apparently weight distribution that suits slime is not ideal on the road and might be most uncomfortable at Starkey's,! Big slab-type fuel tanks with twin wheels hung on behind are largely to blame. The early French sports-cars set an example of a bodywork style I prefer, namely a streamline tail. Salmon, Amilcar, Senechal and Vernon-Derby all had these bodies and on one model Salmson even contrived to put a quite spacious seat in the tail. If you use chassis-levei tank, which will still hold about as much fuel, there is more space for luggage than there is in the existing deep well between seats and tank. And if you ever run in those excellent M.C.C. or J.C.C. Brooklands High Speed Trials, or down the long straight of the manufacturers' circuit at Donington, you may bless the extra five or more m.p.h. that such a tail can give, properly designed. Where can you put the spare wheels ? I answer, beside the bonnet. In a race they will be left in the pit, anyway, and how often do you work feverishly on the engine during a trial ? Not that they obscure the engine much, anyway, and if you don't think the position practical on a light car, look at a Frazer-Nash. The weight will then be all far better disposed and road-holding better in consequence (b) General Equitivent ; Those early French sports light cars aim ays set me thinking. With modern rigid attachments, their close-up wings shouldn't fall off, they are light, they keep the car very clean and they look right. I blame mud in quantity for the universal use ot eith& flowing wings integral with naming boards—so heavy—or strips of metal that may comply with one of thousands of motoring laws but whi, h do not keep down mud and water. In the same way, there was a lot to be said for V screens, that you discarded for racing, but when mud is flung everywhere you must have a fold-flat screen. We all know the floating dash, to which the steering column is so often anchored, which is attributable to light build to suit. freak restart and acceleration tests. Slim, cowled radiators would never provide cooling for an engine screaming uphill at 4,000 r.p.m. at a car speed of a few m.p.h. Ground clearance is all important, so the unfortunate sump is restricted in size, in spite of being set out of the airstream behind cowls that are so necessary to deflect the water met in impossible water-splashes from vital engine parts. Exhaust pipes kink about appallingly that they shall be carried clear of boulders, and I suppose sensible external pipes are barred in case they set the driver alight when he hops aboard in performing a comic Special test. Seats over an axe are always uncomfortable, but then a trials car wants .weight over

its back axle . One good point, as a' concession: the constant interchange of " ordinaries " . and " knobblies." has made for sensible jacks and easy-tolocate jack pads. (c) Low Gear Ratio ; Essential for the majority of small engined trials cars. Bottom has to be very low indeed to plough through thick slime and to get away in restarts up stiff gradients. Second is often wanted quickly in driving tests, so must be low too, which is too low. It is asking too much of the best synchro-mesh to have a very big gap between second and third, so the upper ratios are low as well—which is not conducive to economical, effortless fast road motoring. The light sports-car of to-day has an average bottom ratio of about 17.6 to 1. I leave it to you to find the average ratio for similar class cars of fifteen years ago, before the world went mad—sorry„ before we seriously went

mud-wallowing. Even larger engined sports-cars have been adversely influenced. And, apart from less pleasant cruising, acceleration up to high speeds is curtailed and in traffic one is constantly changing up from a buzz-promoting bottom in which clutch engineers insist we should start. (d) Low Geared Meering : Modern steering can be very high-geared and yet finger-light and possessed of full castoraction, as anyone who has driven a

Frazer-Nash-B.M.W. appreciates Yet our small trials ears mostly ask 2 to 26: turns, lock to lock, although something nearer 11 turns is known to be ideal for a fast car on a twisting road. I can only blame this retrograde factor to the conditions that prevail in mud-wallows, when the driver certainly has to do excess elbow work in any car, and when low gearing is suited to climbing out of inch deep ruts.

(e) General Points I suppose it is hardly fair to bring up the carrying of lead lumps as ballast or the locking, by doses of molten lead Or other means, quite good and expensive differentials. But the incorporation of such things in certain trials cars does emphasise what freak conditions are encountered in modern trials. If the foregoing is condemned as an exaggeration, I would remind you of a recent quotation on " Casque's " page in

" Ti.e A atocar " : " This form of -competition (trials) develops one of the weirdest types of small car ever seen . I am, naturally, regarding design generally. We have seen the gradual standardisation of body-styles and chassis specifications amongst utility cars and, although sports-cars must always retain more individuality, there is likely to be an inevitable tendency to standardise in this market also. If retrograde features of design intrude generally amongst the inexpensive class of small sports-carthe type having the widest practical appeal—that class of car may eventually be ousted by semi-sports types more suited to ordinary motoring. Sports-car

makers with long experience do not want that to happen, and we, Nvho chiefly buy sports-cars of this sort because th v suit our pockets. do not want to find the market diminished or dead. Already there is a dearth of inexpensive sports light cars, which may be a straw in the breeze. I Am perfectly aware that there are light cars which contradict all the foregoing arguments, because they are very excellent fast road cars, are equally suited to speed events, and yet do extremely well when they run in trials. Outstanding examples are the FrazerNash. the Frazer-Nash-B.M. W., and But I mil dealing in particular with cars costing appreciably below 000, which is the market possible to the average clubman, and the lowest-priced sports models of these cars cost respectively 425„008 and 1,125 12s. 6d. They achieve their manifold successes partly because they have high-output engines, partly because they have the weight correctly placed. But that is not all. Lots of more -powerful cars are useless for trials and most of the early British baby cars of low wc:ight, produced before slime-storming spread its influence, and the early French sports-cars, are equally useless. Consequently, by reason of their special qualities and consequent adaptability these marques can command

their price. The fact remains that cheaper cars of lesser power and less brilliant construction have to resort to low gear-ratios, flimsy frames and bodies. and all, or most, of the features I have black-marked above, if they are to succeed in modern trials.

How can we render this class of car a better vehicle for the great bulk Of its. purchasers ? Well, if racing were more popular with clubmen, as I suggested last September, design would improve and perhaps manufacturers would, in time, design cheap sports-cars to comply with the very different requirements prevailing, to embrace a new market and obtain publicity from owner-driver per formances. Then they might find the sports-car sales going up with a rush all round, as real sports jobs, able to hold their own with the new class of semisporting high-performance cars on long road journeys, became available to the

non-competitive public. But such evolution is unlikely in the immediate future, if ever, and the only hope lies in. a wholesale modification of trials conditions. I confess I do not know how it can be done, for slime is a universal stopper and sane hills can only be rendered competitive if they are timed, as is done in a certain Night Trial, and that is impractical on public roads. The M.C.C. manages very well with rough surfaced gradients in its three big events, but these trials are now regarded as easy meat to experienced drivers and would be easier still but for the long-distance motoring between sections, which tires even modern cars and the fact remains that retirements in these trials are very few, although most of the competitors use ordinary ears not specially prepared beforehand. I can only advocate, as I have so often done before, longer timed sections in acceleration and brake tests, fewer driving-skill tests and a more widespread use of hills that are teasers without being sticky-of which there are still a few here and there in this countryside of ours. That, and some serious conferences between designers of the type of car with which we are here concerned, and their manufacturers' sales staffs. After all, slime-storming is rather silly, when you reflect that some observed sections are actually downitill gradients and that Macdermid recently confessed in print that one trials hill alone smashed the rear shockers, carried away the brake links, split the sump and punctured two tyres of his M.G. There are still hundreds of miles of fast deserted highway in this country, over which it is fun to drive road

worthy fast stuff. My plea is for cheap small sports motors that bear out the honoured saying "To-day's Racing Car is To-morrow's Touring Car." Racingcars do not climb Widlake . • . [Our contributor's views expressed here are not necessarily those of MOTOR SPORT, but we publish the article in view of the fact of its public interest. We should welcome any letters from readers upon the subject.-ED.]