On a bright autumn day, sun shining on the beautiful Lake District scenery, the Vintage Sports Car Club held its fourteenth annual Lakeland Trial. Sixty-six cars attempted some 13 trials sections in the Buttermere, Loweswater and Lorton area. As usual, many of the sections proved to be extremely difficult, particularly those in the forest where the soft ground under the trees provided very little grip and soon cut up into a sea of mud after rain the previous week.
Those who did well on the forest sections were able to build up a useful lead over the opposition, for instance Geoff Winder (Austin Ulster) who eventually won the trial, managed to score 19 out of a possible 20 on “Thirlby’s Folly”, only Ian Stirling (Frazer Nash Nurburg). Brian Gray (Vauxhall 30/98), Richard Parker (Austin 7 saloon), winner of the touring class, and David Thirlby himself (Anzani Frazer Nash) actually getting into double figures, the majority of competitors failing at five or six. Thirlby’s car had to retire shortly after its attempt on the section, named after its driver, due to a loose flywheel, necessitating a tow from Motor Sport’s road test Mercedes-Benz 300GD.
“How Dyke” was another section which proved to be extremely difficult many competitors failing even to reach the start unaided. Here, those who arrived early had a distinct advantage, since the first few yards into the section soon cut up so badly that latecomers were lucky to reach the first marker.
“Slethary” looked revolting and quite impossible — a quarter of a mile of mud bath climbing gently between banks of small conifers. Most competitors failed low down, and were consequently easily extricated, but one or two forced themselves an impossibly long way into the mire. Julian Ghosh (30/98 Vauxhall) managed 12, a score exceeded only by two Austin 7s in the touring class, but then bogged hopelessly, requiring much man-handling before he was able to extricate himself. The sporting class was rather more successful, with Winder, Barry Clarke (Austin 7), Harry Spence (Lea-Francis Special), Stewart Gordon (Austin 7) and John Blake (Frazer Nash) making clear runs, and six others getting half-way, but the majority scored either one or nothing. Leigh Junior managed to stick only a yard or two into the section, but his Frazer Nash required dragging out, rear wheels locked, when he was unable to select reverse. In contrast, his father in another Frazer Nash made an impressive, very twitchy climb to score 10.
The afternoon sections were mostly out of the forest on open land, Lanthwaite Green water splash being typical, although this time rather easier in the lower stages than in previous years. Cars start by fording a fast flowing stream, run along the bank for a few yards before climbing up the fell side, which eventually becomes nearly vertical. The final, very difficult gradient on grass and bracken succumbed only to Richard Clark’s HRG (scoring 17), Parker, Winder and Tim Boyce (Frazer Nash), the majority of other competitors failing below the 10 marker.
As always, the final section is “Drumhouse” — a stone track climbing up into the sky like a mini-Stelvio from the top of Honister Pass. From below, it looks quite daunting, while once part-way up, it becomes even more worrying if one’s trust in vintage brakes is not what it might be. In fact, with the excellent grip provided by the stone (albeit loose stone), it is not as difficult as it at first appears, lack of power stopping most of those who fail. Surprisingly, Mark Joseland’s Frazer Nash and Stirling’s later car of the same make both failed at 18, Joseland’s despite an especially low ratio bottom gear sprocket having been fitted by torch-light the previous evening. Parker’s score of 18 in an ostensibly standard Austin 7 must approach a record for one of these diminutive cars, while Mike Hirst did well to clean the hill with his 12,50 Alvis following a difficult half-shaft change earlier in the day. 30,98 Vauxhalls normally romp up Drumhouse, but Ghosh stopped at 17, suffering from loss of power. The last few cars climbed in twilight, before competitors and officials repaired to the Bridge Hotel at Buttermere, another Lakeland Trial successfully concluded. — P.H.J.W.