COM PET IT ORS in the M.C.C. London to Exeter Trial can always depend on bad weather, and the event which took place on the last day but one of December was no exception. Fog, snow, ice, hail, sleet and rain, all were encountered in turn, making the task of averaging 25 m.p.h. quite difficult enough for most drivers.
Virginia Water, as usual, was the scene of the start, and for over four hours a steady stream of vehicles of all sorts and sizes was dispatched from the car park opposite the Wheatsheaf Hotel. The first car to start was off at 1.14 a.m. and straightaway thick fog was encountered. It was very cold for those in open cars, hi t soon the ” fug-box” gang had to expose themselves to the elements too, for ice began to form on windscreens, over which wipers slid ineffectually.
Then the road surface received a thin film of ice, and near Honiton a certain marshal did some very necessary work of standing in the path of oncoming cars, his arms awave, and warning competitors of the lurking danger. A few drivers were caught unawares, at one point five cars leaving the road in quick succession. No one was seriously hurt, but K. D. MacGregorBowran’s open Humber hit a telegraph pole and shook him up a bit, while his passenger was slightly injured. A Riley Six driven by D. S. C. Macaskie took charge and did a most lurid We-d-queue, but that was about all. Hereabouts a remarkable fog-formation in a valley was seen by drivers at the tail end of the long procession. It looked as though the hollow was filled with liquid, and driving was difficult for a mile or two in order to reach the other side. After this the weather was fineand clear
all the way to Exeter, before which control many took the opportunity of changing over from normal tocompetition tyres. Deller’s Café and the Bedford Garage presented the annual sight of wan drivers entering and refreshed giants departing, and well they needed fortifying—for the dreaded Fingle Bridge lay hard by. Rows of cars queued uplin the narrow lane leading from Crockernwell, and soon the delay had reached considerable proportions as the failures were slowly removed
The first bend is very difficult for large cars, and the constant sliding of cars being ” rushed ” up the first slope soon caused the surface to be badly cut about. But the most usual point at which failures
occur is much higher up, almost at the top, when tired engines cannot cope with the loose, heavy surface, or wheelspin sets in through an injudicious—albeit pardonable—depression of the throttle, according to the gearing of the car. It is difficult. not to say invidious, to single out special climbs out of so many good ones. Spectacular climbs are unwanted, and in fact they were few and far between, but a large number made steady -ascents of unvarying merit. B. W. Clarke’s old Austin Twelve showed what a normal touring car, intelligently handled, can do. A. G. Bainton got up well with a 2.3 Bugatti, as did the Aston Martins driven by R K Tongue and Morris-Goodall—al though the former was baulked. K. M. Roberts and P. Lees were two of many good Frazer Nash
ascents, The M. (1 Magnas were consistently good, a driver of note being C. A. IL Cann, The Midgets. too were good, ‘I’. C. Taylor, J. M. Tomlin, and R. A. Macdermid all making a clean show. The Singers were wonderful, only two out of 32 failing. R. kispar’s Vale Special hummed up with great ease. Rain and hail added to the discomfott of the last drivers up the hill. Last year competitors left Vingle Bridge with the comforting thought that the worst of the trial was over, but this time Fingle took second place to Simms, a famous gradient some 13 clinks farther on. Simms is short, unlike Fingle Bridge, and its power lies in a very steep gradient (some say
it is I in 2) approached by a slight left-hand and a sharp bend. Trouble was anticipated by the M.C.C. and arrangements had been made accordingly to pull cars to the top as rapidly as possible. This was done by means of a stationery traction engine, a method which worked which worked rapidly and which did not tear up the surface as is sometimes the case when a team of horses is used. In view of the fact that only 17 out 250 cars made unassisted climbs, all praise must be given to those who were successful, and to’ the makes of cars which they drove, M.G.’s scored a convincing triumph by providing 11 of the 17, the drivers being A. C. Cookson, T. C. Taylor, R. A. Macdermid, J. M. Toumlin,
A. Elliott, A. E. Hannj. A. Bastock and A. C. Hess (all on Midgets), C. H. Cann, R. J. Harter, and H. P. Wilmot (on Magnas). Singers came next in order of merit with three clean climbs, these being J. A. M. Patrick on a 11 litre sports model, and A. ‘1’ . K. Debenham and M. 1). England on Nines. J. Stoate upheld the Frazer Nash flag with a well-judged ascent and A. G. Bainton did likewise for Ettore Bugatti. One of the surprises of the day was the failure of
many V-8 Fords. Actually, only T. H. Wisdom and J. B. Thompson scored clean climbs, such stalwaits as G. M. Denton, J. W. Whalley, W. J. Haward, and H. Hillcoat all having to submit to the ignominious assistance of the traction engine. Although not competing in the trial, special mention must be made of H. J. Aldington’s fine climb with a Frazer Nash. ” Aldie ” was a travelling marshal, and came up before the field of cars.
Then the route swung back towards the East, and after 30 miles or so had been covered the cars reached Harcombe Hill, near Sidmouth. The test here was not so much the hill itself, but the stop and restart near the top. 15 yards had to be covered in seven seconds, and all but a dozen or so succeeded in keeping within this limit quite comfortably. The surface remained good, even after hundreds of cars had spun their wheels on it and rain had fallen. Fastest time of all was shared by four drivers, all of them well known trials drivers who handled their vehicles with competency born of great experience. They were A. C. Cookson and R. A. Macdertuid on M.G. Midgets,A. B. Langley and M. H. Lawson on Singer Nines, and J. W. Whalley and J. Harrison on V-8 Pords, all Of whom recorded less than 4 seconds. Slightly slower, with 4 seconds dead, came D. G. Hopkins on an old 4 seater Frazer Nash, three more Singers handled:by C. V, Wells, M. D. England and W. E. Kendrick, J. A. Elliott with
an M.G. Midget, and N. E. Bracey (Wolse ley Hornet). Still heading Eastward, the long string of cars drove on to Meerhay Hill, a rather long and rocky climb which caused few failures, although drivers had plenty to do in keeping a straight course on the slippery stones. Finally came Ibberton, an easy climb which is well within the capabilities of most modern
cars. The main cause of trouble here was anxiety to keep up the revs., a proceeding which was apt to leave too little time in which to round the first corner.
And so at last to the finish at Blandford, where weary competitors continued to arrive until after 11 o’clock on the Saturday night. When trials in many cases are tending to become fairly easy for modern cars with a good power-to-weight ratio and low bottom gears, it is to the credit of the M.C.C. that in the 1933 London to Exeter they proved that good driving can be put at a premium without recourse to a grotesque route. Their organisation, as ever, was perfect. Undoubtedly the most remarkable feature of the results of the trial is the fact that M.G.’s scored 11 out of the 18 Premier Awards. This represents a 23% success of their total entry. Their nearest rival was Singer with three awards (10%). Fords scored two, while the balance was made up of
single ‘premiers ” gained by Frazer Nash and Bugatti. A day out for AI.G.’s with a vengeance !