THE MOST DIFFICULT LONDON-EXETER
ONLY 13 PREMIER AWARDS AMONG 276 STARTERS. SIMMS HILL AND FINGLE BRIDGE ACCOUNT FOR THE MAJORITY OF COMPETITORS. M.G.’s GAIN SIX PREMIERS, FORD FIVE RILEY AND SINGER ONE EACH. GOOD ORGANISATION IN THE FACE OF DIFFICULT CONDITIONS.
THE heavy rainfall during December worked a transformation on the character of the two chief reliability trials of the winter season, the N.W. London Club’s London to Gloucester, and the M.C.C.’s London-Exeter. The classic history of the former has already been recounted in these pages, and we will now place on record ” the tale of the gallant thirteen,” as in future the 1934 “
Exeter” will always be remembered.
In the light of subsequent events, the scene of the start at Virginia Water was remarkable for the cheerful optimism of the 276 drivers present—to say nothing of their passengers. Before them spread a route in the course•of which five hills and one special re-start test had to be negotiated. At the end of that route only 13 drivers could truthfully claim to have done everything that was required of them, and to that select band all honour is due. A welcome feature at Virginia Water was the Lucas service van, and many people made last-minute electrical repairs.
The night of the start was hardly promising. Heavy rain fell during the evening, but by midnight it eased off. Unfortunately the clouds seemed to be travelling in the same direction as the Trial, so the competitors were dogged by intermittent showers all the way to Exeter. At one point, near Sherborne, the flooded fields had overflowed into the road, and unwary drivers sent up a tremendous ” wave ” through striking the water at speed.
The only other hazard of the night section was the new rule running ahead of time schedule between official checks. It was therefore useless to attempt to earn a rest outside Exeter, as in previous years, and a rigid 26 m.p.h. average had to be maintained if all chances of an award were not to be sacrificed. A secret check was to be observed near Sutton Scotney, and eight of the finishers were caught by the eagle-eyed timekeepers. The most unfortunate was L. A. Dennis (Riley), who would otherwise have gained a premier award for clean performance on all the hills. The others were E. E. Rednall (Ford), A. S. Whiddington (Frazer Nash), J. E. Mellor (Hillman Aero ,Minx), M. P. Tenbolch (Hillman Aero Minx), R. F. G. Lee (Morris), C. S. Parrott (Singer Nine) and A. H. Langley (Singer 1k-litre).
And so to breakfast at Deller’s Café, Exeter, which as usual satisfied the hunger of the vast field with commendable expedition. Al it turned out, however, there was no need to hurry, for the starter made a curious error in sending off the first competitor half-an-hour behind schedule. The welcome delay was still further increased by the three half-hour gaps interspersed at intervals with the idea of reducing the queue of waiting cars at Fingle Bridge and Simms. The result was that the last group of competitors had a wait of 3 hrs. 10 mins. in Exeter, which many of them utilized for a refreshing doze.
Dawn was just breaking when the first competitor arrived at Fingle Bridge. Even for the early members the hill looked in a difficult condition. The surface had been loosened to a state of liquid mud and stones by heavy rains, and traces of people having been there to practice could be found in the ruts on every corner. One by one the cars drove slowly across the narrow bridge and, at a signal from the marshal in charge, rushed up to the sharp right-hand. corner beyond which a timed section was held to decide any ties for the team prize. This corner soon became appallingly rutted, and cars with low ground-clearance straddled round the corner in a most ungraceful fashion. Speed only had the effect of causing the car to charge the bank at an alarming angle, and this fate befell J. Everitt (Singer) and H. G. Dobbs (Riley) among many others.
Out of the 240 finishers, 63 failed to climb Fingle Bridge. Most of them met their Waterloo on the fourth corner, or just beyond it, and skilful handling of the car was at a premium. There were many good climbs, and M.G.s, Singers, and Fords were consistently good. The Bellevue Garage team of ” N” Magnettes attracted a lot of attention and were competently driven by the Brothers Evans and Nevil Lloyd (the gentleman who has the difficult task of insuring most of the racing cars at Brooklands). The team of white Singers, too, were an impressive sight, Messrs. Richardson, Westwood and Lawson living up to their slogan Candidi Provocatores by making sound climbs. H. J. Aldington, showing his new Frazer Nash-B.M.W. what an English trial looks like, was quietly impressive. We must not forget G. A. Ladwig (Jowett Saloon), and of course, the inevitably fine climbs of C. G. Fitt and J. H. Whalley (V8 Fords), R. A. Macderrnid, J. A. Bastock and J. M. Toulmin (M.G. Midgets) and Messrs. Barnes, Baker and Langley on 6-cylinder Singers.
The system of baulk-registering was re-introduced by the M.C.C. at Fingle Bridge this year, for competitors were dispatched as rapidly as possible in order to reduce delays. A good many people actually restarted after being baulked, notably Dudley Froy (Fiat Balilla) and J. E. S. Jones (M.G. Midget). As the ” failure-spots “are well known on Fingle, all baulks were satisfactorily registered, and the field was certainly handled with speed. Even so, the last man to climb was 2 hours behind schedule, making the ascent just after four o’clock. Those who had successfully surmounted Fingle Bridge under their own power were not yet in a position to crow with delight, for the dreaded Simms Hill lay in wait some dozen miles ahead. Simms is a real hill. It does not depend upon surface or corners to claim its victims, although the former is by no means good, but it relies mostly on its steep gradient of 1 in 2+. There is a right-hand corner at
the bottom, and round this the 276 drivers hurled their cars in a generally vain effort to rush up the hill by sheer force of momentum.
As is usually the case nowadays, the earlier numbers had the best of the surface, and it is significant that 15 out of the successful 17 car competitors were to be found in the first 75 to go up. Out of the remaining 200, only 2 were successful. Here is the honours list :H. K. Crawford, H. Q. Wilkes, D. G. Evans, H. B. Shaw (M.G. Magnettes), J. A. Bastock, J. M. Toulmin, J. E. S. Jones (M.G. Midgets), T. H. Wisdom, J. Harrison, J. McEvoy, G. M. Denton, Hon. A. I). Chetwynd, J. B. Thompson (V8 Fords), J. Tweedale (Frazer Nash), L. A. Dennis, H. G. Dobbs (Rileys), A. B. Langley (Singer). Not all these stalwarts were to receive premier awards, however, for Shaw and Tweedale had hit the bank on Fingle Bridge, Dennis was caught by a secret check, and Wisdom stopped his Ford inaccurately on the restart test at Harcombe.
Most of the cars roared up the hill to a certain point, their engines revving furiously and the wheels spinning wildly. Then suddenly those at the foot of the hill heard the screaming exhaust notes come to an abrupt end, as the steepest and roughest part was encountered. The star performer of the day was H. B. Shaw, with an actual T.T. Magnette, which made the hill look easy. The Fords had ample power and therefore demanded less of their drivers than the small cars such as the ” P ” type Midgets and the Singer Nines, which were beautifully handled. The tractor’s theme song that day was
Little Giant,’ you’ve had a busy day I” Over 250 cars had to receive its welcome aid, and were pulled to the top by means of the steel hawser. It is safe to say that Simms Hill would be hopeless in a big trial without the help of the ” Little Giant,” which is much quicker and neater than a team of horses. As it is, the delay involved causes a lot of irksome waiting for the competitors, the last of whom were three hours late in tackling the hill. The last man actually went up at 6.5 p.m., from which it will be seen that a good many had to contend with darkness as an additional handicap.
Apart from the successful seventeen, honourable mention must be made of several gallant endeavours. W. M. Couper had two shots at it on a Rover saloon, being allowed a second run after a baulk, and he climbed a long way. Others who were outstanding among many good attempts were : J. W. Rowden (Singer), E. Long (30/98 Vauxhall), K. D. Evans and Nevil Lloyd • (M.G. Magnettes), J. Shewell-Cooper (M.G. Midget), J. D. Stewart (Lancia), D. P. M. Hall (Frazer Nash) and A. J. G. Bochaton (Wolseley Hornet). A much easier run now lay before the competitors. First of all they had plenty of good roads to travel over in order to reach Harcombe, where a restart test was
held in accordance with the annual practice. No One had much difficulty here, and the vast majority of competitors complied with the rule of covering 15 yards in 7 seconds or less. Wisdom, in daylight, failed to Catch sight of the lines, so muddy had they become ; how much more difficult, then, was the task of those who arrived in darkness. The following were penalised at this point, either for being slow in restarting or for failing on the non-stop section : A. C. Bainton (Essex), I. D. Struthers (Fiat), T. H. Wisdom (Ford V8). W. E. Cox (Hillman Minx), G. H. Harrington (M.G. Magnette), H. I. A. Thomas (Morris), G. H. Patterson (Riley), S. King-Smith (Riley) and R. J. T. Marston (Sunbeam). During the afternoon rain fell heavily at Harcombe, but conditions on the other hills were quite pleasant. The restart test, by the way, was carried Out by means of torch-signalling when darkness fell. The two fastest restarts were probably made by C. Fitt (Ford V8)
and H. B. Shaw (ur. Nlagnette).
Meerhay followed, once a rocky stumbling block, but now a good deal easier. The marshals had little to do here, and the only failures were : I. D. Struthers (Fiat), J. E. Ackery (Frazer Nash), H. J. Ebbutt (Frazer Nash), J. G. Smithson (M.G. Six), H. 1. A. Thomas (Morris), N. G. Watson (Vauxhall) and H. J. Aldington (Frazer Nash-B.M.W.). The latter experienced gear-box trouble, after making a good .show on Fingle and failing through wheelspin on Simms. The last hill was Ibberton, which in good condition is not really a trials hill nowadays. The only people who had trouble were some of those at the tail of the field, when darkness had fallen and deep ruts had developed On the corners. The list of failures was as follows : A. G. Bainton (Essex), D. Froy (Fiat), E. A. Prime (Fiat), Q. D. Struthers (Fiat) F. C. Faulkner (Lea Francis), Lord Avebury (Lea Francis), J. G. Smithson (M.G. Six), R. L. Dohle (M.G. Midget),
G. K. Collier (Morris), H. I. A. Thomas (Morris), E. J. F. King (Rover), D. B. Burrage (Singer), J. A. H. Gott (Singer), T. E. W. Dunans (Singer), J. D. M. Thum (Singer), P. E. Knowland (Singer), A. Cavanagh (Singer), G. T. Conway (Singer), C. S. John (Standard), P. D. Walker (Talbot), and C. S. Morphew (Wolseley). The finish at Blandford seemed an unattainable goal for many competitors, but at last the Crown Hotel hove in sight. The last man arrived at 10.30 p.m. instead of the scheduled 6.6 p.m., so that all in all the delay was not too bad. If the competitors Often had a wearisome wait at the foot of the hills the lot of the marshals was even worse, and the
is to be congratulated on dealing satisfactorily with an unweikly entry and difficult conditions.