Rougemont Hotel, Exeter, 6.30 p.m., January 1st.
We are just recuperating after coming in from the 25th M.C.C. Exeter Trial — as navigator (flattering term!) to C. D. F. Buckler in his decidedly-spartan Buckler. He had, it is true, fitted a very adequate windscreen, but strip wings, if they save avoirdupois, do NOT deflect the mud which was such a feature of this year’s M.C.C. classic. Continued pre-trial rain and hail-storms and a gale of wind made the event more than usually strenuous In spite of the absence of the traditional night-section.
Entries numbered 32 solo motor-cycles, three motor-cycle combinations, two three-wheelers, and 53 cars. The last-named were intriguing in their diversity. Of the older cars, to which the M.C.C. at least holds out hopes, Goodenough had his re-bodied Horstman, Morrish his Frazer-Nash, Denyer, a travelling marshal, his ageless Meadows Lea-Francis, Abernethy a 1932 Austin “12/6” with full crew, two spare wheels on the lid of its luggage locker, but modern-section tyres on suitable wheels. And Scroggs was there in his famous Trojan, but, be it noted, using a standard engine and two-speed transmission, while, although a 5.00-19 Dunlop graced one rear wheel, its fellow was matched by a tyre of smaller section — the same discrepancy prevailing at the front of the car!
Amongst the more modern entries, Westropp’s F.I.A.T. “500” had a Siata o.h.v. head, 500-15 rear tyres, and his ten-year-old son as navigator, Barrow drove a 1,442-c.c. Vauxhall saloon, Crossby his sports supercharged Vauxhall Ten Special, Ben Brown a Ford V8 Special with notably wide rear axle, his charming passenger in her first trial incidentally, while Ginn’s early Ford V8 saloon cunningly carried two concrete gate-posts bolted transversely across the rear-end. Imhof’s supercharged Allard, its rearward extension abbreviated partly to humour the M.C.C., partly, as he said, from a “desire to live,” arrived by rail (this rationing!), and in the garage of the Rougemont Hotel we admired the tractable manoeuvring of one of the Matchless-engined Morgan three-wheelers. E. G. Smith, of twin-gearbox Austin Seven memory, had his A.R.M. Special, the front-end of which owed much to the Raleigh three-wheeler, Lovett’s open Rover Twelve had an array of badges on its dumbiron apron, while Bishop’s M.G. Midget had a chain-driven Zoller supercharger and sported a four-branch outside exhaust system.
On the eve of the trial “Jackie” Masters was watching over a flock of competition motorists intent on seeing-in the New Year. In spite of the audible evidence of merriment at midnight, everyone appeared for early breakfast next morning and the previous night’s celebrations could not, it seems, be blamed for such non-starters as there were, who numbered Potter’s Allard, Dargue’s B.M.W., Onslow-Bartlett’s Mercury, Hawkins’ M.G., Mead’s Allard and Inderwick’s Batten.
It was not actually raining when we got the Buckler out of the garage, but before the start a sharp hail-shower was experienced, and throughout the day such weather was to prevail. The wind, too, blew at gale force, so that, apart from the eight observed sections, one competitor had to remove a fallen tree from his path, a feat he and his passenger were just able to accomplish, while further on a large tree-root, dislodged from the bank, partially blocked a narrow lane. Considering the weather and these additional hazards, the trial ran very smoothly and did not finish anything like as late as we anticipated.
Hail fell in earnest as we waited our turn to tackle the first hill, Windout. The fast-flowing stream, which had to be forded to reach the start of the section, and beside which two outsize horses with towing equipment waited ominously, caused no concern. Nor did the hill itself, with its right-hand bend and subsequent hairpins, worry the Buckler, which climbed doggedly rather than fast, its driver anxious not to throw up more mud than was necessary. Certainly the 5.75-16 Oxborough retreads on the rear wheels, at somewhat reduced pressure, served us admirably. Quite a spattering of spectators were braving the elements here. Soon after Windout came an ingenious Special Test, competitors being required to coast downhill with dead engine and stop astride a line across the road. The downhill coast was timed, the stopping distance measured, and it was debatable whether it paid to brake early and lose time or brake at the line and increase one’s stopping distance. In our case the time was good, the braking distance a record slide, partly because the brakes had not entirely dried-out after Windout’s water-splash — which perhaps “Jackie” Masters anticipated? Actually, we believe that two Allard drivers purposely each adopted a different technique, one braking early, the other late, and that both achieved the same figure of merit.
So to that old favourite Fingle Bridge and the disastrous discovery that there were no delays to enable us to patronise the mobile canteen. This long climb proved easy, avoiding a gulley on the inside of the third bend, and, although the re-start that preceded the second section looked sticky, we got away without hesitation. Seldom can there have been fewer spectators to witness competitors’ fortunes on Fingle.
Knowle was a matter of combating spin on slimy leaf-mould and avoiding a tree-trunk and overhanging branches. Next we were presented with Stonelands, again a matter of leaf-mould on a considerable gradient. By this time we had not only seen the good Devon mud, but had wiped several cubic feet of it from our glasses, and eaten a good deal more. But it was all most enjoyable, as usual, and not too cold, while the crisp bleating of Scroggs’ Trojan, which was now behind us, added the right M.C.C. atmosphere to scenes that revived so many pre-war memories.
Waterworks was a short ascent, on which a re-start to a 3 sec. limit again caused Buckler no trouble. Then came the notorious Simms, complete with tractor (petrol, not steam, however) for dealing with unfortunates. A group of spectators, some sheltering under a vast coloured golf-umbrella, watched us take the first right-hand bend and negotiate the steep section beyond. Momentarily we considered bouncing, but the actual necessity never arose. And now a curious thing occurred, not altogether unconnected with the weather! The navigator congratulated the driver on having his “gold” in the bag and suggested that the tyres should be inflated to their normal pressure for the run to the finish. “But,” said Buckler, “there is another observed section.” And there was, but all mention of it had been neatly deleted from our route-card where rainwater had seeped through a fold — which we discovered only after strenuous work with the tyre-pump, to have to let the pressure down again almost immediately for an assault on Green Lanes. A nasty hill A deep gulley in the water-splash at the foot tore away the underpart of the Buckler’s tail, which thereafter grounded ominously for the remainder of this long section of mud and slime. It was, however, a great tribute to the rigidity of the Buckler chassis that over the rough parts of this hill no flexing of the body or floor was evident — and as we emerged on to level ground, a “gold” now really in the bag, Brymer took our triumphant photograph. We were wet, we were plastered in mud, passers-by burst into screams of laughter at the sight of us and we decided it was distinctly fortunate that we had booked our hotel rooms in .advance
For all that, we were well-contented. All that remained was to drive to the finish, eat, drink — and get clean! For some miles we followed Scroggs’ Trojan doing its customary 35 m.p.h. — like ourselves, that wonderful car had come through “clean.” At the cafe we queued up for a welcome wash, listening the while to talks of high adventure, such as would have gladdened the heart of Bertrand Russell. Of how the F.I.A.T. “500” stopped in the Green Lanes splash, nose submerged, but kept its engine going and re-started; of a Morgan three-wheeler that overturned without damage; of an ex-“Cream Cracker” M.G. Midget, now unblown, which had the drain plug torn from its petrol tank and continued by grace of a cork and its reserve supply. And so on and so forth, as more and more tired and hungry crews came in.
On the morrow there was a sequel. When we had started out on the Friday the sky had been clear, except for some ominous cloud banks and very prominent vapour trails from an aeroplane over Basingstoke, rain holding off until tea time. The same kind of weather prevailed on the Sunday, and soon the Buckler was cruising merrily with its speedometer needle above the sixty mark, any down grade taking the car beyond 70 m.p.h. or some 5,000 r.p.m. Oil pressure sat at around 20 lb./sq. in. and water temperature at 90 deg. C., while oil temperature was normally 100 deg. C., rising to 115 deg. C. after prolonged 70+ speeds beyond Salisbury. Taking the wheel after lunch at the “Coombe Lodge” at Shaftesbury we averaged just over 50 m.p.h. for the 70-mile run home, which is something of a testimony to the Buckler, especially after the ordeal it had come through and the fact that the driver was not familiar with the car. The road-clinging and cornering qualities, allied to absence of road-shocks, the pleasant action of the remote gear control and the braking power available at a light touch on the pedal made this run up A30 in the wintry sunshine a most enjoyable one, especially as Buckler assured us that the engine was unburstable even going all-out downhill. The little car was mostly in top gear, in which ratio it was quite tractable and picked up well above 20 m.p.h. Incidentally, the average speed was calculated from the map, which disclosed that, with the rear tyres we were using, the mileometer was underestimating by 3 per cent.
We had taken a careful check of fuel consumption and the out-and-home figure came out to 34 1/2 m.p.g. in spite of some cross-country work, the “Exeter” itself and an overall average speed up and down A30 of better than 45 m.p.h. for 273 miles, this speed figure including some cautious going as the writer warmed-up to the job of driving a car quite strange to him. As far as could be ascertained oil consumption was in the region of one quart, while a fair quantity of water was added to the behind-engine radiator at odd times, as, running without a fan, the car boiled towards the end of the longer observed sections, although this was never serious and no water was added during the Trial. The only indications of the buffeting the Buckler had received were the torn tail panel where hidden hazards in the Green Lanes watersplash had taken their toll and a loose near-side rear wing, the latter rectified in a few minutes during the homeward-bound lunch stop. That evening, after we were warm, dry and clean once more, Buckler stepped out into an icy sleet, started his car on the starter, and drove off into the night, well pleased, we imagine, with his Exeter.
Reverting to the Trial, many of the competitors waited patiently in the hotel lounge on the Saturday evening, while the B.B.C. Western Region described the day’s sport in that area — a football match at Exeter, they told us, had been terminated ten minutes early on account of the severe weather conditions! After a generous quota of soccer and rugger quite a good account of the “Exeter” was broadcast, and we picked up a few bits of isolated news. Wonnacott’s three-wheeler Morgan had failed on Waterworks, where Smith’s A.R.M. Special had impressed the B.B.C. man, but Lovett’s Rover had stopped. Westropp’s F.I.A.T. “500” stopped on Green Lanes, while Abernethy’s Austin Antique failed early on Simms — although he and his crew told us, after the finish, that they had had grand fun, nevertheless. The Car Team Award was won by a mixed team — Whitefield’s Ford Ten, Buncombe’s H.R.G. and Fitzwater’s M.G. Midget, the next best team being that composed of three Morgan “4/4s,” driven by Peter Morgan, Goodall and McCann. How the other cars fared can be seen from the following results list.
First-Class Awards: E.G. Smith (A.R.M. Special), F. Morrish (Frazer-Nash), J. J. Whitefield (Ford Ten), J. Buncombe (H.R.G.), W. A. G. Goodall (Morgan “4/4”), S. S. Turner (Allard), W. P. Uglow (H.R.G.), A. W. Morrish (s/c. “PB” M.G.), C. D. F. Buckler (Buckler), D. J. Hase (s/c “PB” M.G.), H. W. Tucker-Peake (M.G. Magnette), A. L. S. Denyer (Lea-Francis), A. F. Scroggs (Trojan), C. R. L. Nicholl (M.G. Magnette), C. F. Crossby (s/c Vauxhall Special), B. H. Brown (Ford V8 Special), K. E. O. Burgess (s/c Allard), J. H. Appleton (Allard), R. W. Faulkner (Mercury), A. G. Imhof (s/c Allard), B. D. S. Ginn (Ford V8), K. Wharton (Wharton), R. W. Christmas (“PB” M.G.), H. Clayton (C.S.), B Murkett (s/c “PB” M.G.), S. G. E. Tett (s/c “PB” M.G.).
Second-Class Awards: B. Fitzwater (M.G. Midget), P. H. G. Morgan (Morgan “4/4”), C. J. McCann (Morgan “4/4”), J. H. Radboume (H.R.G.), E. D. Scobey (H.R.G.), H. C. Roberts (Allard), S. C. Clarke (H.R.G.), P. Scott (H.R.G.), J. H. Lockyer (Allard).
Third-Class Awards: H. W. Burman (Lea Francis), C. J. Mores (M.G. 2.3-litre), D. C. Bishop (s/c M.G. Midget), J. H. Barrow (Vauxhall), L. J. Hawkins (Standard).
Results by Makes (numbers in brackets indicate number of entries and n.s. = non-starters): —
Allard (8): — four 1sts, two 2nds, two n.s.
A.R.M. Special (1): — one 1st.
Austin (1): — no award.
Batten (1): — n.s.
Buckler (1): — one 1st.
C.C.S. (1): — retired.
C.S. (1): — one 1st.
Frazer-Nash (1): — one 1st.
Frazer-Nash-B.M.W. (1): — n.s.
F.I.A.T. “500” (1): — no award.
Ford (2): — two 1sts.
Ford V8 Special (1): — one 1st.
Horstman (1): — no award.
H.R.G. (7): — two 1sts, four 2nds, one no award.
Lea-Francis (2): — one 1st, one 3rd.
Mercury (2): — one 1st, one n.s.
M.G. (11): — seven 1sts, one 2nd, two 3rds, one n.s.
Morgan (5): — one 1st, two 2nds, two no award.
Morris Special (1): — no award.
Rover (1): — no award.
Standard (1): — one 3rd.
Trojan (1): — one 1st.
Vauxhall (2): — one 1st, one 3rd.
Wharton (1): — one 1st.
Imhof finished sans windscreen on his supercharged Allard, much to the disgust of navigator Nina Imhof!
Burman drove a comparatively modern Lea-Francis, in contrast to Denyer’s vintage specimen.
Scroggs, who now resides in a caravan, had had all too little time to prepare his famous Trojan and he feared binding of its single brake! It was giving about 35 m.p.g. under the prevailing weather conditions and attaining over 40 m.p.h. downhill, to a distinctly crisp two-stroke exhaust beat.
Mr. and Mrs. “Jackie” Masters were in great form, and spent much of their time when off duty with the competitors, They came down in their faithful old Rover saloon.
Mrs. Anning rode a Triumph motor-cycle through the trial.
Query? How did postage stamps contrive to be adhering to the high ceiling of the Rougemont’s drawing room?
Of the 55 car and tricar comptitors, 27 gained “golds” (1sts), nine “silvers’ (2nds) and five bronze medals (3rds), while six non-started, one retired (Corbishley’s C.C.S.) and eight failed to take an award — so, in spite of its “toughness,” the “Exeter” should still make a strong appeal to newcomers to the Sport. Next M.C.C. fixture — the Land’s End Trial on April 15th and 16th.