Good Sport Provided by the M.C.C.’s 26th Winter Trial
There is something about the “Exeter”—it must be tradition, old boy! Otherwise, would 20 motor-cyclists, five riders of motor-cycle combinations, a Morganist and 64 car competitors go down to Exeter the day before New Year’s Eve, a long journey for the majority of them, involving the expenditure of many “basic” petrol coupons, to participate in a 60-mile trial embracing only seven hills, of which one only—Simms—was a real “stopper”?
Yet they did this thing; and the M.C.C. “Exeter” is, of course, a classic.
The first of these Motor-Cycling Club trials happened in 1910, as a return London-Exeter run. It attracted 79 mixed entries. As the years rolled on the route was stiffened up and “real” gradients were included, as distinct from observed climbs up main-road and secondary-road hills, Thus Fingle Bridge was a hazard from 1932 onwards, and the next year the still notorious Simms was “in.” On its first inclusion Simms stopped 191 out of 273 cars, while in 1934, when a record car entry of 364 came in, 212 couldn’t get up this hill, and only 13 “golds” were won. Joke is that a special Simms Award was offered the following year but road repairs (done at the M.C.C.’s expense!) were sufficiently extensive to allow 102 cars to ascend “clean,” a strain on club funds!
The last “Exeter” no longer entailed the long night run of those days, but it was still a contest of competitor versus club, not competitor against competitor (even if a “clean sheet” doesn’t today win quite as gold a gold medal as it did once upon a time!), and it still attracted more near-normal cars, fewer trials-specials, than are seen in other modern trials.
For example, there wasn’t one Dellow in the list and, scanning through the programme, such vehicles were found as Abernethy’s Austin Antique, a “12/6” saloon with cut-down mudguards, Finden’s Lagonda Rapier, the team of Morgan “4/4s,” all on oversize tyres, Wright’s Vintage aluminium-bodied Powerplus Frazer-Nash (modified only in respect of four speeds), Burman’s modern Lea-Francis tourer, Jackson’s handsome low-chassis 2-litre Lagonda tourer, Scroggs’ famous Trojan, again on two speeds only this year, Gott’s Aerodynamic H.R.G., Wilcock’s vast Railton saloon, Capt. Searle’s modern 2½-litre Riley sports three-seater, and various outwardly-standard M.G., H.R.G. and Allard cars.
Actually, hills in recent “Exeters” have been much as those in other trials, with their fair share of mud, and this year Windout stopped 13, Fingle 1st section 4, Fingle 2nd section 9, Stonelands restart test (3-sec. limit) 7, Stonelands stop and restart test 8, Simms 41, and Kennel 1. But, as they assembled for the start the drivers of standard or nearly-normal cars didn’t know of this!
The writer had come down from Hampshire the evening before as passenger in C. D. F. Buckler’s Buckler Special. This was rather appropriate, because I rode through the previous “Exeter” in the same car. This time, however, its Ford Ten engine had a Shorrocks supercharger driven at 1.1 times engine speed by dual belts, and blowing at some 4 lb./sq. in. pressure, while 6.00-16 rear tyres were fitted. The normal Ford carburetter, even to standard choke and jets, is retained and the blower is lubricated from the main lubrication system via a restrictor valve. A Fram oil filter has also been fitted. The body of the little car is now more civilised, doors with neat catches involving no moving parts and an effective hood on a detachable tubular alloy frame weighing about as much as a ladies’ umbrella, having been added. There is still no fan or water pump for the large behind-engine radiator, the same plugs are used as in pre-Shorrock times, and the compression-ratio has not been appreciably lowered. I was interested to learn that fuel consumption exceeds 30 m.p.g. even with continuous hard driving and competition motoring. I soon discovered that the supercharger is quite quiet but that on “Pool” the engine “pinks” an anvil-chorus unless the throttle is opened very gently indeed. There is still no proper luggage accommodation, but a communal “grip,” packed to the capacity of its zips, met our week-end needs.
We set off on our 100-mile run in the approaching gloom of a warm December evening and had only gone a few miles when the Meadows-engined “Replica” Frazer-Nash of Charles Bulmer, Secretary of the Hants and Berks M.C., shot by at an approaching T-junction. “I expect he’s on his way to the ‘Phoenix’,” I surmised. Pursuit ensued, Charles afterwards pretending that he didn’t know the Buckler was behind and always drives like that. Brief conversation revealed that he had ambitions well beyond the “Phoenix” and was, indeed, also bound for Exeter. So we ran on in convoy, the Frazer-Nash behind to conserve a battery temporarily bereft of dynamo-charge. It was while one of its less amenable sidelamps was being made to function, in fact, that I was able to admire Stuart Skinner’s fine collection of old cars in his showroom adjacent to the Basingstoke by-pass, in which his well-known 1907 Wolseley-Siddeley stood beside an Edwardian Rolls-Boyce and some beautiful touring cars of the same make but later vintage.
Apart from one pause for a cup of tea the run was a slick one and we were soon ensconced within the warm portals of the Rougemont Hotel in Exeter—and is that hotel well heated!
At the start of the trial on the morrow I had time to look at some of the competing cars. Ginn had his usual model-18 Ford V8 Thirty coupé, with its 30-gallon water ballast tank outrigged at the back, Chard’s Ford Ten used a rear-placed air-bottle, Hill’s 740-c.c. blown M.G. was named “Blithe Spirit,” Radbourne’s H.R.G. sported a triple outside exhaust system, Bullivant’s old Riley Nine was a shortened special named “Bitza,” Bishop’s blown P-type M.G. had four external exhaust pipes and a small dog riding on his passenger’s lap, while Hase’s Meakin-Cross had a Ford Eight engine, Frazer-Nash-type front suspension, crab-track, alloy buckets seats, a large square radiator and a cylindrical rear tank. Scroggs was fitting waterproof covers to his Trojan tourer’s two plugs. The Barrow Special proved to be a nicely turned-out J-type Vauxhall Fourteen, turned into a Marshall-blown trials two-seater. Mrs. Willis was driving in her first trial in a Type 45 B.M.W. with Type 326 engine, Bosch electrical equipment, a German Solex d.d. carburetter, Hirth close-ratio gears, and a 30-gallon fuel tank in the back of what was once drophead coupé body.
Soon it was time for us to start, and we were on our way to the first hill, Windout. The start was approached through a water-splash and whereas last year only those gum-booted could cross it on foot, since then some town-and-country planner has by-passed the stream through a big concrete drain pipe and built a foot-bridge over it—the changing face of England, alas!
The lose-surfaced ¼-mile climb with its 1-in-3¾ bend and lesser bend beyond was treated by the Buckler with contempt, but not all were so successful. Two vast horses waited for them at the top!
Without Failures: Aberaethy (Austin Antique), Wright (Frazer-Nash), Burman (Lea-Francis), Searle (Riley), McCann (Morgan), Molyneaux (Morgan “44”), Wright (Frazer-Nash), Cunaue (s/c “TC” M.G.), Jackson (Lagonda), Blockley (Allard), Symons (Morgan “4/4”),. Wilcock (Railton), Barrow (Barrow Special, s/c), Christmas (“PB” M.G., s/c).
So on to Fingle Bridge, rougher than usual and its 1-in-4 winding mile-long gradient with nine hairpin bends treated as two sections, cars being halted between each. We had a grand climb, although the engine boiled merrily and had to be replenished at the top.
Fingle 1 Failures: Jackson (Lagonda), Bassett, (1,100-c.c. H.R.G.), Bishop (s/c M.G.), Tucker-Peake (M.G.-Cream Cracker).
Fingle 2 Failures: Abernethy (Austin Antique), Searle (Riley), Molyneaux (M.G.), Hill (M.G.) Blockley (Allard), Gott (Aero H.R.G.), Wilcock (Railton), Christmas (M.G.).
Hellyar’s Singer didn’t attempt the climb. Next we came to Stonelands, where cars had to clear the start-line within 3 seconds and later stop and restart on the gradient. Keeping our tyres rather harder, the Buckler never faltered, but:—
Stonelands Start-Line Failures: Abernethy (Austin Antique), Searle (Riley), Molyneaux (M.G.), Wright (Frazer Nash), Cunane (M.G.), Blockley (Allard), Barrow (Barrow Special).
Stonelands Restart Failures: Finden (Lagonda Rapier), Dennis (Morgan “4/4”), Burman (Lea-Francis), Alderton (Maythorpe), Scroggs (Trojan), Nicholl (Ford V8), Mrs Willis (B.M.W.), Hase (Meakin-Cross).
Actually Wilcock gave best to the trial here, his Railton’s cork-insert clutch distinctly disrupted by the very idea.
So to Simms. It was in a delightfully slippery mood, and the start-line was a bit higher up this year. We could make nothing of it and stopped by the first slate outcrop on the 1-in-3½ section, a cheery marshal rubbing his hands and telling us that even Scroggs’ Trojan had stopped. “And I’ve waited 10 years to see that,” he declared.
We were not alone in needing the services of the tractor (i.e. now, not steam!):—
Simms Failures: Wonnacott (Morgan three-wheeler), Barton (Barton), Abernethy (Austin Antique), Searle (Riley), Finden (Lagonda Rapier), Goodall (Morgan), McCann (Morgan), Smith (A.R.M. Special), Brown (H.R.G.), Molyneaux (M.G.), Dennis (Morgan), Scobey (H.R.G.), Lewis (H.R.G.), Wright (Frazer-Nash), Burman (Lea-Francis), Alderton (Maythorpe), Cunane (M.G.), Scroggs (Trojan), Nicholl (Ford), Bassett (H.R.G.), Bishop (M.G.), Chard (Ford), Ginn (Ford), Hill (M.G.), Blockley (Allard), Pool (Ford), Richmond (H.R.G.), Mitchell (H.R.G.), Gott (H.R.G.), Buncombe (H.R.G.), Symons (M.G.), Hellier (Allard), Moore (Ford), Buckler (Buckler), Barrow (Barrow Special), Crosby (Vauxhall Special), Appleton (Allard), Epps (H.R.G.), Christmas (M.G.), Bellyar (Singer), Hancock (Allard).
Jackson’s Lagonda had had enough after Fingle and Wright’s Powerplus Fraser-Nash had retired because a new fuel pipe went too near the exhaust/water systems and boiled the fuel.
The remaining hills were easy, although we took Retreat fast, on back tyres down to some 5 in. pressure, tending to collect the banks on the hill’s slippery bends. Kennel failed only Molyneaux’s M.G., Coombe no one. After which, it was back to the finish near Exeter, to await the results.
They were announced in the “Rougemont” that evening: Fourteen First-Class Awards, 24 Second-Class Awards and 11 Third-Class Awards, so far as car-competitors were concerned. Three cars retired and nine received no award. In addition, four had failed to start, including Ben Brown’s Ford V8 Special, which, broke a half-shaft at Oxford on the way to the start; it is further in the “Exeter” tradition that he came on in a Wolseley saloon to watch, although deeming it “too much like a ‘bus” for Devon hills.
The New Year’s Eve party is nothing to do with Motor Sport; but once again “Jackie” Masters, ably assisted by Mrs. Masters, had put over a good trial and a thoroughly enjoyable week-end. The results were:—
First-Class Awards: J. H. Radbourne (1,496-c.c. H.R.G.). D. Clare (1,172-c.c. Clayton-Special), A. O. Gosnell (1,498-c.c. H.R.G.), J. E. Bullivant (1,089-c.c. Riley Special), Dr. Spare (1,172-c.c. White Ford Special), W. F. Mead (s/c 3,917-c.c. Allard), D. Murkett (939-c.c. s/c M.G.), A. W. Richards (1,172-c.c. Austin), L. R. Gear (1,172-c.c. L.R.G.), B. Fitzwater (1,087-c.c. Riley Special), J. J. Whitefield (1,172-c.c. Ford Special), K. E. O. Burgess (s/c 3,917-c.c. Allard), H. C. Roberts (3,917-c.c. Allard), and L. W. Taylor (1,172-c.c. Morris).
Second-Class Awards: W. E. Wonnacott (9,90-c.c. Morgan), P. H. G. Morgan (1,122-c.c. Morgan), E. G. Smith (1.203-c.c. A.R.M. Special), J. V. S. Brown (1,490-c.c. H.R.G.), E. D. Scobey (1,496-c.c. H.R.G.), A. L. Chard (1,172-c.c. Ford), B. D. S. Ginn (3,022-c.c. Ford), Mrs. Willis. (1,971-c.c. B.M.W.), D. J. Hase (990-c.c. Meakin-Cross), J. H. Pool (3,252-c.c. Ford), J. M. Richmond (1,496-c.c. H.R.G.), D. C. Mitchell (1,496-c.c. H.R.G.), J. Buncombe (1,496-c.c. H.R.G.), R. Hellier (3,622-c.c. Allard), L. A. Moore (3,622-c.c. Ford), C. D. F. Buckler (1,172-c.c. s/c Buckler Special), C. F. Crosby (1,203-c.c. Vauxhall Special), J. H. Appleton (4,317-c.c. Allard), H. B. G. Epps (1,074-c.c. H.R.G.), H. W. Tucker-Peake (1,257-c.c. M.G. Magnette), and G. L. Hancock (3,917-c.c. Allard).
Third-Class Awards: H. J. Finden (1,104-c.c. Lagonda Rapier), C. J. McCann (1,207-c.c. Morgan), G. H. Dennis (1,207-c.c. Morgan), H. H. Alderton (1,172-c.c. Maythorpe), A. F. Scroggs (1,488-c.c. Trojan), C. R. C. Nicholl (3,622-c.c Ford), D. C. S. Bassett (1,074-c.c. H.R.G.), D. C. Bishop (847-c.c. s/c M.G.), F. C. Hill (746-c.c. s/c M.G.), J. A. H. Gott (1,496-c.c. H.R.G.), and G. M. Symons (1,098-c.c. s/c Morgan).
Team Award: Burgess, Roberts, Appleton (Allards).
1949 M.C.C. Triple Awards: Gosnell (H.R.G.), Mead (Allard), Burgess (Allard).
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Looking at these results it will be seen that Ford Ten-engined Specials again did well and that congratulations are due to Mrs. H. Willis, the only lady driver, for going through clean in her first—she lost a First-Class Award only because the B.M.W. took over three seconds from the start on Stonelands.
No one stirred unduly early on New Year’s Day, but at last “Jackie” Masters stowed his last suitcase in his big Humber saloon, we had packed our more limited kit in the Buckler, and the Willis’ B.M.W., which had only been completed on the, very eve of the “Exeter” and was now suffering from a wide distributor gap and dirty plugs, condescended to commence.
We had decided to have another look at Simms, for it is isolated from houses and no harm would seem to result from a visit “the day after.” There was a further delay when our carburetter iced-up in the mist on high ground en route, but the Buckler, the B.M.W. and Bulmer’s Frazer-Nash eventually arrived at the top of the famous 200-yard hill near Ilsington, with its 1-in-2¾ maximum gradient. Although Buckler made repeated assaults, with rear tyres inflated from normal down to nearly zero, he had to give it best front the M.C.C.’s start-point, although with a longer run we stormed it on one occasion. Mrs. Willis’ B.M.W. climbed successfully with its 7-in, rear covers let down nearly flat, and did it again when driven by R. C. Willis, on his second attempt.
At last we gave it up, topped-up our radiator, re-inflated the tyres and set off for home. The Buckler’s petrol tank had sprung a rather bad leak, probably because on bad bumps the axle damped by 5-in.-travel Newton struts, clouted it rather fiercely—so supple is the transverse rear springing that 6 or 7-in. travel dampers would be more suitable. Incidentally, the equally supple divided-axle i.f.s. is controlled by Luvax dampers. Outside Exeter we were halted at the swing-bridge while an oil-tanker, a Christmas tree lashed to its mast, sailed majestically down the Exe—rather a startling sight for those who had seen-in the New Year well but not wisely! As we waited, our own fuel supply appeared as a pool beneath the car—I wonder how much the mental agony resulting from petrol-rationing retards this country’s recovery, apart altogether from its cramping effect on national travel and transport? However, now that we have reached Welfare Status, perhaps the intended cure for petrol rationing will be to relegate all private motor cars to the garage or museum?
After a very late lunch the three cars ran in rapid convoy through the mist and gathering gloom, Willis setting a fine pace in the B.M.W. Speedometers were between 60 and 7.0 m.p.h., so that our water thermometer said “98 deg. C.” and our oil thermometer indicated 100 deg. C., then 110 deg. C., finally climbing towards 120 deg. C. But Ford engines, like sailors, apparently don’t care, and even, it seems, survive some 6,000 r.p.m. when Buckler is in a hurry or a competition. All he did about it on this occasion was to top up with Castrol XL, the recommended S.A.E. 20 lubricant being unobtainable at most garages.
The night wasn’t a good one for motoring and at Wylye a wall stepped out too far on a slippery bend and in consequence the Buckler became slightly buckled. This entailed leaving it at a garage, wherein we encountered a well-kept 3-litre Bentley with “sloper” S.U.s and a rare two-door saloon body rather like those fitted to certain of the larger Morris models of the mid-nineteen-thirties. It is the property, we learned, of a West Country farmer and may be the car I encountered for sale in Yorkshire during the war.
Six “bods” and two two-seater motor cars was the next problem, but, the local railway looking uninviting on a Sunday night, we managed. For my part I found Charles Bulmer’s Frazer-Nash an admirable conveyance, its suspension devoid of “vintage-harshness” since hydraulic rear shock-absorbers have been fitted, the brakes excellent, and the acceleration most impressive and accomplished without any suggestion that the engine had really woken-up. So we arrived home.
The 1949 “Exeter” had been, for us, strenuous and slightly disastrous. Yet, as the final party broke up in the early hours of yet another morning there wasn’t a man amongst us who wasn’t murmuring: “See you at the ‘Land’s End’ next Easter?”—and that went for Mrs. Willis, too.—W. B.