"Motor Sport's" Christmas Motoring—Fantasy and Fact

Throughout the summer months as soon as the Editor goes for a ride in an Edwardian, the Continental Correspondent rides in a 170 m.p.h. near-Grand Prix car. For every Veering Vintagewards there is a Grand Prix story, and for every description of a defunct marque there is a write-up on the latest from Modena. For once the Editor and the Continental Correspondent agreed on one thing, and that, was that Christmas was a time for motoring. Accordingly Mr. Manufacturer, who is “one of the boys” if ever there was one, was telephoned and he agreed to bring his single-seater 1½-litre Formula II car down to Hampshire on Christmas Day.

While lunches of turkey and pudding were warming on the stove I was warming-up the racer in the back garden, which meant keeping it at 2,000 r.p.m. and pulling on a length of wire on the right-hand side of the cockpit, this wire actuating the mechanical fuel pump which is normally driven from the rear axle and only functions when I the car is moving. It did not take long to get up to a working temperature of 85 deg. C., though naturally the gearbox temperature was nil, this being in unit with the rear axle. After donning; crash-helmet and goggles, and a leather jacket and two pairs of gloves, it being December 25th, a check was made of the regulation rear-view mirrors and bulb horn and then Mr. Manufacturer and the Editor gave me a push and I was off. The planned route was 120 miles in a figure-of-eight, and just as the turkey was being carved all over Great Britain I roared off up the road, the twin-cam engine really beginning to sing around 5,000 r.p.m. The five-speed gearbox is operated by a lever in a quadrant on the left of the driving seat and though I had not handled it before I found it to be child’s play, and as quick as anyone could want. As I snicked the lever into fourth and then into third and took the first, village at about 80 m.p.h. I could not help wondering why we have been messing about with H gear-lever layouts for so long.

Things not really being fully warm I kept to 6,000 r.p.m. but even then only in fourth, for the slim little single-seater was really cracking along. Second gear was used on the roundabouts and then full bore up through the gears, the wonderful visibility and direct steering making it so easy to overtake the odd vehicles still loitering about, and, of course, the, sight of the naked front wheels made placing the car just to easy. With its all-round independent suspension the roadholding was much more than I was capable of doing justice to: the car just went round the corners and the first 10 miles had me wondering if I was ever going to he brave enough to attempt to reach the limit of tyre adhesion on fast corners. I was just nicely settled in, comfortable in the slim cockpit, confident of the handling, and enjoying the 140 b.h.p. and the delightful gearbox, when I left the end of the by-pass and 1½ miles of slightly uphill straight came into view. Now. I thought, I’ll be a devil and use 7,000 r.p.m. in fourth (about 120 m.p.h.) and see how far I can wind it up in top, but then… then came Boxing Day, and a idle the world and its wife were getting over the festivities in an alcoholic haze I stood in the clear moonlight awaiting the arrival of the Editor and his cavalcade of Vintage Light Cars doing their re-enaction of the 1922 Exeter Trial. From a 140 m.p.h. single-seater on Christmas Day I got into the rear seat of a 40 m.p.h. four-seater on Boxing Day and as agreed beforehand, accompanied the Editor on his Boxing Night Trial. — D. S. J.

It has become the Editor’s habit to motor off on Boxing Night over the route of the 1922 M.C.C. Exeter Trial in a vintage light car. In 1956 he couldn’t do this on account of petrol rationing, but last year he went as passenger in Derek Graham’s Trojan. Motor Sport’s Continental Correspondent even lent weight to the venture by going in this car.

Graham is Treasurer of the Trojan Owners’ Club and might be expected to have a rather special Trojan. He has! It is a three-door tourer, virtually of 1929 vintage, but actually made by Trojan Ltd. in 1937 for a lady living in Gloucestershire, who ordered one in that year, happily oblivious of time fact that production had ceased eight years earlier!

Arriving at Bill Peacock’s house in Chiswick on Boxing Night. we discovered that other stalwarts were to accompany us. Mike Daker, 2-litre Lagonda enthusiast, was borrowing Peacock’s very pleasing 1925 Gwynne Eight with replica “hip-bath” body. Peacock himself, navigated by his young daughter, proposed to make the journey in his recently-restored 1926 Trojan Traveller’s brougham, which until recently was Trojan’s service car and which was, additionally, that firm’s mobile test-bed for all designs made up to about 1939. Jeremy Bacon was reported to be curing a water leak on his highly-desirable, Dorman-engined, 1923 Palladium tourer with Neverleak, and at midnight he duly turned up. Thus there departed into the night, Westward-bound, four vintage small cars, accompanied for the first mile or two by the Rev. Atkinson’s 1912 Unic taxi, its flickering oil lamps lighting the way.

Through Isleworth and Hounslow we went. Peacock and Daker, who had no dynamo-charge, troubled by the thick mist. Just after 2 a.m. this little contingent of nocturnal adventurers pulled up in Hartley Wintney to pick up Jenkinson, being joined here by John and Mrs. Nelms in their 1929 Austin Seven “Chummy.”

Five appropriate cars, therefore, set off into the fog, following Graham’s Trojan, in which Boddy read directions from the solitary route-card, copy of that issued by the M.C.C. in 1922 to 308 competitors! “Jenks,” keeping a wary eye on the pale yellow lights of the following cars through the Trojan’s back window. soon reported absentees and a halt was called before turning right for Basingstoke. Peacock’s imposing brougham is as in trouble with its lamps and was missing again before Whitchurch. Here we pulled across the road under the lights from an hotel so that Graham could repair the second of his Trojan’s powerful headlamps, a police-car threading its way past the scattered light cars without a murmur!

By Andover the Peacock Trojan was again missing and the Palladium, which had roared past us up the hills, set off to search for it. Time passed, the cold increased, a curious policeman bid it good morning, and neither Peacock nor Palladium appeared. The others went on, to pause again in the eerie half-light on Salisbury Plain while Graham fixed a detached throttle linkage. Later the Gwynne fell astern.

On through the dawn we drove, the Trojan proving to have an unexpected ability to cruise at over 40 m.p.h., although its petrol thirst was down to around 20 m.p.g.

Before Honiton and the turning for Sidmouth came up we were delighted to find the little procession once again complete. The Gwynne had got lost in Salisbury’s extensive one-way diversion, Peacock had cured an oil flood in his Trojan’s distributor. the Palladium had merely remained to help Peacock.

In better spirits. Boddy now in a Sidcot suit to combat icy draughts which penetrated the Trojan’s sidescreens, all ascended Peak Hill (width is both steep and long!) just as hundreds of awed competitors did 35 long years ago; but we took it in the light, whereas they used to tackle its then-rough surface in the dark…

Sun glinted off the sea in Sidmouth bay, as it did later at Lyme Regis, as the cars went on along the historic route to Salcombe Hill, dreaded non-stop “section” in the 1922 Exeter Trial; all got up successfully except the four-speed Austin, which retreated backwards, stifled by petrol starvation. The gallant Palladium descended to succour it and wasn’t seen again until, quite by chance, Bacon happened to come upon us as we were turning back in Blandford in search of sleep-dispelling coffee. Resourceful chap, he had even Found his way to Beaminster and up White Sheet, which both Trojans and the Gwynne had already climbed in company, Daker cheerfully passing the heavy two-strokes. On the fearsome descent into Bridport our brakes failed because a lever went overcentre. but, this being a Trojan, clutching into reverse brought us up as effectively as if front brakes had been used and, being a Trojan, a repair and adjustment was effected in a matter of minutes.

Refreshed, Boddy tried driving the Trojan, making on awful hash of braking with his left foot while making clutchless upward changes of the two widely dissimilar gear ratios, while he confirms that the steering and roadholding cannot be believed until they have been tried! Soon, however, he got the hang of it and admits there is fascination of a very special variety in motoring in these distinctly unorthodox cars. There remained the long run home, during which “our” Trojan ran out of petrol, a calamity retrieved when Graham was taken by a passing Regent petrol rep. to obtain a gallon of Shell in a B.P. tin!

Darkness descended again as we drove into London. Our Christmas motoring, high and low, fast and slow, was over—until next year?