At Simms Hill for the M.C.C. Exeter Trial

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—And an Appreciation of the Hillman Minx Special Saloon which took us there

The Exeter Trial of the M.C.C., which originated in 1910, is still a popular event and one especially suited to novices at the trials game or those who derive enjoyment from competing in normal-type cars. So, having done our “Exeter” in a Trojan on Boxing Night, as reported on page 74, we set off westwards again the following weekend to observe the real Exeter Trial. Simms Hill was our objective, the toughest ”observed section” of the event. This year sports cars had to restart just before the right-hand corner and there were new tyre stipulations, so that they did not show up so well—normal cars had a run at the notorious gradient.

Conditions were bad, mist, and rain rendering the rocky hill very slippery. Perhaps the two outstanding ascents by non-sports cars were those of Denison’s Peugeot 403 and Scroggs’ old Trojan. The Peugeot just went up with complete unconcern, its suspension ironing out the rocky outcrops, while the Trojan, always fantastic, made its most astonishing ascent ever, its wheels and engine all but stopping, yet always it recovered, to pull away to a non-stop ascent. Scroggs assisting by skilful steering. The Trojan didn’t even have generous-section tyres to help it, and everyone who watched it will long remember its conquest of Simms.

One felt that sports cars should get up but some of the Morgans were pathetic, especially Jarrett’s Plus Four, while both the new Morgan 1/4s, driven by Peter Morgan and Huxham, also failed to restart. But Goodall made a splendid ascent in his Plus Four. The Volkswagens varied, Jordan’s and Brown’s stopping with spin, whereas those of Frolich and Jacks-on stormed up easily, the latter so fast as to earn applause. Daniels’ VW faltered but recovered, skill taking it over the top. Davis’ failed high up, seeming to have a flat rear tyre, and Grapes picked a had path and stopped. No Morris or Austin got up. although Lovett was extremely unlucky, his A30 stopping within a few feet of the summit. The three Goggomobils, one a coupé, all stopped due to lack of power, as did Threlfall’s VW van, and the many Dauphines had too few horses. Not all the Dellows succeeded, a Hillman Minx went well until it fell into a gully near the top. Denis just bounced his Morgan Plus Four up after it had slowed almost to rest with wheelspin, and a Reliant three-wheeler sell-bounced itself nearly to the top.

Mickley’s TF M.G. lost grip halfway, its engine “running-on,” and Featherstone’s TR2 started well but wheelspin killed it at the top, but claps from the spectators signified a clean, if “wallowy,” excellent climb by Davey’s Ford Zephyr. Intense bouncing by girls on the back seat failed to save the day for Mr Thompson’s Hillman, but Parsons’ vintage Frazer-Nash got up, slowly. Brute force took Grant’s Morgan Plus Four over the top. Taylor’s H.R.G. was clapped for a neat, sober ascent, and Wonnacott’s L.R.G. made an outstanding ascent. Shaw hadn’t the right technique to get his Morris Eight Special up, whereas Miss Hocking’s Dellow climbed fast, Miss Freeman’s Wilson-Ford went up magnificently, to the delight of a girl spectator, but Mrs. Parsons (Ford Special) did it all wrong and failed low down. Denyer’s old Lea-Fraecis stopped high up, its drives wishing he had a lower axle ratio.

Extremely good climbs of Simms’ notorious 200 yards of 1-in-2¾ gradient were accomplished by Stevens (Ford Special), Edwards (Dellow), Skinner, whose blown Dellow was very fast, Elliott (Ford Special), Banbury (Xigini), Pollard (Dellow), Cox (Dellow), Wagger (R.W. Dellow), Robbins (Vanguard estate car) and Marsh’s Ausford. which greeted the unwanted tractor at the top with toots from its bulb horn. Clegborn’s Dellow did it, whereas Caldwell’s TR2 stopped near the top. Stone Dellows failed, however, and Lowe’s Jaguar XK140 found sheer power not quite able to take it to the top. Barrow’s vivid-hued Vauxhall Victor spun its small rear wheels and stopped halfway up. A diesel Land Rover failed at the same place.

***

We were favourably impressed with the Hillman Minx Special saloon which we used for this journey to the West Country. This the “austerity” version of a famous Rootes Group model which came into being over 25 years ago. The Minx Special has separate bucket front seats, a floor gear-lever and somewhat spartan equipment. The suspension is sufficiently firm and well damped to obviate excessive roll when cornering fast yet it gives a comfortable ride. The steering (three turns, lock-to-lock) is accurate, devoid of kick-back and fairly light at speed, although heavy for parking.

This Hillman imparts a very real sense of security when cornered fast, even on wet roads, oversteer not pronounced, so that controllability is very satisfactory—preferable to that of two 1½-litre saloons from another member of the Big Five which Motor Sport tested just previous to trying the Minx. The brakes are pleasantly light and responsive for normal driving. if somewhat lacking for high pressure “dicing.” The rather hard seats hold the front occupants securely and the central cranked gear-lever, rather reminiscent of that on pre-war American cars, is pleasant to use. The pedals are well placed, too.

Although a four-speed gearbox is used, the indirect ratios are on the low side and 50 m.p.h, is as much as it seems wise to use in third (7.13 to 1); even in top -gear (4.78 to 1) the engine begins to buzz at this speed and becomes very noisy above 60 m.p.h. But the 1,390-c.c, o.h.v. unit sounds perfectly healthy even at an indicated 84 m.p.h. and its power-roar (which causes a driver accustomed to quieter cars to attempt a change-up when top is already engaged) reminds one of the Ford Anglia power unit, both these engines giving the impression that, although hard-worked, they are dependably “unburstable.” Indicated maxima in first (17.04 to 1) and second (11.8 to 1) gears were 26 and 38 m.p.h., respectively. The new engine (51 b.h.p. at 4,400 r.p.m.) with high-torque camshaft provides good acceleration.

The Continental Correspondent borrowed the car and found it possible to average 53.4 m.p.h. at night round a give-and-take 115-mile circuit in Hampshire. He returned the Minx with the remark that it is “a jolly safe little motor car, which should teach the public not to have accidents.” Driven like this, fuel consumption was approximately 23 m.p.g. Before driving really hard 1½ pints of oil had to be added to the sump after 500 miles to bring the level up to normal, which is a rather heavy consumption.

Visibility is good front the Hillman Special’s driving seat and the car tested had a very effective heater and an Ekco radio of excellent power and tone, Continental stations coming in strongly at 4 a.m. When the car is stationary the heater fan is noisy, while the radio hums loudly; these intrusions are drowned by the aforesaid engine roar when on the move. The stalk-actuated direction-flashers possess ‘a flashing reminder light that really should remind the driver of its presence! It is not possible to switch off the facia lighting when the sidelamps are on. The Lucas headlamps give truly splendid illumination and although the car’s equipment has been minimised, the leather upholstery and very spacious luggage boot are commendable features. Dunlop tubeless tyres are fitted; they are practically protest-free on fast corners. The hand-brake is well placed on the right of the driver’s seat, there is a deep full-width under-facia shelf (but no door pockets), and all four trailing doors have sill-button locks. The handsome appearance of the modern Hillman Minx is well known and, altogether, this £498 (£748 7s, with p.t.) version of a popular British five-seater saloon has much to commend it to enthusiastic drivers. — W. B.

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