A Section Devoted to Old-Car Matters
THE “BOXING NIGHT INFORMAL”
IN SPITE of arctic conditions another “Boxing Night Informal” was held successfully last December. This time the route of the 1928 M.C.C. London-Exeter Trial was followed almost in its entirety, starting correctly from Slough Trading Estate by kind permission of the Manager and with the sanction of Slough Constabulary.
Although nearly 50 hyper-keen enthusiasts enquired about the Run, by Boxing Night the number had come down to 28 for various reasons. The majority came in vintage light cars, the few exceptions either having escaped notice or having been let in because I have a warm regard for the vehicles in question.
Under a clear sky but over frosty roads we set out for the 10 p.m. rendezvous with these enthusiasts—the marshals in the Editorial Mini Minor and a Morgan Plus Four,. Editor and Continental Correspondent in the 1924 12/20 Calthorpe. The Calthorpe was in much better fettle this year, thanks to industrious work put in on it by the C.C. and the generous co-operation of James Walker who supplied a much-needed new exhaust manifold gasket and Hardy Spicer, who, at equally short notice, made new fabric couplings for the propeller shaft—services which restorers of vintage cars may care to note.
This time the Calthorpe, setting off on its third of these informal Exeter Trials, was in red Valspar and using its original Zenith carburetter which replaced the ” self-starting” Solex a previous owner had fitted. Under the neon-lights outside Slough Estates House, with occasional diesel trains thundering past on the old G.W.R. line and aircraft homing on London Airport droning overhead, the ” competitors ” began to assemble until we had :
M. S. Brace 1922 Morris-Cowley 2-str.) W. Boddy (1924 12/20 Calthorpe 2-str.), B. Gray (1925 Austin 7 Chummy), S.A. Milton (1926 12/50 Alvis 2-str.), R.D. Sweetland (1926 Austin 7 Chummy), G.D. Bailey (1927 Morris-Oxford saloon), P. Whitman (1927 Austin 7 Chummy), M. Dexter (1928 Morris-Oxford), R.N. Whalley (1928 9/20 Humber tourer), R.L. Rumbold (1928 Austin 7 saloon), S.E. Charity (1928 Swift 2-str.), D. Sharples (1929 Austin 7 Chummy) D.L. Franklin (1929 10/25 Rover sports tourer) T. J. Synnott/A. Scott-Frost (1929 o.h.c. Morris Minor tourer) E. Phillips (1929 Austin 7 Gordon England fabric saloon) K. Capewell (1930 M.G. M-type 2-str.) R. C. Hall (1930 Morris-Cowley saloon) P. White (1930 Austin 7 tourer) R. T. Shipman (1930 Austin 7 Gordon England 2-str.) S. H. Bubb (1930 Austin 7) J. Bolton (1930 Austin 7) R. M. Burnett (1931 M.G.-type sportsman’s coupe).
Obviously, Austin Sevens were the most popular car for this particular form of madness, and these included some very nice Chummies, amongst them the Cambridge University Austin Seven team attended by a Standard Vanguard van. Many of these vintage light cars were in workaday trim but others were very nicely turned out, notably the Rover, which came on its own because its companion 10/25 sportsman’s coupe had a blocked radiator, Hall’s Valspar-finished Morris-Cowley saloon and Brace’s bull-nose Morris-Cowley which is a combination of 1922 and 1924 styles and has oil lamps to augment its electrics.
Capewell’s M.G. had cut-about bodywork and a s.v. Morris Minor engine and Shipman’s Austin Seven had a pointed-tail 2-seater body. Burnett’s M.G. was just outside vintage age but was a rare sportsman’s coupe in original trim. Milton’s very stark 12/50 Alvis, occupants in flying helmets and goggles, was only permitted because his Amilcar wasn’t ready and he helped to marshal on the hills.
I am always impressed by the distances people come to start in this informal run (having come but 36 miles myself) and here the plum surely goes to Phillips, who had come down from Scotland for Christmas in his smart Gordon England Austin Seven with polished wheel discs (his ” leather saloon,” he calls it) with his family, a distance of 525 miles (at a cost of £3, compared with £15 for the train fare) and came on alone, to do the ” Informal ” – surely a performance in the best traditions of vintage motoring? A. S. Monro had driven over from Weybridge in his 1928 Hampton coupe to see the start.
At 10 p.m. the 1922 Morris-Cowley, having erected its hood, moved off, followed a minute later by the Calthorpe, the dickey of which was so full of batteries that it might have been an electric car, this being an antidote to a dynamo that has long ceased to deliver the essential amps. One by one the others left Slough and made their way to the first check at the Haven Cafe beyond Lobscombe Corner, via Maidenhead, Reading and Newbury. Even on the early stages of the run the roads were pretty much as they must have been in 1928, apart from brilliantly-lit traffic returning to London and one-way detours in the towns. No dual carriageways have altered this part of A4 as they have the Staines-Basingstoke sections of A30 that we traversed (over the 1924 route) in 1960. Many miles of street lighting, however, sped on their way those with low (or no) dynamo-charge and all night, the forecast of snow clouds not materialising, a bright moon continued to light the way. It was a splendid experience to be able to admire the tine sweep of countryside round Hurstbourne Tarrant by moonlight and, many hours later, to pick out the contours of Devon hills just as clearly.
We soon passed the Morris but saw nothing of the others, although in Reading the bearded owner of a 1926 Austin 12/4 Clifton tourer, hoodless like ourselves, flagged us down. He had punctured two tyres en route to Slough for the start but we were able to give him a route card and thus enable him to join in.
Although the night was bitterly cold it was mercifully quite warm inside the Calthorpe, even with no hood, only a couple of sidescreens, and the top panel of the screen open to ensure visibility; but when we got out at the Haven the wind penetrated to our very bones, so that the check became a brief pause. I am, however, most grateful to the Proprietor who let us park in his yard although he lives in the house and must have been disturbed. Just before this check a large shape had loomed up on our left from the A30 road where it joins A343 at Lobscombe Corner; this proved to be a big, yellow-wheeled vintage Humber tourer that was following the Run for fun. We also had a Lett-Francis saloon with us from then on, and two more enthusiasts in a big post-vintage but pre-war Austin saloon were acting as tender to an Austin Seven saloon.
At Barford St. Martin Mr. Daniels had very obligingly kept open the Little Heath Filling Station for drivers to take in much-needed stocks of Cleveland petrol and had sportingly prepared refreshments, also badly needed! Here the contingent was joined by Hayward’s 1927 Fiat 503B tourer and Stevens’ 1928 Austin Seven Chummy, so there were now 25 cars in all on this nocturnal adventure. The luckless Austin 12/4’s crew were mending more tubes but remained cheerful, an Austin Seven, badly punctured, was provided by the garage with a tube but generally, very slippery roads apart, no one appeared in dire trouble. Stevens, a 750 Club member, had been driving a taxi all over the Christmas but was still keen enough to come along alone, his wife having ‘flu, from Frome.
Soon afterwards came the first ” observed section,” Middledown, and although drivers were on their honour to observe themselves, so I don’t know if anyone failed, wheel tracks high up on this hill with its interesting hairpin corners suggested that one car, at least, had stopped and restarted more than once. The Calthorpe went up in fine style. It was at this hill, incidentally, during a pre-war Bugatti O.C. Night Trial, that Jack Lemon Burton took a G.P. Bugatti down on a trailer in order to make a stirring nocturnal ascent—not slowly, one gathers!
On the ” Informal ” speed is of no importance, the overall average being set at approx. 20 m.p.h., and the cavalcade of early small cars duly made its way through sleeping Shaftesbury and on towards Devon, up the winding and steep Yarcombe Hill (labelled ” Very Dangerous “), where we got slight wheelspin on the ice, and so on to Honiton. Again, at this check, most of the cars were reported in fine fettle, although the Calthorpe needed its second change of No. 4 plug, which oils up regularly every 100 miles or so, the first one having been changed in Wilton, and it appears that Capewell had unhappily crashed his M.G. near Yeovil, Brace, who was following in the ’22 Cowley, spinning furiously in avoiding the incident. The car had to be abandoned but no-one was seriously hurt and Capewell asks us to thank all those who came to his assistance. Here it seems appropriate to remark how well vintage light cars cope with icy roads, including 1-in-5 descents, and to remind Mr. Marples that although this informal ” Exeter “amounted to at least 7,000 aggregate miles of this sort of motoring in pre-1930 cars, it did not add anything to the Christmas road casualty figures…
Before breakfast Peak Hill near Sidmouth had to be climbed in the dark; up this steep acclivity overlooking the sea, the Calthorpe pulled strongly in bottom gear …
The Turks Head Cafeteria at Honiton had obligingly Opened specially to provide breakfast at 6.30 a.m. Meanwhile the Johnson brothers set off with the marshals in an Auto-Union four-wheel-drive recovery vehicle to see whether the first daylight hill, Westgate, was in climbable condition—remembering that in 1960 there was havoc on Marlpits, due to black ice. Their report being favourable, the cars set out for the last few westward miles before turning towards the finish, joined here by Shears’ 1929 Austin 12/4 saloon. Alas, Dr. Hayek came over from Barnstaple in his 1925 Gwynne Eight tourer, with two keen lady passengers, too late to get a route-card; or even breakfast, but he cheerfully did two ascents of White Sheet and carried on to the finish.
Westgate has a hard surface but winds upwards between high banks, becoming alarmingly steep towards the top. Putting the Calthorpe into bottom cog to keep the revs. up I had no trouble but I gather that, later, two Austin Sevens tailed high up, stopping side by side, Dr. Nelms restarting them by pushing with a hand on each, as it were . . . .
Then it was on to Harcombe, still used in the modern ” Exeter,” which starts up a stony lane, continuing up through a series of exciting bends. Had the surface been wet instead of frozen this could have been difficult but, as it was, the Auto-Union recovery vehicle was not needed and everyone got up. A cross-country run to Beaminster followed and here those still going assembled in the Market Square, where local enthusiasts came to inspect us, one of them referring to a single-cylinder Rover that graces a showroom window, and, remembering the. 1960 ” Informal,” remarking that the entry this year was collectively of later vintage than previously. White Sheet Hill rises out of Beaminster and up it the cars hummed or groaned according to their merits, the winter countryside all around sunlit under a cloudless blue sky. The Calthorpe was followed up this steep but straight gradient by Franklin’s 10/25 Rover, which climbed at about the same speed. In 1960, and previously, timed tests were held here but I did not put a test in this time, because there is a big flap over vintage cars in non-Permit events and, harmless as the short timed re-start on a hill quite devoid of onlookers has been, a stopwatch produced beside a public road seemed a thought tactless under the circumstances—although, in fact, the Boxing Night Informal had the blessing and good wishes of no less a person than the President of the V.S.C.C. . . .
In former years White Sheet has been the last hill and a tedious drag back to beyond Salisbury has followed. This time, by adhering to the 1928 route (” Jackie ” Masters of the M.C.C. kindly lent me an original and sole-surviving route-card), we drove over pleasant commonland at Batcombe Ridge to Little Minterne Hill. This track rises from a farmyard and is a Council road. It is also gated, so I sought permission to use it; which was given willingly by the Hon. Edward Digby, whose land the hill is on; he even laid on one of his shepherds to keep stock from straying.
Again, due to the frozen surface, the hill caused no trouble, except that Burnett’s M.G. coupe needed more petrol before completing the climb. The track is rough and stony but did not, I hope, damage any of the cars. The worst bit, beyond the “observed section,” was only a few hundred yards long.
More trim commonland in the Sturminster Newton area brought cars to the finish in the Market Square Car Park in Shaftesbury a couple of hours ahead of schedule, so easy had been the hills. Yet, the final steep ascent by the church into Shaftesbury, a mere half-mile out, proved a teaser, at least one car stopping momentarily.
Out of those who started or joined in, only six failed to sign off. The bull-nose Morris-Cowley had not been seen since the Honiton Borough check. The 9/20 Humber was missing, likewise three Austin Sevens (Bubb’s, Bolton’s and Rumbold’s), of which Bubb’s is thought to have had tyre trouble. Shears lives near Exeter, so had gone home, but later I heard that Whalley’s Humber did get to Shaftesbury, shortly after we had left, having climbed all the hills except Peak, on which a pause was necessary in order to retrieve the radiator cap that had blown off in a cloud of steam. Bailey, who took the Wednesday off in order to come, Hall and Phillips all got round the route on their own, without navigators, Phillips’ little ” leather saloon ” so snug that he was wearing sports attire, scorning an overcoat! He had been delayed for a while with lighting trouble but was otherwise going well. Like Christmas, the ” Boxing Night Informal ” was over for another year, just two days before the big freeze-up.
The early finish enabled the assembly to motor home in daylight, the only snag being that those aiming Londonwards found the holiday traffic pouring along A 30 at a terrified 20 m.p.h., drivers stamping on their brakes at every slippery corner. On the Plain the unfortunate Austin 12/4 crew were mending their sixth puncture. In all, they mended nine ” flats,” repaired a faulty contact-breaker spring, a broken fan-belt and in the last 200 miles of their 458-mile trip from Shoreham and back had to fill the radiator every 20 minutes—yet they remained enthusiastic. ” D. S. J.” proved as adept at driving the Calthorpe in traffic conditions as he is at working on it, and making good use of its excellent 4-speed gearbox, the r.h. lever-of which can be poked into any gear with the utmost speed, we picked off 100 m.p.h. moderns and lorries one by one, getting home before another arctic night fell. The Calthorpe, the 69 x 100 mm. engine of which was. I believe, designed by Hugh Rose after he had left the Sunbeam Company, averaged just over 27 m.p.g. in spite of the abnormal low-gear mileage made necessary by the slippery roads, and used about a quart of Castrol XL in a total of 352 miles, so, for us, the expedition was voted more successful than we had dared to hope in the days preceding it.—W. B.
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Of the 1928 ” Exeter,” contested by 146 car entries apart from the motorcycles, The Autocar reported on the hills as follows:
Middledown: “It was not much of a test, just a good fast run up a curly narrow gradient, sufficiently muddy to be unpleasant…”
Peak: “…quite clean and in good condition.”
Westgate: “…the hill was nothing at all, muddy, maybe, and with its surface cut to pieces, but no obstacle…”
Harcombe: “…much better, a fine twisty torn-up gradient delightful to drive up…”
White Sheet: “…in fair condition, but rather muddy.”
Little Minterne: “…a horrible sham. Preceded by a sizable watersplash, there was mud, plenty of it on the path-like track up the hillside, but no gradient and little difficulty to anyone using sense.”