The 55th MCC Exeter Classic Trial

The Motor Cycling Club’s Exeter Trial had an entry of 295 motorcycles and cars this year, and retained the triple starting-points and night run, torrential rain giving place to a sunny day in Devon, on January 7th / 8th. The observed-sections were centred around Exeter and I used the Alfa Romeo Six, comfortable, with a good map-light and fuel-range, for reporting on some of them. After three night-sections and breakfast at the Kennford Mercury Motel, competitors tackled Tillerton, Fingle Bridge, and lots of new hills in Fingle Woods, the last-named causing a considerable delay. Thinking, however, that the cars would be doing these stages in the dark, we drove on the once-notorious Simms hill, near Ilsington. The first car arrived about 1½-hours behind schedule but we saw all the motorcycles make their attempts, A. Browne’s little James sidecar-outfit having the misfortune to overturn backwards, without crew injury.

The first car to appear was Barker’s 1600 VW Beetle, which stopped low down the steep gradient. Depending on what class they were in and what tyres they were using, drivers either had to do a stop-restart or go up non-stop; this levelled things up, so we can concentrate on overall performances.

Good ascents of Simmss were made by Ellis’ NHC Special, Penhale’s 1.8-litre VW Notchback, Vowden’s MG Midget, revving hard, Stewart’s Ford “Perpendicular Pop”, Ball’s 1600 VW Beetle which had absolutely no trouble, likewise Brokenshaw’s Talbot-Sunbeam and Ray’s MG Midget that went up strongly, as did Partridge’s Dellow. The TKP Special, Gross’ 1500 Ford Anglia, D. Jose’s VW Beetle with two spare wheels up behind, R. G. Jose’s 1600 Beetle which sounded very healthy, Warren’s blipping 1500 Ford Anglia Estate, Mozom’s Hillman Imp, made more good climbs and Beckly’s battered Hillman Avenger and Martin’s 1600 Ford Escort Estate were also among those who “cleaned it”. Leaver’s VW Beetle rocketed up, slewing about, Wood’s 1938 TA MG Midget, screen flat, got up inspite of what sounded like mis-firing, but Allen’s 1600 VW Beetle had a clutch that refused even to move it off the re-start line and Wordsworth’s modern MG Midget failed with cluch-slip. On this beautiful morning Simms was proving quite a stopper! Those who failed at or near the dreaded rock-outcrop on the straight steep part included Crocker’s Ford Escort Mexico inspite of a good try, Coles, using an NSU Prinz in place of his Lada, Bennetts’ little Mini Moke, Crossley-Meates’ Type 45 Frazer Nash-BMW that started too slowly, Oates’ 1600 VW Beetle that was also too slow, so that noisy blipping was to no avail, Sheldrick’s Ford Escort inspite of sideways bouncing by its occupants, Sibley’s two-door 1600 Ford Escort, Stevenson’s highly-revving TD MG Midget, Mills’ mudstained TA MG Midget that nearly succeeded, Duckworth’s 1600 Escort that nearly did it, Southwood’s too-slow Commer Cob, Malin’s Buckler which took the righthand corner wide and Harris’s 1600 Escort.

Pickard’s 602 c.c. Citroën 2 CV wouldn’t so much as leave the Simms’ startline but Pacer’s 1500 Beetle nearly got over the stepped rock outcrop inspite of its low speed. Sturkey’s 1600 Escort stopped with wheelspin just over the step, but Chapman’s Spitfire-powered Marlin stopped low down. By now news of some of the vintage contingent had come through. Barry Clarke had non-started, it was said with ‘flu not Chummy trouble, Giles was ill so his sons were campaigning the “Pekin-Paris”-intended Frazer Nash, but they were experiencing many troubles, Joseland’s recalcitrant magneto had eliminated his ‘Nash, and Leigh’s Frazer Nash had blown its head gasket. Tom Threlfall’s Model-A Ford saloon and Campbell’s sister car both got as far as the step on Simms but Tim Llewellyn’s fully-laden 4½-litre Bentley failed lower down, inspire of vigorous bouncing by the crew.

We then drove to the next hill, the very good if short Higher Rocombe near Shaldon, with the Class-B stop-and-restart on a steep bit round the left-hand corner, and a climbing hairpin above, the surface loose and rocky. Those who were “clean” included Harris’ fast 1600 Escort, sending out a smoke screen suggestive of a broken piston, both the Model-A Fords, the Bentley which had caused excitement by mounting the outside bank on leaving the hairpin, Flay’s Hillman Imp which had no trouble but which had torn-out a drive-doughtnut on Tillerton, Wall’s Dellow which was excellent on both restart and climb, Bird’s 1.360 c.c. J2 MG Midget which put in a stupendous effort, Moores’ Ford RS2000 that made it look easy, Harding’s quick VW 1600, Bray’s effective “specialised” 1600 Beetle, which was among those who had to do the restart test, Maynard’s Dellow that also re-started and had no problems, Sterry’s 1,466 c.c. J2 MG likewise, Weeks’ Imp which got up but was firing on only three cylinders by the summit, Durrants’ 875 c.c. Sunbeam-Imp, Haynes’ effortless 1172 c.c. Ford Popular, Andrews’ rapid Dellow, Telling’s modern Midget that was right “on cam”, and the 1600 Escorts of Francis and the two Mosses who all made it seem easy.

Hindles’ Peugeot 504 took it neatly, not having to re-start, Hobbs’ 1600 Escort ascended calmly, Heskins’ Rover 3500 sun-roof coupe revved and spun its way to the top, Skinner’s Imp was fast, Deacon’s 1300 Escort and Ramsey’s 1200 Beetle effective and Sumner’s Morgan 4/4 got up, using excessive revs, but Pettifer’s MG Midget broke its differential near the finish. Finally, before we left, we had the pleasure of seeing Sue Halkyard make a fine showing in her 1929 Austin 7 Chummy, the re-start included. . .

Those we saw fail on Rocombe were Martin’s 1300 Escort, at the re-start, Charlesworth’s Chevette 2300 HS which then broke the tow-rope with its locked-diff on the hairpin, Hollies’ 1300 Escort, Sweetland’s Morris 1000, and Owen’s Morgan 4/4, all just past the difficult step, Tucker-Peake’s 1500 Popular which refused the re-start, and Weeks’ 998 c.c. Sunbeam Stilletto which set its tyres steaming furiously after stopping there.

Bonsall’s VW 1302S couldn’t do the re-start, the Ulster TT Ford V8 stopped on the hairpin, Bowles claiming fuel starvation (still?), Jones’ TC MG stopped above the step, White’s pre-war Riley 1½-litre also failed, as did Knight’s 1300 Fiesta. Incidentally, failures were most effectively retrieved by a 4WD International tractor, skilfully manipulated.

Enthusiasm was as great as ever, seen in the “Staying power” of the many well-behaved spectators, many of whom spent some five hours or more on Simms, as we did, and this was crystallised by Vic Lovett, who had interrupted a holiday in Majorca in order to compete, in his modern Talbot saloon.

The Assistant Editor came down in a TR7 and was also on a roving report job, his report following. — W.B.

The cafe at the classic Fingle Bridge section saw a flood of early-morning custom as competitors sought to restore themselves after the rigours of eight or nine hours battling against the powers of gravity. The surface, especially on the hairpins, was showing the wear that the motorbikes had subjected it to by the time the cars began to muster beside the bridge, but the first car to appear, R A. Barker’s VW Beetle, had no traction problems and rapidly disappeared up the hill. Soon, however, prolonged revving announced that someone was having trouble, and this eventually proved to be a Citroën 2CV. Although it managed the restart line, the following bend defeated it and amid tyre-smoke it was rescued by Land-Rover. While this was going on, spectators at the restart had a good opportunity to admire “Buster”, the Frazer Nash-BMW of Crossley-Meates, as it awaited a clear run. As car followed car, the rear-engined ones proved again and again their superior traction over other production cars, such as the 3-litre Capri of J. J. M. Clark. Despite frenzied activity on the part of two rear seat passengers, the abundance of power of this car span away into tyre-snnoke which at one point threatened to obscure the car completely. Notable for rapid ascents were the Beetle of R. C. Jose, and R. P. Bennet’s Mini-Moke which executed a very effective departure from the restart, despite its small wheels.

In general, the watchword seemed to be steadiness before speed, but a spectacle was provided first by T. J. Threlfall, whose Model A Ford attacked the hill with gusto, and then by Llewellyn’s Bentley, the front wheels of which were lifting high in the air over the rocks and ruts.

Although it was a bright, mild day, the Bovey Down sections were wetter than anyone expected, and came as an unpleasant surprise after the ease of the Special Test at the entrance to the wood. This was a simple job of straddling two lines with a short reverse in between. The observed sections which followed, however, were overlaid with a thick layer of such slippery mud that spectators (and journalists) had great difficulty in tackling them even on foot. The field was by now well spread out in any case, and the existence of two “escape roads” for those who failed one or other of the sections meant that those at the top saw only a handful of cars, and at long intervals at that.

First four-wheeler to appear was again Barker’s Beetle, and while it conquered Norman’s Hump, the morass at the start of Clinton prevented much in the way of a run-up before the worst spot was reached. This brought the car to a halt, but after a rapid slither back down, the marshals decided to move the start back effectively to the finish of the previous section, thereby adding an even steeper hill, but giving competitors a better glance. Barker therefore had a second attempt, but with no success. Although it was by now after lunch-time, a few motorcycle-and-sidecars had still to tackle this mid-morning section, and one of these provided good camera-fodder by abruptly rearing, ridding itself of its human cargo, and proceeding some little distance, unaccompanied, on its tail-light.

It was another VW which eventually cleared both parts, the Notchback of R. Penhale accomplishing this feat without drama, in contrast to Vowden’s Midget which wade it to the top by dint of much wheelspin, a very active passenger, and a power-slide approaching the summit. After an interval, two more cars arrived to try their hand, but both were defeated: H. R. Palmer’s Imp refused not far from the start of Clinton, the second Bovey section, while for some exciting moments Stewart looked as if he would be able to coax his Ford Popular to success but eventually succumbed like so many others to the glutinous surface.

Another near-success was thwarted in its slow, steady ascent by a large rock under the front nearside wheel, which was enough to halt the 1500 Anglia of D. J. Gross. Beetling through the worst of the mud came D. N. Leaver, only to find that even VW traction could not heave him over the final summit, thus providing the Land-Rover with some exercise, while the 2CV managed to negotiate Norman’s Hump, but made very little headway on Clinton, a fate which also befell Bennet with the loudly-revving Moke. One of the spectators had to take a hand in things when Coles’s NSU arrived at the bend; not in pushing it up, but fending it off in self-defence when the front wheels were unable to make steering-way in the mud. G. Warren had a nasty surprise attempting to escape the clinging clay at the bottom of Bovey when a loud clang announced that the Anglia diff. had had enough.

Only a short distance away, as long as you were not competing, was the Waterloo section where a glimpse of the sea made a pleasant background to this leafy lane. The surface here was less troublesome, but this by no means guaranteed an easy climb. “Aramis”, the 1937 MG TA of N. McKee, coped well on the lower slopes, as did the modern-day Midget behind which rocketed up in style. The neat Triumph Marlin driven by D. Chapman fell at the second hurdle, where luckily there was an alternative route which provided an easier escape, also used by Llewellyn when the Bentley came to a halt. Campbell’s Model A Ford seemed to have little trouble at this point, while another MG TA, that of Wood, even managed a neat opposite lock slide as it disappeared from view.

By this time, the light was fading fast, making it harder for marshals and spectators to follow the action. No-one was still running on schedule, and most of the drivers looked tired after their many hours at the wheel. Yet they were continuing to put up good performances, such as that of B. J. Partridge in his Dello, who was followed with similar case by Allen’s 1600 Beetle.

With so many entrants, and such a widely spread event, compiling the results is inevitably a long-drawn-out affair. Yet the general attitude of the competitors seems to be that they know themselves how they fared, and that that is the important thing. Which is as it should be. — G.C.