Quite like old times — I went out on the night of December 4 to see the cars in the Penrite Oil Land’s End to John o’Groats Reliability Trial, the longest Historic and Classic car event held in Great Britain, as they entered Wales. Organised by John Brown and with Clerk-of-the-Course Peter Rushforth and Stuart Collins masterminding the entire route in a large Volvo estate car, this ambitious happening had an excellent entry, ranging from the cheerful father and son crew of Paul and Charles Knill-Jones in what was virtually a 1919 40/50 hp Rolls-Royce chassis with body appurtenances added as an afterthought, and the 1928 Morris Oxford saloon of Douglas Human and Raymond Pearse, to 1950s and 1960s machinery. Obviously an event in which the seizure of any engine or other component could hardly be mentioned. . .
Ambition is the right word to describe this first Penrite Oil Trial. For instance, having started from Land’s End early on December 4, the drivers were faced with a day and night run finishing at Edinburgh in the evening of December 5, the only over-night respite, with driving tests, regularity stages and time controls en route, and with an ascent of Porlock, the Devil’s Staircase, and the Devil’s Bridge road to Ponterwyd included, together with a detour round the Elan Valley lakes for good measure. Then more tests next day in the Forest of Bowland, on the Yorkshire Dales, and in the Pennines and beyond Carlisle. All this before a night’s rest, after which the Monday was occupied with more tests, at Knockhill, and timechecks in Perthshire and at Tayside to Loch Rannoch, followed in the evening with the run from Kyle of Lochalsh to Shieldaig and from midnight on the Tuesday regularity tests, time and passage controls in Sutherland and finally more tests before the 6am finish at John o’Groats.
To get the flavour of the thing we went to the remote Griffin Inn at Cwmowen on that hilly road between Builth Wells and Brecon. A hold-up had made the first arrival, the Ainsworth/Fairclough Alvis Speed 20, half-an-hour behind schedule. It was followed in by the R-R, which had water added to its “Spirit of Ecstacy”guarded radiator filler. There was then a long delay before Branislav Sudjic, calm as ever, appeared in his Type 44 Bugatti with a body like a somewhat inflated Type 43. Navigator David Lee had been keeping warm beneath the tonneau-cover. The very imposing 4.3 Alvis tourer of Podger/Bayliss arrived at much the same time but there was a gap before others came in, and were clocked out to do the regularity stints on the Eppynt Army Ranges, interspersed with Army trucks. After about 1-1/4 hours only 15 cars had checked in.
These included the MG-powered HRG of the Halfpennies, the smart Griffiths/Ryan Silverstone Healey, Mike and Gina Barker in a DBIII Aston Martin, taking it with professional indifference, Mike snatching some “shut-eyes” while Gina did the paperwork, another Alvis Speed 20 of the Williams’s, the Porsche 356A of Tim Wren and Pip Cook, a rare Marauder, a Lancia Aurelia B20, Emminson’s very “showroom” Morgan Plus-4, and a Triumph Herald coupé, one of four entered. Ron Gammons reported all well with his 1965 MG-B.
Some cars had the crew’s names on their flanks and all had large competition numbers on their sides, of which the RAC/MSA rightly tends to disapprove. All four ZA MG Magnettes were in order, Jan Pearce nonchalantly pipe in mouth, and Ryland’s 80-bore Ford Anglia had spare tyres on its roof-rack. Tony Dron’s well-rallied Ford Zephyr had not shown up when we left but there was plenty of variety as another Porsche 356A, TR3, Aston Martin DB2/4 MkII, MG-A coupe, Patten’s 1958 Mk I Wolseley 1500, Jaguar Mk IX, an Alfa Romeo Giulia 1600 Super and two Mini Coopers set the nocturnal scene.
At the Trout Inn at Beulah the Royce arrived alone, having been excused the ascent of the Devil’s Staircase, due to its age rather than inability, although its engine had only recently been installed, and the same concession applied to Human’s square-rigged (flat-nose) 1928 Morris Oxford saloon, which also arrived therefore ahead of the others at “The Trout”; as if to proclaim its age to which the concessions applied, it wore a big board on its stern with the words “Hand Signals Only”, and its driver was finding it slower than most, but sure.
Later the back-markers were seen entering Newbridge-on-Wye, including the Surtees’ 1944 Willys Jeep, Blanckley’s Rochdale Olympic and the Saab 96 of Kozlowski/ Revelle, at 841 cc the smallest-engined entrant. But no sign of Tony Dron’s well-known Ford Zephyr. Some navigators had apparently failed to find the B4358 and had used the longer main-road route via Builth Wells, but in the case of the 1928 Morris perhaps this may have been deliberate, as the more direct road is picturesque but steep in places.
Space precludes following all the adventures of these trialists on their long haul, but it would be nice if Penrite Oil make this event an annual one.
The full awards list for this 1,600-mile event is too long to publish but some of the more important results are: Penrite Trophy (main prize, for best marque team): MG team (Geoff Awde/Peter Ward, MGA coupé: Jan Pearce/John Heifer, ZB Magnette; Ron Gammons/Jayne Bourne, MGB. Gold Medal: E Mackenzie/J Kiff (Triumph). Silver Medals: P Knill-Jones/C Knill-Jones (1919 Rolls-Royce), G Awde/P Ward (MGA), D Whittock/E Waldren (Mini-Cooper S). Bronze Medal: D Griffiths/G Ryan (Healey Silverstone). Vetereans’ Vase: Knill-Jones (Rolls-Royce). Special Award: (longest distance to the start): Jan van der Heyden/J Bekker (Peugeot 404). Charity Shield: N Pattullo/N Brown (Austin-Healey 100), who raised over £12,500 for charity. Special Class A1 Award: D Human/R Pearce (1928 Morris Oxford saloon). W B