Simms Hill remains one of the most feared sections in the MCC’s Exeter Trial, the classic event dating back to 1910, and a formidable obstacle to winning a gold, silver or bronze medal.
The hill, near Islington in South Devon, was described by The Autocar as 3200 yards long, starting with a 1-in-5 stretch to a sharp right-hand bend, then rising for 60 yards of 1-in-3.5, where the gradient measured 1-in-2.75. It was discovered by the Junior Car Club in 1923, when it was regarded as a freak hill, not suitable for trials. This go-ahead Club held a rally there that year for those who wanted to see light cars with hopefully successful assaults on the horror. The Hon Victor Bruce went down the day before in a sports AC and got up, but on the day failed due to wheelspin. A great many people many arrived that February to watch what The Autocar would call Stubbs Hill.
They would have seen men with chocks ready to catch any cars that began to run backwards. In fact, nearly 40 attempts were ‘clean’, three GNs being among the successful cars, proving that air-cooling was no detriment up the short climb. Most of their drivers were well-known professionals. All the GNs were the Vitesse models, of which Finch’s made the quickest official time, in, followed by Walsgrove’s Riley and a sports Marseal, both taking 19.4sec. The slowest successful ascent was that of Bennet’s Rover 8, in 30.4sec.
There were many failures we need not bother with, except to remark that W Bennett stood on his Rover’s seat, that Harvey’s Alvis had spiked back wheels sans tyres but failed, that Mr And Mrs Carr’s overturned.
Even those who were ‘clean’ often were so only after several attempts “on one of England’s worst hills.” Prates sent down a fuel lorry and Topical Budget showed a film of it all. An interesting feature is the JCC checked bottom gear-ratios, which varied from 24:1 of the Rovers to 12:1 on the Marseal and 13:1 of the two faster GNs. Finch used Parson chains and his GN was driven unofficially by Norman Black, who clocked 13.0sec. I will refrain from listing the many famous makes which could not conquer this ‘new’ gradient…
It remained the greatest ‘stopper’ in these MCC Exeters, the next trickiest hill until 1938 being Fingle Bridge, which caused 85 to fail in 1933.
Severity notwithstanding, the MCC decided Simms should be used in its Exeter trials, providing one of the most difficult tests as it had in the ’20s.