A COMPETITOR’S IMPRESSIONS OF THE LONDON-EXETER RUN.
By RICHARD TWELVETREES, A.M.I.Mech.E.
OF all the classic road events of the year, the annual Winter Run from London to Exeter and back, organised by the Motor Cycling Club, is generally adnutted to be one of the most severe trials to which ordinary touring cars can be subjected. Whilst the route selected for the London-Land’s End trial is considered by some competition exponents to be the more severe, the weather conditions usually prevailing at the time of the Exeter trip call for first class mechanical skill and perseverance on the part of the drivers.
From a concensus of opinion from competitors and spectators alike, this year’s run was no less strenuous than usual, in fact, many went so far as to say it was the worst weather experienced since the first trial some ten years ago. However, this article has nothing to do with other people’s views, as I have promised to give my own observations as an individual competitor, with but little opportunity of noticing anything that happened outside the necessarily confined limitations imposed by my own efforts to get through the arduous test.
The car I entered was my 1923 11.9 Bean four-seater, which has some 25,000 miles to its credit and a ” gold ” in the London—Edinburgh. One gets a kind of affection for a tried and trusted car, and little exploits such as the M.C.C. Winter Run only go to make one more keen to keep a ‘bus tuned up to concert pitch.
My observer, a mechanic friend of some years’ standing, and I both put in a fair amount of time in taking down the engine, titivating up the big ends and giving the car careful attention all round, so that everything might be in order for the event.
During the preliminary tests, we had succeeded in climbing a hill of i in 5 from a standing start on first speed and changing up to complete the ascent on second, with plenty of ” revvs in reserve. By carefully selecting the best sizes of main jets and choke tube for the Memini carburettor we were also able to attain a speed of a little over 25 miles an hour on second gear, 36 on third, and well over 57 on top, which goes to show that the little engine was turning over in a manner that augured well for any call that might be made upon it during the Christmas run.
Another thing we did was to fit a Sumwin Radiator Shutter, by means of which, in conjunction with the Boyce Motormeter, we could keep a nice control over the temperature of the cooling water, and as it turned out, this fitting proved its worth during the cold night following Boxing Day.
Having had some experience of chains becoming knotted due to being shaken about in the back of the car, we decided that it would be more convenient to carry two spare wheels equipped with tyres and chains ready to be changed when required, but as events proved, we made the mistake of omitting a spare for the chain wheels and also handicapped ourselves to some extent, by carrying the extra weight of the wheels.
It would have been better to have carried the chains alone and to have fitted them to the wheels, instead of making the complete change as we did. There were several other things we learned during the course of the run, but these will be referred to in due course.
The Start from Staines.
By the time we arrived at the starting point, most of the three-wheelers had been dispatched and the cars were drawing up into position. Hundreds of spectators crowded round the starter, and after signing on at the Bridge House Hotel, we made off down the narrow lane made by interested sightseers.
As the car allotted the number preceding ours did not put in an appearance, we had two minutes to catch up the Lagonda running in front, which for company’s sake we decided to follow closely. In one respect this winter’s run was very different to the London-Edinburgh, for the competitors seemed to run in groups instead of in a regular procession, due no doubt to the number of gaps caused by absentees. It made the trip rather less sociable than it might have been, and also created a danger of novices losing their way as happened in a number of cases on the revised portions of the route.
From Staines to Salisbury the trip was uneventful, even monotonous, though at a few places we saw indications of the little troubles experienced by the motor cyclists, some of whom were stopped for minor defects. The stop at Salisbury gave us the opportunity of greeting old motoring friends and gathering snaps of information concerning the character of the route where the more strenuous part of the trip lay. There were discussions as to whether chains would be needed at the various hills and whether balloon tyres could really be relied upon to give a sure grip on the worst of the surfaces. We noted that most of the balloon advocates carried chains with them, and as the Dean was fitted with new semi-balloons, we resolved to run no risks and use the chained wheels for each and all of the non-stop climbs.
In the Track of the Storm.
On leaving Salisbury, the wind which had caused us some inconvenience when crossing the Plain, began to increase in force and blowing nearly head on, had the effect of slowing us considerably, to say nothing of driving the rain and hail into our faces. Large branches blown from the trees were scattered on the road at various places, these, as we learned afterwards, causing more than one casualty among the motor cyclists. One tree lifted clean out of the ground by its roots, blocked up half the roadway, hut some Goad Samaritan had placed a warning lamp to acquaint the drivers of the danger. That the weather conditions ahead were more than normally severe was gathered by the fact that solitary motor cyclists, still bearing their competition numbers,
A COMPETITOR’S IMPRESSIONS continued.
could be seen beating their way back to town, and when we fully realised the kind of ride they were having on the solo machines, it was a wonder that any survived the double journey at all.
Keeping on the good main roads, our course was beset by no difficulties other than those imposed by King Boreas, who was in a very frisky humour, we made an uneventful run through the undulating country, passing Yeovil, Crewkerne and Chard, then leaving the main road near Honiton, turned off in order to tackle Peak Hill, where one of our adventures took place.
Just before reaching Sidmouth, we stopped to change the rear wheels, but were guilty of the mistake of taking things rather too leisurely ; for, not knowing the narrow lanes, we were shut in by cars, whose drivers had wisely elected to arrive at the bottom of the hill with a few minutes in hand. We, unfortunately, only passed the check just on time and so had nothing to spare in making the ascent. Peak Hill is about one mile in length, the steepest part of the incline being i in 5, with a stony treacherous surface, rendered more so by the passing of the preceding cars.
An Adventurous Climb.
Partly baulked at the start of the hill by another car, we were forced to go into one of the deep gulleys at the road side and the subsequent effort of getting out again proved too much for our off-side tyre, which promptly came off the rim and began flapping about in a most disconcerting way. Relieved of the restraining influence of the chain, this wheel began to spin and dig in alternately, and had the effect of dragging the car so much that I am afraid our ascent of Peak was somewhat erratic. But the little engine was good enough for the extra work imposed upon it and the car roared to the top with plenty of reserve, notwithstanding the buckling rim and shredded tyre. We had planned to keep the chains on and run into Exeter, knowing by this time that by dropping behind for a few minutes at the top of Peak Hill, it would have been impossible to overtake any other cars in the narrow
lanes between that spot and the point where the Exeter main road was rejoined. Fate, decreed otherwise, and instead of keeping our position for safety, we were compelled to lose valuable minutes and then after refixing our wheels, make into the city at the best speed we could.
Nearly Blown Over.
It was when speeding over this section of the route that we had the unpleasant experience of being nearly blown off the road. The wind was cutting across us at a speed of about sixty miles an hour, and just as we were rounding a curve at high speed, a sudden gust caught the hood, and we heeled over quite perceptibly, both near side wheels leaving the ground by about six inches for a fraction of a second. We both looked out for a soft spot on which to deposit ourselves, but the wheels came to the surface of the road just in time to prevent what appeared to be inevitable.
Part of the Sea.
When in the neighbourhood of Sidmouth on the outward journey and the going was fairly good, I remarked to my companion that we were near the coast and pointed out a spot where the sea could be observed. ” Look, Jim!” I said, ” there’s the sea.” ” Yes,” he corrected, “that’s a part of it at any rate, I think the rest of it has gone down my neck.” You see, by this time Jim and I were thoroughly moist, hence his facetiousness.
Exeter at Last.
At Exeter another of our carefully devised plans went wrong, for we had decided upon a nice wash, a breakfast at the hotel, and a saunter among the other competitors before we recommenced the journey. As it happened, we had to spend most of the time chasing round for a new tyre and tube, which we eventually obtained from Nlaude’s Motor Mart, Mr. Hughes and his assistants being very eager to do all that they could to help us out of our difficulty of getting ready in time to start again. Thus, wet, tired and hungry, we started off again on the return journey, which proved to be far more adventurous than the trip from Staines.
Making up Time.
Profiting by the experience of being late at Peak Hill, we started off for Honiton with the intention of getting all the time we were allowed in hand before stopping to “re-chain ” for Marlpits Hill. This meant travelling all out for several miles and there was the chance of heating the engine enough to provoke boiling during the ascent. Not that a little boiling does any harm, but spectators get the impression that a car is labouring in the last throes of despair if a little steam issues from the radiator cap. We wanted to make a clean ascent, and so had a little stop to cool down and give the engine a draught of oil, which also assisted to reduce the temperature. Marlpits gave us no trouble at all, in fact the Bean took a considerable portion of the gradient on third. Just at the steepest point, however, we were nearly
A COMPETITOR’S IMPRESSIONS—continued.
baulked by another competitor who had had the misfortune to stop his engine. By going perilously near to the edge of the ditch, we just managed to clear the stationary car and continued the non-stop ascent in approved style—at least, so it appeared to us.
Salcornbe and White Sheet Hills.
Soon after surmounting Marlpits Hill we were confronted by Salcombe, which has the reputation of being more severe in gradient than its neighbouring accliNdty. Rising for a considerable distance with a gradient of from i in 12 to I in 8, the steepest portion is I in 5, but the chief difficulty lies in the slippery nature of the surface, due to the presence of falling leaves from the trees, which practically meet overhead. We had no trouble with tyres, and the engine held steadily at its work, giving no cause for the least anxiety at any part of the climb. As a matter of fact, the exploit at Peak Hill, when the engine pulled us safely to the top in spite of the loss of a tyre, left us no occasion to doubt its ability to take us up the side of a house if need be, though naturally, as a matter of policy, we preferred to keep to the prescribed route.
Some twenty-seven miles after climbing Salcombe Hill we came to White Sheet Hill, near Beaminster, where the organisers had prepared another little excitement in the shape of a stop and re-start test. Judging from the number of spectators congregated at this point, they expected us to do some fancy slithering stunts, but the Bean now well warmed up to the game of climbing hills, sailed up the hill merrily and then pulled gently up, on being requested to do so by the marshal in charge of the re-starting operations. Now, it is one thing to be at the wheel of a car that will do all required of it when on an ordinary run and another matter to get away quickly on a test, with crowds of spectators keenly on the look out for sensations. From the viewpoint of the latter, the most amusement is derived from drivers who boggle the re-start, and we had to think how to get away to avoid wheel spin on the one hand and stopping the engine on the other. On receiving the signal to restart, the clutch was let gently into engagement, then as soon as the wheels got a grip, bang went the foot on the accelerator and the engine quickly got up the necessary ” revvs” to take us over the timed portion with at least five seconds in hand. That concluded the hill climbs, and with the
exception of the bad luck about the tyre, no one could have wished a car to behave better.
Between the top of White Sheet Hill and the point where the main road was rejoined, the course lay through as fine a selection of by-roads as one could wish. In the first place a thick mist obscured one’s vision for more than a few yards in front of the bonnet, which prevented one from observing the bumps which preceding cars made in crossing the galleys cut athwart the lane. These gulleys were nearly a foot deep with a similar width and gave the springs a most severe testing. Here the value of shock absorbers was very apparent, and had it not been for the Hartfords, I am
sure there would have been at least a couple of leaves fractured.
The next excitement was provided by a series of deep water splashes and there was no time to find out whether the bottom was slimy or stony, so we just sailed through them on ” spec ” so to speak, and in doing so nearly ran into another car which had slowed up in the mist and could not be seen.
At Dorchester, there was a welcome cup of coffee and sandwiches provided at the garage, and from thence the journey was fairly easy into Salisbury, apart from the slight trouble of keeping warm when thoroughly wet through. The cars that gathered at the White Hart looked very different to when they set out on the night previous, but there were DO complaints, and all the club members seemed to thoroughly enjoy the outing, adverse though the weather conditions had been.
Leaving the city after a welcome rest, we proceeded home by the main London road, and “so to Staines” as Pepys would have said. On the last part of the trip the run was easy, keeping regular time presented no trouble whatever, and singularly enough, neither Jim nor I had the slightest inclination for sleep, which usually constitutes one of the annoying factors towards the final stages of a trial of this kind. I suppose the wind had blown all the cobwebs out of our eyes and given us enough fresh air to last until we line up for the London-Land’s End at Easter. It’s astonishing how this Club Run business fascinates one. I keep on wondering why we do it, but shall not regret having taken part in one of the most remarkable Exeter runs that has ever been on record.