In the colour-pages you will find an interesting account by M.L. about driving a modern Bentley Eight from London to John O’Groats. inspiration having been derived from a similar run I did in 1938 with a 41/4-litre Bentley, the idea being to see if my time could be improved upon in spite of the 60 and 70 mph speed-limits now in force, whereas when I did the 702-mile journey there were no such restrictions. apart from the 30 mph limit in built-up areas; against which, roads and cars have improved in the interim.
Leaving M L. to make the comparisons, let me tell you how carefree it all was then. Two friends joined me and we set off for the fun of it, without forewarning hotels or garages, and with only a vague idea of the route. I remember waiting for breakfast until the hostelries opened and knocking-up a vendor of petrol in the night-hours. who only condescended to supply us when he was told we intended spending no less than 24/-(120p.) on filling the Bentley’s tank! The A1, although called the Great North Road, was very narrow. and as war was only a year distant, long convoys of Army trucks were out and about, difficult to overtake. In those 700 miles we destroyed two India tyres but M.L. had no anxiety at all with the Avons with which today’s Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars are shod.
In 1955 MOTOR SPORT had a Bristol 404 for road-test and a young colleague was persuaded to repeat the London to J-O’G, taking me as co-driver. This time, although again starting from Parliament Square beneath Big Ben, as M.L. did in 1985, we left on the A14, instead of following the A1 all the way. The 2-litre Bristol managed a running time average for the 716.2 miles of 53.6 mph, the journey taking under half-an-hour less than the Bentley had needed to cover 702 miles 17 years earlier. The “Businessman’s Express” gave an overall fue-lconsumption of 21.3 mpg, whereas the Bentley had done just under 17 1/2 mpg. This showed that roads had improved but were now more congested, although logged on a shorter run down from Scotland on the way home the Bristol averaged 52.3 mph, whereas the Bentley had only done 51.2 mph, on an admittedly rather longer haul . . .
The year following the Bristol’s run we decided to see, if the same driver could better his time, with a 4.9-litre S-series Bentley, with automatic gearbox. Magnificent as this big 1956 Bentley was, we abandoned the run in Edinburgh, because its handling hampered high speed, either due to Rolls-Royce’s belief that most of the retardation from their mechanical-servo brakes should be on the rear wheels, or because the tyre-size then prevailing was unsuited to driving a heavy luxury-car as if it were a sports-car; or perhaps the roads were extra slippery! Anyway, the average speed was only about 47.6 mph and a fuel thirst of 13.6 mpg meant too-frequent stops to refill the small tank, which further discouraged us. After an hour’s sleep, we drove home…
For me the introduction of absurdly low speed-limits on our vastly-improved roads has reduced the fun of these long runs, remembering the old freedoms. There was, of course, nothing new in all this. From the dawn of road-travel people used to try to break the Land’s End to John O’Groats record — which reminds me that when we arrived at the latter place with the aforesaid Bristol I had been there just six days previously, on an occasion when we did not so much as stop but drove off again, having come from Land’s End in an Austin A501, the object a fuel-consumption frolic, with speed kept down deliberately to about 50 mph, which enabled me and Kenneth Best, of National Benzole, to claim over 34 mpg and still average 39.09 mph.
All down the years such things have been going on I believe that J.W. Stocks, when quite an old gentleman, was still improving on his “End-to-End” times with a Ford V8, in the late 1930s, and I have just come upon a report of a run done on a 20/30 hp Belsize in 1908, from Aberdeen to London, that occupied 31/4 hours short of two days and nights, equal to 191/4, mph for the 620 miles, at 22.1 mpg. Shap would have been a top-gear climb had not a cart dropped a load of stones in the path of the Belsize, a kind of hazard neither M.L. nor I had to contend with, on our runs In Scotland…! If you like motoring, long journeys are seen as a way of life. And dull as Motorways are, it should be possible to legally put about 70 miles into an hour on clear ones, whereas with the 1938 Bentley the best we did was to put 31 miles into one half-hour. which the Bristol bettered by a mere 0.2-miles. — W.B