It is a signal that Christmas is fast approaching when the VSCC’s Enstone driving tests come around, staged on that bleak airfield come on plateau off the A34. On December 5 it was chilly, but fine, as 96 entrants were due to show their skills and the prowess of their motor cars in 10 difficult tests.
There was a panic half-a-day beforehand, when the insurers of the venue refused to cover the land north of the aerodrome formerly used for the four best tests. (How complex motor sports have become!) However, the co-operation of the Mill and the quick work of the competition chaps at the VSCC saved the day. Enstone has become a busy place, with flying, hang-gliding, buggy-racing and old-car dealings all taking place there. On the day of the VSCC event, there was also a rally school in furious action. The frolics of the vintage cars were tame in comparison, if far more interesting.
However, a lone reporter cannot cover everything at once, as the tests ran concurrently. What follows are therefore random observations.
In the long Test 2, the girl manipulators of the Marsh family’s 1926 top-hat A7 had winding-up problems after stalling while in full flight, but completed the run, and Robin Batchelor, wearing a Union Flag dunce’s cap, had a similar delay when his 1913 Rollo cyclecar lost motivation; he winds his up from one side. He, too, was eventually able to get to the finish bollards unaided. Ben Collings had arrived alone in the four-carburettor eight-litre Bentley, coping well with both icy roads on the way and the tests themselves: in striking contrast was Winn’s smart 1927 3 1/2-litre Dodge tourer, its hood erect, which ably represented American technology with rear-wheel brakes and wooden wheels with detachable rims.
Heale’s Alvis Special was treating the tests, as someone said, with the circumspection that its shortened wheelbase probably demanded, but Groome was scuttling about in his little 1904 beehive-radiator Wolseley. Chris Gordon, out for Edwardian points, had borrowed Walker’s stripped-for-action Alphonso Hispano-Suiza but it was having dire clutch problems. It reminded me that the example I once ran, and which has recently been the subject of auction bids, had a very smooth cone clutch, the opposite to that on my one-time Gwynne Eight.
Bugattis were represented by Conway’s aluminium-wheeled T35, with the explicit registration EB 1926, and the Brescias of Moffatt (muddy) and Marsh (immaculate). There were a lot of non-arrivals, but impressive was a huge Sunbeam 20/60 tourer that did not feature in the entry list. Blake was there with his GN and Bob Wood drove his smart 1928 1500 Alfa Romeo, but slid over the stop-line at the end of Test 2. In contrast, wild swerving and braking just anchored young Threlfall’s A7 Chummy in time, after which his mother had a go. Newall’s A7 Special was notably quick, aided by twin Amals.
Jane Arnold-Forster was conducting a long-bonneted A7 Special dated 1933 and painted yellow. . . to prevent larger cars stepping on it she explained. The Harcourt-Smiths drove their quad-exhaust-piped Alvis Silver Eagle and other interesting cars were Heard’s 1923 1 1/2-litre Invicta tourer, Dainty’s A7 Chummy (nicknamed ‘Eustice 11′) with cutaway doors, had been bought new in 1927 and has been with the same family ever since, and, among many Riley entries, Stevens’ drove a rare two-door 1933 Lynx tourer.
Moreover, the event was graced by a Lagonda Rapier from Belgium. It was nice to see a Lancia Lambda competing, a very clean 1928 car with a non-standard touring body and McDonald Smith was in his first VSCC event in his 1935 Riley Special. Of spectating cars, I noted a fine eight-litre Bentley saloon being used as a perambulating observation platform, a two-seater 14/40 Vauxhall, and a sporting straight-eight Hudson-engined Spikins Special which, the chilly air notwithstanding, was over heating.