A Competitor's Impressions of the London-Edinburgh Run.
By Captain Richard Twelvetrees, A.M.I.Mech.E.
Of all the events of the year, perhaps the London— Edinburgh Run, organised by the Motor Cycling Club, is the most popular, especially by reason of its being perfectly practicable to owners of standard types of motor cycles and cars.
One can take an ordinary standard machine, in good condition, and be fairly certain of putting up a good show in the Edinburgh run, which accounts to a large extent for the numerous entries to be found each year. Seasoned motorists who gathered at Wrotham Park on the historic Friday before Whitstun, were asking themselves why, after having had their fill of motoring, they should stay up all night to have the pleasure of a twenty-four hour run to Edinburgh.
The reason is not far to seek, for in this event one meets old friends, enjoys a delightful disregard for conventional meal times, and escapes for a space from the humdrum of business, to enjoy an outdoor picnic on a very big scale.
It is said that the ” looker on sees most of the game,” and this is indeed true with regard to such an event as the one I am about to describe. Felix, that’s my 11.9 Bean, Cecil, my observer, and myself, were out to get a coveted ” gold ” and, in consequence, could not travel far up and down the line of other competitors to see what was happening. Nevertheless, there was a great deal of interest to be found during the trip at different stages of the route.
A Little Music.
Arriving at Barnet in good time for the evening start, we found a large gathering of cars already assembled, a wait and, anticipating a wait of some hours, we decided to while away the time by collecting some music out of the atmosphere.
The latest addition to Felix is a three-valve reflex wireless set, and by fixing a small frame aerial on the corner of the wind screen, it was possible to tune in to 2 L.0. at loud speaker strength.
The running of the engines of the cars and motor cycles made the music crackle a bit, but on the whole the results were quite successful, until a shower of rain put an end to our experiment.
Everybody, except the Earl of Strafford’s head gardener, was interested in the arrival of a covey of Trojans, for mistaking the sound of a highly-tuned motor cycle engine for an air raid, they proceeded to dig themselves into the grass. Somehow the solid tyres do not seem to agree with nicely kept turf !
At 9.15 p.m. we were given the signal to get ready, and in company with a Palladium, a new 14 h.p. Bean and an 18 h.p. Essex, we drew up to the starting point. It was curious to notice the way some of the competition drivers got off the mark, just as if tenth of seconds counted, but one supposes that these lightning starts come as the result of timed hill climbs and speed events.
At 9.20 we were away, and from the first we were interested to see how the ancient Bean would acquit itself as a companion to the new 14 h.p. of the same make. On leaving the park it became obvious that the Edinburgh Run has a great interest for the general public, for from the time of the start until far on into the night people were found at the roadside waiting for the cars to pass.
By the time the cars had got away, all the motor cycles were far ahead, and it speaks well of the enthusiasm of the riders, that one only caught sight of them when in the long stops at controls. The men on the solo machines seemed to be undergoing the severest test of endurance, and must have had difficulty in keeping awake. As a matter of fact the only casualty recorded in the run was a motor cyclist who fell asleep in Scotland and crashed his machine, fortunately without suffering any serious injuries himself.
Petrol, Coffee and Sandwiches.
According to the route card one had to make the first stop at Biggleswade, and check in at the Swan Hotel. Here one was instructed to have petrol, coffee as mixture seemed to be inferior to that with which we had provided ourselves, we fell back on Thermos flasks filled with more conventional (or convivial ?Ed.) refreshment.
On leaving this first control, we lost sight of the 14 h.p. Bean, and as we had arranged to keep it in sight all the time, we streaked on ahead to try to catch it up. After car upon car had been passed and we were right up with the lower numbers, it became evident that unless we slowed up there would be a risk of spoiling our chances through being too early at some secret control.
Eventually the 14 h.p. Bean turned up unexpectedly from the rear, after which we resumed our proper station, which was kept regularly from that point onwards, until Edinburgh was reached. We made it a matter of principle to be just one half minute behind the larger car at every control, and throughout the entire run numbers 279 and 280 could have been seen in close attendance upon each other.
Quite early on in the trip, we noticed a white Morris-Cowley two-seater having some tyre trouble. The driver and his companion would stop to mend a puncture, then rush ahead to soon ” enjoy ” again the same experience, and without losing time between the controls too !
We stopped taking count of the number of punctures they suffered, and later on found them apparently buying up all the available stocks of tyres and tubes at wayside garages. There must have been something wrong with the rims, but if ever any people deserved gold medals, it was the occupants of that car.
Bad luck dogged them to the last, for when travelling well up the non-stop section of Kirkstone Pass a tyre came off completely, and to avoid smashing up a back axle it was necessary to stop the car, just where it should have been kept going. Very hard lines !
Until Stamford was reached, there was nothing of outstanding interest as far as scenery was concerned, but the quaint architecture of the old world town showed up to remarkable effect in the moonlight, together with the bright light from the procession of cars. Though later than 1.0 a.m., a number of spectators were to be seen in the main street.
Our time at Grantham was 2.25 a.m., and after signing the time sheet at the George there was a stop of just over one hour for early breakfast, though I must say that chronologically it savoured more of last night’s supper. But the charming inconsequence as to meal times is one of the attractions of this all-night picnic, and we enjoyed the pause after the 98 miles run. Never were supplies of petrol and oil more plentiful, for at every stop one was surrounded by eager petrol purveyors, some of whom were offering a bonus to successful competitors using their particular brand.
Soon after leaving Grantham, some of the drivers of the sports cars appeared to be getting rather bored at having to keep down to a low speed ; and, whilst careful not to overstep the mark at the controls, indulged in spasmodic bursts of speed, probably with the idea of keeping themselves awake. There is nothing more conducive to slumber than the droning of a well-tuned engine driving a smooth running car along a good road at night. A useful suggestion to specialists in insomnia cases !
At about five o’clock in the morning we put out the electric torch used for lighting the clock and speedometer, for it was found less trying for the eyes to use a separate torch than to have a continual glare on the instrument board, and at 6.12 a.m. we ran into Doncaster, where another time check was made.
No further checks took place between Doncaster and Ilkley, at 201 miles from London. Here all the cars were parked, whilst a halt was made for a second breakfast at the Middleton Hotel.
By this time nearly everybody was feeling a little tired, and a wash was very refreshing. I believe some of the competitors went to the length of shaving, but the majority preferred to defy convention and be hanged for the consequences.
The picturesque town of Kendal was reached at 12.30 on Saturday morning, and mindful of the non-stop run over Kirkstone, many of the competitors began to look to their lubrication and cooling. It always happens that after a long run of this kind, one imagines that things are going wrong immediately before the critical test takes place.
Several of the cars were seen to stop for a final look round, and I imagined that the oil pressure indicator of the Bean was showing low. To be quite on the safe side, we stopped to increase the pressure on the regulator valve and give the engine a good old souse with fresh oil.
I think most of the drivers were too interested in the impending hill climb to pay much attention to the lakes, and personally the bleak track over the mountain intrigued me far more than the shimmering water of Windermere.
Over the Pass.
The famous climb commences suddenly out of Ambleside, and before one can say knife, the bonnet of the car rises and the engine calls for relief in the shape of a lower gear. On very steep gradients it is no use waiting to see if the engine will pick up to its work, but immediately the “revs.” drop, one must set into a lower gear, to avoid the risk of ” konking out.”
Aided by a little artificial respiration provided by a Bowden extra air inlet, the 11.9 Bean engine “revved up” to a high pitched scream, and made no adverse comments, even on the steepest portions of the pass. Just at one of the narrowest and steepest parts of the climb, a Klaxon from behind us growled persistently, and making a little room at the risk of touching the stone wall, we let a big car go by.
The driver explained later that he was sorry to have troubled us, but it was a case of getting past or konking out, owing to lack of revs., so he wisely chose the former course.
It was our first experience of Kirkstone and when it seemed the worst was over, and we had got into third speed again, a crowd was sighted on the mountain far ahead. Evidently these people had not tramped over the moor to congratulate the drivers for having got through. They were out to see the worst spot of the climb, and from what one can imagine, their station was well chosen.
Before coming to the hairpin, where the gradient is 1 in 5, we snapped into first speed, trod on the gas, and hoped there would be no wheel spin. Up we went, without a falter, though the thin red line on the Boyce motor meter indicated ” Danger : Steam.” But after travelling for 270 miles it would need much stronger comments to make one stop in the middle of the one and only real test of the whole run.
The descent from the summit of the pass makes a very good test for brake efficiency, and one could smell a faint burning as of brake linings wafting up the pass from the cars in front. Anyhow, we pulled up at the Patterdale check with a minute to the good, and a feeling of satisfaction that the worst of the business was over.
Nearly into Trouble.
Noticing that the motor meter line remained quite high, we kept going, thinking that a strong draught of air through the radiator would reduce the temperature of the cooling water, but after going a few miles, no improvement was to be seen.
Fortunately we had a supply of water aboard and the radiator swallowed quite a lot. The incident completely converted me as to the value of the motor meter, which I had previously regarded as an improved form of radiator mascot.
No incidents worthy of comment happened until Carlisle was reached at 3.15, and here there was some congestion at the garage, where all competitors filled up their petrol tanks. Parking in the open space outside the County Hotel was none too easy, on account of the crush, but the hour’s stop for lunch was most welcome.
After subsisting in the main on picnic fare, until one dared not look upon a ham sandwich without a shudder, a good square meal was a godsend. From a chat with the chief marshal at Carlisle, it appeared that there had been a good deal of trouble during the day from local taxi drivers, who resented being turned off their stand to make room for the competitors, and furthermore, the activities of some territorials, complete with artillery, added to the congestion.
When passing through Gretna Green, the famous Blacksmith’s Shop was visible, as well as the huge munition factories, now fallen into disuse. There is also here a very fine example of reinforced concrete bridge construction, crossing the river at this spot, which is, I believe, one of the longest in the country.
The last control but one was at Moffat, where one had a chance to take a cup of tea, and discuss the problem of keeping awake for the final stage of the journey. It was curious to notice the different plans adopted by some of the competitors, one favourite method being that of doing a stretch of the journey fairly fast so as to have time for a nap of ten minutes or so. We passed several cars with all the passengers and the drivers fast asleep, some going to the extent of sleeping full length on the stone walls at the roadside.
The Last Lap.
Had one not been so sleepy, the run from Moffat to Edinburgh would have been as interesting as any other part of the route, but by this time all one’s time was occupied by keeping awake. Cecil, my observer, abandoned the attempt entirely and fell asleep in a troubled way, mumbling something about wireless circuits. At last I discovered that by travelling fairly fast, the cool wind had a refreshing effect, and by keeping up the pace, we got into the Waverley Market dead on time, filled up the time sheet, unpacked our bags and put in an indent for a perfectly good gold medal !
Apart from the pleasure one gets out of a run like the London-Edinburgh, there is always a lot to be learned, at least for those who have never taken part in such an event before. In the first place, one’s car must be tuned up to a nice degree of efficiency, which means more than having the engine developing its full power. There are so many little things that might happen to take up the margin of time that one is allowed at the controls. It is very desirable too, to study the matter of driving comfort well in advance.
I had foreseen that there would be some difficulty in keeping awake, so had taken all precautions to eliminate any factors tending to create fatigue. One experiment consisted of fitting the 30 by 3.5 rims with Rapson balloon tyres, which, while being very comfortable, appear to be remarkably thin in the walls. One cannot expect to have comfort, however, without paying for it in some form or another, and we were prepared to risk a few punctures in order to gain driving comfort.
As it turned out these tyres stood up extremely well, though many people predicted no end of trouble from punctures. At corners no riling was experienced, neither was there the slightest suspicion of side slip even on the most treacherous of roads, and when racing up the steepest parts of the test hill, no sign of wheel slip could be detected. Another thing that added greatly to the comfort of the Bean was the addition of Hartford shock absorbers, which made the running delightfully smooth.
Another fitment added for the journey consisted of a Tapley gradient meter, which considerably adds to the interest of driving and is exceptionally useful as an indicator when to change speed, especially at night, when the gradients are apt to be very deceptive. This little instrument also serves as a useful guide as to what the car should do in the way of acceleration, and thus is convenient when tuning up.
On the return journey a good deal of fun was got out of the wireless set, and in some parts of the country the inhabitants were greatly astonished to hear music coming from the loud speaker which for their benefit was concealed beneath the tonneau cover. At Newcastle on Sunday we gave an impromptu concert in the station square, but attempts to get reception on the Great North Road were not so successful, owing to the screening effect of the telegraph wires.
Tests with “Carb-jector” Silencers.
In a series of tests with a Matador motor cycle, on a trial hill near Garstang, ten miles north of Preston, with open exhaust and with and without ” Carb-jector ” fitted, the two fastest times were made with the” Carbjector.” A curious feature was that the rider each time thought his open-exhaust runs the faster-until the stop watch convinced him.
The fact that many winning times, including world’s records, have been put up by such riders as C. G. Pullin, R. N. Judd, J. Emerson, J. Watson Bourne, W. Barr, J. W. Shaw, Graham W. Walker and amateur riders of the o.h.v. Norton, using the ” Carb-jector,” is enough to discount any idea of effective back pressure from this device. We are now putting the ” Carb-jector ” to a test on several different types of motor cycles, and propose to report upon these in due course.