Whitsun 1966

Bank holidays may be troublesome institutions no longer worth preserving but Whitsun in England is still a good time of year. Easter is too uncertain climatically, August too caught up in the turmoil of longer holidays, but at Whitsun the weather is often tolerant—this year, as in 1965, it was very fair indeed.

From the motoring aspect I find it amusing that whereas last Whitsun I had trouble (involving a drive-shaft) with a front-drive car and thus turned with some relief to a front-engined-rear-drive Vauxhall Viva, this Whitsun it was a car of the latter kind—let’s call it a Leyland 1300—that I had arranged to sample, hoping to test it over some rough ‘Welsh terrain that defaulted, not because of mechanical failure but because there were many mods. to be incorporated to bring it up to current specification (thereby presumably making it “better than the best” in its class) and one of the periodic British strikes had made conditions at the factory so chaotic that it wasn’t ready in time. So plans had hastily to be remade; instead of doing the anticipated road test I found myself using a front-drive M.G. 1100, a car that I always enjoy driving.

Whitsun 1966 really began on the Friday evening. As other car-users started and stopped and jostled their way in crawling queues out of congested cities or belted along arterial highways at speeds between 40 and a daring 70 m.p.h. according to their personal skill/timidity factor, we went in a 1930 Sunbeam Sixteen to the annual Hants. & Berks. MC. “Sloggin & Clatter.”

This unusual event aims at presenting for mutual interest a widely-varied selection of vehicles, the only stipulation being that those presented shall be the property of those who bring them as distinct from another ingenious institution of this Club, at which the cars need not be the personal property of their driver, indeed, may be brought by the Trade, but are demonstrated to eager members.

The “Sloggin & Clatter” is a static affair, once assembled, but I doubt whether a more interesting gathering of cars could be seen at any other Club event. On this pre-Whitsun Friday evening they ranged from feverishly-exciting things like Patsy Burt’s Firestone-shod F.1 McLaren-Oldsmobile, immaculate, like the Don Parker trailer it came on and the Singer Vogue estate car that towed it, and Epstein’s LM Ferrari, also on Firestones, trailed behind a Chrysler Valiant, to the Citroen 2 C.V. enthusiastically road-tested by Motor Sport centuries ago and a “yeller” Calcott proclaiming itself as 1918 and with mudguards of tree-wood, the last-named also on a trailer. In between, as it were, you had Stoop’s Porsche 911, Gahagan’s Type 37 Bugatti (neither of these on trailers !), three of the smaller pre-war Rolls-Royces, Worthington’s quietly handsome Bentley Continental, a couple of Jensen 541s, the Lancia Ardea of Dudley and Mrs. Steynor, its petrol taps and gauge as complex as its little V4 power unit, and a Panhard 24CT.

Nan Cawthorne of the H. & B.C.C. had also persuaded along Birchall’s self-converted Herald-Climax, Hobbs’ 1933 Riley Ulster, Lupton’s Daimler SP250, Holleborne’s 1956 Ace-Bristol, an Ulster Austin 7, another post-war Bentley, a works Austin-Healey 3000 belonging to Tony Ambrose, a lowered Saab 96, a couple of Lotus Elans, a Lotus Elite and Mike Byte’s automatic Mercedes-Benz 230SL. There was also the inevitable Austin 10/4, with unintentionally ventilatory back window and evidence that it suffers from the 10/4’s traditional loose radiator cap. . . .

Leaving this splendid assembly in a VW, we put in a few hours’ sleep before departing for Wales in the M.G. It had been loaded and tanked up beforehand but it is a sombre reflection on the English climate that, although it was nearly June, we had to get out the Total de-icer can to clear frost from the screen after the car bad spent the short night outside the garage. Starting at 6 a.m. the new by-passes round Newbury and Gloucester were traffic-free and good time was made via Ledbury and Hereford until, just before the Welsh border, we came up with D.S.J. in the aforesaid vast, vintage Sunbeam as he was alighting to take breakfast in Kingston, having left several hours before us. When we restarted holiday traffic was becoming a bit thick along A44 but soon we were able to turn off down the lanes leading to my quiet, intentionally telephoneless retreat in Radnorshire.

The remainder of the day was divided between messing about with some ancient motor-cars and trying to make the one-horsepower Rubery Owen Sabre Jet pump, on which the domestic water supply depends, function properly—since it was installed it has proved as temperamental as a certain V16 racing car from the same stable.. .. Whit-Sunday saw the Sunbeam heading in warm sunshine towards Llandovery by way of Builth Wells, where the South Wales section of the V.S.C,C. was holding a picnic run in Crychan Forest, by courtesy of Allan Miller of the Forestry Commission This proved a thoroughly pleasant day, especially as there was time for a drink with a former Cooper/B.R.M. driver on the way.

Although the only vintage sports car present was a 2-litre Lagonda, the others were of considerable variety. There were four stately Rolls-Royces, the oldest a 3-speed, r.w.b. Twenty limousine. Besides our Sunbeam with its “bogus” post-war body there was a well-known Sunbeam 25, of the same age but possessing centre-lock wheels whereas ours bolt on (a blessing, perhaps, for the larger one confessed to having shed one of these essential components a few days earlier!), a massive 4-litre Bentley saloon driven by the daughter of its original owner, one of the earliest Austin 16/6 saloons, with an enclosed spare wheel at the back and another on the o/s running board; a 1929 “interim”-period Austin 12/4 saloon with the long central gear lever and a louvred bonnet, a “real” Austin Twelve open tourer, of 1927 vintage, with railway-carriage door handles, brass radiator (awaiting re-nickeling) and Pratts petrol can, and a very clean 1930 Humber saloon. Jones brought the lusty Duesenberg-Roamer up from Llanelly, and there was a Derby Bentley saloon.

All these cars set off along the Forestry Commission roads, part of the Eppynt circuit, well-known to competitors in the R.A.C. Rally. Clouds of dust soon smothered them as they shook and shuddered over the pot-holes in conditions they would have encountered daily in the mid-nineteen-twenties. To some the going may have seemed a bit rough, yet the only (temporary) breakdown was caused by the electric fuel pump which the Austin 12/4 saloon was utilising instead of an Autovac. . .. After a sunbathing session at the summit of a minor mountain we retraced our route as far as Beaulah and came over the hills to Newbridge-on-Wye, the heavy Sunbeam taking the steepest of these gradients strongly in 2nd gear.

Bank Holiday Monday itself involved returning in the M.G. 1100 to Southampton, to see the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race relayed via Early Bird satellite to the local Gaumont Cinema, an epoch-making bit of history of which the Players cigarette people and the Rank Organisation must be justifiably proud. We were delayed when a Dunlop C41 tubeless tyre went down after 7,300-miles’ service and also because we detoured to Malvern Link, where Morgans are made. Thereafter it was necessary to press on through busy Upton-on-Severn, Tewkesbury, Cheltenham, Cirencester, Cricklade. and Marlborough, before decanting my (protesting) wife at Andover to send her home by train, before we followed the slow moving traffic from Stockbridge and Romsey to our destination. But the traffic was far from “impossible”.; motoring on a fine Bank Holiday presents no problems if route and time are sensibly contrived….

That Indianapolis TV screening. was incredible, the race full of drama almost from the multiple-crash that marred the start to the dramatic finish as Ruby, Clark and Stewart forfeited the lead to give Graham Hill’s Lola-Ford its declared victory. The American commentator was a model of how race commentators should perform, never “filling in,” never being hysterical, not bandying Christian names about, but it was a pity the timekeepers misled him into making a nonsense of the laps completed by the leaders towards the end. The reception on the wide screen was far better than I had anticipated and the manner in which incidents of a few minutes earlier could be reprojected in entirety was incredible, the interviews and pit-stop close-ups superb.

That the audience in a packed cinema—and this but one of a number scattered about the country—should follow the programme, lasting just short of 3 1/2 hours, so enthusiastically, Clark’s initial lead kindly clapped and cheered, with counter applause from these Americans who were present as Lloyd Ruby swept in front, shows the enthusiasm existing for motor-racing and the enormous potentialities for future race-viewing of this sort. Certainly anything but a technical magazine review of a race now seems superfluous; and daily and weekly newspapers will meet serious competition if such long-distance TV reporting becomes commonplace. I do not know how long it took Indy spectators to get out of the place or what it cost them to get there, or how much the Press saw of this dramatic motor race, but I do know that the Continental Correspondent and I were home an hour after walking out of the Gaumont in Southampton, having seen and heard almost everything of interest and importance that took place across the Atlantic! Personally, in spite of the rumoured traffic hold-ups and accidents (we saw not one of these) I was well content with this Whitsun week-end and I think D.S.J. found it a pleasant break between the Monaco G.P. and the 1.000.kilometres.

And throughout the long week-end the M.G. 1100 was an excellent substitute for the unready Leyland 1300; its boot once again proved able to take a surprising amount of luggage and equipment in spite of its absence of undesirable overhang-there is more stowage beneath the back seat of this compact Issigonis contrived package-and when that Dunlop deflated we discovered that the 1100 can be easily raised on its ingenious ratchet-operated side-jack.-W.B.