Mud in the Midlands

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Mud in the, Midlan

The sort of trial in which competitors are required to put up good performances on steep or very steep gradients, usually mud-surfaced, were, and to some extent still are, a very popular part of the motor sporting scene. They were hardly part of pre-I914 happenings but after the Armistice, when more people had cars and a fair proportion of them wanted to enjoy some competitive driving, but could often not afford to race, trials began to multiply. Having recalled the famous MCC longdistance reliability trials of the vintage period, it seems logical to write about the shorter and certainly more frequently-held “mud trials”. The problem is, which?

I have chosen the Colmore Cup Trials, organised by the well-known Sutton Coldfield and N Birmingham AC, popularly known as SUNBAC. Not necessarily because they were better-known than the many other similar events but because, being centred largely in the Midlands, the trade could keep an eye on them and enter cars if so inclined, the hills used were (perhaps still are) better known to more followers than if they had been widely scattered, because I have to confine myself to a particular trial, anyway, and because this annual event was representative of its kind. The first Colmore Cup Trial was held in 1911: the Cup was to be won outright if anyone was awarded it for two successive years. SUNBAC was organising several trials by 1920, but the last, a half-day affair in November, was for the Shelf Cup, won by the now-immortal HFS Morgan in one of his three-wheelers. (Cars of all sizes competed with motorcycles; an AC and a Hillman took high honours.) But in 1922 the Colmore Cup Trial was definitely on again, starting on a March morning at 8 am from the Stonebridge Hotel and encompassing Saintbury, Sudeley, Rising Sun and Willersey as the principal hills. (The Autocar endorsed my choice, calling it “One of the most sporting events of the year” — not to be confused with the Birmingham MCC’s Victory Cup Trial which was confined to bikes, and cyclecars of under 1100cc and 8 cwt.)

It was dominated by Morgans, which took the Phospher Bronze Team Prize, but HR Godfrey’s GN was well up with them. But the Cup, was won by a motorcyclist. Indeed, the ‘bikes beat cars for years, but Allards took the top Trophy in 1937/38/39. The 1922 Colmore Cup Trial had over 200 motorcycle entries and cars and ‘bikes had to tackle a difficult course, with public-road acceleration tests (no official frowns then!), a stop-and-start on Saintbury’s gradient and a new hill, rural Bushcombe on the Cleeve hills near Cheltenham, which none of the cars could climb, although a GN nearly did; called an “absurd test”, curiously the three-wheelers, although driving on their single back wheels, unlike today’s Reliant Robins, had no real problems here — maybe light weight was the answer. The only cars to survive the trial were two

Rhodes, a Deemster and a GN. The PI Evans Trophy was won by Yates’ New Hudson three-wheeler. The format was much the same for 1923, with a cold-starting test after the Cheltenham lunch stop. Otherwise, the trial was run non-stop apart from the officiallycontrived pauses for tests; incidentally, sealed watches were used, for the time schedule. Only SUNBAC members could drive cars, of under 1100cc. New hills were

Aston-sub-Edge (acceleration test), Gambles Lane (stop/restart), Stockhall, Buckland and Willersey — can they still be found? Some 23 cars and 10 three-wheelers (six TBs, four Morgans) ran with 200 motorcycles. Most popular car was the Rhode, at five entries, but there were three A7 Chummies. This time there was a rutted section which led to muddy Snow’s hill and suited the cars better than the trikes. Three A7s and a Gwynne 8 were among those too high-geared to cope with the restart. Manifold’s Talbot 8 burst both front tyres when cornering fast, something of a habit, but a trio of Rhodes ran impressively, keeping together, HB Denley’s taking the top car prize. The Coventry Cup again went to a motorcyclist. The course proved too much for a TB, an A7, the Talbot (those tyres), one of the Rhodes and a BSA. It was much the same in 1924, the 118mile route so tough that it took toll of six of the 30 small cars. Some of the hills had had their ruts filled-in but new hills had been included. The Gambles Lane (Rising Sun)

restart caused clutch problems for three of the six A7s (the most prolific make, as in today’s VSCC trials). Miss Chilton (BSA) with brimmed-hatted lady navigator got a gold medal, but Miss Roper’s Singer Ten finished sans an award. Best car was HB Denley’s sports Rhode, the other two Rhodes of Norris and Hill also gaining golds. Trade drivers were taking an interest, such as, if I am not mistaken, Gunner Poppe (A7), Mead (Rhode), Brittain with the “Snowden RangerBSA and Al Dixon (Singer 10). In this pre-knobbly-tyres era non-skid chains were allowed. The entry for the 1925 Colmore included the two Bugattis of Lavy and Frank Taylor: the latter made very fast and spectacular ascents of some of the hills, although in the acceleration test Tatlow’s Lea-Francis was quite the quickest. Humble Bee hairpin was so acute that even the sidecar-outfits were baulked but Carless, in a McKenzie car, bravely risked overturning by mounting the bank rather than reversing. CMC Turner ran a Gwynne 8, the long-time trade driver Sam Wright a Humber and a Cluley was competing. This time cars were restricted only by weight, maximum a ton, which let in a very effective 2385 cc sports Bean, but not for this reason did one A7 run minus mudguards, screen and hood . . . Many of the same drivers and cars took part in the Victory Cup Trial later in the year, Taylor again sensational with his Brescia Bugatti inspite of pulling off a front tyre. But Denley (9.5 Rhode) cleaned it up convincingly. Incidentally, some of the hills were used

also by The Autocar when road-testing new cars, another facet which made the Colmore Cup Trial interesting. Rain made the 1926 Colmore difficult but reports read like those on present-day VSCC trials: “Once more the little A7s showed their marvellous capacity for getting along anywhere” and “So far as teams went, the A7s and the Lea-Francis cars showed to the best advantage”. Gypsy Lane out of Winchcombe proved very troublesome, even Denley’s Lea-Francis bogging down. In a sort of driving-test-cum-restart, however, Denley was quickest ( 1 9.5s), with NJ Adlington (Frazer Nash) next best (21.0s). The finishers ran from the Bugatti and three Frazer Nashes to a couple of Iowett twins and a Clyno with twin rear tyres. 1-1B Denley won the Norris Cup, F Denley (1086 cc Rhode) the Rhode Cup and “Aldy” and Morton (Lea-Francis) the special gold medals. The Team Prize went to the A7s. Later in the year the Victory Cup Trial was almost equally well supported, 18 cars to 23, and for the first time since its inception in 1919 a car, Denley in the Rhode, was the winner. The then-editor of MOTOR SPORT (Salmson) took a bronze medal in the Colmore but failed to score with a Senechal in the Victory Cup event, and Taylor’s Bugatti collided with a noncompeting Ford. For those who like to research old trials’ hills on map or feet. these were Weatheroak, Noah’s Ark near Stourbridge, High Oak, Liverage, approached through a “huge splash”, and Abberly. Again: “The A7s made particularly

easy climbs, impressing the large crowd of spectators”. The start had been from King’s Heath Recreation Ground, but the Colmore start had moved to The Unicorn, Stratford-on-Avon. These events attracted so many onlookers that a policeman might be seen at the hills and the SMM&T was threatening to restrict trade entries in these road trials . . .

Fortunately they continued unabated and by 1927 the Colmore and Victory Cup Trials were just two amongst many. The Colmore that year saw such delays at Mill Lane, a three-quarter mile I-in-4 muddy track turning off the foot of Cleeve Hill, that when the 250 competitors got to the finish the results officials had gone home! Best up Gypsy Lane had been Miss Milne’s Austin 12/4 tourer, but another delay resulted when Jacques’ Frazer Nash broke a chain (which presumably jammed the transmission) and needed a horse to remove it — car, not chain. Harcourt’s A7 got furthest up the notorious Mill Lane. For reasons of space, I will now summarise the rest of the Colmore story. Suffice it then to say by 1929 car entries

had declined, although racing drivers like Ron Horton (best on acceleration in his Morgan), Miss Worsley (sports Jowett), FS Barnes (A7), and rally driver Douglas-Morris (Triumph Super-7) took part. By 1930, the last “vintage” year, the event was still well regarded and entries had increased somewhat. Horton’s Morgan won the Rhode Cup for best “car”, runner-up an A7.

Trials were rapidly becoming extremely popular, soon to be contested by Austin (Grasshoppers), MG (Cream Crackers and Musketeers) and Singer, and amateurs driving sports cars of the pre-WW2 era. All this was extremely well described in Wheelspin by the late CAN May (Foulis, 1945, 4th edition 1971) which captures so well the atmosphere of those days of mud-trialling, which persisted, even after the RAC had banned “knobbly” tyres, with freak cars contesting the RAC Trials Championship. Older events are relived now with the many trials for pre193 I cars run by the VSCC. W B

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