Chain-Drive on the Land's End

W.B. has dealt with the MCC’s Anniversary Commemoration Run, held in conjunction with this year’s Land’s End Trial, elsewhere in this issue (see page 737). However, Motor Sport was also represented on the main trial, this year passengering in a 1933 Colmore Frazer Nash driven by long-time Classic Trials ‘Nash exponent, Hugh Leigh. The invitation to members of the VSCC to take part in the Anniversary Run encouraged a number of that club’s regular trials drivers to turn out in the main event, so the number of pre-war cars taking pan in the 1981 Land’s End Trial was greater than usual and included a brace of 30/98 Vauxhalls driven by Brian Gray and Tony Jones, a team of three Frazer Nashes, the Colmore, a TT Replica driven by Leigh’s son, David, on his first MCC Trial, and the well known Boulogne of Tim Boyce. VSCC President, Tom Threlfall, and his brother-in-law, Richard Campbell, were using a pair of model A Fords, Barry Clarke and Sue Halkyard were Austin 7 mounted, while Bernard Kain used his Bugatti. Singer Le Mans and MG’s of assorted varieties were in abundance and David Bowles was using his ex-Ulster TT V8 Ford.

The ‘Nash team chose to start from Bristol, leaving the Gordano Service area just before midnight on Good Friday and motoring gently through the night by way of Chippenham and Warminster to the rendezvous at Sparkford on the A303, for the start of the trial proper. First section was Sug Lane, a narrow track winding its way over a railway bridge and climbing up to the high ground above the village. Conditions were particularly dry this year, and no competitors had any trouble while we were waiting, although a rather low slung TR4 looked as if it might suffer on the hard ruts.

Motoring through the quiet of the moonlit night along Somerset lanes brought us to Croford Hill, which proved easy in the dry conditions but could be really difficult in the wet when the baked mud surface would soon turn to a slippery slurry. Thence to Minehead and Porlock.

The infamous hill of earlier times is now quite tame, but still has a gradient approaching 1 in 3 in places. The ‘Nash had been equipped with an extra large sprocket for bottom “gear”, giving a very low ratio for the trial, but making the gap between first and second so great that it was impossible to change up on Porlock, so we ground our way patiently to the top, no doubt being laughed at by the ignorant. Then along the coast to Lynmouth, and up Lynmouth Hill to Barbrook Mill where we joined the queue for Beggars Roost.

One or two cars were having difficulties on this very famous trials hill, and the queue had built up to quite a length by the time we arrived. Two starts were being employed, the more difficult being for trials specials such as Dellows, which also had to make a re-start on the steep part of the section and the easier alongside the time check, but unmarked, for more conventional cars. The Colmore was considered as “conventional” for this purpose, but the marshal failed to tell us about the dual start, perhaps because the car immediately in front of us (a GS Citroen Estate, substituted at the last minute for a Dellow) failed and was reversing out of the section. We therefore stopped at the second line, thinking that the previous line had merely been a timing check. Luckily, the marshal realised his error and allowed us to re-start without penalty. One of the failures on this hill was Kain’s Bugatti — his engine had become colder than he realised whilst waiting, and he simply ran out of power.

Cautiously de-flating the rear tyres each time, we continued without trouble through sections at Orange and Sutcombe Hill (where Boyce lost a chain) arriving at the first special test, Hobbs Choice, shortly after 10.30 a.m. It was here that the trouble which was to cost us an award first made itself apparent. The special test had a downhill start, going immediately into a hairpin left and up hill to a finish line, all on a narrow, loose surfaced track betweeen banks. The idea was simply to get from start to finish in under 27 seconds. In the dry, this was causing no difficulty, and most competitors were achieving times of around fifteen seconds. Much to our surprise, we found ourselves understeering into the bank on the hairpin, necessitating reversing off and re-starting. It was not until later that we realised the reason — on a recent king-pin renewal, the fitter had failed to replace the lock stops, allowing the wheel to foul on the brake cable on full lock, thus locking the wheel and causing severe understeer. We just managed the test in time, but must have set the slowest time. Leigh Junior upheld Frazer Nash honours with a rousing run in 11 seconds. Thence to the two Darracott sections, relatively easy in the dry, although more potholed than ever on the upper stretches, and so to a welcome halt for refreshments.

First section after the halt was Crackington. In the dry, Crackington should be a doddle, but the local people, not wishing to be deprived of the spectator value of a difficult climb, doctored the surface by spreading loose soil over the upper part of the climb, and soaking it liberally with water, thus making a particularly nasty paste. When we arrived, very few cars had made clean climbs, and we were just in time to see an MG Midget manage to do so, to the applause of the crowd. The queue was very long, as it was taking an average of some three minutes for each car to be dragged to the top by winch, and while we were waiting, the surface began to dry slightly. Dellows and other trials specials had to make a re-start just before the paste began, and we watched one particular VW buggy make a most spectacular re-start to take him flying through the mud to a clean climb. Kain proved that it really was a old engine which caused him to stop at Beggars Roost, by flying through with the Bugatti, and a perfectly ordinary looking Peugeot 504 made it appear easy. We got away to a fine start, and were soon at maximum revs. in bottom gear, hoping that this would be fast enough to carry us through the mire, but it wasn’t: scraping the undertrays on the mud, we came to an undignified halt only yards from the end of the section. Leigh Junior fared slightly better, having a higher bottom gear, but still didn’t quite make it. Threlfall’s sedate looking Ford rumbled up in fine style, but a brace of modern Morgans looked as if they were taking aunty for a country drive, such was their ineffectual nonchalance.

Ruses Mill was an all tarmac test involving a double re-start on a left-hand hairpin — we managed the first one but failed the second, to our surprise. Warleggan was rough and stony and then a forty odd mile journey across Bodmin Moor, through Perranporth took us to what must be the most scenic of all trials sections, Blue Hills Mine. Climbing from beach level up the cliffs alongside a North Cornish-coast bay, these two sections have provided a fitting and appropriate end to the trial for a number of years. This year, however, a further section, Old Stoney, was added on, some ten miles from Blue Hills Mine, presumably to encourage competitors to move away from the crowded headland at the top of the section, but the effect was to provide something of an anti-climax.

The two sections at Blue Hills are completely different, despite their proximity. The first starts on the flat, bears right down a slight bank, then hard left, followed by a very steep and tight hairpin right and then up hill to the finish. The second section starts on a very steep loose stone track some yards above the finish of the lower part, and climbs across slabs of rocks to finish on the headland. In wet years, the slabs of rock become incredibly slippery, in the dry, few have trouble on the upper section, but the lower is always likely to catch drivers, by now very tired, out. It certainly caught poor Brian Gray whose 30/98 toppled on to its side, quickly to be lifted upright by a horde of spectators. Although the car suffered obvious damage to the body and wings, no-one was hurt, and Brian was able to drive back to Gloucestershire the following day (see Vintage Postbag). It also caught us, as it was not until after we had understeered off on the left hand hairpin that we discovered the missing lock-stop. Once again, Leigh Junior upheld Frazer Nash honours, but Boyce again suffered a broken chain.

In Newquay, at the finish, Threlfall, Clarke and Halkyard claimed first class awards having completed the trial without failing any section and Campbell and Leigh junior second class awards. – P.H.J.W.