An important trial

75 years ago 

I have been reminded that it was 75 years ago this month that an important trial took place, which is usually regarded as having set the seal to the fame of the Laurence Pomeroy-designed 20 h.p. Vauxhall, which led on to his renowned Prince Henry, 30/98 and other desirable Luton-built motor cars. This was the RAC International Touring Car Trial of 1908, which covered nearly 2,000 road-miles, and concluded with a 200-mile race at Brooklands Track. The route passed through England, Scotland and Wales and included some 20 miles of timed hill-climbs. 

We hear much about the Prince Henry and Alpine Trials, but this British event has been largely neglected. I have been reminded of it because Maurice Platt, author of that enjoyable book “An Addiction to Automobiles” (Warne, 1980), thoughtfully lent me the Official Report issued by the RAC after the event, which is full of things of interest to the old-car world, even if neither Vauxhall Motors nor the RAC, as far as I know, intend to do anything to commemorate the trial.

It is worth noting that at the time the RAC was just as powerful a body as it is today — His Majesty the King was its Patron, HRH The Prince of Wales its Vice-Patron, His Grace The Duke of Sutherland, KG, its President, and it had an influential Committee composed of the Earl of Dudley, Lord Stanley, CB, Sir David Solomons Bt., The Earl of Onslow, GCMG, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and two commoners, Mark Meythew and C. D. Rose, the former perhaps acceptable because he was a Lt.-Col. in His Majesty’s Armed Forces, while Rose was an MP.

Anyway, the Trial was conducted with a thoroughness which only such an authoritative body and the more spacious days of those times could ensure. Thirteen well-known motoring personalities formed a Trial Committee under E. B. Cozen-Hardy and the SMM & T was represented by Messrs. Austin, Coleman, Edge, Gascoigne, Hutton, Instone, Jarrott, Claude Johnson, Powell, Siddeley, Harry Smith, Sidney Straker, Williams and Woollen. Four time-keepers, Dutton and Ebblewhite among them, and a dozen judges were assembled and under the RAC’s Secretary, Julian Orde, separate officials looked after the routes, the depots, the records, the observers, who rode on each competing car, and the Press. The event was intended to find the best touring car in the eleven capacity-classes specified, from among “modern cars which have reached such a pitch of excellence” that this arduous method was considered justified. (I expect the late Laurence Pomeroy remembered it when he drew up rules for the VSCC’s Pomeroy Trophy Contest, which had the same aim.) Entries were received of cars made in Great Britain, America, Belgium, France, Germany and Italy, 41% of which were foreign cars. The routes took in the Scottish AC’s Trial and the Brooklands bit was intended to simulate fast motoring over Continental roads. 

Of the 46 starters, 36 cars got as far as Weybridge for the high-speed finale on June 27th (for which fresh tyres were required) having left the start at St. Albans on June 11th (no Sunday running) and gone as far as Inverness in Scotland — I have studied the route but cannot see where Welsh roads were supposed to have come in, unless you include stopping in Church Stretton. The Straker Squire, Zedal, Thornycroft and Lorraine-Dietrich which had arrived at the Track were too far behind handicap on marks lost on the road to be allowed to race, the officials pointing out that, had they done so, Brooklands would have been needed for two additional days! Cars had to carry a full complement of passengers, lady drivers were barred, and all stops, replenishments, repairs, etc., were noted, making this a complex feat of organisation.

Space does not permit of much comment, except that the entrants ranged from a 6.2 h.p. £241 De Dion Bouton to a 59.5 h.p. £750 Ariel, and that they used Dunlop, Palmer, Clincher, Continental, Jenatzy and Michelin tyres of from 750×85 to 920×120. The observed hills included Cairnwell, Finty, part of Cairn O’Mount, Trinafour, Rest & Be Thankful, Dunmail Raise Pass, Kirkstone Pass, Aston Hill, Hartley Hill and Broadway Hill; apart from being timed up these, any car that needed pushing was disqualified.

Entry fees ranged from £51 to £60 per class. The eventual class-winners to whom great praise attached were De Dion Bouton, Adler, Cadillac, Singer, Vauxhall, Talbot, Adler, Armstrong-Whitworth, Ariel, Rolls-Royce and Ariel. The 20 h.p. £460 Vauxhall was deemed to have done exceptionally well by winning Class E with less than one-hour penalty, although the 30 h.p. Adler had lost only just over half-an-hour, the next best being a Cadillac, the worst a Singer with more than six hours lost.

Percy Kidner’s Vauxhall has been up against Coventry-Humber, Talbot, Hillman-Coatalen, Daimler, Belsize, Benz and Panhard-Levassor opposition. Another interesting class was that in which two 40/50 h.p. £1,184 Rolls-Royces met a Deasy and a Lorraine-Dietrich. One Rolls-Royce was withdrawn on the sixth day with a seized piston, while the class-winner, driven by Platford, had had its carburetter, coil, and tappets adjusted and had required water. It beat the Deasy by 44 miles, however. In contrast, Kidner’s Vauxhall lost no marks at all for involuntary stops, the only competitor to achieve this, although a Beeston-Humber would have equalled this had tyre problems not intervened.

Of their retirements, the 20 h.p. Belsize had water in its cylinders, the Benz broke its crankshaft, the White steamer’s differential failed, the Deasy broke a back-axle ball-race and a Zedal was also withdrawn, while the live-axle Panhard (the other was chain-driven) dropped out at Brooklands with water-system troubles, a Daimler with a broken universal-joint. Those disqualified for failing to get up a hill were a 13.9 h.p. De Dion Bouton, the Hillman-Coatalen, and a Star. The highest average speed of those who completed the full 200 miles at Brooklands was 62.7 m.p.h. by the 30 h.p. Adler, the slowest 39.6 m.p.h. by the 24.8 h.p. Junior; the Vauxhall did 46.1 m.p.h., the Rolls-Royce 53.4 m.p.h., although maximum top speed was not necessarily used. 

So this interesting test was a great Vauxhall promoter but in a way a set-back, not often quoted by historians, for the new 40/50 h.p. Rolls-Royce. — W.B.