A regular competitor in ACTC and MCC events in his self-constructed and self-engineered VW “Shorty” special, David Alderson describes the delights of Classic Trials.
It is perhaps difficult for the layman to perceive a form of motor sport which doesn’t involve racing, speed or the stopwatch – but if you decide to sample Classic Trials, be prepared to spend several of the coming years in frenzied attempts to propel your chosen trials-iron up sections of the steepest and roughest country roads in these fair isles.
Despite the post-war evolvement of sporting trials, with their highly specialised restricted-formula cars, and production-car trials, the gentle art of tricking road cars up grassy slopes, Classic Trials have survived in a format developed in the halcyon days of road trialing, the 1930s.
From those pre-war times when teams of works-supported and often works-prepared light sports cars of the day drew sizeable crowds of spectators, the sport sadly passed through ever leaner years with only the Motor Cycling Club continuing to promote its Land’s End, Exeter and Edinburgh trials regularly. Then, during the 1970s, an increasing number of clubmen, often disillusioned by the spiralling costs of other branches of motor sport, began to turn their attention to this old-established and totally compelling form of “grass roots” motor sport.
To cater for the rekindled interest, a number of clubs joined together to form the Association of Classic Trials Clubs.
In 1984 the ACTC, now numbering twenty member clubs including the MCC, ran its first Classic Trials Championship. Over one hundred drivers registered in that first year, being at last able to compete regularly in trials without resorting to scouring through the Blue Book for event details. The ACTC’s mailing list put competitors and organisers in regular contact and with a carefully formulated but simple set of rules and regulation. That first year’s championship was a resounding success which has thankfully been repeated annually since.
The format of a Classic Trial involves driving the trials car o a specified road route, normally between 60 and 100 miles in the day. These routes are strictly non-competitive and link the various sections where the true action takes place. The requirement to drive the case on the road imposes Department of Transport legality and therefore assists in restricting the cars’ specialised nature.
The sections themselves (there are usually an average of fifteen on a championship Trial) are tackled from a standing start, and have to be climbed non-stop to gain a “clean.” Occasionally a stop and re-start line will be introduced to even out the classes or spice up a section. The gradients are steep (yup to 1 in 3 on occasions!), the surfaces are difficult in the extreme, mud, rocks, tree roots, deep holes, tight corkscrew bends, fords; any, or preferably all combined, that is the challenge.
Generally previewing of the sections is not permitted these days, so the driers have had to develop skills of instantaneous judgement of the “line” and approach. The emphasis is placed squarely on driver ability and experience. Passengers are compulsory and most crews develop their technique together. A competent and experienced “bouncer” makes a considerable contribution on many of the climbs, in addition to following the printed route card and generally assisting with tyre inflation and running repairs.
Classic Trials cars fall into two main categories; the specials and the production-based cars. Preparation of both types of car is basically similar in that suspension is normally raised to increase ground clearance, some lightening within the framework of the regulations is carried out, underbody protections in the form of sump and exhaust guards are fitted, plus judicious placing of ballast to improve traction. Normally this is achieved by fitting an external twin spare wheel carrier on the back of the car. Those spare wheels do get used because there is no minimum tyre pressure regulations so 5-10 psi is the norm for better grip, with security bolts to stop tyre-creep o the rims. Cars rarely get out of bottom gear so wild engines are simply not required. To ensure costs are kept within reason, there is a complete ban on sponsorship.
The favourite production-based cars are VW Beetles, MK1 and MK2 Escorts, and Spridgets. Any of thee cars will provide an ideal and inexpensive starting point.
Specials offer a wide variety of choice. They include purpose-built front-engined trials cars such as Dellows; yes, there are still many of these lovely old 1950s trials-irons in regular use, although the really competitive ones are now sporting OHV engines and modern transmissions.
With interest growing steadily, many drivers have felt encouraged enough to built “one-off” specials, and this has inevitably led to a small production run of one particularly successful example, the Troll MK6. These attractive, purposeful and fully roadable little cars are slowly increasing in number, each one appearing to be even better finished than the last. They are truly in the spirit of the Classic Trials special. VW Buggies have also proved competitive and are popular mounts.
The ranks are occasionally swelled by the odd glorious old V8 Allard, or similar, and of course there are classes for pre-war cars which are strongly encouraged.
The ACTC championship is run in two leagues, each with identical top five trophies. The “Wheelspin” league takes account of overall performances, whilst the “Crackington” league rewards class performances. The top five in the overall performance scoring are precluded from taking the class trophies at the end of season, so there is a good spread of silverware.
The format of the three MCC trials involves a road mileage of up to 400 miles, spread over a Friday night and Saturday, and they incorporate some of the oldest sections in continuous use, with names which conjure up magical memories amongst trialsmen; Blue Hills, Simms, Beggars Roost, Bramford Clough, Litton Slack, and so on.
The MCC continues to award its gold, silver and bronze medals on an individual performance basis, and by far the most coveted trialing award remains an MCC “Triple.” These delightful silver-fingered signposts are presented annually only to the fortunate few who manage to gain gold medals on all three MCC trials in a single year.
Strenuous efforts are constantly made by both ACTC and MCC to maintain an acceptable public face. This involves much pre-event PR work, rigid behaviour guidelines for competitors, and extreme courtesy to other countryside users. That Classic Trials are welcomed back, year after year, into areas where other forms of road motor sport have caused public outcries for blanket vans says much indeed for the sport’s excellent image.
The spirit of sportsmanship and enthusiasms are unrivalled, the budgets are within reach, and al you need is club membership, a “Clubman C” licence, and the car. Shall we see you on the sections?
The Classic Trials season runs from September to April, with championship scoring from January to December annually. More information is available from the ACTC, Mrs Jenny Vowden, Batavia, Jacks Lane, Barton, Torquay, Devon TQ2 8QX, and from the MCC, Mr H W Tucker-Peake, Upper Stonecroft, Finmere, nr Buckingham MD18 4JA.