Out of the Past, June 1996

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Came upon an interesting item from long ago, while looking up information for another article. It is customary for the MCC to appoint a few of the big entries they get for their classic long-distance trials as voluntary Travelling Marshalls, i e drivers who can compete in the normal way but who are also prepared to keep a watch on how the event is proceeding and, I suppose, drop out to render assistance when emergency arises, which I do not think has ever happened. But back in 1920 a separate Official Car was apparently appointed. What I find interesting is that it has been described as a 90hp ltala, driven by B Alan Hill, secretary of the trial.

Now this was obviously an exciting and aged motor car, which, in fact, succumbed to loss of compression about halfway along the route, and there was speculation as to whether it would be able to surmount the hills that then encompassed it and return home… Could it have been the 1908 GP ‘tale made famous in post-war times by Cecil Clutton in VSCC Edwardian events, or the even bigger 1907 Coppa Florio Hata which was restored and on view at the National Motor Museum at one time? (As far as the Assistant Curator can tell us, it is still there.) I do not think that the rated hp of either was as high as 90, but this was at a time when, generally speaking, motoring history was not quite so closely followed as it is now, and in writing a news snippet a journalist might well quote this hp to imply a large car without being specific, However, I think the car Ciutton eventually acquired would have been in a shed behind a Norfolk pub at the relevant time, and the other racing Rata enshrined on the Isle of Wight.

However, it seems that ltala made a production version of the 1908 GP car, with the same size engine, rated at 59.6hp, so perhaps Alan Hill used one of these 12-litre monsters, listed at £1,200 as a chassis in 1913, although I believe these were officially known as the 120hp model. Or maybe Alan Hill was driving one of the smaller but no less unusual rotary-valve Rates? We shall presumably never know, nor whether the car was left to rot somewhere in rural Devon. As a stark contrast, in the very next MCC trial, the 1921 London-Edinburgh, this driver elected to compete at the wheel of a Rover Eight. W B