When it comes to the rallies...



[In her covering letter Mrs. Hutchison informs us that she is not a motoring enthusiast, merely finding a car useful transport from A to B. But she is probably pulling the editorial leg. Judge for yourselves.—Ed.]

IT is difficult to know where to begin with rallies, for they can be fun or the very devil—contrary to most of the ardent readers of MOTOR SPORT. The ones I enjoyed most were those where I knew I had no hope of doing any good and didn’t give a hoot—sole prayer being that I did not .make too much of a fool of myself in front of all those clever people.

The first rally I ever went on was a Monte Carlo, in the days when passengers counted for marks, and I, aged sixteen, lent my bulk in the good cause. We started from John o’Groats and, of course, it was a Great Adventure, especially as the Grampians road was only half rebuilt, and deep in melting snow. On the way up a kindly engineer piloted us part of the way, saying he knew the landmarks to steer by, and we kept well astern of the wall of slush he threw up. Above Inverness the road was better, but mostly single track too. In France we stove in the side of the car, including the battery which they kept on the running board in those days, but we reached Monte Carlo only a few hours late and everyone made a great fuss of us—and they gave us a finisher’s plaque, though we were not really entitled to one. After this we had to come down to earth and get home, still in the same battered condition, and, of course, next we ran out of money. However, this having been foreseen, we had wisely booked return fares for both the car and ourselves, so made a thirty-six hour clatter across country and flopped exhausted on the Channel steamer. Need I add that that was a night when the boat havered outside Folkestone for quite a while before giving up hope of getting in there and making for Dover.

After that effort one was rather snooty about mere summer rallies in England, but it was at that time that various seaside resorts thought to organise rallies; I think the late H. E. Symons, then of “The Motor,” was also involved in some way. I passengered on one to Bournemouth, starting again from John o’Groats. The deciding test was a stretch of about twenty miles to be covered exactly at some set speed. Somebody must have won it, or perhaps there were only first-class awards; I don’t know, but it was a good holiday and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

After that came my first Monte Carlo Rally, in a “14/45” Talbot. Knowing full well that there was little hope of winning the Rally with other competitors starting from Tallinn and other distant places, we concentrated on the Coachwork Competition, and there can be very little more worrying than to have to drive against time through snow and ice and fog and traffic, with a car which must be scratchless at the end of its journey. The Talbot weighed about two and a half tons, and was behung with every possible gadget needed to attract the attention of both the judges and the journalists, for the great idea was Talbot Publicity. We carried a portable wireless set, a built-in picnic set, and—The Roaring Twenties—a cocktail bar! Seeing that this last-named was always well stocked and well sampled probably did more for good write-ups than anything!

We did win some coachwork prizes, and as only twenty-four out of ninety-three starters reached Monte at all, we were rather pleased to be among them. I may add that I nearly wrecked the whole contraption on the final day’s hill climb up to La Turbie, by taking the first hairpin far too fast owing to a wave for friendly newspaperman. However, much to my surprise the car eventually regained the road with all four wheels, and I continued, to make one of the slowest times of the day. But it was all great fun, and, being the baby of the show by a good many years, I was especially spoilt by everyone, and just loved it.

That same year the Brighton Corporation, aided by T. C. Clayton, of the Brighton and Hove Motor Club, organised a rally in the summer, and I took the Talbot on that and again collected some coachwork prizes with it. Clayton had had the good luck to secure a new unopened road leading on to the Downs for a speed hill climb, which was open to non-rally competitors, with the result that quite a lot of really fast Bugattis and such-like turned up. The course was very like that of Lewes and the weather was magnificent.

In the 1930 Monte Carlo I again took a “14/45” Talbot, this time with a four-seater body; and the portable radio had its own special niche and was covered in the same green leather as the upholstery —apart from this the car was much the same, and we again started from John o’Groats. This year, instead or going through Paris, the route lay by Tours and Nantes, to Lyons. The only part of this I really saw was the Loire valley for the rest was traversed by night. But it looked very lovely and is on my list of places to be snooped around casually, if ever the opportunity arrives. Coming home we spent as much time as possible in Provence (another “P.S.A.C.”), then scurried at the last moment back through Northern France, which looked pretty depressing in January. Again we came back with coachwork prizes, but were just nowhere in the general classification, the rally being won by Hector Petit, who had been extremely helpful to us in Paris two years previously.

In the summer Brighton again held a rally, and this time I took a little 10-h.p. Bianchi, one of the prettiest cars I ever had, and with beautifully finished coachwork and lovely colouring. Needless to add, it was very heavy and its top speed about 60 with luck. Nevertheless, having a bottom gear of 22 to 1, it would surmount practically anything at tortoise speed, and the sight of it climbing Beggar’s Roost, one piece of shale at a time, was most impressive. Of the rally I cannot remember anything, though I believe Donald Healey won it, but I know I enjoyed it thoroughly. Then the R.A.C. got busy and decided to organise an official English Rally. The first one finished at Torquay and I drove an open Crossley Ten, being a member of the Crossley works team, along with Vernon Balls and S. A. Crabtree, both of whom had “Ten” saloons. We started from Buxton and I was in a considerable dither, never having been in a team at all before, let alone in “distinguished company.” I stood very much in awe of Crabtree and his galaxy of friends, all of whom seemed to have ridden in the Isle of Man T.T. and knew cars inside out—and presumed I did too, with the result that I spent my time trying to look wise and say “yes” and “no” at the right moments—hoping to goodness they hadn’t seen me trying to park the car in a confined space. This rally had a zig-zag cross-country route—a new thing to me, who by now knew the John o’Groats-South of England road pretty well. On leaving Buxton I was convinced that some simple thing would go wrong, that I should be late at the controls, and so let my team-mates down by my sheer inefficiency. It was therefore essential to “Get as Much Time in Hand as Possible” (anyone who has ever been near me on a trial knows this phrase only too well), so I scurried along at a fair pace, and Crabtree, on his first rally and thinking I knew the ropes, decided to hurry too, with the result that we both arrived at the first control well ahead of the rest, and as he knew parts of the road and I knew others, we stuck together for the rest of the rally. He had become infected with the “Get Time in Hand” idea, and I gave myself some pretty frights, being determined to keep up with him. As for the results, it was the year of the slow-running test (or hearse’s delight) and the Daimlers and Lanchesters swept the board with their fluid flywheels. Amongst ourselves, Crabtree made by far the best performance, whilst I was no worse than Vernon Balls.

Not to be outdone, the Royal Scottish Automobile Club decided to hold a rally also, and as their officials were far more go-ahead than the R.A.C. and with genuine experience of rallies, it was a great success. The clubhouse in Blythswood Square had always been the Monte Carlo Rally check, whilst both A. K. Stevenson and Tosh had been on that rally themselves, Mr. Robert Smith, the general secretary, also had obviously put his heart into making it a really happy party. The M.G. Car Co. Ltd., having lent me an M.G. Magna, I took it on this rally. The Scottish Club was the first to decree that certain roads must be used, and also, owing to the nature of the country, others could not be avoided. Consequently, there was a wild outcry from the “main-road” type of driver, whilst the giant gin palaces cursed to heaven. We went through Glencoe on part old road, part unsurfaced new road, and emerged with many more squeaks and smothered in dust—and that was only a sample. As a finale, trials conditions were introduced in the tests. On paper it sounded both easy and dignified: “Competitors will he required to restart on a hill . . . . not running more than six inches backwards.” Elementary! However, with impish cunning the officials found a narrow, unsurfaced track for the test. It was most enjoyable, especially when one had completed it safely oneself, to go and laugh heartily at the flounderings of the more magnificent. We had a glorious party at the clubhouse in Glasgow on one night, and adjourned to Edinburgh the next day, where the Coachwork Competition was held. Of course, I was completely out of the running, but we cleaned and polished with the utmost vigour and took our place in the crowd—it was a change not to have to demonstrate gadgets the whole time, and the rally had been good fun, the company amusing, and the weather glorious. I was deep brown, a mixture of sunburn and ingrained dust, and all was well. Then, to my amazement, that evening some officials appeared crying congratulations and I had the awful job of telling them I could not have the Ladies’ Cup as I hadn’t an all-women crew! This was a blow, but nevertheless it was the first time I had done any good in a rally and I was consequently frightfully bucked.

There were, alas, no more Monte Carlos for me. The slump was upon us, and the Motor Trade’s horns were well drawn in. Though one might get a car, the necessary money was not forthcoming, and I could not afford any such trip myself. However, the next R.A.C. Rally this time to Hastings, came in March, and Mr. Hurlock, who had recently taken over the A.C. Company, lent me an open three-carburetter Acedes Ace. We got the car going really well, and as the Hampton Court Bridge was not yet finished, marked out one of the tests on the approach road and certainly indulged in “trials of speed” on it. I started from Newcastle. At Hastings it had rained, was actually raining, or was about to rain, the whole time, most depressing, but in the tests, owing to much practice and an unprecedented amount of swearing (which shocked my passenger and even surprised myself) the car was persuaded to do just everything as it should and far quicker than it ever had before, with the astonishing result that I won my class and even got most marks in the whole rally, finding the real headlines at last. I was amazed and really did not come down to earth at all. Considering it now in cold blood, I feel it to be a great achievement, and am equally convinced that it could never happen again. Nevertheless, the recollection enables me to develop a really satisfactory sneer when anyone I could cheerfully poison becomes too garrulously sporting, After this came the next Scottish Rally, which was very enjoyable except for the fact that I had to take an Aston-Martin, which I did not understand, with no chance of learning anything about it. It was far faster than anything I had had before and too embarrassingly a “racer” for my taste. Despite the fact that everything was wrong with the world, the Scottish officials were so nice one could not help enjoying the rally, but my run of luck was finished and I have never entered since. On the next R.A.C. Rally I passengered and can remember nothing except eating blackcurrant lozenges ( for loss of voice) in a damp twilight in Peterborough, and being extremely sick outside Salisbury, in the early dawn.

After that I firmly refused to go on any more long rallies, though I went to the finish of several more R.A.C. events, when, being less weary, I was able to view the whole proceedings with a disinterested eye. The result, I regret to say, was that I developed a definite dislike for some of the participants. They were mostly unknown to me, though some, I believe, came under the heading of “racing motorists.” At any rate, so far as I could see, all this particular set ever did was to get blind drunk and smash things—and they were not event funny, and as these gay young things averaged about forty years each, it could even be considered pathetic. Then, of course, there seemed to be far too many officials–not the working ones, they, poor creatures, seemed busy enough, and Captain Phillips was just a high-speed harassed expression—but the teeming number of wearers of official badges who filled the hotel which was the rally headquarters, leaving no room for mere competitors, unless, of course, they happened to be “Our Motoring Correspondent,” who, seizing the opportunity for a holiday, had borrowed an English Quality Car, together with salesman, preferably titled, to drive it. However, there were other competitors. . . . .

At last, in 1937, Maurice Toulmin organised the perfect rally. This is no exaggeration—ask anyone who has been on one of these Blackpool Rallies. They were just right. Mid-summer, one day’s journey, timekeeping for those who like it, first-class tests on a really good piece of road, well provided with upper promenades from which competitors can watch one another with ease, and, better yet, held in a town where any trifling peculiarities of the competitors paled into insignificance amongst the tripe shops and the fat ladies and the average Lancastrian out for a “real do.”

The “scissors” test is, of course, the high spot of the whole affair, to be swooshed through with solid granite promenade walls to be hit on one side, and flimsy iron railings and a large drop to the sea on the other. Last time, to our intense disgust  the throttle connection dropped off at the start, leaving us with a fairly fast tick-over only. Very sedate and very perplexed we must have looked, solemnly cruising around, and just longing to have another stab at it, to show how it should be done. Altogether there have been three Blackpool Rallies, on which we have taken, in succession, a 1935 Ford V8 saloon, a home-made Ford V8 Special and the “Tailwagger” Allard. With the homemade we achieved fastest time in the Birdie Brow test, and won our class, and we have always managed to be well up in the results, so it must be the kind of show we like.

We once went on a really extraordinary affair, the Southend Rally—organised for non-motorists by non-motorists, I should imagine, but very enjoyable withal. Starting in some remote eastern suburb, now doubtless blown to bits (and from what I saw of it at midnight, no loss) [We agree, we started you!—Ed.] we cruised all night through darkest (and foggiest) Essex, finally reaching Southend. Here we were regally entertained to lunch and the local M.P. made a speech to his assembled constituents (and us) which was quite unlike anything I had ever heard before, not being given to politics, and then we had driving tests. After hurling flimsy barriers in all directions with sheer blast, and changing a wheel, owing to puncture, in the midst of proceedings, we were amazed to learn that we were amongst the happy prize winners. We still proudly display the barometer which was our award. The whole business was over in twenty-four hours, and who ever thought of it was to be congratulated on a really good idea, which might well be copied.