VIEWPOINTS OF A PASSENGER
Mrs. Kitty Hutchison looks back to the days when she rode beside her famous husband in trials and rallies
IT is true that the onlooker sees most of the game, and, when it comes to
motoring events, that the passenger sees least of all, yet it might not be altogether amiss to record how the herculean struggles of men and machines affect those who get none of the glamour of being a Speed King, but quite as much of the discomfort and worry. Sometimes, of course, in Real Speed Events, one is degraded even lower and becomes a mere bringer of spare wheels, petrol cans, sandwiches and cigarettes. . . .
My chief recollection after any event, no matter of what kind, was a feeling of relief ; one no longer felt responsible for every difficulty that occurred and every near disaster one had failed to foresee and avert. The Guardsman who dropped it has just nothing on the Passenger who forgot the tyre-gauge, or some other vital implement. In addition to route-finding and time-keeping one has, of course, ” driven ” every inch of the way, so that, even if not physically tired, one always found the strain of being keyed-up for several hours pretty exhausting. However, given the right kind of weather and pleasant companions, there is no doubt that trials and rallies and hill climbs and, best of all, practice days can be great fun. We ran all the earlier Allards in one trial or another, the first time being when Allard lent UR his original ” CLK5,” which Guy Warburton subsequently bought, for a Wye Cup Trial, whilst we lent him our white Ford-” Special.” This latter was the last and best of a series of ” Special ” Fords which we built ; originally it was a coupe belonging to C. G. Fitt. After pulling the body off and adding a little here and subtracting a little there and muttering a few magic spells, a remarkably efficient motor-car appeared. So efficient, in fact, that we took it up to the Southport 100 Mile Race and it romped along magnificently, working its way up to second place by three-quarters of the way through. Alas, it was a question of which would come first, the end of the race or the inevitable
blow-up—needless to say, it was the latter. . . ! As for ” CLK5,” nobody has ever explained to us satisfactorily how to stay in it. Not knowing quite when one was going to part company with the machine was rather worrying for the passenger and definitely inconvenient for the driver. Allard’s black car, which followed, and which was contemporary with our white twelve-cylinder Allard, we took on a Lancashire and Cheshire A.C. Trial, which started from Wildboardough Farm. There were some really good hills in this trial, including Washgates, Cowlow (which I like) and Flash Bottom. We found the black car not very fast and extremely draughty, chiefly, I think, because the body waggled loosely and it was impossible to cure a set draught with the m hole contraption folding and unfolding like a concertina, and held together by string and Christian Science. Of all our trials ears I liked our white twelve-cylinder Allard best. It looked fairly normal and had doors, a hood and side screens (though these were never up during a trial, they made the journeys to and from much more comfortable). The heavy square back. Mille!) had room for suitcases forrard of the 45-gallon tank and spare wheel, was very convenient, and when the screen was flat and twigs were slashing around it was easy to slither down under the scuttle and take cover. Not that I was really so very fond of it ; we had frequently to make journeys of around 200 miles after six o’clock at night and as quickly as possible, and that happened to be very quick, much, much too quick for me.
I have never got over my horror of cars without running boards, nice solid fender ones, that will to a certain extent soften the blow of anything that decides to charge at you sideways, and I hate to have merely a thin sheet of metal” don’t tread on it or it’ll buckle “between me and any missiles. For the other Allards, Sileock’s car, finished just before the war, beat them all for looks, but I should imagine that it
would get pretty knocked about on a trial, whereas our last Allard was probably the best for rough work ; all I can say is that if I could possibly persuade anyone to take my place in it I did ! I cannot pretend to know anything about racing, not having seen much of it for a good many years, but when it comes to trials I have accumulated a lot of prejudices. Let there be no mistake about it, I disliked M.C.C. events intensely, though fated to be involved in a good many. They were invariably too long and had too many competitors, and too much red tape brought about, presumably, by the unwieldy size of the events. Frankly, I think that no greater disservice could be done to the cause of motoring sport in this country than to impede the normal bank holiday pleasure of the man-in-the-street, on whom most of our fates depend, with a lengthy procession of cars across the face of the country, waiting in solid blocks outside checks or at the foot of hills. The bungling of novices or the hearty swagger of “ricers” on their first trial, complete with little white helmets, does not impress John Citizen favourably. . . . If a trial is to be brought unavoidably before the public, let it be one of quality rather than quantity, as regards hills, cars and drivers. An outsider of reasonable intelligence and outlook would have more respect for, say, Macdermid on Picked Stones, than for some family saloon taking the wrong course up Beggar’s Roost. Perhaps someone is saying that, with Allards, you like tough trials, but all trials involve artificial conditions, and for maximum efficiency comfort must be sacrificed—whether it is a matter of weight, because the trial will be won on special tests, or good ground and wing clearance, because of rough going ; given these artificial conditions one might as well go the whole hog, for the car has yet to be invented that can take one comfortably and cosily to the theatre in ” frillies ” and also climb Widlake. Anyone who wishes to compete in and do well in trials must keep a car
for that purpose and sacrifice other qualities. Even small sports cars, such as M.G. and Singer, which considered themselves normal, were of little use for giving the more elderly and inflexible members of the family a lift up to town, and most of us have tasks like that to consider. Therefore, one might as well have a trial that is worth getting one’s teeth into and compete in a special car, which can be a supertuned Godhelpus or a sawn-down Riley Nine (the latter a vehicle not to be sneezed at). The Colmore is admittedly one of the toughest trials of the year, and for me at least seems to consist of Mud—horizontal Mud and vertical Mud, bottomless Sloughs and Mud full of submerged rocky reefs. From this Mud arise, at strategical points, -gateposts, large trees, small but effective trees and bushes bound together with ferocious bramules. ‘t he only way, it seems to a mere passenger, to tackle the observed sections is to get on as much as possible and hope, by a tot 01 quick thinking, to avoid the more substantial uprights and reach the other end somehow, not necessarily front end first. In view of this, I consider the Colmore sections the passenger’s nightmare. Not only is it essential to keep Out of the way of the driver’s whirling elbows and to remain in the car, but one must be able to defend oneself effectively when passing through odd bushes or swishing branches. If you are lucky it will rain or snow hard enough to wash the mud off, but if it just inizzles, which is more usual, an even Coating spreads itself all over you, with paler n****r minstrel effect around the eyes where goggles have kept. it off. The most memorable Colmore, to me, is the one when Edward Wooley drove one of K.N.H.’s Ford V8s, and we accompanied him. It was a 1983 model with a threeply tray fixed in place of a body and many spare wheels massed over the rear axle. As a matter of fact, he did very well and
collected one of the major awards, whilst I, due to a small tree which we both told him not to hit, collected a bald spot in one eyebrow and a cracked thumb joint. However, our digression to the Stroud Boots to get these fixed did not waste much time, but after that the front axle was very cock-eyed and the steering in consequence best described as “approximate.” That night we drove down through the snow to Petersfield for the Southsea, Club’s trial, which was to be held next day. This we won, though on the final hill K. N. IL, who was driving this time, managed to hook a tree with a rear wheel whilst at full pelt, giving himself such a whack with the steering wheel that he
promptly fainted, which was much more dignified than my damaged nose and black eye. We had ” Father ” Chappell, who used to drive in a team with Allard and ourselves, dashing up and down the snowy slopes with brandy and thermos, and then, kind man, tucking us into his capacious saloon, mud and all, to bring us home in real comfort. As for Wooley, I have not seen him since the start of the war, but tales have reached us Of him surrounded by magnetic Mines and George Medals, and if he has collected some kind of award, it is most gratifying. So many of one’s friends these days figure in the list of “Missing, presumed killed in action.” In the long, long ago we had a Jensen Ford, of which we had Great Hopes, doomed to early disappointment. This automobile was noted for its inability to climb anything but the most simple sections, and even then it always boiled. We took it on the North-West London M.C. Team Trial, which started at Hartland and consequently had some pretty good sections in it. Guy Warburton was there with his ” 80/98 ” Vauxhall, Allard had one of the T.T. Fords and Fitt the 2-seater Ford which subsequently became our pride and joy. We, as was only to be expected, climbed practically nothing and ended by tearing off a tyre on Cunliffe Lane, owing to the fact that we had reduced the pressure to more or Less nil in a vain hope of getting to grips with the hill. The Jensen may have been a good-looker, but when it mine to business it was too wide, too low, the weight was too far forward and the radiator much ton small ; we soon got rid of it. My chief recollection of this trial is of R. H. Newman, perched on the gatepost at the foot of Curdiffe Lane, looking the irrepressible imp of mischief that he was. He subsequently came on a good many trials with us and passengered on many rallies, managing to see the bright side of the most trying conditions. Even in those fearful hours before the dawn he could he heard ” boop-boop-a
dooping ” the more sickly sentimental of the song hits of the moment, with variations all his own. We found “Young Newman” great fun and never quite knew what his latest enthusiasm would be. He gave up racing motor-cycles because, he said, it was too dangerous, and then took to mountaineering, dancing competitions and flying. He said it was great fun popping in and out of the clouds ; but, alas, he came out of one at the wrong moment, last February. . . . Even longer ago we had a Bugatti, fearful and temperamental, and the first ” fast car ” I ever drove myself. I was asked to fetch it from Papworth’s in Fulham and to take it over to Merton. Foolishly I agreed, and found it was to be collected at about 11.30 on a Saturday morning. Ask yourself honestly, experienced and enthusiastic reader, would you really have liked to cope with a supertuned Bugatti for the first time in your life under such circumstances ? However,
despite sheer fright, fearful noise, traffic blocks (I seemed to spend hours on Putney Bridge in a slight drizzle) and gaping onlookers, I got it to Merton with no unseemly incidents. We took it out in the snow next day and it promptly caught fire. Nevertheless, it was a highly successful car and put up the best performance at the first two Donington
meetings. It was when being taken round the course on one of the practice laps that I was more utterly terrified than I have ever been. All I can remember is an incredibly sharp turn fenced by mammoth trees, and then, ages after, the blessed sight of the paddock at the foot of the hill. To my horror I realised we were going straight by it and on for another lap. When we eventually came in, my sole remark of “Thank God. What on earth did you want to go round a second time for ? ” was considered most ungracious. That Bugatti was an utter nuisance. K. N. II. not being in London at the time, II. A. Billinghurst and I were told off to deliver it at different places each week-end. There are many places now which to me will always be ” Where we pulled the Bug. to bits for hours.” Surprisingly enough, it invariably kept fine for as, though we frequently had quite long journeys in it to Donington, Southport, Shelsley, etc. Sometimes we towed it, and this was even more hazardous, especially when the back of the towing car was so full of wheels and petrol cans that it. wasn’t possible to see the Bugatti behind. On one of these occasions, somewhere on the Pennines, the various odd noises of cans and wheels settling down was followed by quite a loud jolty noise. Bill and 1,
chatting happily in the Ford, said, ” Those cans have made up their minds at last,” and reverted to our previous topic. It was only about five miles later that Bill suddenly eried : ” Help! Where’s Nonie ? ” and there we were on the moor tops with a piece of broken towrope and no Bugatti. We scurried back_ anxiously, only to find K. N. H. having a pleasant chat with a most picturesque tramp, whom he seemed loath to leave. This Bugatti is the only car I have ever been up Shelsley in, and my memories of passengering are very vague, teing completely overshadowed by recollections of my own .efforts w ith it, when I seemed to take three-quarters of an hour to the broadcasting caravan and after that to do a series of cannons off bank after bank, resulting in the Grand Total of about 80 secs. K. N. IL, for whom the banks mysteriously receded, put up quite a respectable time, despite the car being far too highly geared for the hill, nor did I find myself preparing to leap out in sheer terror, as he did when riding up with me. . . .
Shelsley, of course, brings to mind Raymond Mays and the Villiers Supercharge, and also the white Invicta which he ran about the -;anie time. I never rodein the Invicta when practising on an actual course, but remember very clearly an unexpected meeting in it with a milk cart straggled across a narrow road. As for the Villiers, one-time apple of my eye, Ray took me round the Mountain at Brooklands in this car a few days before he broke the Shelsley record. Though this was an exhilarating experience, it was not in the least frightening, as the Villiers sat so firmly on the Track, even round the hairy in, that one had not a single uneasy moment. Nevertheless, the time recorded was considered satisfactory by Peter Berthon and Murray Jamieson. Of later day speed trials and hill climbs and racing generally I know very little ; Lewes is just a narrow strip of road with a cross wind, which seems to be at its worst at the combined dip and bend ; as for Prescott, I once walked as far as the first corner, saw Anthony Heal’s old Fiat in the hollow, and decided that was quite enough of that, thank you. I stuck firmly to the paddock in future.
Despite Mr. Boddy’s opinion, T am not, and never will be, an enthusiastic motorist. But a lot of very pleasant people seem to be, and I do enjoy their company. The only snag I can see is that, when things get going again, some of the nicest will not be there.