Riley 1.5 Wins Thames Estuary C.C. “Cat’s Eyes” Rally
This year’s Thames Estuary C.C. “Cat’s Eyes” Rally was run in excellent weather in contrast with the event of 1956 which had snow, ice, and every wintry condition imaginable. The 1957 event was cancelled because of petrol rationing.
Winner of this year’s “Cat’s Eyes” was K. Faire with his navigator Captain Allen driving a Riley 1.5. They arrived at the finish of the event with a clean sheet. A Ford Anglia won the up to 1,300 c.c. class and a Wolseley 1500 the 1,301-1,600 c.c. class for smaller touring cars while a Ford Zephyr and an Austin 105 went off with the honours in the larger classes.
Once again there were two starts, one at Dunstable for northern competitors and one at Woodford, Essex, for the bulk of the entry. The route took them down over London Bridge, through South London and on to Wrotham, not far from Maidstone where, at the Spring Tavern everyone congregated, for this was the principal starting control from which the 156 entries departed southwards farther into Kent.
The early sections were designed to be of a simple standard to get competitors warmed up and accustomed to map reading and the serious business did not start until after the supper stop at Ferryfield, near Lydd, the headquarters of the Silver City cross-channel ferries. These main road sections took the entries down towards Ashford after passing through minor checks in the Maidstone area, the second section out of Wrotham being a short closed route through Maidstone to get the cars safely over the Medway and on to Bearsted on the main A20 road to Folkestone. After this there were several time controls to be visited near Faversham and Tenterden in the Ashford region before making for Lydd. The main control at this point was just outside the airport entrance, a fact which caused a number of cars to go racing past only to have to return in a brisk fashion. Here the majority were well up to time in the first group but some of the later numbers had had minor accidents along the route and were somewhat delayed; there were fortunately no retirements because of these incidents at this stage. Several groups came in together at this control and we watched the Froggatt-Peach Zephyr, the Jackson-Mossop Anglia and the Baker-Macdonald Sunbeam Alpine, wearing a hardtop, come in and depart again very smartly, obviously just waiting to devour their supper.
After the pleasant task of eating was over in the comfortable lounges of the airport some of the crews retired to their vehicles for a quiet snooze to take up their compulsory 11 hours rest period. The next part of the journey was by route card to take competitors away from the congested airport and on to the start of the most difficult section of the rally. Here there was no margin for navigational errors and the map readers, some of them ensconced in curtained off “offices” with separate chairs in the after compartments of some saloons got to work with some of their very nice sharp pencils.
It was essential that the navigators should be on their toes on this part for there were no less than ten time controls and 33 route checks all in a stretch of under 90 miles. This was in one of the less densely populated regions of Sussex and the organisers were able to “go to town” on making this a tricky section. At time control 16, near Mountfield, a few miles from Battle, the first fifteen cars were through on time by soon after 1.40 a.m. R. E. Leader in a Ford Anglia, however, had to return to the control after having found that the marshal had failed to record his time of arrival. A few uncivil words were exchanged and the crew departed without fond farewells. The Smith-Roadnight Jaguar 2.4 came thundering to a stop and reversed back to the marshals but was away again in front of a cloud of dust heading west towards the next stopping point en route for Uckfield. Patsy Burt then drew to a halt with her Dauphine. Fortunately for her it was mechanically good. Our own test example of this marque with Performance Equipment Company of Liverpool modifications was suffering from electrical ailments which were fortunately quite unconnected with the exhaust and carburetter improvements. These modifications add almost 10 m.p.h. to the top speed of this energetic little car.
The seventh section was an “Eight Clubs” one and was easier, involving more route checks than actual time controls. This took cars near Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks to time control 22 at Wrotham again. Here we watched the winner, K. Faire, come in soon after 3.30 a.m. feeling reasonably happy that he had done moderately well on the more difficult stuff. He went off in search of petrol at the appointed station which was still open waiting for the rally competitors. After this the route went north on the average speed section via the Blackwell tunnel and on in the direction of Chelmsford and Southend for the finish. Driving tests were held on the front at Southend and this concluded the rally.
The number of Continental cars taking part was considerable. A solitary Skoda could be seen together with the Scott-McNab Alfa. Romeo which seemed to be running erratically. There were three Dauphines, several Volkswagens, Fiats, a Renault and a Mercedes-Benz 1800. A rare rally car to be seen in the marshalling arena in front of the airport was the Spence-Porter Turner A30 which arrived soon after midnight.
This year there were many fewer mishaps than in 1956 on account of the dry roads. L. D. Mellish in his Hillman Minx said that he had killed a rabbit before arriving at Lydd; many stories were told of the unwelcome attentions of the police especially in Essex during the earlier stages. Usually the police enter into the spirit of these events and particularly the Essex police, but this year they were said to have obstructed many of the competitors in their serious efforts to get first of all to London Bridge. The organisers were, however, pleased with the outcome of the event in spite of the worst possible rally weather as far as they were concerned. The night of February 8/9th was dry and clear with a large moon and stars! — I. G.