The National Cat’s Eyes Rally, organised by the Thames Estuary A.C. on February 6/7th, found a winner on the road section this year, in the shape of Robin Richards and G. C. Davies in their Riley 1.5, having lost only two minutes during this 400-mile event. Last year there were six clean sheets and Ken Piper’s Messerschmitt won the rally because he made best time in the driving test. This year the organisers stated that there would be no clean sheets and that the tests would only decide ties on the road section. As it happened, they were right, but it was a very close thing.
Two starting points were used this year, at Lambs’ Garage, Woodford Green, Essex, and the Ace Service Station, Weedon, Northants. Since the rally started late on Saturday afternoon the competitors were given an easy 24-m.p.h. route to the converging point at the Evenlode Hotel, Eynsham, near Oxford, where an hour’s rest was planned as no supper stop would be provided later on.
Section II was a map-reading section with nine route checks to be visited in any order. The 30-m.p.h. average speed was not difficult to achieve on good roads and very few crews lost marks on this section. The route took competitors over the Cotswolds via Cheltenham to a petrol stop at the Cheltenham Road Garage, Perrott’s Brook, just north of Cirencester.
The third section was planned to be a difficult one, and with seven controls in 9-1/2 miles it looked to be quite “tight.” The first problem came when competitors had to go from Time Control 5 to Time Control 6, and as Control 6 had to be approached from the swath-east drivers were obliged to go through a ford. This had been swollen by recent rains and was a good 18 inches deep and about 15 yards wide. The Motor Sport reporting crew nosed their Riley into the water but thought better of it and decided to see how tbe competitors coped with the problem. Numbers 1 and 2, a Volvo 122S and an Auto Union, rushed across without difficulty and it looked as if the ford might not lie as much of a problem as we had imagined. Then an Austin Healey 100S arrived, followed by a Sprite; the 100S just about getting through by fierce blipping, but the tiny Sprite went in up to its headlamps and expired in a cloud of steam. The luckless occupants. R. B. Sutcliffe and D.H. Ralphs, rolled up their trousers and pushed the car out. Unfortunately, to do this they had to open the doors. which immediately allowed the torrent to rush through the car; but after drying out the ignition they managed te get going onto more.
The method of attack of various drivers was amusing to watch, some of them rushing in full bore, only to be literally drowned by enormous waves. Others studied the situation carefully and motored through, slipping the clutch and keeping the revs. up. The Austin Sevens, Triumph Heralds and VWs seemed to be particularly suited to these conditions, although the VWs tended to be more buoyant than the others. A Citroën DS19 had the advantage of being able to rise up on its suspension and it had little trouble in negotiating the ford.
A number of drivers took one look at the ford and turned back, which added to the confusion as the approach road was only wide enough for one car at a time. Among those who turned back were Paul Steiner and Pat Moss. Later on, Henderson’s Volvo and a Citroën Light Fifteen got really stuck fast, the Citroën breaking its differential. This prompted several people to take to the footpath which ran over a small bridge. It was just wide enough for a small car, an MG. A and a Sunbeam Alpine managing it quite successfully, but later on an Austin fell off the parapet into the water, a drop of several feet! Only one driver had the answer to this problem and he produced a rubber “snorkel” tube, fitted it to his Rapier’s exhaust pipe and motored happily through the flood.
Afterwards the organisers swore that the ford was a mere trickle when they surveyed the course but few people were inclined to believe them! Those who got through quickly found that the remainder of the section was quite easy, bringing them out to the north-west of Wantage for the start of Section IV.
This was a route card section with six route checks to be visited in any order, which once again caused little trouble, so that most crews arrived at the Three Pigeons Service Station in plenty of time for a cup of tea.
Section V was a mixture of route cards and map reading. It began with a long 80-mile route card which took competitors in the direction of London via Tring, Hemel Hempstead, Potters Bar and Broxbourne. As well as giving instructions to drivers from this long route card, navigators had to follow the route on the map so that they would know their position when the route card finished. At most of the route checks on this route card various questions had to be answered and written down in the road book. Near Hemel Hempstead most crews lost marks when they were brought out to the M 1 and had to find a way across . Another place where marks were lost was a railway bridge under which a signpost giving the map reference of the next control had been placed, but it disappeared during the night. Fortunately the organisers had taken the precaution of painting the map reference on the road in whitewash, but some crews lost time in finding it.
The rally then proceeded to North Weald Airfield for three driving tests. Some of the drivers were tired or rusty in their driving-test technique because a number of pylons were sent clattering down the concrete, and it was left to Pat Moss to give a brilliant display of how a car should be handled in driving tests, her cream Morris Minor showing many sports-car drivers how to take the tests.
After the tests the crews were free to find their own way to the final control at Southend Airport, where breakfast was available. Although, as we found later, no one had achieved a dean sheet, it was only because of three isolated incidents. Most drivers would rather have difficult road conditions and go down fighting that way than be perfectly clean on a simple road section, only to fall into a river or something similar. Perhaps the Thames Estuary A.C. will move their rally to more difficult terrain next year. Nevertheless most competitors seemed to enjoy themselves, as did the members of the Press, who were well catered for by Press Secretary Robert Vanderpump.
Cat’s Eyes Perpetual Trophy and Noilly Pratt Perpetual Trophy: R. N. Richard (Riley 1.5), 10 marks lost.
Class AA: 1st G. F. Pike (Morris Traveller). Class AB: 1st: S. P. A. Freeman (Austin Cambridge). Class AC: 1st: K. J. Finnan (Citroën). Class AD: 1st: J. R. Archer (Ford Zephyr). Class BE: 1st: W. Scutt (Triumph Herald). Class BF: 1st: G. Kirkaldie (Sunbeam Alpine). Class BG: 1st: B. Harper (Morgan Plus Four). Class BH: 1st: T. J. Mockridge (Austin Healey).
Individual Teams: 1st : Ecurie Mickey Mouse.
Club Teams: 1st: Sevenoaks & District M.C.