Trialling in luxury

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In pre-WW1 days works Rolls-Royces performed well in some important competitions – in the 1914 Alpine Trials , winning a Spanish GP and in 1911 a single-seater officially exceeding 101mph. But the 40/50 Ghosts in private hands, while admirable for taking a dowager for her daily drive in Hyde Park or for fast runs to the Med to escape an English winter, were not seen as trials cars.

Belying this, three R-R owners, J B Bainbridge, J E P Howey and R Mitchell, drove Royces in long-distance MCC trials in vintage times. Mitchell and Howey competed in the 1921 London Edinburgh trial, the former with a fine open-top tourer 40/50, rear screen and a trunk behind, soon covered in swirling dust as they proceed north to the Lakeland passes. Wharfdale was a stem test, but both Royces ascended it, almost to the summit on second gear. Both drivers won the coveted gold medals.

Bainbridge joined Howey in the 1922 Edinburgh in his 40/50 R-R saloon, both fast up Kirkstone Pass, both taking gold medals. If a drive over the MCC’s route up to Scotland seemed tough for such heavy luxury cars, the winter London-Exeter was another matter. Howey tried this in ’22, defying the rough and slippery observed sections to win gold in both this and the 1923 London-Exeter. Bainbridge continued to compete in the Edinburgh trials in his ageing saloon, top panel of the screen open, two tyres strapped to the body side, and his chauffeur on the back seat to drive him home. He took more golds in 1923 and 1924 and he entered for the more difficult Land’s End Trial of 1924, retiring only because of apalling weather conditions. But in the 1925 and 1927 Edinburghs he was back in winning firm in the old R-R.

So not only was the vintage Royce a successful trials car, but some private owners used theirs for speed hill climbs. At Laindon in 1924 W M Broomfield’s smart Cunard three-seater with real silver-plated fittings (KK 1331) won its class, as did C Grant-Dalton’s 40/50 at Spread Eagle and we never, ever called them ‘Rollers’.