Sir, C. A. N. May’s new book ” Wheelspin ” has brought back some pleasant memories of my trials days—also recollection of freezing, dripping dawns with a dead engine on Salisbury Plain, and a pint or two of red ink on my pass-book. When, in short, trials lived up to their name. But trials did more than provide amuse
ment and teach one driving ; they redesigned the British sports car. More than that : they changed it for the worse.
Mr. May shows how this happened. In his first season May ran a J2 M.G. Midget with fair success—after the makers had tuned the engine to provide enough power to wind it up hills and through mud, even on its disastrously low bottom gear ratio of 19.2 to 1. As trials proved the J2 frame too flimsy for the growingly severe trials courses, and the two-bearing crank too frail for the thousands and thousands of gear-bred revs., the J2 was replaced by the P. The P Midget was heavier. It was lower-geared still, but even so, it had to be supercharged for real power, and serious mud-plugging meant an even lower” first,” stouter halfshafts, and a straight-cut crown and bevel. Even then the latter were re garded as consumable stores, to be replaced en route, as light-heartedly as a
punctured tyre. Naturally this came very expensive, and was left, broadly speaking, to a growing corps of professional drivers who, competing on behalf of the works, could not afford to fail. Throughout the middle 1980s, therefore, these gentlemen were quietly design ing the Jeep—or something almost as specialised. To lowered gears and special axles they added low-pressure boost, the
locked differential and knobbly tyres, at the same time cutting weight and changing the weight distribution. It only needed caterpillar tracks for the process to be complete. Certain features of this development were, I admit, very healthy, especially
reducing weight and adding a blower. The trouble was the public could not get anything but a trials car. (Having tried a “Balilla ” Fiat and fallen in love with its lovely roadholding and steering, plus its close-ratio gearbox and high first cog, I wrote to a leading British competitor and asked what power did their engine give, as my interests lay in fast long-distance travel, and could I have touring gear ratios and not the trials ones, which seemed the only ones quoted in the cata logue? I treasure their reply. I was told, “it is against the policy of this company to publish power-curves,” and OW I could take their transmission as it was, or not at all. So, amending the well-known slogan to “British Cars are Bust,” I bought foreign.) By 1937 the position, largely caused by trials, was quite undignified. Whilst our cars were wallowing like monsters through the primeval slime, they had been surpassed, as automobiles, by the veriest touring cars made abroad, so that when a Citroen, Lancia ” Aprilia,” ” 1,100 ” Fiat, or B.M.W. dusted them “up Alp and down Jura,” their owners
could only mutter lamely, “Well, it isn’t fair, I’m driving a sports car ! ” My contention is that trials are to blame. As manufacturers could not afford to have it said that their new model was “Hopeless, old boy ; wouldn’t have an earthly on Simms,” they took the easiest line, and geared down. How futile this was is shown by the host of “mods.” listed above. And as these “mods.” included gear ratios optionally lower than standard, it seems crazy they made none for the man who wanted them (possibly, thanks to a blower) higher than usual, so as to show the Wops the way
home. Result : patriotic youngsters grew up with the wrong idea of motor cars, excusing the square, buzzing, oldfashioned “dodge ’ems” purveyed by our people, on the grounds that they could climb a one-in-two manure heap.
Trials are a lot of fun, and they should be kept. But let Os go back to the days before the windlass era set in, and good drivers disdained to use “comps.” Have a class for four-wheel-drive by all means, to encourage a breed, but, for normal trials, encourage also open-road-worthy jobs by a formula giving points for, say, maxima on the gears. Having no connection with the trials game now, I sign myself,
OLD ABINGDONTAN.” [We quite agree. Many years ago MOTOR SPORT pointed out the folly of slime-storming and its adverse effect on the design of our small sports cars. The M.C.C. trials are above reproach in this respect, and we look forward to the next “Land’s End.” The answer to “Old Abingdonian’s ” worries would seem to be liberal special tests over fair distances against the watch, calling for reasonably high gear ratios, high-geared steering, front-end stability, etc. Trials organisers of the new era, please note 1—En.] * *