Matters of moment, May 1952

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60

The RAC Rally

The second RAC International Rally of Great Britain, sponsored this year by the Daily Telegraph, occupied from March 31st to April 5th, brought the ozone-towns of Hastings, Blackpool and Scarborough into the news—and in some ways disgraced the RAC. Out of 251 entries the only foreign drivers were Becquart (Jowett), Dr Angelvin (Simca), Gatsonides (Ford), Leiner (Mercedes), Merck (Porsche) and Schade (Ford). No outright winner was recognised; instead there were four classes, with the unusual capacity division of up to and over 21/2-litres. Playing for caution, if not safety, the RAC stated that secret checks would be instituted to exclude those averaging more than 40 mph. Subsequently, discovering that by this move they had caused disquiet amongst the drivers, they requested that the Press should hastily reassure competitors that “respectable averages over safe roads” were permissible. Nevertheless, these secret checks were feared and in consequence, when the snow-drifts of our “second winter” blocked even main roads for the Hastings starters, many who had kept religiously to low speeds, then had to bustle good and proper over revised routes to check in on time—thus was the RAC’s ruling proved to increase rather than limit, if not danger, at all events speed. Ask AG Imhof ! Incidentally, prize money given by the Daily Telegraph totalled £950, and the RAC took £3,765 in entry fees.

Arriving at Silverstone, after a 75-mile run over secondary roads and country ways, with only one diversion where drifts blocked the very summit of the Chilterns, we were happy in anticipation of seeing an instructive high-speed run over 10 laps of the new 1.7-mile Club Circuit (speed requirements ranged from 45–55 mph). Instead, we encountered competitors disconsolate and the majority of officials shocked at another piece of RAC cold footed caution. The test was cancelled ! A few people have stated that the course was dangerous, but this certainly was not a majority opinion. Officials who had come at their own expense to help, and any competitor worthy of the name. expressed disgust at the Stewards’ decision, in varying degrees of vehemenve and picturesqueness depending on their natures and state of liver. At least one of the Chief Marshals, who has had plenty of adventure in the Monte Carlo, agreed with us that drivers in an International Rally have no need to be protected from a little moisture on the road, especially on a private course with no spectators to endanger. We wondered if the Clerk of the Course had been round in such an unsafe car as to unnecessarily unnerve himself but he was using a Lea-Francis, so of course that couldn’t have been so. Someone took his Jaguar XK120 round 7 sec faster than the class-qualifying speed with no trouble of any kind, for, indeed, the course had been merely slushy when the first car arrived and later it quickly began to dry out. We took the opportunity of going round fast in a family saloon with a Monte Carlo Rally driver and found conditions perfectly reasonable, if damp in places.

The new Club Circuit is short and congestion might have resulted at corners, but in deciding to repeat this test (which last year it proved unable to time correctly) the RAC had the visual experience of 1951 to guide it. Having decided that the test could be safely repeated, it had no grounds for cancelling it; this was the opinion of most of the Technical Press. The Bentley DC, a day earlier, had, by sheer hard work, cleared Fink Hill and held their hill-climb to schedule ! Instead of the huge “racing” numbers competitors were required to bring for this part of the Rally, the RAC, it seems, would have preferred them to have fitted L-plates. To many entrants this test was the major attraction of the. Rally, and to find their cars regarded with such awe by the august old gentlemen of the RAC was a bitter pill. As for these “old gentlemen,” no doubt they deeply regretted the absence of horses, behind which the lethal vehicles that were rolling into Silverstone could have been towed, muted, from the arena. As if to off-set the organisers’ lack of initiative, the weather in the South had taken a hand, and several competitors were late at Silverstone, so that it was unfortunate that the “control”, a closed BMW, was difficult to locate. C Griffiths’ 11/4 MG saloon had been towed out of a snow-drift and arrived at about the time it should have concluded its lappery; it also had engine trouble, cured at Abingdon when it should have been at Bridport, so it was retired. Griffiths, however, going on to Castle Combe to watch the test there. DCT Bennett’s dirty white Jaguar XK120, Watkinson’s Austin, Wilkins’ Jowett and Barnfield’s Sunbeam-Talbot were behind time, and Merck in the be-badged Porsche and white overalls looked worried, and his fog-lamp was already minus its glass. The Healeys of FG Davis and GS Rollings had racing numbers up—for Silverstone only, we hope !—and JC Broadhead was dressed in blue overalls as for a GP.

At Castle Combe, after being directed round the circuit, competitors took a garage-test organised and partially illuminated by members of the Bristol MC & LCC. In reminding the RAC that one of its objections to long-distance rallies, expressed at its Meeting with the Clubs, was that organisers might ask for outside assistance in running some of their tests and suffer as a result, we cast no aspersions on the Bristol Club, which it seemed to us with a minimum of RAC supervision. The test was hand-timed, no mean accomplishment in the icy darkness. Cars had to enter a “garage” forwards, reverse out and into another “garage” and accelerate to the finish, over a total distance of 99 yards.

We spectated for two hours, during which JM Readings received applause from a surprisingly keen crowd of spectators for a very excellent run, on which his 11/4-litre MG saloon “holed” at unbelievable speed in reverse. Many cars had elaborate rearward illumination, but others relied on normal reversing lamps or, like Dr Spare (Standard), let a passenger hold a torch out of a window.

BA Hickman (Austin) required two “bites” at the second  “garage,” RS Smith’s Sunbeam-Talbot rolled about, horn protesting, and GF Hayward’s Riley turned the wrong way. RM Barford (Jowett) and DJ Farquharson (Jaguar) took it slowly. CH Davies (MG) reversed clumsily, but the first man to hit a pylon was RT Gardner (Armstrong-Siddeley). He was not alone, for soon RA Page-Croft’s AC flung one almost over its roof, and later DC Hodgson’s Jowett “scored” one. Excellent was RS Prout’s Austin. Dave Price’s Morgan Plus Four was good, if hesitant in the second “garage.” Lawson in a Jaguar XK120 outstanding, but Hartwell, with Duslow-Bartlett as passenger, just touched a pylon in his Sunbeam-Talbot. Gatsonides’ Ford false-started, was given another go, went very fast, but completely muffed entry to the second “garage.” Merck’s Porshe “revved plenty” but was not impressive. DB Watkinson opened the door of Austin while reversing, AC Westwood (Jaguar) took the wrong route but recovered with aplomb. F Preece muffed the reverse-in, whereas Lorna Snow showed up many mere males in her Jaguar. Leslie Johnson put up a terrific run, losing a second, however, in getting out of the second “garage.” Fastest time : EB Booth (Jupiter) and KE Bancroft (Morgan Plus Four), 21.6 sec.

After this the Rally warmed-up and there followed the Eppynt 2.2-mile timed run, where Leslie Johnson (Jaguar XK120) put up fastest time (2 min 30.4 sec), the Blackpool test (fastest were AG Imhof (Allard), J Neilson (Jaguar) and I Appleyard (Jaguar) in 19.0 sec, restarts on three Lakeland gradients, a timed climb of Rest and Be Thankful (fastest : Appleyard, 1 min 11.6 sec), a regularity test on three sections at Ulpha, Hardknott and Wrynose, and another at Oliver’s Mount, Scarborough. Finally, cars were checked for condition. The total mileage was 1,770, at 24 mph, with overnight stops at Blackpool and Edinburgh, which, if it diminished the endurance factor, is sensible in this accident-conscious island, apart from the social viewpoint. The Rally received good BBC coverage by Raymond Baxter.

The Rally organisation was hardly a credit to the RAC. Apart from the Silverstone “flop,” failure of the timing apparatus caused delays at Eppynt which had repercussions at Blackpool, where about one-third of the competitors took the test in the dark, an unfair handicap. Leslie Johnson lost third place because he was allowed by an official to start without rear-wheel spats (to aid brake cooling), then penalised for this at Scarborough. Then, in spite of its promise, the RAC did enforce the 40-mph rule, excluding Mrs Fleetwood (Ford) and Kite (Lea-Francis) for exceeding this average over 100 miles between Kendal and Scarborough. They also penalised 18 others for breaches of the Highway Code–failing to stop at a “halt” sign. Now we are in favour of most regulations which increase safety in public-road events. But we consider it a poor policy for the RAC to out-do the police in such rulings, apart front the undesirability of advertising to the world at large that the Highway Code has been disregarded during a Rally. We have never heard of the police prosecuting a driver for averaging over 40 mph on the open road, and almost everyone has at some time failed to see a “halt” sign, be he or she ever so careful. For a first offence a nominal fine would presumably follow police action. Therefore the RAC, in deducting marks that could lose a competitor an award in an event which must have cost each individual participating at least £40, is taking a very stern view of a not so serious breach, besides making its International Rally sound rather like a learners’ tea-party. Further trouble arose over the final test at Scarborough, prior to which drivers were compelled to protest that the regulations were not being complied with by the organisers.

But if some of the organisation was weak, the Rally proved quite tough and credit is due in full measure to the successful cars. Imhof drove with his head as well as with his feet to bring another victory to the Allard, his stark Cadillac-engined J2 being ably co-conducted by his sister, Mrs Barbara Frayling—the scandal-mongers who noticed that Goff’s lady was not Nina Imhof are hereby quelled ! The lone Allard ably fought off a strong challenge from the Jaguars, as in the up-to-21/2-litre closed-car class did the persevering Becquart, the Rileys with a borrowed Javelin, proving once again the excellent performance of this roomy 11/2-litre saloon, despite its comparatively small engine. Ford scored in the big saloon class, and the Morgan Plus Fours, although unable to hold the Allard and Jaguars in the Scarborough test, which rather favoured sheer performance, gained a well-deserved Team Prize, befitting very brisk and controllable sports cars. Mary Newton, on the eve of getting married to a non-enthusiast, drove outstandingly in a Jaguar XK120 shared with her sister.

Moreover, the Rally eliminated not a few modern cars—actually 43 out of 242 starters, including Mereks’ Porsche. And Readings, starting brilliantly in his 11/4 MG, suffered clutch slip, while Johnson’s XK120 stuck in first gear for some miles and Gatsonides’ Ford Zephyr had fuel feed bothers. We heard of no serious accidents and it seems that public opinion was never incensed—in spite of the 40-mph rule ! Next year’s Rally should create even more interest, providing the RAC can guarantee to tighten up the supervision of its tests and take the chill out of its cold feet.

Curiously, counting the entries produced different totals. The Motor gave 249, the Autocar 250, the BBC 252, and we made it 251.

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