Where Have We Been? Or Two Days Of Thrift

Some notes on the 1960 Mobil Economy Run, won by a Standard Ensign at 40.39 m.p.g. Austin Se7en achieves 57.15 m.p.g.

IN the past I have tended to ignore the Mobil Economy Run because, although the results are interesting, the event is a dull one to report. This year, however, I was invited to drive over part of the route, which is a very different matter. The first part of the title refers, then, to trying to remember just where we had been after having covered part of the complicated but scenically-enjoyable route of the 1960 Economy Run, while the second part of the title refers, not to my expenses account, but to our endeavours to conserve the consumption of Mobilgas while trying to maintain an average of 30 m.p.h. over this difficult terrain.

In case the reader is still confused, let met start at the beginning. The Economy Run is no new thing, the Cheltenham C.C. having virtually introduced it into this country some years ago, an idea followed up very effectively by the Hants & Berke M.C., which, since 1955, has organised the Mobil Economy Run. This has proved popular with competitors and the technically-minded, and last year Mobil held such events both here and in Australia, Nigeria, Malaya, throughout Europe, in New Zealand, and South Africa, etc. The British event is an International fixture which reflects the inventive genius and organising ability of Holland Birkett. It has changed in character as experience has been gained. For example, the early Economy Runs were scientific exercises to see just how economically cars could be run, on the basis of “no holds barred.” This led to Mr. and Mrs. Motorist looking the other way, because they were not interested in “trade fiddles.” So stiffer routes were introduced, which brought the resultant m.p.g. figures closer to those obtained by normal drivers. This year the event was toughened up again, so that, although this Economy Run must on no account be referred to as a Rally it had something of that look about it, especially if you were able to examine some of the competing cars after their drivers had endeavoured to maintain the required average speed over the narrow lanes of Yorkshire and Cornwall!

It should be explained that this event is now restricted to current British cars, which must remain virtually standard, and that each one carries an Observer nominated by the organising Club who notes whether the driver observes the Highway Code and that he does not allow his car to coast in neutral, etc. Cars with overdrive are required to cover a certain distance with these locked out.

It came about that this year, a few days before the event was due to start, that Alec Mosley, of the Mobil Oil Co., invited selected members of the Press to drive over the last two days of the route, so that they could see for themselves the conditions under which the contest is held. Not only that, but they offered to produce any car that the journalists cared to name! Deciding on a small car with a comparatively large engine and high axle ratio, and having been favourably impressed by the Riley 1.5 we road-tested recently, I said that I would like to drive a Wolseley 1500. Asked to provide a co-driver, I named Miss Jill Donisthorpe, knowing that her experience as a private aeroplane pilot and of driving vehicles across the Sahara desert should fit her for any type of contest. In due course we collected a Wolseley 1500 which had been hired from J. Davy Ltd., and set off to check in at Weston-super-Mare on the Monday evening. On the journey down to Weston we decided that the Wolseley would be an adequate machine for the task ahead, although subsequently we discovered that the demisting equipment had been disconnected so that it was necessary to clean the screen continuously by hand, that water dripped onto the feet of the front-seat occupants and that in lieu of a Road Fund licence the car merely carried a piece of paper stating that a duplicate licence had been applied for—hardly a credit to the hire-car company concerned.

However, all this was soon forgotten as we observed how the cars were checked over before the start; sumps, gearboxes and back axles being drained and refilled with the correct grade of Mobiloil and Mobiloil GX90, respectively, and the level of the petrol tanks being checked scientifically before the cars were impounded to await our early start on the Tuesday morning. While we were having dinner, competitors began to arrive at Weston-super-Marv, having already covered the first day’s run from Worthing up to Harrogate, via Leicester and York, and having returned on the Monday via Whitchurch and Bath. Already their cars bore marks which showed that to maintain an average speed of 30 m.p.h. over this year’s route was proving difficult. John Webb had become so lost that he had retired his Austin A40 and there was clear evidence that Chaterre had contacted a bridge with his red Triumph Herald, the front of the car being considerably damaged, and the delay causing him penalisation.

Early on the Tuesday morning it was our turn to join in and see what all this economy motoring was about. The itinerary included climbing Porlock Hill, Station Hill, Lynton, and the dreaded Bluehills Mine (where the B.M.C. minicars required all three occupants in the front seats to obtain adequate wheel-grip. Later, on a downhill section, two of them spun at a corner!), and with this in mind I opened by feather-footing it through the lanes and along the main roads in an endeavour to conserve as much Mobilgas as possible. Gradually other competitors in the Press Section drew away from us, including Maurice Smith in a Standard Ensign and two ladies in a Triumph Herald, and we began to realise that perhaps it was not possible to drive so economically and still maintain the speed required. The Wolseley made light of Porlock and on Station Hill had to swing wide to avoid the Ford Zephyr driven by economy-expert Kendrick, which had stopped due to fuel starvation caused by a low petrol level in its tank, and was running backwards. In driving rain, which never stopped all day, we were able to make up time on the road to Truro by cruising at 40-50 m.p.h. At Truro I handed over to Jill Donisthorpe and immediately the route plunged into narrow undulated lanes, causing our schedule again to go sadly to pieces, particularly as we foolishly got lost on a number of occasions. This is no reflection on the road book, which was a remarkable piece of work. It is no easy matter to log accurately a run of over 374 miles in a day, mostly over West Country lanes and by-roads. This, however, the Hants & Berks M.C. had successfully accomplished.

In the early evening we came into Plymouth for another refuelling stop, and it was evident that the stone walls and narrow bridges were taking considerable toll, good business thus awaiting the panel beaters. Eldred’s Wolseley 6/99 had a badly damaged front-end which had jammed the bonnet, but this was not his fault, a non-competitor having thoughtlessly reversed into his path. Kendrick’s Ford Zephyr and Hill’s Austin A99 exhibited minor damage, but all the starters with the exception of John Webb were still in. During the rest of that evening any idea of conserving petrol had to go by the board, for our speed was dropping sadly behind schedule and “Sheila Van Donisthorpe” was forced to press on regardless, especially after we had lost ourselves in Exeter at a blocked-up roundabout and in Axminster, where in the dark we looked in vain for Master’s Garage up the fork roads, only to discover that we had not gone far enough and that it was situated at the side of A 373. Although hurrying through such lanes is a wearing experience, the back route by which Birkett took us across Dartmoor and eventually on to Exeter was delightful, and typical of the man! The organisation was severely tested when an articulated lorry indulged in the sort of accident that these vehicles manage so spectacularly, blocking a bridge near Widdicombe. A long diversion having to be route-marked as the first competitors arrived, but the Ford pilot car was alerted and carried out the task with typical efficiency. We had by now really dropped behind the others and Jill had to press on at considerable speed through fog to the Control at Weymouth. Every turn presented to us the depressing sight of Controls about to close, of policemen going off duty after a long spell of helping the marshalls, of R.A.C. signs being taken down on the assumption that the Run had passed through, end of the VW which carried the back-marker waiting impatiently for us to pass it. Eventually, however, we arrived in damp and miserable-looking Weymouth and went to bed immediately after dinner, with the prospect of getting up at 5.30 a.m. on the following morning for the last day of the Run. This proved to be an easy piece of motoring from Weymouth to Worthing via the Montagu Museum, but considerable anxiety was experienced when for some thirty miles before the next Refuelling Control the petrol gauge showed less than zero, although the tank had been virtually full when we left Plymouth the previous afternoon. It is things like this that caused the Editor’s remaining dark hairs to turn grey but, in fact, we ran into the Control beyond Winchester with just a whiff of gas left in the Wolseley’s inadequate petrol tank.

Thus the 1960 Economy Run ran its course. Time and again as we drove over the long West Country section of the route we found ourselves saying, “Where are we?” “Where have we been?” I would come upon names on signposts and of villages that recalled places I had been to in search of vintage cars, of hills associated with pre-war trials and of other places associated with motor competitions. It would be pleasant to drive over much of the route again under less exacting conditions in the summer days that lie ahead. It takes not only inventive genius but considerable courage to organise an event of this stature, and as one drove over the course, or contemplated certain aspects of the regulations, one sensed the presence of Holland Birkett. We offer him and those members of the Hants & Berks M.C. concerned warm congratulations on bringing this interesting International fixture to a successful conclusion. That the Mobil Economy Run will continue to be an annual event is certain. The last thing the Managing Director of the Mobil Oil Company said at the celebration dinner was “Here’s to the next time.”

Some more cars had suffered minor damage and we noticed that C. M. Walker’s Herald was growing grass from the bottom of its doors; presumably he or his co-driver Ursell are keen window-box gardeners! While the boffins of the Herts & Berks M.C. grappled again with the scientific machines that they bring with them to ensure accurate assessment of fuel consumption and others amongst them worked out the results, we experienced again the willing and generous hospitality so charmingly meted out by members of the Mobil organisation. In due course the results were announced, and very interesting they proved to be. The outright winner was E. Jones, accompanied by his young son, who had averaged 40.39 m.p.g. in a Standard Ensign, an astonishing achievement considering the difficult nature of the route. T. T. Wolfendale’s Austin Se7en, which had part of the air intake grille blanked off, won the 500-1,000 c.c. Class with the astonishing fuel consumption of 57.15 m.p.g., and this success was endorsed by the second and third places in this class going to two Morris Mini-Minors. These B.M.C. baby cars showed an appreciable advantage in economy over the Ford Anglias and the Triumph Heralds. B.M.C. cars scored again in the 1,000-1,600 c.c. Class, T. A. Tophill’s Wolseley 1500 winning with 46.4 m.p.g., the runners-up being a Riley 1.5 and another Wolseley 1500. That the Riley was sandwiched between two Wolseley 1500s shows, as the organisers put it, “that two carburetters can live as cheaply as one.” The outright winner was also the winner of the 1,600-2,500 c.c. Class, in which the runners-up were another Standard Ensign (at 33.97 m.p.h.) and a Ford Consul. Economy-expert Kendrick did not have things all his own way this year but he managed to win the Over 2,500 c.c. Class with his Ford Zephyr at 32.47 m.p.g., second place going to Neate’s Austin A99, which was extremely close with 32.27 m.p.g., an excellent achievement, because this driver had had many setbacks, including puncture and carburetter troubles. Third place in this class went to J. A. Robin’s Ford Zephyr, who had also experienced more than his fair share of difficulties along the route, including an unfortunate skid perpetrated by his co-driver, which lost him valuable time—and lateness involved an m.p.g. penalty. Indeed, even being one minute late virtually destroyed a competitor’s chances, which is unnecessarily severe.

The reception and presentation of awards and the celebration dinner took place in the extremely pleasant Assembly Rooms in the Town Hall at Worthing. Brigadier R. F. E. Stoney, C.B.E., Director-General of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, after a short “pep-talk” about safe driving, handed out the awards to the winners, who so well deserved them. Holland Birkett, in an amusing speech, told the competitors that he knew they had not believed him when he told them of the nature of the route at the pre-Run briefing. He now tore them off a strip, telling them that they drove on their Haldas, not making any real attempt to drive fast on main roads so that they could drive more slowly down the narrow lanes and in other difficult places. “Next year,” he told them, “we shall fox you; average-speed calculating machines will be barred!”

Looking down the complete list of results it is really astonishing what good m.p.g. figures competitors achieved, many of which would be creditable even on a main-road run with every opportunity to conserve petrol. It is to the credit of the drivers and of the qualities of Mobil petrol that such fine results as the 57.15 m.p.g. of Wolfendale’s Austin Se7en and the better-than-40 m.p.g. of Jones’ winning Standard Ensign were achieved. None of the Mini-Minors dropped much below 55 m.p.g., one Ford Anglia achieved over 48 m.p.g., and a 3.4 Jaguar which achieved over 30 m.p.g., in spite of doing 102 m.p.h. on one occasion to make up time. Lowest consumption was that of Rippon’s Mark IX Jaguar, at 18.74 m.p.g.

How did our Wolseley 1500 get on? It gave 36.28 m.p.g. or probably rather better, as by getting lost we covered more miles than were strictly necessary. When the dipstick was examined at Plymouth it was found that no more Mobiloil was required, and the Mobilgas Special showed no sign of “pinking” even when slogging in top gear. But the skill of the “genuine” competitors is shown by the 46.44 m.p.g. achieved by the Wolseley 1500 which won its class, and the 50.86 m.p.g. of these cars which won their class in three of the 1959 Economy Runs. The very highest praise is due both to the Hants & Berks M.C. for extremely efficient organisation and to the Mobil Oil Co. for the excellent setting and subsidiary organisation they provided for this interesting contest. It was a splendid climax to a well-run event that some three hours after the provisional results had been announced printed results were handed round to all guests at the celebration dinner; at the same time the Mobil Company was able to announce a ½d. reduction in the price of its petrol, although we gather this has been widely copied!—W.B.


Class 1. 500-1,000 c.c.:

1st: T. T. Wolfendale/R. Mollart (Austin Se7en), 57.15 actual m.p.g. 119.71% of class average.

2nd: J. M. Redrings/P. R. Davenport (Morris Mini-Minor), 54.86 actual m.p.g. 114.91% of class average.

3rd: D. F. H. Keen/L. V. Cruttenden (Morris Mini-Minor), 54.74 actual m.p.g. 114.66% of class average.

Class 2. 1,000-1,600 c.c.:

1st : P. A. Tothill/J. H. Harrison (Wolseley 1500), 46.44 actual m.p.g. 120.40% of class average.

2nd: T. J. Roden/H. J. Cook (Riley 1.5), 44.36 actual m.p.g. 115.01% of class average.

3rd: G. Keys/G. W. Jones (Wolseley 1500), 40.17 actual m.p.g. 104.15% of class average.

Class 3. 1,600-2,500 c.c.:

1st: E. Jones/E. L. Jones (Standard Ensign), 40.39 actual m.p.g. 124.93% of class average.

2nd: Col. J. H. Bassett/M. Bassett (Standard Ensign), 33.97 actual m.p.g 105.07% of class average.

3rd: W. S. Worswick/C. A. Worswick (Ford Consul), 31.49 actual m.p.g. 97.40% of class average.

Class 4. Over 2,500 c.c.:

1st: H. G. W. Kendrick/M. S. Cooper (Ford Zephyr), 32.47 actual m.p.g. 114.29% of class average.

2nd: R. Neate/B. J. Cumbers (Austin A99), 32.27 actual m.p.g. 113.59% of class average.

3rd: G. A. Robins/A. Burningham (Ford Zephyr), 30.52 actual m.p.g. 107.43% of class average.

Outright Winner: E. Jones/E. L. Jones (Standard Ensign). 40.39 actual mpg. 124.93% of class average.