Around and about, May 1982

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A7 End To End

ONE OF the more ambitious and strenuous celebrations of the 75th Anniversary of the birth of Sir Herbert Austin’s Baby Austin was that run from John O’Groats to Land’s End, over the Easter period. It got a remarkable 108 runners. Eighteen of these intrepid Austineers had elected to take the now-traditional Chummies, 51 had the shelter of saloon Sevens, ranging from a couple of early, fabric-bodied examples and a rare Dixi saloon to 25 of the later Ruby models, but many other types were represented in this enormous calvalcade of pre-war economy-car might.

Specials, a Gordon England Cup Model, the Ulsters of Reg Nice and Vince Leek, a trio or more of 65 Sports two-seaters, Nippy, Pearl, Opal and Open Road Austins, even a van or two and an AEW sports model, were eager to go. Remember that they all had first to get to the most northerly point on the British mainland. Some used British Rail’s Motorail service to Inverness, but that still left 140 miles to where Viscount Thurso was to flag these intrepid Austineers away. Having a willing twin-cam 2-litre Fiat Supermirafiori as Editorial transport over the public holiday (see page 554) we decided to eschew the MCC Land’s End Trial, which P.H. J.W. was covering as navigator to a Frazer Nash driver, and tried to see something of this Austin 7 marathon.

First the Fiat fulfilled family demands by taking four adults and two small children for a ride, some four miles out and home, on the two-foot-gauge Brecon Mountain Railway, the 0-6-2 semi-tank steam-loco “Graf Schwerin-Lowitz”, late of the Deutsche Reichsbahn, hauling us sedately but very quietly to the lakeside turn-around (refreshments available) in two new, smartly-varnished coaches. The line dates from 1858 as the 4′ 81/2″ Brecon & Merthyr Railway, it closed in 1962.

On Easter Sunday we drove the Fiat to the Midlands, hoping to see something of the southbound Sevens. A call at the football field near Junction 4 of the M6, where members of the Midland Austin 7 Club were providing camping facilities, elicited the news that only two cars had passed there by noon (there was, however, noses route or checking-in) but that Terry McGrath, deemed by Geoff Walker, was reported as being almost to Land’s End in his Austin 65, accompanied by a Mercedes-Benz back-up van, in an attempt to beat his earlier End-to-End “record” of ten minutes over 21 hours. After that the joke was on us because, proceeding along the M6 to the elusive Loggerheads emergency-point (which was nowhere near the Motorway and apparently didn’t have the advertised facilities anyway), we saw — just one A7, a smart Ruby, but with no means of knowing, as it went by in the opposite direction, whether it was “competing” or was just someone off for lunch with auntie, for instance . . . After which we contented ourselves with picking up some Austin spares for ourselves in the village of Stone, and returning home by a pleasant cross-country route, calling in at the well-attended Midlands Motor Museum on the way. It is excellent news that the MMM plans to take the Napier Railton, the 4-litre V-12 Sunbeam, their 38/250 Mercedes Benz and their Type 43 Bugatti to the 75th Anniversary Brooklands Re-Union on June 27th. No doubt though that all those indefatigable Sevens will bob up again in due course, for the big Longbridge Rally at the end of August for example.

Glimpses of the Lombard RAC “Golden 50” Rally

AS A reminder that the fuss RAC Rally dates back to 1932, the Lombard commemoration event was staged over three driving days last month, for 1932-1967 cars which have associations with this now very high-status International fixture. It began with long road-sections round Britain and was decided in pre-war days on the outcome of driving-tests, — no “forest races” in the early rounds of the affair, The “Golden 50” had “stages” at Silverstone, Blenheim Palace, Prescott, Long Marston, Chilton Park, Weston Park, Burwarton, Shelsley-Walsh, Ragley Hall, Donington Park, Belvoir Castle, Mallory Park, and at Jaguar’s. The event was based at Stratford-on-Avon, where a static display of appropriate cars was held.

It seemed like a very good idea and when the organisers asked for appropriate cars, remembering that my 1922 Talbot-Darracq got successfully through the 1935 RAC Rally, I enquired if they would like me to bring it (writes W.B.). It was not turned down — they simply didn’t reply! Be that as it may, a glimpse or two of the “Golden 50” wasn’t to be missed, and having ascertained that we weren’t poaching on G.P.’s “Rally Review” preserves, the Editorial Rover was directed to Blenheim Palace, where an excellent driving-test had been laid out. Here we watched the entry, 60 strong, perform, the greatest interest being in cars that had actually taken part in past RAC Rallies, of which there were about 17, headed by David Hescroff’s 1927 AC Montlhery Sports that Ray Morley drove in 1932 and Terence Barnes’ Singer Six from the “Autosports” rally team. Blight had the team-Talbot 105 that had competed in 1937, Jobs Morley from Brussels the 1937 class-winning Riley Sprite, Len Shaw his 1953 class-winning YB MG, Philip Young an Austin Healey 3000 built for the 1960 event, the driver’s door of which flew open thrice, and Valler a Reliant Sabre-4 from the 1962 RAC Rally.

Then David Potter’s Mini Cooper-S was a “works” entry in 1964, as was Pither’s Sunbeam Tiger, Worswick’s Austin Healey 3000 ran in ’67 and ’68, and there were other ex-“works” Mini-Coopers, and not only did Paddy Hopkirk drive the one which was victorious in ’65 but Graham Brown had Paddy’s 1965 Mini-Cooper-S. Apart from these historic entries and cars similar to actual RAC Rally cars, many famous drivers turned out. From Germany came Eugen Bohringer, Rally Champion of 1962, with a smart 300SE Mercedes-Benz, and it was soon apparent that he had lost none of his skill. Proctor and Cowan with a Series 2 Sunbeam Alpine, Tony Fisher, RAC Rally Champion of 1963, Don Morley (Austin Healey 100-4), Donald Henley still going strong teamed with Morley, Bill Bengry, in a VW 1500 Beetle of course, Nicky Porter, Per Ekland in a Saab 96, Soderstrom with a Ford Lotus-Cortina, Bell / Robson (1953 Ford Zephyr), and others too numerous to mention, gave the event exactly the right atmosphere.

Having said that, little space remains in which to detail their performances. In the Blenheim test (laid out like the final one for the 1951 RAC Rally, on Bournemouth’s sea-front) where the Duke of Marlborough on his monument was extending a hand as if he strongly disapproved of the preceedings, Blight hit a marker and Cook (Triumph TR2) overshot the stop-line. Donnelly, with Luscott-Evans as his passenger in the XK120, seemed to lift-off too early, Ekland lost much time at the only reversing-point, Ryland’s all-white Austin A35, looking like a piece of spotless bathroom-furniture with non-standard doors, could have done with stiffer suspension. Pither locked-up the wheels of his I.h.d. Sunbeam Tiger going into the first “box”, Potter stalled his Mini-Cooper’s engine at the reverse, but Gethin Jones gave his Austin-Cooper all it had, and Fisher’s, with knobbly front tyres, used the cogs to good effect while in full cry.

Cutler’s Sunbeam Rapier was revved and driven hard, and Bowles likewise drove his XK120 very well indeed. Hopkirk had been leading after Silverstone and now clocked 58 sec. at Blenheim, f.t.d. going to Parkes’ Austin-Cooper at this stage, with 56 sec. The Viscount Boyne, sun-top open on his E-Type Jaguar 2 + 2, was cautious (but clouted a marker), as Eric Dymock in a DB2/4 Aston Martin and Barnes in the Singer. Sutton’s Morgan, with roll-bar, was very fast, Lee’s “frog’s-eye” Sprite a spot-lamp on its hard-top, Perry had substituted a white SS100 for his Lancia Fulvia and Cordell’s Mini-Cooper looked lofty on standard suspension but went very well.

At Prescott, where passengers were again permitted, drivers had two runs up the full course, Barnes’s Singer seemed little faster than Hopwood’s 1939 Morris 8 tourer but the Talbot 105 and Freddie Giles’ Frazer Nash struck the right note for the older cars and again Simmons’ 1954 Alvin TC21/100 saloon, its bonnet-top and rear doors secured with elastic cord, created a very good impression. Bowles drove ambitiously, blipping nicely at Pardon to control the XK120’s wheelspin, Morley just missed going into reverse gear before this corner, judging by the noises emitted, which the Singer also made as Barnes snatched bottom gear, and Pearce really missed his way in the gearbox, on the ZB MG he races regularly — presumably he never changes down that far on a circuit! Bengry displayed a trace of swing-axle tuck-in with the fast Beetle, Cutler’s Sunbeam Rapier was well and truly wound-up, Cardell’s Mini-Cooper was quick, as was Field’s MG-A, Fisher’s Mini-Cooper was neatly driven, likewise Ekland’s Saab, and Paddy Hopkirk expertly flicked his Mini-Cooper through the bends. Carr’s Porsche 911, said to be the oldest of its kind still running, went well here and Lomas’ Austin Healey 3000 was quick, Wood’s Ford Lotus-Cortina momentarily used the bank at Pardon. Inspite of the bulk of the ex-Karl Kling Mercedes-Benz, 60-years-old Bohringer was extremely confident. At both the venues we visited crowd attendance was good; there were driver-interviews over the p.a. at Blenheim but no commentary was provided at Prescott.

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