Having remarked that to the enthusiast motoring should be as satisfying as the cars in which it is conducted, when the top-model of the Ford Sierra range, in the form of a luxury-equipped 2.3-litre Sierra Ghia 5 door Hatchback came along for test, having reported favourably on the 1.6L Sierra last December, I thought it expedient to comment on its suitability for a long day’s haul instead of dissecting it item by item. Consequently, having collected it from Ford’s Brentford Press Depot, where Alf Belson is still in charge, and taking 1¼-hours to penetrate to the City offices, I left at 3 p.m. to look for an old stationary-engine alleged to lie at a farm at Gerrards Cross.
I found the farm, I talked with the farmer but Roger Gates had long ago beaten me to the Lister and a Ford rep. to an early Fordson tractor. But I heard that the farmer’s father had used a Wheatley oil-engine with hot-tube ignition and exposed big-end. After which I gave the sleek and comfortable Sierra a spin up Kop Hill outside Princes Risborough, where ended in 1924 the era of the public-road speed events, before calling at Bob Wood’s compact but interesting Motor Museum at West Wycombe, to look at BRM, Semmence Special, Halford Special and other inspiring objects.
Setting off early on the Thursday before Easter I headed from Amersham, where I had spent the night with an enthusiast who has three Alfa Romeos and is rebuilding an Aston Martin International, bound for Newmarket. Traffic flowed easily and good time was made, the Sierra Ghia proving to have light steering, clutch and brakes and a pleasant 5-speed gearbox. It is, in Ghia form, full of handy mod.-cons., like central door-locking, delay courtesy lights, sun roof, computer panel, etc. Penetrating into Essex we negotiated the unwidened road past picturesque cottages through Ware to Bishop’s Stortford. Our destination was a house at Upend mentioned frequently in those “Diaries of Flying-Officer X” which we ran in Motor Sport from October, 1979 to March, 1981 a house to which the young RFC pilot drove in a variety of often exciting or rare (or both) cars and sometimes arrived by air, around 1916/17 and after that war was over when he was racing at Brooklands. The moat is there and we were shown the “twelve-acre” in which the early biplanes had landed. It was good to know that the present owner of this charmingly-located house is a VCC member, who used to take part in the Brighton Run up to about ten years ago, on an A-registration 1902 Peugeot.
We then directed the Sierra to Cowling, hoping to photograph the place where the CUAC was made so welcome by Mrs. Tongue for their Inter-Varsity speed-trials in February 1929. We were told that there were thought to have been four Tongue brothers who each had a Bugatti which they raced round the extensive grounds. But the mansion was pulled down in 1957, the Tongue family having left in 1947, we were told, although the stable-block has been delightfully restored. There were two very long drives over which those old speed-trials might have taken place and enquiry at the lodge by the church in the village caused me to select the South Lodge, now out-of-bounds, for my photograph.
Next we drove into Bury St. Edmunds to talk with 81-year-old Mrs. Dorothy Dimmock who was secretary to Capt. G. E. T. Eyston, OBE, from 1929 to 1939. She recalled the calm, gentlemanly approach to his motor racing of this inveterate record breaker, up to LSR speeds, of holding out pit-signals to him in the MG days (“George would be terribly upset about what has happened to MG”, the lady kept saying), and of having sometimes to drive Eyston’s 3½-litre Bentley two-seater. He had a little works at Willesden, difficult to extract a big racing car from, an office in High Holborn, from which the Powerplus supercharger concern was conducted, over a jeweller’s who was interested in the sparking plugs Eyston was at one time contemplating making, and worked with Delaney’s of Kilburn, Cole’s of Edmonton, W. D. Marchant, and of course Ernest Eldridge, on the engineering front. Eyston was remembered obviously with very warm affection, and we were shown the commemoration book he had given his secretary and members of his staff, inscribed “312”, signifying the speed at which the twin-engined “Thunderbolt” had broken the LSR at Utah in 1937, the concluding words saying it had been a happy season and that Eyston hoped the next year would be the same. . . It was, when “Thunderbolt” took the LSR to 357½ m.p.h. Eyston married an American before his record bids at Utah and Mrs. Dimmock occasionally looked after his children when they were very young. An amusing facet was that Mrs. Dimmock was on holiday with her friend in Wales when Eyston unexpectedly broke important records. He sent his secretary a wire from Paris asking her to dispatch the necessary news and thanks to the accessory firms that had supplied equipment, which is how some rather unusual telegrams went out from a remote sub-post-office, in Llangynidr, to the astonishment of the Post-mistress.
Just outside Bury is the vast rolling parkland of Ickworth, across which run long drives to the mansion, now National Trust property open to the public, over which motorcycle speed-trials were run, long ago. The lodge-keeper at the approach to the house remembered, without any prompting, how a very long course was used, starting along the back drive, over a hump-back bridge, and round the hairpin down towards the main gates, a Mr. Fenn mounting the bank and knocking over many spectators, after which a shorter course over the main drive in the direction of the house was substituted. The direction in which the first events were run was again immediately confirmed by a lady who was here in a cottage opposite the estate and watched them as a girl. (A check shows that an Archie Fenn started racing a 3½ h.p. Triumph at Brooklands in 1909, graduating to a 499 c.c. Triumph and a 639 c.c. Indian before WWI, appearing again in 1922 astride Labin’s new 678 c.c. Martinsyde, which I imagine may have been the machine he crashed at Ickworth.)
Having “fired the Canon” (camera) at these old roads, we drove on through dreary traffic congestion in dreary St. Neot’s to twisty Kimbolton, where another CUAC speed-trial was staged in 1931. However, enquiry at a garage which has been there since 1921 and at the Castle (now a school) failed to elicit where this might have been, so it was off to Syston in Lincolnshire in the Sierra, its comfortable, quite supple suspension and good, easy-to-set heater appreciated on this long day’s motoring, although I had expected better pick up from the V6 engine, fifth-gear being very much a cruising ratio, so that you need to row about in the box to get moving — we shall have to wait for the XR4 for real punch and stiffer suspension — although the 2.3 Ghia was anxious to run faster than it should on Motorways and the Sierra-shape has elimated wind noise extremely effectively, engine noise is subdued, and only on one surface did the 185 x 70 HR13 Uniroyal Rallye 340/70 tyres kick up any cacophony.
We had been singularly fortunate with the traffic flow until St. Neot’s, but after an obliging Texaco garage just before Stamford on the A1 had cleaned the Ghia’s screen and headlamps unasked (filling the tank here showed our fuel consumption to have been 26.3 m.p.g. and the fuel-range over 290 miles) a long stretch of single-line traffic did hold things up.
We were bound for the course where more Inter-Varsity speed-trials caused considerable excitement from 1909 onwards. After crawling through Grantham we discovered that the road now by-passes Syston village. Entering the village itself we enquired about the old speed events from a gentleman who was standing outside Syston Old Hall in the secluded churchyard. Again, there was no hesitation; he introduced himself as Sir Anthony Thorold, whose family had occupied Syston Park until the house was demolished in 1964, saying he remembered watching the first hill-climb there in 1908, when a Stanley steamer had come to rest halfway up in clouds of steam, and recalling Sir Hickman-Bacon making f.t.d. (in 1909, driving his 1908 GP Austin).
The remains of the old iron entrance-gates can be seen on the left of the new main road, and soon we had crossed a cattle-grid and were on the bleak and narrow hill up which Oliver Bertram had handled the 10½-litre Delage so circumspectly and very fast in 1935 and 1936. There remained one more call, to photograph the burnt-out one-time office block and factory building of the old Brenton-Humber factory at Coventry, where the three legged-badges still adorn the wall of the former. Then it was home to Wales, having done some 500 miles at the wheel that day in this most accommodating Sierra Ghia from Ford. The motoring had lived up to the motor car. Which, by the way, costs £8,910 with all its luxury equipment.
This top Sierra formed my Easter transport, was used for further photographic sorties, and is remembered for its quiet running and general convenience, although the lamps were worthless on dipped-beams, the light spread wide but leaving a black patch immediately ahead. Good seats, plenty of stowages, and many modern amenities, not all of them appreciated by me, keep this Sierra well up in the top family-car stakes. — W.B.
The Ford Sierra 2.3 Ghia
Among the additional luxury featurs which this Ghia model has over a Sierra GL are: better upholstery and trim, smarter wheels, minor body improvements, tinted glass, heated and remotely-adjustable twin door mirrors, fog and spot-lamps, tail-gate of Hatchback releasable from electric switch on console, two-tone horn sounded from steering-wheel spoke pushes, adjustable speed of intermittent screen-wipe by rotating fascia knob, driver’s seat height-adjustable and with lumbar support, adjustable rear head-restraints, prop-up bonnet has inspection light, better carpeting and headlining, stowages which include seat-back pockets as well as front door wells, etc., cigarette lighter in rear compartment, toolkit, more interior lamps (with delayed courtesy action), multi-function digital clock, tachometer (red-lined from 5,700 r.p.m.), retractable aerial, Ford cassette/stereo with four joystick-adjustable speakers, etc., as well as the graphic warning module (too bright in daylight), manual sunroof, the central-locking of all doors and tail-gate, etc.
Performance: 112 m.p.h., 0-60 m.p.h. in 10.2 sec. Overall fuel-consumption: 26.6 m.p.g. 114 (DIN) b.h.p. at 5,300 r.p.m. 13.2-gallon fuel tank with lockable filler cap.