ALPINE TRIAL 1933
In recent times many retrospectives of former important competition events have been held, for classic and other cars. They are commendable in that they provide good sport with a flavour of the past for those who take part, and perhaps they enhance the value of some of the cars so publicised. But none of them, for a variety of rather obvious reasons, can quite compare with the real events they replicate. This is especially true of those in Alpine terrain. The Swiss and Austrian alpine passes con
stituted a severe test of the motor car from the earliest times and became the scene of the famed Alpine Trials, or Coupe Internationale des Alps, from 1928 which were regarded as very tough indeed, and which were supported by manufacturers as an effective means of PR, should success come their way. To win a Coupes des Alpes or Glacier Cup was to have attained a very covetable accolade indeed. This signified that either a team or an individual, respectively, had
completed the route without losing a mark on an event that required timed ascents of most of the great Alpine passes and maintenance of high average speeds, calculated according to engine-size. You had to cover many stages without a break for food or servicing. Repair time was restricted, anyway, because overnight the cars were locked away in a guarded part ferme, and, as the years went by, the regulations regarding how far the competing cars could depart from catalogue specification were tightened up. And to make it even more difficult, vital parts were sealed so that they could not be tampered with on the trial.
Such rules made the Alpine Trial an excellent shop-window for the many makes that were entered, but keeping a clean sheet was difficult indeed. The pace set, up those winding, steep passes, was high, the roads were not always closed, so that collisions were rife, and one dreaded hazard was meeting the Swiss post-buses, which not only had absolute right of way — in a country not known for its tolerance of fast cars — but were allowed to keep to the inside of the numerous bends, forcing the trial cars even closer to sheer drops over the edge than their drivers normally risked. Added to that there were poor road surfaces, many puncture-inducing nails thereon, dust, heat by day and the cold of night which made restarting difficult. Add the crews’ physical exhaustion and the mechanical strain on the cars, taking part in what was a thinly-disguised road-race-cumspeed-hillclimb lasting several days . . . so those pre-war and early post-war Alpines were quite something — I am thinking of the rea/ Alpine Trials. It is not possible to recall all of them, but let’s look back to some.
The 1933 Alpine, described as one of the most severe trials of them all, brought 132 entries, 50 of which were British, in five capacity classes, ranging from 5001100 cc to over 3000 cc. Team entries came from MG, Singer and Fiat in the smallest category, to three Dutch Fords in the big-car division. In between were the ChainGang Frazer Nash trio, opposed by teams of Riley, Adler, Hanomag, Rhor and Stoewer, then the Vauxhall, Mercedes, bigger Adlers, Hotchkiss, SS 1 and another Mercedes team in the 2000-3000 class. Truly international.
The private owners included many famous names, such as Donald Healey (Riley), Ron Horton (Triumph), Oxley (Frazer Nash), Count Lurani (Alfa Romeo), Blackstone (OM), WM Couper (Talbot) and Dr Roth (Talbot). The ladies were not adverse to such punishment, either. Joan Richmond was to drive a Singer, Miss Champney her Riley, Mrs Gripper a Frazer Nash (with her husband in another), Miss Patten an Alvis for instance, and they were joined by a strong female contingent from abroad. Outside the RAC in Pall Mall the SS1 tourers lined up for the departure from England, competition numbers on their flanks. The first car was due to be sent away from Merino at 4.00 on an August Monday, that day’s run embracing the Giovo, Falsarego
and Poidoi passes. On the following day the cars had to climb the Stelvio, Bernina, Albula and Fluela passes into Switzerland, and on the Wednesday tackle the Julia and San Bernardino, on the route from St Moritz to Turin. Then it was a matter of the drive back into France from Turin, the climb consisting of the Col de Sestrieres, Mont Genevevre, the Izard and the Galibier with its unprotected edges, and the Croix de Fer. Finally, the last day involved the Bayard, Vars and Cayolle passes, as the few remaining cars made their way from Grenoble to the finish at Nice. The speeds on the timed sections of selected passes ran from 26.09 mph for the 1100 cc section to nearly 28 mph for the two larger classes. Overall, racing average speeds were set and navigators had to be alert, because dire penalties awaited those who arrived at controls too early, as well as if they were late. At the final day’s control competitors were allowed five minutes to unload their baggage before the car was locked away in the open for the night. Next morning restarting the engine had to be done on the motor, against the watch, to avoid loss of marks. Having arrived at Merino, mindful of the sort of time permitted for repairs once the Alpine had commenced, most of the crews, set about decarbonising and grinding-in valves, adjusting brakes, and trying to decide which choke-and-jet combination best suited the carburettors. The Britishers’ luggage had been brought out by a Thorny
croft van. Troubles came early on the first day. Racing driver EK Rayson in a 38/250 hp Mercedes, was overtaken by Klotz (an appropriate name) in a small Mercedes (No 13!) which immediately swung across the road in front of Rayson, and rolled over twice in a field — both Germans then walked to the next village. And all in the first 100 km . . . Even prior to that, as the Dutch Ford team left the start in the dark, a private Ford wouldn’t start and neither would an Auburn, whose crew had flown from the USA to compete, leastways not until marks had been lost for using the handle. A taxi then pushed the car, to no avail. Only when a new battery was found did a faulty connection come to light — it can happen to the best of us! Meanwhile, a Hotchkiss lost time because a tyre had inconsiderately deflated . . . The best timed climb of the Poidoi went to the Hotchkiss team. WF Bradley led with a no-loss score. The SSIs did well, Needham clean, the journalist HE Symons three points down and Miss Allen four. The fwd Adlers easily outclassed the American drivers of GM’s Vauxhalls but in their class the Rileys and Frazer Nashes were all clean and the MGs easily beat the Singers and Fiats. The OM had been written-off against a boundary stone, near Cortina. On that first day fuel-feed problems had eliminated a Riley, a Talbot and a Wolseley, Oxley went off the road, to be towed back on by oxen, then did it again and retired his Frazer Nash. Others to drop out were an Austro-Daimler,
a Tatra-Rhor, a Fiat and another Riley, savaged by a non-competing car. At the end of the opening 248 miles, only 30 out of the 121 starters had lost no marks. Miss Allen and Mrs Eaton, in the SS team, had made up for an earlier delay of one hour with an alarming drive, fast even down the Giovo. Those still unpenalised were Mlle Helle Nice (Bugatti), Delmar (Bugatti), Carriere (Alfa Romeo) and the British drivers HI Aldington (Frazer Nash), Jack Hobbs (Riley), Belgrave (MG) and Donald Healey (Riley). That was a start, but much lay ahead, although the time controls had been rendered less troublesome, as clocks now indicated when a route-book was due to be signed. The Stelvio was the next killer. Humphrey Symons, having lost 40 minutes changing a head gasket on the SS 1 , had scrambled aboard without tightening the nuts, the gasket blew again and water ran into the sump. Undaunted, he coasted down to Borineo, where the AC of Pig 6-Laschalla had just had its front-wheel ball-races replaced and was able to tow the SS to that day’s finish in Switzerland. Petrol
pump trouble pointed to the altitude and the 1932 organiser may have learnt something when his Alfa Romeo was baulked by a small German car, the steering of which was seizing up. Mrs Gripper also suffered thus and Lago found his Talbot’s pump nuts loose. The Hotchkiss team overtook the Mercedes-Benz in their class, to lead, and although Miss Champney, on her first taste of the Alps, drove wildly and had twice to reverse at hairpins, she was still first lady. But Margaret Allen’s SS I also had a gasket go. That decimated the Coventry team, Needham now on his own. ‘Aldy’ made a clean job of the Stelvio and ButlerHenderson dropped only two points, but the Rileys still led the 11/2-litre class. Alan Marshall had so much work to do on release from the parc ferrne that his Frazer Nash started after the official car had left. But he drove so hard, as Chain-Gangers often do, not only up but down the passes, that he soon overtook the surprised officials, to get to Pontresina unpenalised. Less fortunate was young Mlle Sajoux from Paris, alone in a Delahaye saloon. She, too, drove furiously, to shoot over the St Moritz finishing line. Braking in a cloud of dust, she reversed hastily, shouting “Quick, quick, quick, I’m late,” as she ran to clockin. Alas, she failed to charm the timekeepers and she lost 11 points for an early
arrival . . . it was all very tough and at the end of the second day 10 had retired, the two SS1s, Mrs Gripper’s Frazer Nash and Miss Richmond’s Singer with fuel-feed problems, a Mathis which had back-axle failure before the Stelvio, the AC, a BMW, an MG Magna and a Citroen. Still “clean” were those listed previously, but a cold, damp night in the car park of the Grand Hotel at St Moritz played havoc. The Rileys had to be pushed and tow-started and Hobbs lost 50 minutes, finding hot water to fill his radiator. This in August . . Yet the run ahead was easy and enjoyable, the only noted casualty Porter-Hargreaves, whose Frazer Nash broke a piston. Although the roads over the four passes were not closed, banners proclaimed that the Coupe des Alpes was taking place, and requested other drivers to give way and keep well to the right. At Turin high-ranking officials, including veteran racing driver Felice Nozzaro, greeted the tired participants. The next day’s run opened with straight roads on which drivers could go flat-out to build up time, providing they could avoid a plague of cyclists on the 30-mile outlet from Turin. Up the Col de Sestrieres a stone wrecked a rear brake drum on Bradley’s Hotchkiss, but after it had been removed he continued with three brakes until replacement the next day. At one point a motor coach held up a trail of cars but it was the Galibier that caused problems. The road had been closed to descending traffic, so a true speed hilIclimb could be enjoyed. Yet of 100 timed runs, only three cars attained
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elonA.n. the stipulated speeds. Fastest was Carriere’s blown Alfa Romeo, the other two on time being Delmar (s/c Bugatti), and ‘Aldy’ in the Frazer Nash — a marvellous show. (The Aldingtons used to get excellent publicity when their chain-drive cars did well in the Coupes des Alpestwo Coupes des Glaciers and FI’D up the 9000 ft Stelvio in 1932 and advertised such successes with full-pages in MOTOR SPORT, but it is said that when Brian Twist, The Autocar’s repre
sentative, was allowed to sample one of the competing ‘Nashes immediately after its return from the Alps, all he said was “It’s rather like a motorbike.” To ‘Aldy’, 1 would
not have been so brave. . !
Donald Healey put in a protest that the Galibier finish-banner had been blown away when he made his climb but this was disallowed, on the grounds that it was “an Act of God”. It cost him three points, which Hobbs also lost, as did Nene Nice, thus spoiling her clean sheet. But Belgrave’s MG was a mere two points down here. Old Lionel Martin in a Humber had a puncture, but did not stop. Going down was worse than the ascent. The final two passes were also difficult. A Peugeot expired with severe engine maladies and Miss Gough pushed her Singer to the Grenoble park but it would go no further. Near the end, much passstorming later, Lagos Talbot shed a wheel, which was retrieved and replaced, only to incur the loss of two points at the examination for damage after the road part of the event had ended. Before that a serious crash eliminated a Rhor, which overturned, while Col Holbrook’s Triumph retired when a drive-shaft broke.
So, what was the result? The teams that won the coveted Alpine cups were Ford, Hotchkiss, Alder, Riley and MG. Here the best show was that of the Hotchkiss trio, drivers Duhamel, Gas and the well-known motoring writer WF Bradley, with 36 lost points. The Rileys beat the ‘Nashes by 51 points to 99 and the MGs, handled by Watkinson, Welch and news
paperman Tommy Wisdom, lost only 87 against the Singers’ 209. The Fords relinquished 54 points and the Adlers vanquished the Vauxhall saloons 52/248. The private owners who lost no points and took home their Glacier Cups were the Alfa Romeo exponent Carriere and Dalmar in the Bugatti. Lerge’s Bugatti dropped only one point. Best lady was Ilene Nice in her Bugatti, three points in arrears, and the best lady drivers from Britain were Miss Champney and Miss Hobbs, whose Riley dropped 56 points. None of which can truly depict the stress of the Alpine Trial and its importance to manufacturers.
For 1934 the event started from Nice instead of finishing there, and went into Switzerland via the French Alps and through the Dolomites, to finish at Munich after a link into Yugoslavia, and with the innovation of a speed-trial over 5 km on an Italian autostrada, a total of 1800 miles. Averages of 26.2-32.5 mph were set on the road, 53-68.7 mph in the speed test. This was the year when the team of Chain-Gang Frazer Nashes was beaten by the BMW team of six-cylinder Type 315 sports-cars. Bill Aldington was so impressed that he obtained the concession for these cars for AFN, so the 1934 Alpine was responsible for British enthusiasts experiencing the willing power and supple suspension, allied to good roadholding, of these German cars and the ultimate 328 BMW. In fact, the Frazer Nash team lost out because the water-pump gland on the MitchellThomson/Lord Waleran car started to leak and 14 points were dropped while the cooling system was somehow topped-up without the official radiator seals being broken. The support ‘Nashes lost no points, nor did ‘Aldy’ and Tweedale, competing as independents, and Mrs Gripper lost one only, so apart from that single lapse the AFN cars did extremely well. There were 155 entries (a luckless Ford was No 13) and the route went into Austria at Zagreb, in spite of political uncertainty. Swastikas decorated the finish-line banner with which the Nationalist Socialist Party welcomed competitors to Munich — just as well that the BMWs won their class! Of the 127 starters in 1934, 94 finished, 56 without loss of points. The scoring system had changed, teams starting with a score of 3000 points. Silver-gilt plaques were awarded to runners-up in the team category, the outright team winners in each class still taking the prized Coupes des Alpes. The time schedules were a bit lower than previously, but it was still a very stiff trial. This time Delahayes beat the Fords in the big-car class by 312 points and the Roesch Talbots of Wisdom, Eaton and Couper trounced the SS team 3000/2630. In the smaller categories the leading Wanderer team (there were two) tied with the Opel and Adler-Trumph teams, which beat the Riley team 3000/2700, and the BMWs were 14 points ahead of the gallant Frazer Nashes. In the 1100 cc division the Triumph team of Leverett, Ridley and Holdbrook beat the Singer team 3000/2972. The unlucky ones included a Ford V8 that overturned, one of the Dutch Fords which succumbed to gearbox trouble, after they had all started off as in a race, two more Fords, a Hotchkiss that retired early, Alan Marshall’s Frazer Nash with a leaking sump, Reggie Tongue’s Singer, delayed by three punctures in one day, another Ford with axle trouble and a Ford V8 that hit an oncoming car. Kay Petre had all manner of bothers that spelt the end for her Singer, Light’s SS crashed, Ley’s Talbot lost a big-end and a Ford, an 1100 Adler and Miss Allen’s Lancia lost points through needing water. At Venice the strain of no rest periods was telling — Black and Ruben Harveyson overslept. . Many treated the
trial as if it were a race, the Germans especially, and up the Stelvio fast ascents were made by the three Roesch Talbots, Seyd’s s/c MG Midget and Symons’s MG Magnette. The Alpine was living up to its reputation.
International tension caused the event to be cancelled in 1935, but a rather diluted affair was held in 1936, with hills rather than mountain passes in France, and lots of secret checks. In 1937 it was more or less back to normal. The route took in Austria and went into the Dolomites. There was ice at the start, on which an Aston Martin crashed, and snow in the heights. The big cars included a team of hiduminiumengined Siddeley Specials for the great Sammy Davis, WF Bradley and Humphrey Symons, which had overheating problems. This time 15 failed on the Stelvio, a Ford’s engine literally bursting, a dust cloud caused Davis to clout a bridge in avoiding an approaching car, eight drivers were ditched on the Little St Bernard pass after the night halt at Stressa and an Amilcar lost its propshaft.
And so on . . . It happened again after the war. Average speeds went up, from 29.8 mph for the new 750 cc class to 37.2 for the over three-litre cars. By 1950 the modifications permitted were less lenient and the 13th Alpine had 95 runners. An MG crashed, as did a Citroen, a Bristol disappeared over the lip of the Cayolle and another Citroen, a Healey and a Jaguar collided. At Cortina only 62 were left
in, and the Gross Glocker and the Croce claimed eight more. Leonard Potter had a serious accident when his Allard left the road in the typical dust cloud that hampered vision, Gordon Wilkins went into a wall when the Healey’s throttle stuck open, yet another Citroen crashed, Gatsonides’s SunbeamTalbot went out with axle trouble and there were other mishaps. Before the Brenner Pass was reached, only 12 drivers had still to drop points. The Rileys of Black and Charles Fothergill from Fleet Street, had serious mechanical defects, and Hartwell hit a noncompeting car, as did one of the MGs. Before the finish at Cannes four more passes had to be climbed and on one of them a Panhard crashed, the little Simcas were in trouble, Hartwell now had no dynamo charge on the Sunbeam-Talbot, Tommy Wisdom found his electrics failing on the Hillman he was driving, and an HRG had ignition bothers. At the termination of this difficult Alpine Trial there
was a big fuss, and a long-delayed decision, after a protest that the DynaPanhards possessed oversize inlet ports — a protest for once featuring French instead of foreign cars! The final results yielded Glacier Cups to five Panhards and another to Britain’s Ian Appleyard with his white Jaguar XK I 20, a memorable performance with a big car committed to the fastest averages. Panhard took the team award, the MGs the prize for best foreign team. Class winners were Panhard, Renault, MG, Sunbeam-Talbot, Alfa Romeo and Jaguar. Later the event became known as the Alpine Rally and wasn’t quite so tough. Today one-make clubs and more allembracing bodies organise marathons, challenges and retrospectives in the Alps and those who take part experience the breakdowns and accidents that were a feature of the real thing. but it need no longer be so intense. W B