Conquest of Cader Idris

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The Autocar started it. They had tried to climb Cader Idris, Wales’s allegedly second-highest mountain (2927ft), with a 4WD Steyr-Puch-Haflinger, but wheelspin defeated it. Yet another attempt was later made using an Argo Professional but it was only able to get within about 500 yards of the summit.

Cader Idris was chosen because Snowdon (3560ft) had already been conquered by ACs and other light cars in the 1920s, and Scotland’s Ben Nevis (4406ft) by a Model-T Ford in 1911 and later by a Model-A, although Sydney Allard failed when his Allard stuck in a crevasse.

Having approved of the then-new Range Rover after road and off-road testing during 1971 (apart from its thief-proof fuel tank cap refusing to come off with only a pint of petrol in the tank) I felt that Motor Sport should try to better The Autocar’s efforts. I had expected to borrow a Range Rover again and have a go…

But Brian Sperring, Rover’s PR, thought this such a good piece of publicity that he laid on a full-scale onslaught. So I drove in a road-test Chrysler 180 from Mid-Wales over to the Dolmelynllyn Hall Hotel at Ganllwyd, taking my gumboots and Castrol oilskins but scorning climbing gear, because I hadn’t any, and the next morning the crew arrived.

The vehicles they brought comprised a standard Range Rover fitted with Dunlop Trakgrips and a front Belleview electric winch, a short-wheelbase Land Rover owned by Brian Pickup of the Pennine Land Rover Club with Rover 60 cylinder head and a rear Brandon capstan, Sperring’s petrol Land Rover, also Trakgrip-ped and with a Mayfair mechanical winch at the front, and a long-wheelbase machine, whose owner was to render much assistance but who wisely left it at the bottom of the mountain. Two more Land Rovers joined in and got stuck frequently, and on the steep descent Pickup’s ancient Land Rover lost its rear propshaft, which took away the brake lines, so that he had to continue tied to Sperring’s.

Our intrepid party also included Ken Twist of Rover’s engineering department, Ray Thomas, its paintshop foreman, and John Connor of Rover/AlvisNews.

Permission had been obtained for the Range Rover to make the ascent and ‘Tom the Shepherd’ showed us the route to follow.

Starting at just before 11.15am, the Range Rover soon left the soft ground for a hard track, where a sharp rock destroyed a new tyre on Pickup’s car. But with centre diff locked we motored on upwards. At times the going was so tough that we had to have a tow from the back-up Land Rover or use the winch; there were also pauses when driving over rocky outcrops to build up clearance with big piles of loose rocks. But we made it, getting as near to the summit as any vehicle could go, at an altimeter reading of 2810ft, the final 39 yards possible only for climbers on foot.

The Autocar had planted a flag where they had stopped, so now we did the same, with a placard staking a claim that Motor Sport had defeated Cader Idris.

The return leg was accomplished more easily and we were being given tea at the farm from our start-point by early evening. The climb took under three hours and used about 3gal of petrol.

I am reminded that among the serious foot climbers who used to ascend the three highest peaks in Great Britain within the shortest possible time, could be included the Glegg brothers — builders of the Dorcas Shelsley Special — who used fast cars, such as the 2-litre Speed-Model Lagonda, with a skilled driver awaiting them at the foot of each climb, to rush them to the base of their next summit.