The trials of WB

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Tackling muddy hills by car is a long-standing British tradition. Bill Boddy recalls the experts trials he rode on

Motorsport has many facets. Trials represent a different approach from events in which speed is all-important. Particularly before WW2, trials (‘mud-storming’) were very popular among amateur and professional drivers. Hills of reasonably steep gradient (but not so severe as the freak uphills of 1-in-2 such as Alms Hill, Rosedale Chimney or Rosemere Hill, etc) were the obstacles, with suitably muddy, sometimes rocky, surfaces. These could be tackled by quite ordinary cars but low bottom gears and rearwards weight distribution were a help in achieving good results, such as were found in production MGs from the J2 onwards. Competition-tread rear tyres were almost obligatory, until banned by the RAC in 1938 as carrying too much mud

onto adjacent public roads.

In the early 1950s the older-type trials were joined by the RAC Trials Championship, contested by highly specialised devices, often Ford Ten-powered, but with light spaceframes, engines set far back, ‘fiddle brakes’ and other aids to adhesion on extremely slippery uphill going, whereas more ordinary trials continued to attract less specialised cars. As ‘championship’ specials were somewhat less than road-legal, the events were usually in one location. Great fun for some, but the other trials, for both competitors and spectators, had the appeal of excursions through the remoter parts of the British country side. It was a healthy sport, adopted by legions of regional clubs, with the MCC adding its long-distance fixtures, as it continues to do.

Austin, Singer, Fiat, Allard and others put up works and semi-works teams, and the MG Car Company for one supplied tuning kits free or at reduced cost to successful private entrants. A peak of this happy sport was perhaps reached when in 1933 the Mid-Surrey AC held its invitation ‘Experts Trial’. So popular were trials that the JCC and the WASA girls held trials on the same October day, using some of the same hills, which resulted in a rocket from Authority.

The Experts Trial was repeated in 1934, as a true experts’ event, as competitors had to have gained at least nine First Class Awards or six Second and six Thirds in previous selected trials. All credit to Alf Langley (Singer 9), who alone cleaned Cloutsham with its boulders, rock outcrops and 1-in-4 S-bend and was the only driver to lose no marks. For 1935 the Mid Surrey Club banned such aids to adhesion as locked differentials, superchargers and even ‘knobbly’ tyres, long before the RAC ban on the latter.

Traditionally, the start was in Dunster and the route around Exmoor; the hills were Slade Lane, Howetown, Edbrooke, the long, steep wooded Widlake, and Yealscombe, plus two driving-tests, to finish at Exford. Again, only one driver ‘cleaned’ the lot, H G Symmonds (FN-BMW). The top drivers like Toulmin, Bastock, Macdennid (MGs), Fitt (Ford V8), and FIJ Aldington (FN-BMW) were there, Doreen Evans (MG) and Miss Goodman (Singer) were beaten for the Ladies’ Prize by Mrs Moss, Stirling’s ma (Singer), and Powys Lybbe and Elgood made the stones fly with their vintage cars, an Alvis and a 3-litre Bentley.

The 1936 mute was much as before, but Cowcastle was by-passed after Miss Watson’s FN-BMW had almost sunk without trace in the river leading to it and had to be towed out by two competing MGs roped in tandem. Mid-Surrey had reversed its rules, and now not only were trials tyres, blowers and locked differentials allowed, but so were non-skid chains. Picked Stones near Simonsbath was the worst hill but Ken Crawford cleaned it and won outright with one of the new ‘Cream Cracker’s s/c T-type MGs.

For 1937 this rough, tough event included a new hill: Colly, near Luxborough, featuring a deep ditch rising between banks and tunnelled by overhanging trees, so much mud, and a steep right-angle bend, continuing upwards over ruts and rocks that formed a flight of steps. It was the period when big cars like the Allards and Ford V8 Specials were a challenge to the MGs, Singers and other small cars.

Sydney Allard was running his V8 Allard CLK 5 with independent front suspension, and Ken Hutchison his V8 Allard. Disaster struck when Sydney Allard was going fast up Colly. The vee-bottomed ditch made car control problematical and the Allard overturned, pinning driver and his wife beneath it. They were not too badly hurt, but the car’s removal was a problem – and moreover it had been sold beforehand to Guy Warburton and had been borrowed for the trial!

I was invited to ride in the 1938 Experts with Hutchison in his Allard, a fearsome brute ripe for the job, even before it was given a V12 Lincoln engine. This was a signal honour. ‘Hutch’ had been a well-known competition driver of Frazer Nash and GP Bugatti cars and was a keen and capable mud-stormer with his Allards. He also raced a 2.9 monoposto Alfa Romeo after the war. A wealthy man who lived in a country house once occupied by Sir Malcolm Campbell, he had married Kitty Brunell, the daughter of the photographer, who had taken part in Monte Carlo Rallies.

I had done trials before, with Leslie Ballamy and others in supercharged Ford V8s and LMB Ford 10, in the MCC classics with Mr HE Richards, who lived with his sister and a friendly Airedale near Coulsdon and drove in trials as an alternative to golf, with an MG Magnette, and a blown P-type MG. But to go with ‘Hutch’ in FGF 290 on the Experts was something else!

I went to lunch at Hutch’s Wimbledon Common flat (I still remember the Siamese cats and the wonderful chocolate pudding served by the maid) before we drove down to Dunster in the Allard, Kitty having left the day before in the Railton saloon. The trials car weighed only 17½cwt and had its high-compression engine set well back in the lightened chassis, which carried a two-seater aluminium Whittingham & Mitchell body with pointed tail. I had been warned that it had no hood and no passenger screen, and deciding that I might need a scarf to supplement flying helmet and leather coat, I bought the only one I could find in a hurry in a local Woolworths, of orange and brown stripes. On seeing it Hutch said “You aren’t going to wear that, are you?”

We were soon cruising at an easy 70mph towards Minehead when a broken mudguard stay shorted the lamps. We swung into a small wayside garage. “We are just shutting,” said the owner. “I need my lamps fixed,” replied Hutch. Soon we were on our way, re-lit; he expected to get what he wanted! The last rays of the sun were setting over the darkening countryside. After an evening in the company of the other Allard crews, playing table tennis and consuming sherry, we set off the next morning for Dunster. It was all very satisfactory except for the thought of Sydney’s 1937 accident, the hill now disguised as Ditch Lane!

In fact this fearsome section was skilfully negotiated by Hutchison, although by then my hands were blistered from hanging on to the route-card, his goggles-case and keeping my seat, for the ride was anything but smooth. The Allard, competition tyres all round, broke the wing-stay again and liked to boil, hut its driver mastered both special tests and got up the dreaded Kersham with much wheelspin. The rest of the sections were no real bother until we stopped, momentarily, on Wildlake; Stokemill was more of a test than Ditch Lane, long, with deep mould for a surface, but ‘Hutch’ coped splendidly. Results worked out, it was the s/c A7 of All Langley that showed up the big cars, winning outright from Lawson’s HRG. Sydney led the Allard brigade.

Having to return to London that night, Tom Lush had brought clown my vintage A7 Mulliner coupe in which three of us rode home, his ploy of using its wiper tubing to blow into the tank when the petrol was clown to near-nothing fortunately working over Exmoor in the dark. All of which recalls the intense satisfaction of watching these mud-trials, seeing all the runners pass, then planning how best to by-pass the next section or two, so as to see them all again.

I can still recall the smell of warm mud on hot exhaust pipes, and burning rubber smoke from spinning tyres. I hope it is as much fun now at those trials which remain, as it was when we went to see how the private owners would fare against the MG ‘Cream Crackers’ (named after the biscuits), the MG Three Musketeers’ team, the Candidi Provoratore Singers, the A7 ‘Grasshoppers’, and the Allard Tailwaggers’. The war, of course, washed out the 1939 Experts Trial.