Tri­alling con­tin­ues to be a very popular way for many en­thu­si­asts to en­joy clas­sic mo­tor sport — so we gath­ered to­gether a half-dozen clas­sic tri­al­lists to find out more

New Zealand Classic Car - - CONTENTS - Edited by: Al­lan Wal­ton Pho­tos: Adam Croy Mo­tor­sport Pho­tos: Ground­sky Photography


The first ever clas­sic race meet­ing was held at the newly opened Hamp­ton Downs cir­cuit on 28th Novem­ber, 2009, the first race at this meet­ing be­ing a Clas­sic Trial. But that was by no means the start of tri­alling in New Zealand. For that you need to go back to the glory days of the Thor­ough­bred and Clas­sic Car Own­ers Club (TACCOC) Wings & Wheels meet­ings at which, once a year, fields of up to 40 sub­stan­tially stan­dard road-go­ing clas­sic cars ran in Reg­u­lar­ity Tri­als around a run­way cir­cuit at RNZAF When­u­a­pai.

Of course Reg­u­lar­ity Tri­als had their ori­gins in the UK, where they were popular dur­ing the ’50s. Lo­cal TACCOC mem­bers, hav­ing seen th­ese types of events be­ing run in Australia, brought Reg­u­lar­ity Tri­als to New Zealand. TACCOC wrote the rules for the event and con­vinced Mo­tor­sport New Zealand to add tri­alling into its race reg­u­la­tions. At the time, the late Ge­off Man­ning was pres­i­dent of TACCOC, and to­day the Clas­sic Trial Cham­pi­onship cel­e­brates Ge­off, with en­trants com­pet­ing for a tro­phy named in his mem­ory and pre­sented by his wife, Bar­bara Man­ning.

Sadly, with When­u­a­pai no longer avail­able for mo­tor sport, the Wings & Wheels meet­ing dis­ap­peared from the cal­en­dar and, although Reg­u­lar­ity Tri­als con­tin­ued, sup­port for the event dropped off.

How­ever a cou­ple of habitual trial com­peti­tors, Arthur Hop­kins and Rex Oddy, determined that it was time to rev up the class. They formed a reg­is­ter of com­peti­tors, and worked with the pro­mot­ers of the ma­jor clas­sic meet­ings in the top half of the North Is­land to run tri­als un­der the new name of Clas­sic Tri­als. This all took place in late 2002, with the first Clas­sic Trial held at a His­toric Rac­ing Club meet­ing at Man­feild in 2003. It was the start of the cur­rent Clas­sic Trial Cham­pi­onship, and it has con­tin­ued in the same for­mat since.

What is a Clas­sic Trial?

The first thing to be aware of is that a Clas­sic Trial event is not a race. In­stead, driv­ers se­lect a lap time and then at­tempt to achieve that time through­out the trial. This means out­right speed is ir­rel­e­vant, with the win­ner of each event be­ing the one that has been most con­sis­tent — in ef­fect this equal­izes any power dif­fer­ences be­tween the cars them­selves, as a driver in a low-pow­ered Mini has just as much chance of win­ning a trial as the pi­lot of a fire-breath­ing Co­bra! That doesn’t mean tri­als aren’t ex­tremely com­pet­i­tive. Vari­ances be­tween the driv­ers’ se­lected and ac­tual lap times are well un­der a sec­ond, and very of­ten be­low 0.2 of a sec­ond per lap, so the com­pe­ti­tion can get very hot in­deed. To make the events even more chal­leng­ing, tim­ing as­sis­tance is not per­mit­ted, and driv­ers must make their own as­sess­ment of their speed. Clas­sic Tri­als is open to all types of clas­sic cars — as long as sports cars and GTS are over 15 years old, while sa­loons must be over 25 years old. With rules that ef­fec­tively level the play­ing ground, Clas­sic Tri­als events ap­peal to the think­ing mo­tor-sport en­thu­si­ast as con­sis­tency and ex­pert tim­ing are the key to suc­cess, rather than mas­sive power or the lat­est, most pow­er­ful su­per­car. As such, Clas­sic Tri­als at­tract all types of driv­ers and cars — as il­lus­trated by those pro­filed within this fea­ture.

John Mcgre­gor’s Lo­tus Eleven Replica

John will prob­a­bly be best known to NZ Clas­sic Car read­ers as the man who founded Mcgre­gor Mo­tor­sport, an Aranui-based man­u­fac­turer of Lo­tus 7– style club­man cars. Dur­ing the six years that John ran his com­pany, more than 40 kit­set and com­plete cars were pro­duced. In 2005 he built a ver­sion pow­ered with a Rover V8 — this car be­ing fea­tured in the April 2005 edi­tion of Nzclassiccar. In 2007 John sold Mcgre­gor Mo­tor­sport to Robert Snow, who has con­tin­ued the tra­di­tion and de­vel­oped the busi­ness in other di­rec­tions.

Back­track­ing, John’s in­tro­duc­tion to mo­tor sport came at an early age through his fa­ther and un­cle, both mem­bers of the North­ern Sports Car Club, who com­peted in events at the now de­funct Sea­grove cir­cuit, Muri­wai Beach, Ridge Road hill climb and at other fix­tures dur­ing the late ’40s and ’50s. To­gether, they at­tended NZ Grand Prix races at Ard­more and Pukekohe.

Although John dab­bled in mo­tor sport with a Mini dur­ing the ’60s, the usual re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of mar­riage, mort­gages and fam­ily in­ter­vened, and he didn’t get back onto the track un­til the late ’80s — tak­ing part in Wings & Wheels at When­u­a­pai in a Tri­umph TR4A.

Although John en­joyed the Tri­umph, what he re­ally wanted was a Lo­tus Eleven — a car he had first seen com­pet­ing at Ard­more in the hands of How­den Ganley (the same Lo­tus re­cently fea­tured in Nzclassiccar), but it would take an­other 50 years be­fore he started look­ing se­ri­ously for a Lo­tus, and by then prices had sky­rock­eted. How­ever, as Mcgre­gor Mo­tor­sport was now es­tab­lished and build­ing Lo­tus 7 repli­cas, why not an Eleven too?

Work­ing from a book con­tain­ing orig­i­nal Lo­tus Eleven chas­sis draw­ings, Chap­man’s orig­i­nal con­cept was brought up to date by mod­i­fy­ing the front sus­pen­sion to uti­lize dou­ble wish­bones, in­stead of a split Ford Popular beam axle. And in­stead of the live axle or de Dion rear sus­pen­sion, they fab­ri­cated wish­bones, so that cou­pled to a Ford Sierra dif­fer­en­tial, the replica boasted fully in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion. Rather than use a frag­ile and rare Coven­try-cli­max mo­tor, John spec­i­fied a more de­pend­able Es­cort 1600 cross-flow en­gine.

Es­tab­lish­ing a fur­ther link to the ex Jim Palmer / How­den Ganley Eleven John had orig­i­nally seen at Ard­more, he was in­tro­duced to Peter Bruin by An­drew Den­ton. Bruin had taken moulds off the Palmer/ganley Lo­tus, so a fi­bre­glass body was soon in the works for John’s replica.

John says his Eleven is an ab­so­lute joy to drive, and that he learns more about driv­ing tech­nique each time he gets out onto the track. He reck­ons that Clas­sic Tri­als are the per­fect fit for him as he con­tin­ues to travel up his on-track learn­ing curve.

John Miller’s 1974 Ford Es­cort RS2000

John has liked Ford Es­corts since he was young, and dur­ing the ’70s and ’80s he owned about five dif­fer­ent MKI and MKII ex­am­ples. Af­ter the chil­dren started leav­ing school and school fee costs re­duced, he be­gan look­ing for a Twin Cam Es­cort and was very for­tu­nate to be able to pur­chase a MKI Es­cort RS1600, a car that he has im­proved while keep­ing it in orig­i­nal con­di­tion.

Look­ing for a car suit­able for mo­tor sport, John — along with his son, Steve — nat­u­rally opted for an­other Es­cort, the car he even­tu­ally ac­quired in 2008 hav­ing been orig­i­nally as­sem­bled by Ford Australia be­fore com­ing to New Zealand in Oc­to­ber 1983.

Fol­low­ing the pur­chase, John and Steve had a roll cage fab­ri­cated, and fit­ted five­point rac­ing har­nesses. Sen­si­bly, af­ter the car’s in­te­rior was stripped and the cage fit­ted, John re­tained the orig­i­nal rear seat­ing and in­te­rior trim.

The next change they made was to re­place the orig­i­nal 2.0-litre en­gine with a Bruce Manon–built Ford Pinto — a mo­tor orig­i­nally in­tended for Mike Sex­ton’s red and gold Alan Mann Es­cort replica. This en­gine, a 2.1-litre, SOHC Ford unit, boasted mod­i­fi­ca­tions car­ried out by Lynn Rogers — in­clud­ing a spe­cially ported cylin­der head with large valves and roller rock­ers — the en­gine breathes through a brace of We­ber side-draught car­bu­ret­tors.

With a Hi-tech Mo­tor­sport spe­cial elec­tronic ig­ni­tion sys­tem and bal­anced four-into-one stain­less-steel head­ers that run into a three-inch-bore ex­haust and main muf­fler, the Es­cort’s en­gine cur­rently de­vel­ops 131kw at 7450rpm with a max­i­mum torque of 183Nm at 6300rpm.

That power goes to the tar­mac via a stan­dard Ford Sierra five-speed gear­box and a rear axle do­nated by a Bri­tish-built Es­cort Sport MKII — although the lat­ter unit has been fit­ted with a Tranx limited-slip dif­fer­en­tial. The car’s sus­pen­sion is rel­a­tively stan­dard, with leaf spring sus­pen­sion at the rear, the front end re­tain­ing the stan­dard Es­cort cross-mem­ber and sus­pen­sion, but with height-ad­justable coil-over spring struts and Bil­stein shocks. Stop­ping is pro­vided by Wil­wood calipers and Ford ven­ti­lated ro­tors up front, while at the rear the stan­dard Ford drum brakes have proved ad­e­quate.

With the in­tent of keep­ing the Es­cort as pe­riod as pos­si­ble, they re­tained the wheel di­am­e­ter stan­dard at 13-inch, and the car nor­mally runs on 13- by six­inch Per­for­mance Minilite al­loy wheels. Although the Ford’s shell is rel­a­tively sound, with min­i­mal rust, it is cur­rently in need of a re­paint, and a new colour scheme has yet to be de­cided upon.

Non-pe­riod items fit­ted when the car was pur­chased are front and rear car­bon-fi­bre bumpers. To date th­ese have been left in place.

John got in­volved with Clas­sic Tri­als through his son, Steve, who com­peted in tri­als events in a Mini be­fore mov­ing on to the RS2000. How­ever, with Steve’s time taken up with his stud­ies for a Busi­ness Di­ploma dur­ing the last few years, John has been able to drive the Es­cort, tak­ing over from his son on Clas­sic Tri­als events, and he reck­ons they have pro­vided him with lots of fun.

Robyn Rid­ing’s 1981 Porsche 924 Turbo

Robyn’s car — a Se­ries 2 Porsche 924 Turbo — was one of around 15 ex­am­ples that were im­ported new into New Zealand. Used as a road car un­til 1999, the 924 was then con­verted into a race car for use in the Porsche Club Bridge­stone Race Se­ries. It was used for two sea­sons, and parked up at the end of 2002.

Robyn pur­chased the car at the end of 2006 and pre­pared it for the 2007 Targa NZ Ro­torua — that meant the Porsche had to be trans­formed back into a roadle­gal car. Not an easy task — and one that was only com­pleted just two weeks prior to the event. Alas, Robyn’s Targa started poorly with the Porsche’s en­gine mis­fir­ing on the Fri­day pro­logue stage, how­ever, with the mis­fire reme­died, the fol­low­ing day got off to a good start un­til the last stage, when the en­gine suf­fered ter­mi­nal fail­ure. A strip-down fol­low­ing the event re­vealed that noth­ing was sal­vage­able from the mo­tor, and with spare 924 Turbo en­gines non-ex­is­tent in New Zealand, a de­ci­sion was made to fit a nor­mally as­pi­rated but blueprinted and fully bal­anced 924 en­gine. That en­gine is still in the car to­day, and has now com­pleted around 40 events with­out re­quir­ing any­thing more than regular main­te­nance.

With a num­ber of fin­isher’s medals and tro­phies in the cabi­net, a de­ci­sion was made to re­tire from Targa com­pe­ti­tion af­ter the 2011 Ro­torua event, but what to do with the car? It was at that stage that Robyn de­cided to ful­fil a de­sire to com­pete in Clas­sic Tri­als, and she com­pleted her first tri­als sea­son with the car still in Targa spec — which meant that it rode higher than a nor­mal Porsche 924 Turbo and, as re­sult, suf­fered from ex­ces­sive body roll in the cor­ners as well as be­ing down in power.

For the 2013/2014 Clas­sic Tri­als sea­son, the Porsche was prop­erly pre­pared for the track — the sus­pen­sion was low­ered by 60mm and it was fit­ted with a 924 Car­rera GT bodykit that al­lowed the wheel track to be widened by 50mm. The ad­di­tion of coil-over ad­justable sus­pen­sion and heav­ier com­pe­ti­tion an­tiroll bars front and rear mean the car now han­dles as it should.

Since then a re­place­ment Turbo en­gine has been sourced, and this year the 924 will be re­turned to orig­i­nal, with an en­gine de­vel­op­ing 127kw as op­posed to the cur­rent 93kw (170/125bhp).

Since start­ing out in Clas­sic Tri­als at the end of the 2011, Robyn has now com­peted in 24 rounds, and has won one round plus been in the top three nu­mer­ous times for in­di­vid­ual tri­als. She won the Fordy Far­land tro­phy in 2012, The Spirit of the Round for the Leg­ends of Speed last year, and was awarded the in­au­gu­ral Ap­par­el­mas­ter Cup for the 2013/2014 sea­son.

Al­lan Horner’s 1963 Austin-healey Sprite MKII

Dat­ing from 1963, and the first of the breed to be fit­ted with front-wheel disc brakes, Al­lan’s Sprite at­tracts a lot of at­ten­tion due to its hand­some, af­ter­mar­ket Ash­ley Lam­i­nates–style fi­bre­glass bon­net — a front-hinged panel that is held down by Tri­umph Her­ald bon­net clips.

A few years ago Al­lan re­placed the car’s orig­i­nal BMC 1098cc A Se­ries en­gine and gear­box with a Toy­ota 1600cc twin-cam mo­tor — the now vir­tu­ally clas­sic 16-valve 4AGE — and match­ing Toy­ota T50 fivespeed gear­box.

The mo­tor has been left in stock tune but, in­stead of run­ning with the orig­i­nal Toy­ota com­puter-con­trolled EFI sys­tem, Al­lan elected to use car­bu­ret­tors and a sim­pler, more stan­dard ig­ni­tion sys­tem. This also makes it eas­ier to main­tain and tune while the twin We­ber 40DCOM car­bu­ret­tors fit neatly un­der the bon­net, and look rather more in keep­ing with the Sprite than an EFI set-up with in­jec­tors, a big curv­ing in­let man­i­fold and throt­tle body.

The 4AGE fits nicely into the AustinHealey’s en­gine bay and is tilted to the left slightly to al­low clear­ance for the We­bers. The orig­i­nal ra­di­a­tor is used, although the coolant flows through th­ese en­gines in the op­po­site di­rec­tion to the orig­i­nal. The car runs an oil cooler in front of the ra­di­a­tor and an ex­ter­nal oil fil­ter (for ease of ac­cess) mounted on the left wheel arch. An elec­tric fan mounted be­hind the ra­di­a­tor is man­u­ally con­trolled from a switch on the dash, and is only needed on hot days or af­ter a few hot laps on the track.

It is amaz­ing how many peo­ple are fooled by the ‘AUSTIN-HEALEY’ sign­writ­ing on the Toy­ota en­gine’s cam cover, but af­ter spin­ning them a line about spe­cial ex­per­i­men­tal en­gines etc, Al­lan usu­ally owns up and tells them the truth!

To make use of the not in­con­sid­er­able ex­tra power and torque the car is also fit­ted with boosted front disc brakes run­ning com­pe­ti­tion pads, and the brake fluid is com­pe­ti­tion grade. Al­lan also re­built the car’s sus­pen­sion, fit­ting new bushes, a large-di­am­e­ter front sway bar, neg­a­tive cam­ber kit and a rear Pan­hard rod.

Hav­ing done a cou­ple of Targa Tours and a Jaguar Club Sprint at Mere­mere (best time 16.4 sec­onds/88mph (142kph) for the quar­ter mile), Al­lan de­cided that the car was now ready for the race track, but didn’t want to go to the ex­tent of fit­ting the roll pro­tec­tion, race seats and full har­ness belts that are manda­tory for rac­ing.

Clas­sic Tri­als pro­vided the an­swer — and, of course, other than a hel­met and race over­alls tri­al­lists don’t need all the race gear, so their cars can re­main in full road trim. As well, Al­lan says the 20 to 30 en­tries on a Clas­sic Tri­als grid are a great bunch of peo­ple and de­liver a re­laxed so­cial at­mos­phere.

His Sprite is one of the old­est cars run­ning at most events, and has proved to be quite re­li­able, with only one DNF in three years due to a bro­ken half shaft. Al­lan just reck­ons that he just needs to learn how to reel off con­sis­tent laps with a lap time vari­a­tion of less than half a sec­ond — typ­i­cally, that’s what the win­ners are do­ing!

Arthur Hop­kins’ 1957 Tri­umph TR3

No stranger to the world of mo­tor sport, Arthur — now 72 years young — has been com­pet­ing for many years. He started rac­ing mo­tor­bikes on grass tracks in the Waikato in the late ’50s on an old B31 BSA. From there he grad­u­ated to a 105E Anglia re­mem­ber­ing that, in 1961, you could take the muf­fler and the hub caps off a road car, fit an ex­tra sway bar and it was ready to race. Arthur then com­peted in speed events with the Hamil­ton Car Club be­fore fi­nally sell­ing the Anglia for a 1956 TR3, a car that he raced dur­ing the last club days at Ard­more and then the first races at Pukekohe. He also ran the Tri­umph in hill climbs and sprints around Hamil­ton, as well as grass track meet­ings at Wa­haroa and Raglan air­field. Soon, how­ever, as more spe­cial­ized sports cars from Lo­tus and Lola ap­peared on lo­cal tracks, com­peti­tors were un­able to com­pete.

With that in mind, Arthur then bought a MKIV Cooper-tri­umph, run­ning it mainly in hill climbs, grass tracks and at club cir­cuits. From there he grad­u­ated to a MKVIII Cooper-nor­ton, a mainly orig­i­nal car that had run at Ard­more with Arnold Stafford driv­ing it in the Grand Prix. Arthur com­peted in this car for around six years in Gold Star Hill­climbs, his best year be­ing 1969 when he won both the Auck­land and Hamil­ton Hill­climb Cham­pi­onships, and came sec­ond in the New Zealand Gold Star Se­ries. Arthur fi­nally sold the car when he started his own earth­mov­ing busi­ness but, look­ing around for a project to take up his time dur­ing the slow win­ter months, around 1986 he be­gan search­ing for the pre­vi­ously men­tioned 1956 Tri­umph TR3 that he’d orig­i­nally pur­chased way back in 1964. Alas, the search proved un­suc­cess­ful and, in­stead, he bought a fairly rusty 1957 TR3. The Tri­umph was sub­se­quently pulled apart, re­built and pressed into ser­vice for TR Reg­is­ter events. Rec­og­nized TR driver, Chris Wat­son, reck­oned Arthur’s TR3 would look good run­ning in the reg­u­la­tory tri­als which TACCOC had started or­ga­niz­ing at When­u­a­pai. Arthur fol­lowed that ad­vice, and has been run­ning in the tri­als ever since.

Over the years he’s fit­ted the TR3 with a roll bar and five-point har­ness, a smaller steer­ing wheel (the old wood-rimmed wheel would not pass scru­ti­neer­ing), a new al­loy cylin­der head with big­ger in­lets, a half-race cam, a light­ened fly­wheel, an elec­tric fan, a TR4A in­let man­i­fold, and a free-flow ex­haust. As well, Arthur has added TR6 parts to his car’s front sus­pen­sion, and it now runs with a touch of neg­a­tive cam­ber.

Arthur says the Tri­umph is a lot of fun to drive when com­pared to late-model cars but isn’t very pow­er­ful, does not stop par­tic­u­larly well and han­dles much as it did 57 years ago, though it’s a great car to be in to try to keep the MX-5S in sight.

Paul Couper’s 1989 Mazda MX-5

Hav­ing com­peted in mo­tocross for many years, an in­jury forced Paul to re­think his in­volve­ment with mo­tor sport. He then took the op­por­tu­nity to drive Ross Vaughan’s Mazda MX-5 at a Clas­sic Tri­als event some four years ago, and was hooked. Since then, he has won the 2012 Ap­par­el­mas­ter Clas­sic Trial cham­pi­onship, came third over­all in 2013 and again won the 2014 cham­pi­onship.

Paul’s MX-5 is a New Zealand-new car, one of a few im­ported in 1989, and he orig­i­nally pur­chased it for his wife as her daily driver. When she sub­se­quently up­graded, he couldn’t bring him­self to sell the Mazda and it lan­guished in a barn for sev­eral years un­der hay bales, all its hoses and wiring slowly be­ing eaten by rats.

When Paul started to get in­ter­ested in car rac­ing, he was given the bless­ing to res­ur­rect the MX-5, weld in a roll cage and have a go.

The team at Dale Auto Elec­tri­cal and Ray at Chubb Rac­ing got the MX-5 back into re­li­able safe con­di­tion, and apart from a free-flow ex­haust, seats, har­nesses, springs and a half roll cage the car re­mains es­sen­tially stock.

In Paul’s hands, the MX-5 im­me­di­ately showed its po­ten­tial in Clas­sic Tri­als, al­low­ing him to rack up some good re­sults. He also reck­ons that his abil­ity to learn tracks rapidly and feel for the car’s trac­tion lim­its (prob­a­bly a le­gacy from his mo­tocross days) helped greatly in get­ting con­sis­tent quickly.

He says that the big chal­lenge with the MX-5 in clas­sic tri­als is try­ing to keep a con­sis­tent line and speed through the cor­ners and exit speed. This is be­cause, un­like most other cars in the class, if you make a small er­ror you don’t have any power to make up the time else­where. With so lit­tle power, straight-line speed is quite poor, and it can re­ally hurt lap times if you’re a cou­ple of kph slow ex­it­ing a cor­ner.

Ac­tu­ally, for Paul this in it­self presents an­other ma­jor chal­lenge in Clas­sic Tri­als, in which sev­eral cars might be all cir­cu­lat­ing at the same pace, with his sec­tor times through the tight stuff be­ing very dif­fer­ent to the more pow­er­ful cars. Cor­ner­ing speeds are pretty fast due to the Mazda’s great han­dling and light weight, and he finds that’s where con­sis­tency can be best felt. How­ever, as Paul says, that can be a dou­ble-edged sword, as one lit­tle mis­take, or be­ing held up by slower cars or wrong lines, can cause a se­vere loss of time.

Paul’s strat­egy is get­ting to grips with the track con­di­tion and lim­its quickly in prac­tice, ig­nor­ing the other cars and what they’re do­ing, con­cen­trat­ing on shift and brak­ing points and, most im­por­tantly, not try­ing to make up time if he makes a mis­take. It’s an ap­proach that has worked well for Paul, as wit­nessed by his past cham­pi­onship wins, and for him con­sis­tency is king, with his lap times usu­ally within the 0.3 to 0.4 range over a race of seven to nine laps, mak­ing him a hard man to beat.

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