HOW GO­ING UP HILL IS RAIS­ING THE BAR

Motor Sport News - - Sporting Trials -

Tri­alling has been around for most of the UK’S mo­tor­sport his­tory and the won­der­ful Vin­tage Sports-car Club hosts an an­nual sea­son of tri­als for Pre-war cars. Just as has been the case since tri­alling started more than 100 years ago, the de­sire to pit cars against muddy hills burns as strong as ever.

The ethos is sim­ple. Set out up to 15 hills on muddy slopes, on for­est tracks or old lanes and try and climb them from a stand­ing start. Pub­lic road sec­tions link the hills. The VSCC is slightly quirky in that it gen­er­ally scores the hills from 1 to 25, so that the day’s high­est score is the best. To make things even harder on some hills, a stop and restart can be added, re­quir­ing cars to stop and then start again on a mar­shal’s in­struc­tion and some hills can even fea­ture more than one route to suit the climb­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of dif­fer­ent classes of car.

On a per­fect trial, one car will suc­cess­fully climb, or clean, ev­ery hill. Along the way the driv­ers and pas­sen­gers will bounce up and down to try and find elu­sive grip and main­tain es­sen­tial for­ward mo­tion. In cars with four seats, or even more, syn­chro­nised bounc­ing has be­come an art form. It is all done in a spirit of sports­man­ship, ca­ma­raderie and fun that is so of­ten lack­ing in con­tem­po­rary mo­tor­sport.

Con­sid­er­ing that all of the cars are at least 80 years old, and the old­est go back 115 years, it is re­mark­able that the VSCC tri­alling move­ment is boom­ing. De­mand for places is such that if com­peti­tors don’t en­ter on the day that en­tries open, they will prob­a­bly not get a slot.

All of the events are ei­ther over­sub­scribed or full and that’s prob­a­bly the only one of the VSCC’S var­ied dis­ci­plines where that ap­plies. Of the seven events that run each year, most have a ca­pac­ity of between 100 and 110 cars. Only the Scot­tish Trial has a smaller field.

Ta­nia Brown is a direc­tor of the VSCC and heads up the tri­als sub­com­mit­tee. “It’s the best way to have fun in an old car,” says Brown. “The VSCC is all about com­pe­ti­tion and we have 300 peo­ple com­pet­ing on some tri­als. It is the soul of the club. It’s a huge thing for fam­i­lies to come and do, be­cause the kids can take part as bounc­ers. They need to be over 12 years of age to be in the front, but can be in the back of the closed cars at a younger age.”

The sea­son starts in the south­west in Fe­bru­ary with the Ex­moor Trial and takes in the John Har­ris in Der­byshire, the Here­ford­shire Trial and the Scot­tish in the spring. Af­ter the sum­mer break, the sea­son re­sumes with the hugely-pop­u­lar Welsh Trial in mid-oc­to­ber and con­cludes with the Lake­land and Cotswold events in No­vem­ber. They all have tra­di­tion and his­tory and such events have long been a big part of the VSCC’S sport­ing cal­en­dar.

Im­por­tantly, the tri­als draw busi­ness to the host towns and the Welsh Trial brings the sleepy Welsh borders town of Presteigne to life over a mid-oc­to­ber week­end. The town tra­di­tion­ally wel­comes the trial with open arms and lo­cal traders have a bumper week­end. Scru­ti­neer­ing takes over the main street and the overnight stay on Satur­day night fills the ho­tels, pubs and restau­rants.

“Tri­als are gen­er­ally non­dam­ag­ing and not de­signed to break cars,” says Brown. “But we do need some test­ing sec­tions and more ground clear­ance is sen­si­ble. The cars of the 1920s and 1930s were built for rough and un-sur­faced roads so they cope re­ally well and it is a hugely com­pet­i­tive branch of the sport.”

A de­cent starter car, like the ever pop­u­lar Austin 7 or Ford Model A, should be no more than £10,000 and run­ning costs are lim­ited to fuel, en­try fees and the oc­ca­sional break­age. Costs of get­ting started be­yond the ini­tial car pur­chase are also pretty mod­est. Li­cences are in­ex­pen­sive and there is no man­dated safety kit for the crew, although de­cent wa­ter­proof cloth­ing is es­sen­tial, par­tic­u­larly at the top of the Hon­is­ter Pass in the Lake District in mid-no­vem­ber.

Of course, there are cars that are worth con­sid­er­ably more than £10,000 and it is to the credit of those who sup­port this branch of the sport that Bu­gat­tis and Bent­leys are still tak­ing to the hills. Cars from man­u­fac­tur­ers like MG, Vaux­hall, Alvis, Lea Fran­cis, Ri­ley and Singer are all out there get­ting muddy.

Away from the com­mon mar­ques, there are some real rar­i­ties in ac­tion. The 1923 Helix two-seater cam­paigned by Su­san Hill from New­town in MidWales has been in the fam­ily for many years and is the only known sur­viv­ing ex­am­ple.

Al­most as rare is the 1930 AJS twoseater made by the com­pany bet­ter known for its mo­tor­cy­cles. It is one of two such cars owned and used by Philip Milne-tay­lor, who com­petes along­side his two daugh­ters.

“It is great to do these events along­side my daugh­ters,” he says. “It’s all about the ca­ma­raderie, the fun and the scenery.”

The old­est of the lot is the amaz­ing 1903 Mercedes 60HP of Ben Collings, which is re­mark­ably ag­ile for a chain-driven 115-year-old car. It is also in­cred­i­bly adept at climb­ing hills as the nine-litre en­gine chugs along at un­fea­si­bly low revs.

Michael New is a reg­u­lar com­peti­tor in his 1928 Mor­ris Ox­ford Spe­cial. “It is great fun, with fan­tas­tic ca­ma­raderie,” he says. “But you have to en­ter on the day that en­tries are re­leased. If we don’t get an en­try, we go and mar­shal. Tri­als take us to some of the most beau­ti­ful parts of the coun­try and to places we’d never nor­mally get to. It’s not ter­ri­bly ex­pen­sive to com­pete and we drive the car to most events. This is the best kept se­cret in mo­tor­sport.” ■

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