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The Royal Automobile Club 2014

in English


20 Oct 2014

Club Motoring Magazine

Fifty classic cars, 100 intrepid motorists, 1,000 miles of road, seven glorious days – and 114 years of history.

In 1900, the Club’s Secretary, Claude Johnson, had one ambition: to prove to the world, and to the British public, that the British motor car was a force to be reckoned with. The 1,000 Mile Trial was a radical idea. No car had ever driven anywhere near this distance before; many thought it impossible.

The tour, from London to Edinburgh, would include regular stops to showcase the cars, to ‘remove feelings of distrust and dislike’ from the public who perceived them to be the anti-social, horse-startling playthings of the rich. The speed limit at the time was 12mph (10mph in Scotland) and 8mph in towns; participants were warned by the Club to stick to it.

The intrepid odyssey took 22 days and included many scrapes and japes. Vehicles had to be fixed and tended to constantly. Monty Grahame-White drove for 52 miles directing the wheel hub with his foot after the steering gear broke. Of the 63 cars that started the Trial in 1900, only 35 finished. However, the event was seen as a triumph of British motoring, heralding a new era of manufacture and understanding.

Now, 114 years later, Johnson would be proud to see these pre-war cars triumph over another endurance test – one measured in years, as well as miles. When the Club and HERO Events decided to reprise the Trial, no one could be sure if the vehicles would last the full distance. But one thing was certain – the 2014 event would be an unmissable adventure.

The 2014 1,000 Mile Trial

An air of open-top anticipation greeted the 47 participants at Woodcote Park, as they gathered early on Sunday 12 July. At 8.00am, the first car, driven by Motoring Committee Chairman, Ben Cussons, roared up the Captain’s Drive, followed by a breathtaking fleet of Austins, MGs, Bentleys, Rolls and the Club’s Alvis. A leisurely run out to the first test at Dunsfold eased crews into the event, with competitors finding the lanes free of traffic and easy to pass. The first regularity introduced newcomers to regularity rallying; most escaped with minor penalties. Lunch at The Vineyard at Stockcross set the rhythm for the week: regularities and time trials punctuated by coffee stops, lunch halts, afternoon tea and overnight stays – all in some of the country’s most beautiful surroundings and buildings.

Another bright day greeted participants on Day Two, which began with the crews attempting a Le Mans-style start. The sight of competitors racing on foot to their cars before vaulting into them brought light relief, as well as puffed-out cheeks. Shelsley Walsh followed swiftly, where one driver, Alan Brown, was able to recreate a photograph of his Invicta S-Type Low Chassis, taken in the same spot in the 1930s.

Rambling along country lanes in pre-war outfits and vehicles, participants found themselves journeying back in time – gazing out from behind leather driving goggles at landscapes unchanged since the first Trial. As with their 1900 predecessors, the daily rituals of oil and water top-ups and cleaning the spark plugs, distributor and magneto parts, became as much a part of the day as putting on driving gloves. This nostalgia was echoed along the route by people who greeted the Trial with costumes and street parties.

The journey north continued on Day Three through Lancashire and South Cumbria. After sweeping hills and perfect stretches of road, drivers were waved in by enthusiastic Edinburgh crowds before heading to the Royal Yacht Britannia for the Gala Dinner.

The return leg south began on Day Four, taking in the Jim Clark museum in Duns. The quality of landscapes and locations continued through the trip – fabulous driving, with roads such as the Pennine Hills, interspersed with stops at venues including Alnwick Castle, Whittlebury Hall and Belvoir Castle.

There was a great spirit throughout, between participants, with high jinks played amongst the crews. Angus Forsyth and Marcus Atkinson left Slaley Hall one morning unaware that a ‘Just Married’ poster and several cans and tins had been tied to their car.

The final day’s journey on Saturday 19 July included tests at the Bicester Heritage Centre before the short blast down the Captains Drive into Woodcote Park. A revelling crowd of members greeted the adventurers and raised champagne glasses to all participants, in particular winners John Abel and Martyn Taylor.