The Royal Automobile 1000 Mile Trial
First run in 1900, at the dawn of motoring, The Royal Automobile Club, in partnership with t he Historic Endurance Rallying Organisation, recreated the 1000 Mile Trial in 2014. In 1900 very few motorists had driven 100 miles in a single day, and with no signposts along the way, no phones, and many rough roads, it took drivers 20 days to complete the route. The 2014 Triallers did it in a single week, from 12-19 July.
Starting at the Royal Automobile Club’s Woodcote P ark clubhouse, 41 pre-war cars, with their occupants encouraged to adopt period dress for the duration, set out on a journey that was to take them to Edinburgh and back via various tests, on as much of the original 1900 route as possible. Running as car no 1, Jonathan Turner and Chairman of the RAC Motoring Committee, Ben Cussons, were flagged away by RAC Chairman, Tom Purves, fittingly using the original start flag from the last 1000 Mile Trial, which, although a little fragile, still survives in the Club’s collection.
The first test was up The Captains Drive at Woodcote Park, a tarmac section that bisects the golf course, Turner and Cussons were the class of the field here in their Triumph Dolomite, Alfa 8C lookalike, leaping up the test in 64 seconds. This was soon reversed on the second test, at Dunsfold, where the crew amassed a minute penalty. The very experienced crew of Alastair Caldwell/Catriona Rings shone here in their stunning special bodied Alfa 6C Supersport, and indeed when the day’s tests, including one at Prescott hill climb, w ere over, this pair was lying second overall behind the Lagonda LG45 o f John Abel and Martyn Taylor.
A dry start the following morning saw the cars push further north to Preston, starting with a brace of tests at the renowned Throckmorton Complex that woke crews u p. The first test was a monster, taking three and a half minutes for the fastest crew and almost eight for the slowest.
Wending its way over the Severn Valley, the next test loomed. Just outside Worcester lies the famous Shelsley Walsh hill climb, one of the most hallowed places in the UK for motor sport, the views from the top of this legendary strip of tarmac are second to none, and it was made even more spectacular when on arrival crews were treated to an impromptu air show when two Typhoon ‘Euro-Fighter’ jets staged a mock dogfight directly overhead. James and Andrew Mann had a superb run up the hill in their Derby Bentley, taking fourth behind Caldwell/ Rings who in turn were pipped by just one second in a tie between Turner/Cussons and Alan and Tina Beardshaw’s MG K3.
Urs and Nick Mezger suffered a suspected bent connecting rod on their Morgan Three Wheeler causing it to run on one cylinder and ending a very promising run for the father and son. As it began to rain on the run in to the overnight halt in Preston, the Mann brothers struggled with a broken exhaust and had to affect a repair with angle iron and exhaust paste to keep them in the running.
The longest day of the event took crews from Preston to Edinburgh with almost two hundred miles over some of the most picturesque and challenging lanes in the north west of England and the borders. Amongst the roads was a section near Lancaster, the infamous Gunnerthwaite white, a tricky ‘hole in the wall’ junction catching many out, including the big Bentley of Knud Sassmanshausen and Katarina Kyvalova. A final run into Edinburgh for the overnight halt saw competitors engage in one of the social highlights of the event, a sumptuous private dinner and tour on board the Royal Yacht Britannia where the party went on into the wee hours.
A later start to allow for the previous night’s party saw Trial competitors s tart to head south, the countryside changing from the industrial east of Scotland to the beautiful lanes in the Southern Uplands. There were many things to take in as well as the competitive sections, with a stop at The Jim Clark Rooms in Duns, which celebrate the legendary Scottish driver’s achievements, and also Alnwick Castle, home to the first two parts of the Harry Potter series of books.
The main regularity section was Chillingham Moors at just over 10 miles and with three timing points. John and Pauline Dignan started of really well in their MG TA over the first two timing points, the third proving the trickiest not only for them but the majority of the field. Consistently in the mix were Claus and Till Coester in a Bentley Sports Special, who took third on this regularity with Abel/ Taylor in second and Caldwell/ Rings dropping just one second. A run into Slaley Hall via a shorter regularity saw an overnight halt on the edges of Hadrian’s Wall, Abel and Taylor sƟll in the lead, but with the pack snapping at their heels, so no respite was to be had.
The next morning, it was straight into dodging golf balls for a test in and around the golf course and grounds of Slaley Hall making sure all were awake and up for what was to be a fine day, the weather again superb as the first regularity took in the stunning moorland over Middlehope Moor be fore dropping into Stanhope via the Fords at Westgate.
The route now was starting to become more technical, the roads demanding total concentration from both driver and navigator as the tests became more demanding with every mile. Hambleton Hills regularity held many a surprise, with not only four timing points, but with steep hills and blind corners. It was rallying heaven and a true test of commitment and skill, the Įnal part being through the 50-metre Caydale Mill Ford.
Abel and Taylor were once again unstoppable, a full 19 seconds ahead of Richard Jeffcoate/James May (Riley 16/4 Special) and Caldwell/Rings, with ladies team Sue Shoosmith and Trina Harley, who were to finish the rally in fourth place overall, doing a fine job in their 3/41/2 Bentley. HERO Managing Director Tomas de Vargas Machuca and Ryan Pickering (AC 16/80 March Special) were coming back up the leaderboard after an earlier error.
The final pair of tests were held at Harewood House hill climb near Leeds attracting many spectators to the famous venue. “This is the best fun I’ve ever had with my clothes on”, remarked Leeds’ Stephen Owens, partnered by wife Colette in a Jaguar SS.
Morning traffic featured on day 6, the penultimate day. I t was also the morning that John Abel/Martyn Taylor made an uncharacteristic slip up with an error of 22 seconds on the very first regularity, putting them under pressure from Charles Graves and Ron Palmer who were now on a charge in their Derby Bentley.
Visiting the beautiful Belvoir Castle and a test that really allowed the drivers to show their speed took the event in to Leicestershire via Launde Abbey, this section costing many competitors time due to the use of a hard to find right turn that dropped away from a banked corner. It was to be the last action of the day with crews resting for the upcoming final day within earshot of Silverstone circuit and listening to the sounds of GT3 and GT4 cars being put through their paces in practice.
The weather forecast wasn’t boding too well for the final day, the majority of competitors having at some point had a dose of the Great British Summer rain. One crew who had been steady all week were unperturbed by the rain. Istvan Kiss and David Franks had started the event as raw novices, their Hudson Terraplane being the only true closed car on the entry list. Their progress during the week was superb to the point of challenging for best time of the day on some of the latter regularities on the final day, a puncture earlier in the week being their only real problem.
Several regularities interspersed with tests were the order of the day before a final run down The Captains Drive at Woodcote Park. The sun shone as the crews attempted the final action of the event, the members of the Royal Automobile Club applauding each and every one of the 34 finishers as they made their final run and stopped at the last time control.
John Abel and Martyn Taylor were the last to arrive due to the reverse seeding operated o n the event, their dominance throughout meaning their one real slip didn’t matter. As the victory champagne flowed, Taylor was delighted, “I’m very happy to be here, it’s been an amazing event that has been so well received, John didn’t put a foot wrong and we kept our nerve over seven days, it means the world to win an event with such history.”