The Oast House
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"You're doing it in an Austin Seven",."You're mad!",."I must admire you","This is real pioneer motoring", ."You're nuts!"."I think it's great that you're doing the world's toughest winter rally in an Ulster". -
These are just some of the comments we received prior to the event. Yes, we must be cracked, but Roger Gourd and myself were determined to arrive in full glory on the ramp at Monte Carlo and check in at every Control throughout the event.
"It all began when Roger came into my workshop informing me that he had just received the entry form and details for the Monte Carlo Challenge, and my immediate reaction was "Lets do it, then". It has always been my ambition to enter the Mille Miglia in an Austin Seven Ulster, retracing the drive of Charlie Goodacre and Trevison, who competed this event in 1932 and made history by being the first ever British car entrant in this prestigious event. This was my first chance to undertake a real challenge with Roger in a 1932 Ulster.
Time passed very quickly, and Peter Maguire of Hermitage Engineering, Streatham, London undertook the preparation of the car, checking out every nut and bolt. The engine was fitted with a pressure fed crankshaft and rods, giving an excellent 60 p.s.i. oil pressure when the engine was hot. Otherwise, everything else on the car was as production in 1932, thereby meeting the regulations set by the Historic Rally Association. Six volt lighting, 19" wheels fitted with motorcycle sidecar tyres, wind-up stop watches - but I did specify a toe-board for myself, the navigator. Our only piece of 'modern' technology, if one can call it that, was a Halda Trip-master which Roger had fitted.
When the mechanical side of the car was completed it was brought to my workshop where I made pump-up cushions (as these were original equipment fitted by Austin), and protective pads to save bruising our knees, which fitted to the inner body panels and also over the starter motor. Elasticated straps were made and fitted on the inner nearside to hold route information, pens and pencils, and a second strap to hold bottles of water. What had to be considered was that all our immediate needs had to be carried within easy access and within the cockpit as we only had the facility to get into the tail when we stopped, providing we had time, at a Control en route.
As a navigator, what was important was that as soon as we received the Route Book from the organising body I spent time in preparing the route on the seven maps that would be required for the rally. Many nights were spent with the maps, paper, pen and magnifying glass on the lounge floor, making very detailed notes in order to give clear and concise instructions to the driver.
On the entry form, competitors were given the choice of several starting points - Oslo, Noordwijk, Biarritz, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Benevento and Brooklands. Roger decided that he would like to start from Holland, so the decision was made. On Friday 6th February we meet at Harwich with other competitors and took the ferry to the Hook of Holland, followed by a gentle drive to Noordwijk.
Scrutineering was on the Saturday afternoon and the start of the event on the Sunday morning. As we were Car No. 5 in the Vintagent Class and having the lowest number for the Dutch start, this meant that we were the first car to leave the ramp on the Sunday morning, with a start time of 10.01 against the scheduled time of 10.00, which ensured that our control times were easily calculated.
So here we were on the first day with a drive of 204 kilometres to Hasselt. After a further 80 kms we experienced a short drive on the Spa Francochamp racing Circuit to arrive at Stavelot, receiving a warm welcome from local onlookers. It was at this point that we decided to dress in our one-piece suits and fit the radiator muff to the car, as we were informed that there was snow on the ground which we would encounter when we started to climb through Luxembourg. This was a very wise decision, as night was starting to draw in and we had to continue through to Colmar, with the last section being extremely cold. We arrived at 21.00 hours having covered a total of 372.5 kms on our first day.
Having booked into our hotel and briefly checked the car by torchlight, we then found somewhere to eat and finally crawled, exhausted, into our beds at 23.45. Morning soon came and at 9.31 we were being flagged away, with the knowledge that it was going to be a cold climb up to Col de la Schlucht at 1130 metres - thermal underwear and one-piece suits were a must in an open car!