View from the Passenger Seat
Octagon Newsletter December 1987
By Henry Stone
Henry Stone worked for MG at Abingdon for 43 years, until his retirement in 1974. His life has been spent on the shop floor and in the competition department responsible for development and testing, being involved in all the exciting moments of MG history. The story of the London to Inverness Endurance Run in 1986 to celebrate fifty years of T-Types has already been told in Safety Fast (March/April issues). However, Henry went along for the ride as a guest and this is his recollection of when nine T-Types relived 'Motor' magazine's 1946 road test of an MG TC last June and how they matched up to his expectations of them during four days of hard driving.
I had been invited to join a party of T-Types which were to embark on an adventurous commemorative journey from London to Inverness and back that was destined to take four days. David Saunders called for me at 4:40 a.m. on the morning of Thursday, 26th June, having travelled overnight from his home in Cambridge which included an impromptu stop, on the way, to energize the cut-out in the regulator box when the charging system failed. We had arranged to rendezvous with Ian Lloyd (TF 1500) and Simon Gibbard (TA Tickford) at junction 7 on the A40, after which we would make our way to London for the start in Belgrave Square. Ian and his wife Rosemary were ready and waiting, but there was no sign of Simon. After some discussion and a short wait, it was agreed that David, as organizer, should head on and this we did, arriving at Belgrave Square at 6:25 a.m. to find some of the party already assembled. Everyone else arrived in good time, save for the Tickford, whom we assumed must have been unexpectedly delayed and might therefore proceed directly to the breakfast stop, so shortly after 7:00 a.m., the show took to the road. John Simister from Motor magazine and chief photographer Maurice Rowe accompanied us, appropriately driving a Naylor TF1700.
It was a glorious morning as we headed out of Central London. For tile first half hour, David managed to average 35 m.p.h. due to the light traffic at that time of the morning, and then after reaching tile Hendon Way and then the start of the Great North Road at Mill Hill, this average quickly increased to 45 m.p.h. without exceeding 4,200 r.p.m. Oil pressure stayed constant at 56 pounds per square inch and the ammeter read a steady 3 amps plus. There was a slight transmission whine, more noticeable on the overrun, otherwise nothing of any consequence.
On the whole, the entire group was running very satisfactorily and the George Hotel at Buckden was reached in some style, where a substantial breakfast was enjoyed by everyone, including a number of invited guests (MG Car Club Chairman, Ron Gammons and his wife 'T' Register Secretary, Glyn Giusti and Safety Fast Editor, Paddy Willmer), all in all, an extremely pleasant group, as are all the people I meet on the MG motoring trips I have been engaged in. A representative from British Petroleum (Mike Lugg) doled out a concessionary fuel allowance to all the participating drivers, as a gesture of goodwill, and we then continued our trek north on the A1.
As we progressed along the route, more and more heavy lorries and trucks were encountered until I wondered whether in fact we had got entangled in a truck rally! This rather limited our average speed and, only one stretch, did we manage to reach an average of 50 m.p.h., for a single half hour period, in the main conditions limiting us to about 45 m.p.h. We made no effort to remain in convoy, this would have been impracticable, but rather we proceeded at our own happy speeds. The party was efficiently shepherded along by Tony and Barbara Dickinson, driving Brown & Gammons Ltd. backup van and recovery trailer. I must admit that it was very gratifying to know that this support, together with a skilled mechanic on board, was steadfastly following our tracks. Well done, Tony.
Just prior to a scheduled BP refuelling stop at Boroughbridge, some of us took the initiative to make an unscheduled pit stop for a pint and a sandwich at a very nice hostelry just north of Wetherby, The Bridge Inn, worthy of a mention for saving our lives on a very hot day. From then on, it was full bore all tile way to Scotch Corner where we parted company with the A1 anti continued on the A66 to Penrith. Several of the cars were showing symptoms of being driven hard in hot conditions, but this problem was somewhat eased by giving a 'tweak' to the radiator slats, to allow more air into the car. Otherwise, the four cars that had found themselves together at this stage, David Peebles' TC, Simon Gibbard's TA Tickford, 'Motor's Naylor and ourselves were running splendidly, albeit a noticeable amount of steering wander with our car. Much of this was due to our luggage, plus a full tank (literally) of petrol, coupled with the fact that David, who had not slept for thirty six hours, had driven from Cambridge to Abingdon overnight to pick me up, then to London and to the start of the real work of the day I would hazard an inspired guess of some 460 miles from extreme cold to boiling sun. We did some hedging and ditching towards the end of the day, but nothing to scare the pants off me! The grass verge trimming served to fully awaken him on occasions.
The Kings Arms Hotel at Lockerbie was reached at 6:25 p.m., not a moment too soon for any of us. Lockerbie is situated just north of Gretna Green, a fact which was not overlooked by Marian Best and her passenger, Ron Emoting who were spotted emerging from that direction, having made an unscheduled diversion from the specified route in Marian's TF! By request the cars were lined up outside the hotel for the duration of the evening, so that the locals could come and view them. The police had made special parking arrangements for us and the rumour was that Border Television and the local press would be making an appearance, but neither turned up obviously a heavy news day! However, we certainly aroused a lot of interest among the local townsfolk and we left the following morning feeling that we had been made genuinely welcome.
The mechanical problems of day one had been restricted to a banjo bolt dropping off the carburettor of one of the 'T's, in fact the ex-Pat Moss car now owned by Robert MacGillivray, and a replacement petrol pump on the Tickford. Other than that, the problems had been fuel vapourisation due to the excessive heat and, as we said our goodbyes at the Kings Arms and set off in search of the Scottish Highlands, the weather looked set fair to present us with more of the same. That morning Ron Emoting and myself had elected to change seats, Ron getting the feel of TC motoring with David, whilst I rode with Marian in her black TF 1250. Marian is quite a neat and tidy driver and her car was running perfectly. We encountered a great deal of road works which resulted in our car and Robert MacGillivray's missing a turn off to the A726, amidst a welter of road-making machinery. However, Robert, being local, led us through Hamilton to rejoin the prescribed route at East Kilbride only to discover later that everyone else had also missed the turn and proceeded on through Glasgow via the M8! We all made the Erskine Bridge by one route or another and regrouped at Luss on the shores of Loch Lomond. By now we were encountering some beautiful scenery and a belated lunch at the Ballachulish Hotel was the result of having stopped at Glen Coe to take photographs such rubber-necking experiences running us a bit late.
I had switched back to David Saunders TC, after the lunch break, for our drive up the length of Loch Ness. After an unscheduled stop the car refused to restart, but this time it was not the usual vapour lock trouble. A prolonged examination revealed that, whilst there was a spark at the coil end of the H.T. leads, there was nothing at the plugs, and after careful checking of the distributor cap for tracking, I found what looked suspiciously like a hairline crack The dependable Tony was there with the back-up vehicle, so the TC was loaded onto the trailer, much to David's chagrin and off we went to find a garage. Any small Lucas rotor arm would suffice if intended for BMC use (Morris Minor, Mini, Marina, etc., irrespective of rotation, even to the extent of 'cutting the lead' or 'trailing the hook-off'), so the only real worry was finding a garage open. After five miles or so, we came across a roadside garage at Fort Augustus whose proprietor produced a Mini rotor arm, although he was dubious that it would fit "that there contraption"! Fit it did, though (as I thought), and at the first pull of the starter wire the TC burst into song. It was quickly off-loaded and we were back in business.
Six miles from our overnight stop, David complained that his clutch would not free properly, so for the last lap of the day's work it was top gear only all the way lucky for us the TC has a reasonable low down torque. Arriving at the Nether Bridge Hotel, with the left hand poised on the ignition switch, David managed to come to a halt without using another parked car as a buffer.
A quick look revealed that the clutch back stop bolt had vibrated loose and unscrewed itself. This stop is to prevent the clutch from being over-stroked, but, in the position it was in, it prevented any clutching whatsoever. After a quick adjustment the smile was back on David's face and we dashed into the dining room with just five minutes to spare.
The next morning, after a photographic session outside the hotel (Maurice failed to fall off the step ladder, as anticipated, so no laughs!), we were now journeying south on the first leg of our return trip, with all the cars running trouble-free in the clear air of a perfect sunny morning. Once off the A9 at Dalnacardock, we stopped for regrouping and I transferred to Mike Logo's TC. En route to Forting for lunch there was another halt to admire the view from the top of Trinafour and Raymond Sunder produced some bottles of Swiss white wine. Glasses appeared like magic and the air resounded with the tones of multi-lingual toasts. It was here that Mike had an almost flat rear tyre and I discovered that the battered tool kit copper hammer was not so effective on knock-off centre lock nuts as our old race track large solid copper hammers! Mike's 1947 car had been rebuilt fairly recently and was running very sweetly at 4,000 r.p.m. After two hours of running, oil pressure was 80 pounds per square inch, water was 80oC and we covered 79 miles in this period, on winding roads.
Mike and I joined the regrouping act at the Forth Bridges car park, where we found it necessary to tighten up the rear curb banjo bolt, thanks to Ian Lloyd's socket set which was handy at the time. On restart, we all did one lap of the area for no apparent reason other than the fact that the TCs, TDs and TFs looked most impressive, as they circled around, against a backdrop of the Forth Bridges. I took the route directions too literally at this stage. Here at Musselburgh the A1 leads off west to become the coastal road and, with the sun now over our right shoulders, we knew all was not well. Mike refuelled at a small wayside garage and we retraced our steps back to the A68. Mike now decided to dig in the spurs and make up some lost time and for about an hour I was transported back in time to my rides with Tommy Haig, our Development Shop high speed tester. Tom used to race his TC very successfully. I was his mechanic, driving to and from the circuits with the ignition pulled back via an amal lever and cable. I introduced Tom to John Thornley at Goodwood one day, hence the tester's job. At one stage Mike had the rev counter hovering between 4,800 and 5,200 r.p.m. in 3rd gear, most of the time at 4,500 r.p.m. in top gear. Very exhilarating and occasionally we heard 'the Song of Dunlop'. I told Mike later that I listened, from force of habit, for the vibration which heralded a busted crank. "Ah well, you see", replied Mike "we had Tony and the trailer behind". I christened him 'The Crazy Driver'! I had nodded off once or twice due to boredom Mike knew how to put a stop to that! I ceased attempting to write notes at this period, my writing resembling the antics of an ink-drenched demented spider! We arrived safely at our last overnight stop at Richmond, Yorkshire in good spirits.
Sunday dawned with every prospect of being yet another hot and sunny day, the cars being lined up in the market square for pictures before departing for Donington Race Circuit, where we were to do a lap of honour to 'show the flag' to the assembled spectators. Fortunately there was an enclosure set aside for us close to the MG Car Club marquee and within crawling distance of the beer tent. Amidst such a hive of activity in heat-wave conditions, it was indeed with a sense of relief that we were able to enjoy our packed lunches on a grassy slope with trees to offer some shade.
Following our parade lap, we immediately set off for the A5 and the last stage of our epic journey back to London. David Peebles and son Graham, Mike Lugg David Saunders and myself, more or less, remained in convoy for the remainder of the trip, each driver baiting the other to challenge for the lead at every opportunity. The Motor's Naylor TF was waiting for us when we reached Marble Arch and we stopped at the top end of Park Lane to await the others. This was a fatal move, naturally enough, as a result of the hot conditions and hard driving of the afternoon, the two Davids' TCs were both now suffering from vapour lock and refusing to restart. However, I managed a quick demonstration on both cars on how to overcome this problem, following which we were able to proceed to Battersea Park for the official termination of the run, but not before poor Mike Lugg experienced his second puncture of the weekend, one mile from the finish. Everyone finally arrived and champagne toasts were the order of the day, together with a final round of camera-work from Maurice Rowe, who had been clicking away enthusiastically throughout the four days, in preparation for an article on the run in Motor magazine, (a six page, full colour article appeared in the issue of 16th July 1986).
So another great MG 'T' Series achievement came to a close. Goodbyes were said rather reluctantly and everybody went their separate ways. The whole run had been very well organised and was undertaken in a spirit of great camaraderie. I could not have wished to travel with a nicer crowd of people. The cars themselves, I must say, surprised me with their reliability after so many years. Congratulations to them and their crews. Long live the MG Car Club T Register. Thank you, David, I much appreciated the honour.
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