The smell of competition.

The smell of competition. The smell of burning mud has me hankering for my old competition days.


Working for Land Rover World’s sister publication, 4x4 Magazine recently, I found myself in a disused quarry assessing the facility for pay and play days. The revving of engines, grinding of gears and smell of hot mud drying on exhaust pipes took me straight back to my trialling days in the mid seventies with the Peak & Dukeries Land Rover Club. I was a regular competitor every month for about three years enjoying mixed successes and failures, but always able to patch up the Land Rover in time for the next event. It was good innocent fun done on a shoestring with plenty of lively banter and mickey taking shared by all.


It prompted me to dig out the relevant shoe box full of old negatives and remind myself of how simple a form of motor sport trialling was then. A couple of hundred quid's worth of Land Rover was all that was required. Safety equipment was little more than a lap belt and the theory that we would chicken out and back off before the thing went over. From memory anything could be entered as long as it passed scrutineering and the owner had paid the entrance fee of about a tenner.



A highlight of the calendar was the Boxing Day trial, where we all pitched up for the 10.00 am start and we got the trial out of the way as quickly as possible to spend more time in the pub afterwards, exaggerating ones prowess in front of a crackling log fire. It was on the way to one of these events, slightly the worse for wear from the festivities the day before, that I briefly lost the old Series One wife. We were taking a back road around the village of Ticknall, in Derbyshire, when I drove round a ninety degree right hander with a little too much enthusiasm. The door flew open and out she went! Fortunately her landing was fairly gentle and she only suffered a few bruises. I however, was in big trouble!  In competition I would secure both doors with bungy and climb in, avoiding the risk of a door swinging open and clipping a cane, ruining my score card.



Some damage to my old 80 inch Land Rover was inevitable and after a couple of years using it as daily driver and competition car it was beyond an MOT test, so I bought a trailer and suitable tow car. At about the same time others were constructing roll over bars and our Leicester contingent, Pete Wilford, John Bailey, John Hicks and myself set about designing various styles, all completely different, to protect us. Mine had started life as a barrier outside a school to stop children running out into the road. It was too wide, so I cut it in half and took about a foot out, then welded it back together with one additional section of scaffold tube at a 45º angle back to the rear load bay. The bottom ends of the roll over hoop were bolted to the chassis outriggers. It certainly looked the part and was, regrettably put to the ultimate test mid season.


We were competing at a farm in Lea, Derbyshire and one section climbed up through the woods, turned sharp right at an alarming angle and came back down. I can’t imagine why, but I went further up the hill than was necessary and when I turned right it was a little steeper than was safe. Over I went with a crashing of branches and audible gasp from the spectators. I felt the ground hit my head and push me up into the seat as the few things in the Land Rover fell out. Then I was briefly back on my wheels again, before executing a further half a roll to end up with the Land Rover on its side against a tree, oil smoking nicely on the hot exhaust pipe. I seemed to be okay and the roll bar had done its job. Within 15 minutes we had topped up the oil and moved on to the next section as if nothing had happened.



Subsequent competition in more recent times were just as much fun, but like your first girlfriend, never quite the same as the excitement of those early days learning from more experienced drivers, many of whom had unlimited practise on their own farms up in the Peak District. As James Bond said, ‘never say never again’, but I doubt if I shall return to trailling. It looks a lot more expensive now, though I have seen the odd battered up 80 inch still competing, driven by a cloth capped farmer with a ruddy face. Flat leaf springs and gasping 2 litre engine often showing the the tricked up 90’s that skill, rather than gizmo’s still holds the trump card.




After executing a full 360º roll, Toby’s 80 inch gently came to rest against a tree at Lea in Derbyshire.


With any Land Rover that passed scrutineering eligible, trials the the mid seventies saw some unlikely entrants, like this 109 Station Wagon.


Not sure who Jim is, but he certainly had his wellie down in this shot from 1975!



March 2009