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Deep In Muddy Devon - Torbay Trial 2024

Deep In Muddy Devon - Torbay Trial 2024

Traffic is unusually sparse on the A38 south of Exeter. I'm looking down on it from a small agricultural flyover bridge  and wondering how much longer we'll be sat in a queue of cars that stretches across it's entire span, and then some, and hasn't really moved in an hour. Mud is the problem. It's been a soggy few months and the ground is saturated. We're close to the end of the Torbay Trial , just three more of the seventeen  ‘observed sections’ to cover and all within half a mile, but we seem to have ground to a cumulative halt. 

For a change I'm not driving, and I'm not in “Monkey”, my not-quite-so-trusty Suzuki X-90. Monkey failed his MOT test a while back and still awaits the required welding to attempt a retest, So for this event I am the passenger/navigator for triple champion Nick Deacon .

John and Natasha Early's Liege lines up on the A38 bridge behind Matt & Hollie Facey's BMW E30

 Nick's driving an X-90 too but his is a bit ‘trick’, with a larger 2 litre Suzuki Vitara engine and a lot of other modifications that the previous owner lavished on it, at no small expense. In fact it's so modified that it doesn't even run in the same class as mine and our main rivals on this event are a trio of potent Scimitar SS1 sports cars. 

We've been on the road since just after 9am and, as the name implies, it's been a ‘Trial’ and make no mistake! On the first hill a hidden rock dented a rear wheel rim and took out the tyre. A long reverse-push-tow back ensued . But we weren't the only one's in trouble. The event's most unlikley car followed us and broke it's differential .

John Cox & Dee Champion with the ill-fated Lotus Elan awaiting the first observed section

 It was a Lotus Elan , the type Mrs Peel used to drive in THE AVENGERS and somewhat fragile and low to the ground for the task at hand here. But then one of the joys of this sport is never knowing what strange choice of vehicle will show up. Eighties kit cars like Marlins and Dutton Pheatons are quite common, so are VW based Beach Buggies and Baja Bugs, but here you also get a 1930s Ford Model A, a rakish HRG and a Hillman Imp… with a VW Beetle engine in the back! 

Stephen Hill's Ford Model A at the start

Paul Watson's VW powered Imp

What you don't get are many front wheel drive cars. Today's entry included just one, a 1.9 Peugot 205 GTi, which like the Elan a car of no small collector's value these days and quite a surprising choice.

Nick's X-90 is parked at the end of the bridge and not moving so I pass the time yarning with fellow Suzuki X-90 runners Brian Samson and Jeremy Salter. “Where's Charlotte?” is the usual question. My eldest daughter has been my regular passenger/navigator and a familiar figure on the trials scene since she was a mere 12 years old . Now on the verge of turning 18 she is embroiled in A Level exams and also works in a local pub, and Sunday is the busiest day of the week,  so she cannot spare the time for car trials . Not that our car is ready anyway!

Eventually things get moving, cars that have been stuck in deep mud on a road through a small wood have been recovered and the event recommences. Not that many people are getting through, but at least they are reversing back out without help now.  Nick takes a cautious approach , the car running in hub-deep tramline-ruts that literally guide it without any need to steer…

But then, where the marshalls are ominously gathering,  the ruts become less defined and the mud becomes more pond-like up ahead. Nick gives it the gun and we try and run though the moras by dint of  momentum .  This has been the tactic several times before and it's effectiveness has been uncertain. This time we just gradually run out of grip and also ground clearance as the car is soon riding on it's belly rather than it's wheels. This is despite my efforts to bounce up and down in the seat and use my weight to create some traction, if only for a moment. We edge forward a little for a moment or two but eventually the mud is raining down on us from spinning rear whees and all forward motion ceses.  Backing out doesn't present much problem but the exit road, up the side of a field on an innocuously gentle slope is another matter. Repeated attempts to get to the top fail. Eventually Matt Facey towes us out with his 3 series BMW, a car famous for it's extreme ground clearence . Much banter follows as he had already towed us out of that troublesome first section . The BMW  is almost ludicrously capable and will go on to win the event outright . Almost nothing stops it!

Matt & Hollie Facey's BMW E30 riding high on it's springs ,awaits the start with the Nick Deacon/ Simon Lewis Suzuki X-90

The last two sections were almost equally fraught and the prospects of a decent result looked slim… but it had been so tough an event that even if we felt like we'd scored badly , most of the others had done even worse! When the provisional results were published, we were actually 2nd in class!  Even without that result  I would still have thoroughly enjoyed the event. It was hard going and  there were certainly delays but the weather was pleasent and the route and locations attractive.  

Typical variety among the entry - a Liege, Marlin and VW Beetle with a Singer Chamois (Imp) about to join them

One thing I did take from it however was the amount of concentration it takes to follow the route card properly. I have only navigated once before on a trial (and once on a rally, which is a whole different ball game) and frankly I could do with more practice! My hat is tipped to Charlotte who's been managing this task admirably since before she was even a teenager. But unlike me she actually CAN tell left from right…


VW BEETLES of Jamie Harding/Simon Shackson & Karen Warren/Alice Carter

Andrew & Lisa Dams' Dutton Phaeton lineing up behind the Liege of John & Natashe Early and assorted VW Beetles

The Coates Orthoptera (Austin 7/Ford 1172cc) heads the HRG a Scimitar SS1, Mazda MX5 and Beetle

Andrew & Lisa Dams' Dutton Phaeton plough every upwards through the mud!

Nick Deacon re-pressurizes the tyres on ‘our’ Suzuki X-90 with James Shallcross' Scimitar SS1