How One became Three

One of my long-term research projects is trying to determine exactly how, and when, one motorsport discipline – trials – became three – Classic Reliability Trials, Production Car Trials, and Sporting Trials. This ought to be easy but it has proved frustratingly difficult to get any hard facts, not helped when I discovered that neither the MSA nor the VSCC libraries have a complete run of the RAC “Blue Book” through the relevant period (I haven’t yet got-around to contacting the NMM or RAC libraries).

It is important to emphasise that, from the mid 1930s until the early 1950s, the term ‘sporting’ was used to describe many trials where hill-climbing ability was more important than long distance reliability. The route and the sections used for the 1930s MCC Sporting Trial, for example, would make a perfectly acceptable ACTC trial today. Similarly, the sections used for many of the ‘sporting’ trials of the early 1950s are, essentially, very similar to the woodland sections used for current single venue Classic Trials such as those run by Camel Vale, Stroud, and Windwhistle motor clubs. However, certainly into the early 1950s, these were just variations of event within one sporting discipline, and there was no hint (of which I am aware) of the three different trials disciplines we know today.

This is the approximate timeline that I’ve put-together so far. It’s very much work-in-progress and I’ll be updating it as I dig-out more information:

January 1948

See the  Trials Car Trend article, by DSJ, from the January 1948 issue of Motor Sport. Although not strictly relevant, it is a pretty succinct explanation of the types of cars, and the events they were considered suitable for, in the immediate PostWar period.

October 1952

See the New R.A.C. Trials-Car Formula article from the October 1952  issue of Motor Sport. This was to come into effect for “trials counting towards the 1953 R.A.C. Championship” only, but would soon become the de-facto standard for many trials.

August 1962

The Road Traffic Act 1962 came into force on 1st August 1962. Section 36 of the Act made provision for the “Regulation of motoring events on public highways”. This is the primary legislation leading to the Motor Vehicles (Competitions and Trials) Regulations 1965. It obviously took a long period to go through the relevant consultation process to get from the primary legislation to the Statutory Instrument.

March 1966

The Motor Vehicles (Competitions and Trials) Regulations 1965 finally came into force on 1st March 1966. This is, as far as I am aware, the first time that motor sport events on the highway had to be authorised. My understanding is that they were considered over-draconian and immediate efforts were made to relax some of the controls. These led to the Motor Vehicles (Competitions and Trials) Regulations 1969 which are still in force (with amendments) to this day.

April 1966

Dennis Greenslade recalls (in his Sections Ends article published in the November 2002 edition of ‘Restart’):

“… at that time the classic trials scene was not as clearly identified as it is today, the only true classics being the Exeter, Land’s End and Derbyshire (now the Edinburgh), Stroud and District Motor Club’s Cotswold Clouds and the now much missed Guy Fawkes night and day event organised by Falcon Motor Club. The remaining events were more akin to production car trials, albeit at that time with loosely defined regulations.”

1966 to 1970

This is my current “best guess” for the period when Sporting Trials became exclusively single venue events for non-road-registered cars. The general view of those who were active in competition at the time is that there was no single cause for the final split. Rather it was the requirement for route authorisation, in combination with the more stringent MOT Test introduced in 1967, that drove the two disciplines apart.

Can anyone who was around in this era, and is an obsessive hoarder of trials-related literature, cast any more light on this?

November 1966

I have an incomplete copy of the Programme for the 1966 MCC Derbyshire Trial. This lists just three (four) car classes:

Class 3 – Trials Cars and Specials. Entries in this class include: Cannons, Dellows, and a Gregory.
Class 4 – Saloons and Convertibles (4a – Forward-engined / 4b – Rear-engined). All are what we would now call “Production Cars”.
Class 5 – Other cars. Entries in this class include: A/H Sprites, MGs (of various sizes and eras, including Dudley’s J2 with an 1172cc Ford engine), and Morgans. All are what we would now call “Sports Cars”, although now in Class 2, Class 5, or Class 7.

The significance of this, assuming that the RAC Regulations were, essentially, unchanged between 1966 and 1968, is that I must assume that the MCC were running the event under a Production Car Trial permit but using the waiver to add “additional classes specified by the A.S.R.s” (see section T.40 of the 1968 “Blue Book”) to provide for Class 3 cars.

January 1968

See this Extract from the RAC Motor Sport Year Book & Fixture List 1968. This is particularly interesting for the following:

  • Section F refers to both Production Car Trials (Page 32, clause F.8) and Sporting Trials (Page 33, clause F.21), and states that a Sporting Trial is an event “in which the mileage upon a highway does not exceed 50 miles”. This requirement continues to this day (see Section B of the current MSUK Yearbook).
  • Section T refers to the two types of eligible cars (Page 73 clause T.1; Page 77 clauses T.39 and T.40) but then makes no references to Road Tax, MOT, or any similar requirement for either class. (I suspect, but cannot now prove, that the T.1 references to T.42 and T.43 are actually typos and should be T.39 and T.40.)
  • The R.A.C. Trials Car National Formula (Page 98 clause 1) does, however, state that the Formula will apply to “all events described as Sporting Trials”.

We would therefore appear to have the situation, in 1968, that:

  • Production Car Trials are: only open to production cars (however defined – I don’t have the relevant pages from the 1968 Year Book); can be on-highway or off-highway; can be of any length if on-highway.
  • Sporting Trials are: only open to NTF cars; can be on-highway or off-highway; cannot exceed 50 miles if on-highway.
  • It would appear that there were no regulations covering specific events for “specials” which did not comply with the RAC NTF. See my comments under November 1966 (above) to see how I assume the MCC dealt with this.
1977 to 1984

Dudley Sterry and Simon Woodall have unearthed RAC “Blue Books” from some of these years and we can report the following:

1977. The RAC Year Book and Fixture List includes regulations for Production Car Trials and Sporting Trials only. We are assuming that this had been the status-quo for the period from 1968 (see above) to 1977.
1978. The RAC Year Book and Fixture List includes regulations for Production Car Trials and Sporting Trials only, but the Fixture List includes a list of Classic Trials. These appear almost as an afterthought, or maybe a late addition, being out of the alphabetical sequence of the other events listed.
1979. No RAC Year Book yet found.
1980/81. The RAC Year Book (and Fixture List?) includes regulations for Classic Reliability Trials, Production Car Trials, Sporting Trials (to NTF Formula), and 750 Motor Club Trials Formula.
1981ACTC founded.
1984. First ACTC Championship.

Page updated : 1 July 2019