Rolls-Royce 20/25 - recent history

This page contains two articles, published in the Bulletin of The Rolls-Royce Enthusiast Club, recounting the completion of :-

LEJOG 1997

LEJOG 1999

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Leaving John O'GroatsNorthern Lights


7th December 1999

2 miles south of John O'Groates.

The sheen on the road is sheet ice.

Just finished celebrating the completion of the 1999 Land's End to John O'Groates Touring Trial.

1,300 miles in 3 days over mainly minor roads in weather ranging from torrential rain to blizzards.

Never missed a beat!


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An Honourable Success

It all started on a cold and misty morning in December 1996, standing in the snow at the junction with the Malerstang Road at Garsdale Head in Yorkshire. Strangers were clustered in groups inside the Moorcock Inn, adjusting strange timing devices and shuffling official looking forms. Then, through the mist, came the first in a stream of old cars - it was LEJOG!

Tired individuals with gaunt eyes; mud encrusted cars, many with road-modified panels; much rushing into the Inn waving scraps of paper. This looks just the job for me!

When the 1997 application list opened I was one of the first entries for the Land’s End to John O’Groats Reliability and Touring Trial (LEJOG to the cognoscenti). A confession before I mislead; I had entered for the Touring section of the trial. This means that we had to attend every check point whilst it was open but could choose our own route from point to point. I have not entered a rally before and did not intend to baptise myself with fire by doing the difficult one straight out of the box. It was now the end of July and the event was to take place between 6th and 9th December - plenty of time to prepare The Honourable.

At this point I must digress in order to make three very important introductions to the plot. The first is The Honourable - my 1933 Rolls-Royce 20/25 (GGA27) - the main character in this story. Second, but no less important, is my wife, Kerry, who virtually lost contact with me for the following four months as I hid myself in the labyrinth between garage and workshop. Finally there is George Davidson, my co-driver, who was innocently duped into this adventure with little knowledge of the demands to be made upon him.

As one may surmise, four months of reasonably intensive work on a vehicle, that is to all intents and purposes in top condition, must encompass some pretty unusual modifications. Very quickly, then, to satisfy the curious reader who has made it thus far. Magneto off to Independent Ignition in Devon and the petrol gauge to Speedograph. Carpets, a delightful fawn, must go to avoid the ravages of muddy boots and oily hands - to be replaced with coir matting cut to fit. To allow for additional electrical accessories I took a feed from the number 8 pole on the distribution board into an auxiliary fuse box under the dash. The rear of the dash board then had to be re-wired and piped to make room for a heater and fan. New cabling was installed for a map light, rear fog light, reversing light and heater fan. The dash cappings and screen surrounds were removed to allow the body frame to be drilled for the screen de-mister piping. All seat squabs were stripped, re-profiled to give better lateral support, and then re- assembled. The seat runners were discarded, to be replaced with more effective modern item with better adjustment (but in the best possible taste). Just as I was reaching the end of my list the silencer dissolved into a cobweb. A trawl through the R-REC Advertiser revealed Mr Lonsdale in Bedale, Yorkshire; a superb stainless intermediate and rear section winged its way to me within a week. Replace the inner tubes. Spend three days at Cliff Long Engineering in Kinver servicing the car, fitting the exhaust and additional lights. The latter are two Cibie spot lamps that were wired to act as main beam with the original P80s acting as dip - I can recommend the modification. The car was ready.

It was suddenly Thursday 4th December. With everything packed I set off, via Southampton to collect George, to the start point at Land’s End. Following an enjoyable 377 miles we arrived at the Land’s End Hotel to sign on at 5:10pm on Friday. Find our Hotel in Penzance, a quick change and back to LE for the pre-departure bash (it was actually more of a squish, but never mind).

Saturday morning arrived in the company of two delicate heads from the night before. Discretion being the better part of valour we took the 9:30 start rather than the hair shirt at 7:00am. We were off ! Ten minutes out of Penzance and The Hon. develops a cough. Rapid diagnosis of the Autovac union stripped on the inlet manifold. We had not been stationery for more than two minutes when a sixteen year old policeman in a Panda car pulled up. “Good morning occifer” , I proffer whilst breathing in. To give him his due, he was polite, helpful and very interested in the car. The problem was solved with dextrous codgery and we were on our way within five minutes. The first check point (CP) was at Roche on the A30 about 60 miles north east of LE. Card signed, we batted our eye lids at the nice men of the RAC, who were acting as guardian angels on the trip, and a cup of coffee later they had applied some magic metal to the stripped thread on the manifold and we were off to Dartmoor.

No sooner had we started to climb the hills on the moor than poor old Hon. started coughing again. It never ceases to amaze me how one can tell the difference but I knew immediately that this was fuel vaporisation - a problem with which I have been afflicted for the nine years of owning this car. Having resigned myself to the fact that I had not, as I though, cured this wretched problem, I propped open the radiator shutters and we were on our way again, now with the engine running at 45 degrees Celsius and the new heater straining to creep above freezing point. (Digression - as I was remiss enough not to introduce myself at the time, my I commit to writing our thanks to Ian and Corinne Niblett for stopping to help.) At this rate it was going to take forever to get to JOG.

Our fuel problems were behind us. On to Exebridge, then Keenthorne and round the M5/M4 to Magor by about 7:30pm for a supper halt - 252 miles since LE. Take on fuel again for vehicle and occupants and then into Wales at night. The Cibie spot lamps melted the tarmac and we were running at a steady 6 amp discharge - would the battery hold out? Sennybridge, followed by Crossgates and on to Llanfair Caereinion by which time it was 1am on Sunday morning, yet spectators were still turning out at the check points. Tiredness creeps up from behind. Somewhere hereabouts we turned left instead of right, or vice versa.

“Where the **** are we?”

“Can’t pronounce it!”

“Spell it, then.”

“It’s all Ls and Ys.”

“Everywhere is!… Keep going north.”

It was only a 10 mile detour and it meant that we missed all of the traffic anyway. Everyone has heard of the Welsh midnight rush hour.

 Easy now. We averaged 65 to 70 mph on modern A class roads bypassing Oswestry, Wrexham and Chester followed by the M53, M56 and M6 to Charnoch Richard services - 490 miles covered. It was 2:45am and we had booked a room for 4 hours. Three hours kip, a shower and change of clothes followed by another full English breakfast. At 7:30am - still Sunday, I think - we checked the car and fed it the first pint of oil and a pint of water. Into the Yorkshire dales, first stop Clapham, followed by that lovely road from Ingleton to Hawes and the A684 into Leyburn. What a welcome. Kerry and Trish, our wives, were there to cheer us on. Half an hour break where we could relax and have a chat over a cup or two of coffee.

Next stop was over the dale in Reeth - more friends cheering us on - can’t stop - rain starting. The Turks Head at Barnard Castle is the next CP at about 1:00pm. Onward, via Stanhope, where the Reliability Trialers have to drive through the ford. A strongly worded warning is printed on our Route Card - “Please park well clear of test. Under no circumstances attempt to drive through the ford”. Who is kidding whom? We didn’t get where we are today by doing as we were told. If Austin Healeys and Porsche 356s with 3inches ground clearance could get through…. A polite word or three in the ear of the marshal and we were at the front of the queue; he was delighted and so were the spectators. Mind you, we had so much ground clearance that the crossing did little more than wash some of the mud off.

Onwards and upwards! Edmundbyers - Rothbury - St Boswells - Edinburgh by 5:30pm and 764 miles done. What day is it? Still Sunday, I think.

 In Edinburgh we are allowed a Night Halt. Sensible and necessary really. The trouble being that there is so much adrenaline in the system that it becomes difficult to switch off. Imagine that scene from the film ‘Ice cold in Alex’… then put it into negative image. Into the bar we both stagger; except we are freezing cold and the hotel and the beer are warm. Plus ca change…

After a visit to the culinary high spots of Scotland’s principal city I am stricken with the Gaelic equivalent of Delhi-belly - spend half the night “not sleeping” and end up getting about four hours rest. 9:00am on Monday morning found us in the car park checking the levels. When the engine was started there was a subtle grumbling from the near side. The rear bearing on the dynamo had run dry. Nice Mr RAC man lets me have a couple of drops of gearbox oil which, when applied appropriately, seems to quieten matters.

We were off on the last push. Kincardine bridge - Drymen -over the Trossachs to Killin - Kinloch Rannoch. Some of these roads were little better than metalled farm tracks. Dalwhinnie and the Ben Alder café where we are met by George’s father and sister. A pleasant reunion followed by another full English breakfast at 4:40 in the post noon. Nethy Bridge and then Inverness by 7:00pm for the supper halt. We had now covered 1013 miles but found that progress was to be interrupted; the next check point did not open until midnight. What to do? The hotel began to fill up rapidly as other teams arrived - how could we relax for four hours in this bedlam? A quick conference with the desk clerk and we had a short-stay room - three hours unscheduled sleep, a shower and chance to download the digital camera onto the laptop. How’s that for hi-tech?

It was dark and throwing it down by 11:00pm. Another pint of oil and quart of water before starting. First stop Evelix, by name and nature, and then on to Lairg by 2:30am. The strain was beginning to tell despite the rest at Inverness. The indicator switch had shorted sometime the previous day and burned out the flasher unit so we were indicating using the trafficators. We had also spent the last six driving hours in the dark, mostly on main beam and battery discharge. At the Sutherland Arms Hotel in Lairg we dismounted to high winds and rain like stair rods. George went to sign in and I left the engine running at fast idle, with no lights, in the hope that we could coax a little more juice into the accumulator. A quick comfort break and I poked my head round the door of the bar to see what was keeping George. Ho-ho! A roaring fire and a man pulling pints at 2:30 on a Tuesday morning - we did not need any convincing.

An hour in front of a fire with good company is most enervating. The next leg was the final 88 miles to John O’Groats via the coast road - what a haul in that weather at that time of night. Half way there my candle went out. We stopped for coffee at the road side and George took over for the last section. He got slower and slower; not falling asleep, just gradually running out of energy.

5:05am on Tuesday morning and we had made it! 1148 miles from Land’s End and 1542 since the previous Thursday. Were the flags out? Was the hotel open? Were the marshals there? What an anti-climax! We were the 6th car to arrive. The marshals turned up 15 minutes late for the first official check-in on the reliability trial at 6:17. The bar eventually opened for breakfast at 7:30am.

To cap it all, when we arrived at our hotel in Wick at about 10:00am, they had messed up the reservations and we had no rooms. Four hours later and we were off to bed. Don’t get too excited for us, however, as the celebration dinner started at 7:00pm. Despite the organisers’ best efforts at creating a riot by threatening to cancel the prize giving, because certain Reliability entrants had had the temerity to lodge official complaints, the evening eventually settled into a pleasantly chaotic party. To crown it all, not only did we receive our Finisher’s medals but The Honourable was awarded the Touring Trial Concours d’Elegance award.

In conclusion, the whole event was great fun, which is nothing less than it was organised to be. George and I raised over £1,000 for charity whilst managing to wear ourselves out enjoying the whole process. The Public Affairs Department of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited did not respond to my begging letter which displays bad manners and also their inability to take up a wonderful (and free) promotional opportunity. Previously I have received nothing but the most prompt and courteous service from the company: maybe it is time they sold out!

For those who enjoy statistics I can summarise a few facts as follows.

The Honourable was the only R-R in the event.

80 cars started the Reliability and 31 the Touring trial - 111 in total. An unconfirmed 80-odd finished

Home to home mileage was 2277, using 143.4 gallons of petrol ( 651.8 litres for the Europhiles). The car averaged 16.4mpg over the whole journey. I know it sounds good but it does have an overdrive fitted. The best point to point consumption was 20.3mpg, achieved on the fast A road and motorway sections, and the worst was 12mpg when climbing in the Trossachs. The Hon, consumed only two pints of oil and four of water.

I am sure that this will convince all of those in the Register that these are extremely hardy vehicles that are capable of showing a clean pair of heels to many a younger pretender.

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Rolled-Royce ?

‘The Honourable’ is my 1933 20/25 Drophead Coupe. He has served me well for over eleven years; from him I have learned the beauty of Royce engineering, the benefit of striving for perfection …and how to use the strongest invective as a means of overcoming adversity. The only significant modification is the addition of an overdrive operating in third and fourth gears which allows a comfortable motorway cruising speed of between 60 and 70mph.

In December 1997 I entered the Touring Trial class of the Land’s End to John O’Groats Reliability Trial (LEJOG). B227/58 recounts how we managed to cover over 2,200 miles, in a wintry week, just to show that the 20/25 is such an incredible car. In case there are still any sceptics out there, and because I enjoy it, I did it again.

An introduction to LEJOG may help paint the picture of the event. The Reliability Trial, being the main event, is aimed at a select group of people who find orienteering both too easy and too slow. Driving cars that are at least 25 years old they are challenged to drive the length of the mainland via 30 check points whilst maintaining an average speed of approximately 30 mph. So far, so good. LE to JOG is approximately 865 miles when taking the direct route. The check pointed method adds up to just over 1,300 miles and they loose points for every second off the target time at each stop. To avoid boredom, the organisers insert between 10 and 20 special stages that are akin to The Times cryptic crossword wedded to every Ordnance Survey map in print. Overall distance is extended to something over 1,600 miles.

Driving a 20/25 does not lend itself readily to fulfilling the requirements of the latter part of the above definition. The Touring Class of LEJOG obliges the entrants to register at every check point whilst it is open, a variable window of two to four hours, but excuses them from any of the special stages. Do not think that this makes the drive a breeze! Even taking the most direct route from point to point it is only just possible to coax a 66 year old touring car to meet the deadlines.

Preparation of the car is of paramount importance. Methodical servicing, including inspection of all the hidden bits, is the only way to stand any chance of success. Apart from normal service work I spent the preceding few months stripping and checking the following :-

brake shoes and hub bearings

suspension joints including shock absorber linkages

electrical wiring, switches and battery

charging circuit, dynamo bearings and brushes

fuel supply, Autovac, petrol filter and carburettor

coil and magneto ignition systems

one-shot lubrication system

body mountings, hinges and locks

wiper motor gearboxes and blades

It is sensible to carry a reasonable selection of spares, tools and safety items. It is not sensible to overload the car by taking the contents of the workshop and garage.

The trip starts with the necessary journey to Land’s End which, in my case, is just over three hundred miles. To prove the point that one can never do enough preparation the calorstat piston decided to seize up after about 50 miles. Following some quick experimentation we found that adjusting the centre shutter gap to the width of a £1 coin gave enough cooling to avoid trouble yet enough shielding to keep the water temperature between 65o and 75oC.

Fuel problems soon ensued. My local garage had recently changed over to LRP from leaded petrol and this was my first tankful. The car had proved difficult to start from cold, did not like ticking over and would not pull uphill in top gear. To add insult to injury, the rear gasket on the exhaust manifold burned out just before Land’s End. I had, of course, got a complete set of these as spares …in the workshop.

As soon as the tank neared empty we filled up with premium unleaded (95 RON) and added Superblend Zero Lead 2000. What a difference - the car is better on this combination than it was on leaded. Not only did we have the best performance I have ever experienced in the car (I use the term performance loosely) but in over 2,000 miles there has been no measurable valve wear. Stop worrying - just swap over and use the additive!

The start, for us, was at 10:15am on Saturday 4th December. Gale force winds and rain. My co-driver, George Davidson, and I had spent the previous hour watching the select group speeding round their first special stage. Braced by the excitement and a fresh sea breeze we mounted our trusty steed and headed north. Cornwall, Devon and Somerset saw off the first three checkpoints; our only problem thus far being a slowly deflating rear tyre. Barnstable, and a friendly tyre depot diagnosed a pinched tube; replaced by a spare from the boot. Into South Wales and Magor Services by 7:00pm for supper; 243 miles gone.

Wales is driven at night - not the best way to view the scenery. Brecon, Beulah, Ponterwyd and on to Machynlleth; 343 miles by midnight. Temperatures had dropped and the rain had been snow in these parts. Over the mountains to Bala was like a skating rink; in places we were on slow tick-over in first gear and still slipping down the hills. The weight of The Honourable proved a distinct advantage compared with the skittish behaviour demonstrated by some members of the select group. Further into the lowlands the ice became ruts in the snow - by Wrexham it was rain again. Onwards to the breakfast break at Charnock Richard Services on the M6; 515 miles completed by 5:30am and the chance of three hours sleep.

Daylight and time to check the vital fluids. A guzzle of water - the blowing gasket was taking its toll on the engine temperature as well as our ears. The Touring route required that we check in next at Hardraw, near Hawes, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. We opted to miss viewing the special stages and went straight up the M6 to Sedbergh and east to our destination. The Dales were no better than Wales with thick snow on the edges of the main roads. Tan Hill was sheet ice and the road to Kirby Steven was blocked - about turn onto the dales road to Reeth and over the Fells further east. Barnard Castle was followed by the ford crossing at Stanhope - something of a disappointment this time as the water was only about 8 inches deep. At Allenheads we met a man who insisted on showing us his 20/25 locked away for the winter - I feel that he did not really comprehend the urgency of our mission. Bewcastle and then up the A7 to Mosspaul. Time was getting tight. Westwards into the sticks towards Tushielaw and a wrong turn up an incredibly narrow lane to nowhere. Immediate recognition of our mistake and stop.

So this is how to get a Rolled-Royce! 8:00pm and pitch black. In the middle of who-knows-where with the temperature hovering just above zero and the rain falling in stair rods. Frustration and tiredness fighting each other - we have got 20 minutes to get the last five miles to the check point. Reversed carefully. Stop because I had put the rear off side wheel onto the ample grass verge. Verge collapsed! The rear of the car slid gracefully back into a ditch, faithfully pulling the front with it. “Oh Dear!!!”, I exclaim. (Too shocked to swear.) George and I were still in our seats but at an angle of roughly 60o.

“Are you OK?” I enquire.

“Yes!” - no need to be so abrupt.

“Can you open your door?”

George made the attempt and promptly collapsed on top of me. We ended up in a heap around the gear stick with my head in the door pocket. The second attempt proved a little more successful and we eventually climbed up to the road. Unfortunately we could not see anything - it was completely dark. Back into the car for a torch. For those who have not attempted angular exercises with their cars I should explain that clothes, maps, flasks and even torches tend to emulate the contents of a food blender on these occasions. I found the torch and we began to inspect (I began to panic). The off side was about 4 inches from a stone ditch wall through which grew an enormous Birch. The ditch was at least 2 feet 6 inches deep, 2 feet wide at the bottom and 4 at the top. Without the use of a large crane I could not imagine how we would extract The Honourable. Lots of £££s seemed inevitable - first for the extraction and then for some major structural repairs.

Help was nearby. Back at the junction, 300 yards down the lane, where we should have driven straight on, I had noticed a farm. Embarrassed knock at door, explanation and request. A gentleman named Stu brought out his large tractor. We discussed, we debated, I dithered …and then we went for it. Tow rope round the front axle where it attaches to the spring (mind the oil pipes!). George on the near side running board hanging on to the pram-irons - me lying on the floor in the car, feet on the driver’s door, turning the steering wheel out of the ditch. On the third tug the car popped onto the road. Not as much as wiping the mud off the paintwork. Nothing! Sometimes the gods are smiling at you. “Thank you Stu” (several times). We had to miss out Tushielaw check point, driving on to the overnight stop at Edinburgh. By then it was 9:30pm on Sunday and we had covered 813 miles and one ditch.

Rest. A few beers, a snack and seven whole hours of sleep. It must be Monday morning - up at 7:00am and off to see the extremely helpful RAC men who act as back-up. They inspected the car to ensure there was no hidden damage resulting from our self-imposed special stage. We also had time to look at the exhaust manifold gasket. Unbolt manifold, apply liquid gasket, re-bolt. Running repairs always last longest. A hearty breakfast and at 9:25am we were on the road again.

North west to the Grampians. Through the Strathyre Forest to Killin. North east through the Tay Forest Park to Pitlochry, then on via Glenshee and Devil’s Elbow to Tomintoul. West again via Bridge of Brown and Grantown-on-Spey to Tomatin. Darkness and we head north towards Inverness with a welcome(?) diversion to the south west end of Lock Ness ‘to read a sign post’. No check point for us at Inverness, so it is straight up Dirrie More to the next check point at Ullapool on the north west coast and supper. 1,141 miles from Land’s End and it was only 9:15pm. A full two hour break for food and rest!

Only 164 miles to go! Oh yes? It was so cold that the roads were covered in a sheet of grit and salt - similar to sand racing really. ‘Roads’ is also a term to be used with care in this district - the majority being single track with no barriers between car and sea and no bend signs. North to Kylesku, stamp the card and further up to Durness on the north coast. A quick cup of coffee to revive the senses then east to Melvich. Heavy eyelids and slow reactions; care and concentration. More coffee at Melvich and time to grab a snack before the last leg into John O’Groats at 6:25am on Tuesday morning.

1,305 miles and 58 hours of shared driving in 68 hours elapsed time. An average speed of 22.5 mph including check point stops, fuelling and feeding stops and off-road excursions. After a few hours at John O’Groats, to welcome our fellow competitors, we drove down to our hotel in Wick; breakfast and bed. Tuesday evening witnessed the prize giving dinner. This time we only received a Red Riband because we missed out Tushielaw check point - but the honour is in taking part. Many thanks to all concerned and especially to the Historic Endurance Rally Organisation for making it all possible.

The return journey was a little more leisurely. Wednesday to Aberdeen to visit George’s family, Thursday to Cumbria and back to Churchill on Friday afternoon. The round trip was 2,295 miles with no serious mechanical problems and thankfully no damage to the car. It can be done and it can be fun - why don’t you try it?

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