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Period Reports

Weekend on Skis

©The Autocar. January 27th, 1950


Cornering technique : Hilary Laing of the victorious British Ladies' Team in action in the slalom event, and the TD Midget on the climb to Val d'Isère.
WEEK-END ON by GORDON WILKINS

Skis - and TDs
TWO OF THE NEW M.G. MIDGETS VISIT THE LOWLANDER SKIING CHAMPIONSHIPS AT VAL d'ISERE
SOME weeks before Christmas I was coming off the end of the Oxford by-pass when I saw in the distance an M.G. Midget with something unusual about its lines. I had heard that a new model was on the way and, as I was driving a very fast car at the time, I gave chase; but it was some time before I was able to catch it up, and to note that the family resemblance to other Midgets was now subtly modified by a general increase in size, the use of disc wheels and independent front suspension. Soon afterwards there came a 'phone call to know if I would like to take one out to Val d'Isère for a week-end in the French Alps, and I realized that it was over ten years since I had driven a Midget for any considerable distance. Like most enthusiasts, I drove and owned M.G.s of all kinds before the war, and a 2-litre convertible provided me with my first experience of covering 500 miles in a day in England.
However, export demands had kept production running at such a high level since the war that no radical changes had been introduced and the ten years' hiatus left me with no abiding sense of deprivation while there were so many new models of other makes to be tried. It was sufficient to know that thousands of happy youngsters in the United States were finding in the M.G. a new appreciation of motoring as a sport and that a new generation eking
out the bleak post-war years in England would give its ears for a chance to do likewise.
The idea was that we should take out two cars, one driven by Ian Appleyard, taking with him Louis Klementaski, the photographer, and the other driven by me with Bernard Till, a news-reel cameraman, as passenger. Appleyard, himself an Olympic skier, was taking out the trophy given by Viscountess Hemsley for the Lowlanders' Skiing Championships at Val d'Isère on January 14 and 15, and the two photographers were to cover the event and record the outward and homeward runs. The opportunity to try a new M.G. over a long distance was not to be missed on any account, but when combined with a chance of some skiing it seemed to present the prospect of an epic week-end. Moreover, my own skiing is not so good that I am above picking the brains of Olympic skiers when I get the chance. No false pride with me.
As an idea for a sporting week-end, the project sounded delightful, but the paperwork involved was considerable, and served to emphasize that the union of Western Europe remains a beautiful dream, which can take place only when the hordes of bureaucrats and assorted officials have been strangled with their own red tape. The car formalities are bad enough, but it is not until you have attempted to take a ciné cameraman as a passenger that,

To make a film of one car, you need two, of course. The green car stops while the red Midget sweeps past on the snowbound mountain road near Bourg St. Maurice.
you know what delays and frustration can really mean.
Bernard Till's preparations had started weeks before. He had to get permission from his own union to work in France, and they had to apply for permission from the French Ciné Union for him to take films in France. His equipment, valued at £2,000 could not leave England until a Board of Trade export permit had been obtained. The procedure was so involved that shipping agents had to be employed and a full description down to the oilcan and the brush to flick the dust off the lenses had to be typed out twenty times.
Just before we left it was suggested that, as all his kit would be stacked in the Midget I was driving, I would need a permit from the French Ministry of Labour to act as a chauffeur d'automobiles, but this I nipped firmly in the bud.
Eventually everything was satisfactorily arranged - or so we thought. The two cars started from Trafalgar Square heavily laden with baggage and photographic equipment, and crossed on the Wednesday night ferry to Dunkirk. The plan was to take two days on the outward journey, taking films and still photographs en route and making a brief detour to Paris to pick up the ciné cameraman's permits. The brief detour quickly developed into a day of frantic interviews and telephone calls, and we found ourselves late on Thursday evening faced by a ruling from an apparently responsible official of the French Ministry of Labour that no film involving publicity for a British car must be made on French soil. However, promises of further consideration were given for the following day.
To continue the debate any longer would have meant
abandoning the whole expedition, so we left the Champs Elysées for what we hoped would be a quick run to Fontainebleau and a good dinner to cheer us up. Immediately we ran into a thick fog which reduced us to a crawl the whole way and we were lucky to get an omelette before retiring to bed, fog-bound and frustrated. We now had 400 miles to do on the Friday to get to Val d'lsère in time for the opening of the skiing championships on Saturday morning, and had to fit in such stops for still and ciné photographs as we could arrange en route, whenever light and background were suitable. The cars were filled up with fuel and oil, and tyre pressures were increased from the recommended 18 lb per square inch to 21 lb. The run to Paris over the pavé of Northern France had already shown that this new Midget, with its fat tyres, independent suspension and strongly reinforced chassis frame, gave riding comfort far superior to that of its predecessors, but with the heavy loads we were carrying extra pressure seemed desirable to assist in holding a line on rough comers with an adverse camber. The increase proved to be exactly what was needed and from then on road holding was first-class at all speeds on wet pavé, snow or ice.
The fog was still with us and after 34 miles through the forest of Fontainebleau and on to Sens the speed never exceeded 60 m.p.h. From then on the weather cleared, the sun came out and we were really able to find out what the new Midget would do, as we sped down the long straights and open curves of N6. The roads were wet and slippery and the surface not always even, but the cruising speed could be maintained regardless of conditions.
Films and fresh air; The green car's crew take their air neat, while maneuvering into position for some 50 m.p.h. action studies.



The speed was pushed up until the car was holding, a speedometer reading Of 82½ m.p.h., and the rev counter needle was round to 5,500. A speedometer and rev counter calibration had already shown an optimism of about 8 per cent, but after making due allowance for this it was apparent that we were maintaining a cruising speed, of 70-75 m.p.h. and confirmation soon came as we logged the times through journey, Auxerre, Avallon, and Saulieu to Arnayéle-Duc. The roads were wet, the traffic was fairly heavy by French standards and we were twice brought down to second gear in delays behind heavy lorries, but when we stopped for petrol at Arnay the 108.5 miles from Sens had been covered in 105 minutes, giving an average speed of 62 m.p.h.
The speed through the last section from Saulieu was reduced by preparations to film the petrol stop of the second car at Arnay and the average taken over the section from Sens to Saulieu was even better, with a distance of 91.5 miles covered in 87 minutes at an average of 63.1 m.p.h. The second car covered the stretch Fontainebleau to Avallon, 99.6 miles, in 98 minutes, averaging 61 m.p.h.
My car, which was the one used for The Autocar Road Test, had been run in the morning with head and side-screens erected but the sidescreen on the driver's side had been omitted. At the lunch stop at Chagny, this screen was put into place and the complete enclosure of the car seemed to have an appreciable effect on speed. We are accustomed to the fact that closed cars are faster than open ones, but it looks as though the eddies caused by the absence of sidescreens may also have a measurable effect.
WEEK-END
on Skis - and TD's:continued

At all events, the car which had covered several flying kilometres in the morning in times between 29 and 30 sec now proved capable, heavily laden as it was with photographers' equipment, of spacing the kilometre posts at intervals of less than 29 Sec, and covered one level stretch past an aerodrome in 28.4 sec, giving an average speed of 78.8 m.p.h.
As darkness fell there were signs that fog might cause further delays, so the route was switched through the Rhône valley over the high ground descending via Culoz to Aix-les-Bains. The lovely Lac du Bourget, which Balzac called "blue as no other in the world", was to us simply a darker patch in the surrounding night as we sped through the swerves of the Corniche. We stopped for dinner at Albertville and then started the long ascent from the railhead at Bourg St. Maurice to Val d'lsére, where we arrived at midnight. This section of the road rises 6,050 ft through a series of gorges and sharply ascending mountain roads and it was here on the snow and ice that the road holding qualities of the new Midget were appreciated to the full. By this time both crews were feeling tired, but the eager response and safe handling of the little cars made a pleasure of the difficult stretch, which could have been an ordeal in a less road-worthy car.
During the two days at Val d'lsére the weather was magnificent and we had the satisfaction of seeing the British team at the top of the combined results for downhill and slalom races. Two London sisters, Sheena and Vora Mackintosh, came first and second in the ladies' combined results and Hilary Laing was third. In the men's event John Boyagis, a young Briton who had the good fortune to be at school in Switzerland during the war, easily won the slalom. Count d'Ursel of Belgium returned such a magnificent time in the downhill race, flashing across the finishing line at about 60 m.p.h., that he won the cup for the best combined result. However, with Britons second, third and fourth, the team award was secured.
The Lowlander Championship is open only to residents in countries without mountains suitable for skiing, such as Britain, Belgium, Holland and Denmark, and entrants must not have skied for more than 60 days in the previous winter. These qualifications apply to several competitions throughout the season, and give a chance to



Six thousand feet up, on the approaches of the Col d'Iseran, lies Val d'Isére, one of the highest resorts in France. The funicular takes skiers up another 2,400 ft to the Tète de Solaise, from which a series of runs leads down to the village.


Although the Col d'Iseran is closed by snow from October until July, the road is kept open as far as Val d'Isére for the winter sports season.


the genuine holiday skier to take part in competitions with some hope of success. Val d'Isére, as one of the highest French resorts, lying at 6,000ft at the foot of the Col d'Iseran, is assured of snow until the end of April. One funicular and two ski lifts are available and another funicular is in the course of construction. Hotel, charges are moderate and skis can be hired for about £1 a week. Top quality skiing clothes cost from half to two-thirds of the prices now ruling in the West End
of London and first-class skis, which in Switzerland would now cost the equivalent of £20, can be bought for about £12 in French currency.
The need to conserve their holiday currency allowance has forced many British winter sports enthusiasts to buy their kit in England before they leave, but it is to be feared that they do not always receive the best advice, to judge by the pained expression worn by one 14-stone enthusiast, who was being told by his instructor that he had been sold a pair of lady's skis. Our two photographers, seeing the magic of the Alps in winter for the first time, realized at once why those who have once taken up skiing never again worry about a summer holiday, if only they can get away for a few days in the winter, and soon launched themselves on the perilous slopes. Bernard Till took the whole thing in his stride and indeed it must have been a tame affair to him, after filming bombing raids on Germany, operating as photographer with the Maquis, and always seeking excitement. Klementaski adopted a more cautious approach, but enjoyed himself immensely.
What with the British victories and the presence of a number of fellow motoring enthusiasts who were learning the mysteries of the skiing art, there was quite a party on the Sunday night. The frosty air and mountain liquors work powerfully upon those who normally partake but sparingly of strong waters and it has to be admitted that when the time came to rise for an early start on the Monday morning two members of the M.G. party were a with that kind of full, imperial hangover, which is liable to develop into a complete fallover unless very great care is exercised when tying up the shoelaces. It should not be inferred from this that the title of this narrative must now be changed to " SKIS AND D.T.s," but the point is made because in the course of the long day's run from the Italian frontier right up to Dunkirk, the M.G.s earned our respect and gratitude as comfortable long-distance cars. We started just before 8 a.m. as the first rays of the sun were setting the mountains aflame and the descent from Bourg to Chambéry was taken very gently. It is usually more difficult to descend than to ascend on snow or ice, and daylight revealed dizzy precipices over the unprotected roadside which had been mercifully hidden by darkness on the upward journey. Only 17 miles were covered in the
first hour and the second hour was little faster. Thereafter the speed improved, and the two cars kept together in convoy right across France. There were numerous stops for photographs and three stops for petrol, and we found time to dine off sole cooked in champagne at Rheims before embarking on the rough roads across the old battlefields to Dunkirk. The two cars had not followed exactly in each other's tracks, but by a strange coincidence, when they drew alongside the night ferry boat, both their trip indicators showed exactly 651.4 miles for the day's motoring. Checks on both cars against kilometre posts had shown an error of 3 per cent in the mileage recorders at the cruising speeds at which we were running and the correct mileage for the day was therefore 632.
It usually happens that on a trip of this length one changes drivers from time to time, but in this case I drove the whole distance single-handed, thus covering 1,000 kilometres in the day, and so I was in a position to speak with some appreciation of the comfort, driving ease, and general handiness of the Midget in long hours at fairly high speeds.
The two cars were among the earliest of new type to be made and in the course of the week-end we encountered various minor difficulties, including some electrical troubles and a broken oil pipe--troubles of a kind which so often happen on the first samples of a new model--but they did not prevent our completing the run to schedule. The TD Midget undoubtedly represents a great advance over earlier models in steering, braking, road holding and riding comfort. Despite the extra weight entailed by the new amenities, the car is obviously able to maintain high averages for long distances with minimum fatigue to the occupants.
The axle ratio of 5.125 to 1 confers unusual top gear flexibility and scarcely any pinking was experienced even on French petrol. This will probably enhance the appeal in the American market, but it means that third gear, with its comfortable maximum of about 50 m.p.h., is little used except when accelerating or climbing steep hills. European users who expect to drive fast for long distances will probably be happier with the alternative axle ratio Of 4.55 to 1 and should find it worth while to specify the optional double hydraulic spring dampers for bad roads. Over the whole trip, fuel consumption on one car worked out at 24½ m.p.g. and the other showed approximately 23 m.p.g.

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