The South West is not a particularly distinguished part of the country from a motoring point of view. No leading manufacturer has set up his production line in the area; no major racing circuit is to be found there. Castle Combe and Thruxton have lacked the capital investment lavished on circuits such as Silverstone and Brands Hatch, whilst Davidstow, lbsley and Blandford have all died after post war efforts to make use of disused airfields.
It is in the matter of trials that the area can claim to be pre-eminent. Two of the three MCC classic trials, the Lands End and the Exeter, pass through the territory, and it is the sport of trialling which was the Centre’s first essay into the competition world and which has provided a thread of continuity throughout its life.
The South Western Centre was officially inaugurated at a meeting held at the Weston Hotel, Bath, on October 7th 1936. Cecil Kimber took the chair and the following were elected to office. Chairman – J.H. Spencer, Secretary – John Siddall, Treasurer – Eddy Goodenough, Committee – R.A. Macdermid, F Spence, J. Abbott, V.G.K.Walters, Joe WaIler, Miss Stewart Black.
In the years that have since elapsed, some of these names have become firmly established in the annals of South Western Centre history. Eddy Goodenough held the treasurer’s post until 1962, during which time he became well known as an outstanding trials driver, first in his J2 and subsequently in a supercharged PB, both bearing the registration number AHT 1. PA. Macdermid was one of the top trials drivers of his day, being a Cream Cracker team member and the first to fit a Centric blower to a P-type. His cars were prepared in Bristol by Morgan Marshall, who was active in MG Car Club affairs until the early 1980s and who, perhaps more so than anyone, was responsible for the survival of so many of the 18/80s which we see today. By 1939 “Mac” was in the Chair Joe Wailer and Vic Walters were both active trials drivers and to this day the Centre committee has maintained this stance of having active competitors on its strength. Miss Stewart-Black had her own little niche in Club history, as she was the first lady to serve on an MG Car Club committee.
At that inaugural meeting Cecil Kimber personally offered a trophy to the Centre for competition at their principal event. This of course was the Kimber Trophy Trial held on Boxing Day 1936 and with only a few exceptions most years since then. The secretary of the meeting for that first event was JES. (Jesus) Jones, another of those illustrious Cream Cracker team members, and the winner was committee member Joe WaIler in his PB.
Until the outbreak of war in 1939 trials continued to be the Centre’s main sporting activity The early post war years, however, saw major changes in trials car design and with the increasing popularity of specialised trials cars, MGs tended to be pushed into the background. In spite of this the Kimber Trial, and alongside it the Centre’s Salisbury and Mendip Trials, saw the prewar MG continuing to enjoy success. Notable amongst those successful drivers were Tony Coles (PB), Steve Dear (PB), Charles Shepstone (KI), Roy Newton (J2), Dudley Sterry, (J2 Special), Alan Grassam (PB) and Gerald Burridge (PB). Yes, the Great Man would be pleased to see his cars winning his trophy 60 years on. Let it not be thought success in this event depended on driving a pre-war car.
Mention should be made of the achievements of Jim Loveday who first won the trophy in 1971 and, most recently, in 1997 in his Midget. Another determined competitor over many years in his TC is Peter Jones, who after many years of success in the MCC trials finally laid his hands on the Kimber Trophy in 1986. To this day the Kimber Trial continues to be a part of the South Western Centre calendar but sadly does not enjoy the level of support of bygone years. For a long time now the event has been run by Bruce Weston, who continues to show undiminished enthusiasm for the preservation of this important part of Centre history In 1987, Alan Grassam was responsible for the creation of the Kimber Classic Trial which has proved a popular event and which, remarkably attracts a far greater number of prewar MGs than post war cars.
The early pre-war days of the Centre also saw the establishment of social activities and semi-sporting events to satisfy the demands of owners of the VA, SA and WA MGs. 1937 saw the election of Terry Wiltshire to the Centre Committee and for many of the post war years until his retirement in the 1970s, he held the position of Centre Chairman. Terry held an MG agency and it was jokingly said that he never actually owned an MG himself.
In 1938 the Centre spread its wings and expanded its competition programme to include an event called the Skurrays Scramble in the Swindon area. This was a series of special tests with timed road sections in between. The event attracted so much attention that over 1,000 spectators turned out to watch the last test. So many climbed onto a building to get a better view that the roof collapsed. Proceedings were drawn to a hurried close!
It is the Centre’s boast that we started up as soon as anyone after the war. The first committee meeting was on the 28th April 1947 with Terry Wiltshire in the chair, John Siddall and Eddy Goodenough continuing as secretary and treasurer respectively. During those early post war years several noteworthy members joined the committee who were to guide the Centre through to the 1960s. The main names that spring to mind are Gilbert Best, who trialled a highly modified PB, Charles Toomer, Ken Faire, Michael Harper and Max and Nell Dunscombe. Max and Nell served as treasurer and secretary for many years.
Trialling, autotests and rallying continued as the major events in the 1950s and 1960s. The Weston Rally a road rally grew to become a very large scale event, but rallies being forced onto special stages, and the average club member not wishing to damage his car – saw the demise of this rally in 1962. As a substitute for rallying, off-road sites for gymkhanas and autotests were found, notable amongst these were Kingwell Hall, Chiseldon, Babdown, Leigh Delamere and Charmy Down. Ostensibly non-damaging, they proved popular venues and, without the need for a competition licence, normally attracted good entries.
It was not until the early sixties that the Centre ran a speed event, the first of which was a sprint at Castle Combe, and by 1967 this event had become a full race meeting. Sadly this meeting was a casualty of planning restrictions which reduced the number of events being run at this circuit. To offset this loss the use of Wiscombe Hill was secured in the early ‘seventies, and for nearly 30 years this speed event has been run under the leadership of Andrew Owst, becoming, as a consequence of its great popularity the Centre’s flagship event. To this day, now ably run by the ever enthusiastic Bruce Weston, the Wiscombe event continues to be the SW Centre’s main competitive event. To satisfy the great demand for speed events, the use of Colerne Airfield was secured and with Bruce Morgan at the helm, was another very popular speed event but sadly had to be discontinued in 2010 due to the loss of the venue.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s concern was mounting in high places at the increasing number of other makes of car participating in Centre events. Gradually the balance was redressed and with a new generation of MG enthusiasts taking charge of the Centre, amongst them Steve Dear, Jim Tyler and Mike Hawke, MGs were once again to the fore. Fortunately there were those chaps who continued running their MGs, including Morgan Marshall (with his 18/80s), Don Bishop (PA), Tony Woodward (TC) F. Bruce-White (M) Geoff Dear (TF & MGA), Aif Morrish (PB), Roy Ashford (MGA, MGB, Midget), and Mike Reid.
With Jeff Sparrowe, Mike drove his MGA in the 1957 Mille Miglia and in the subsequent 25 years covered some 425,000 miles before taking it back to the first retrospective Mille Miglia in 1982. More remarkable was the fact that Mike and Jeff were the only team to actually own, and be driving, the car that they had used all those years previously. Can this be the most meritorious motoring achievement by a private Centre member since the war?
Other noteworthy enthusiasts who played a major part in Centre life were BCV8 Championship drivers Terry Osborne and David Franklin, stalwarts Barry Foster, Chris Herod, Chris Lewis and Dave Brown.
By the 1970s new faces appeared on the Centre Committee: John Bird, Bruce Weston, Andrew Owst, Edward Kirkland, Peter Jones and Bruce Morgan, who for their sins were all actively involved in Centre affairs over thirty years on. The emphasis was now very much back on MGs. We were extremely fortunate that younger members, John Delafield, David Mothersdill, and John Pittard subsequently joined the committee taking up the positions of Competition Secretary, Treasurer, and Awards Secretary respectively, positions they have held for many years now. Russ Morgan, son of Bruce, also assisted in the SW Centre Drivers Championship by devising a handicap scoring system which is still being used. More recently (in relative terms!) long time T type enthusiast Dave Coppock moved into the area and immediately joined the committee as well as Neil Lock and Richard Lucking. As from the Annual General Meeting held in March 2014 the committee consists of Jim Lott (Chairman), Ian Beningfield, Dave Coppock, John Delafield, Neil Lock, Richard Lucking, David Mothersdill, Andrew Owst and Bruce Weston.
A history of the Centre would not be complete without the contributions made by members living in the more far-flung locations. The Weymouth area has always been a lively part of the Centre and members who have been to the Dorset Day Out and Dorset Weekend will bear testament to this. Without the contributions of the Sibleys, the Lakes and the Moxhams these events would not have happened. The northern reaches of the Centre, in particular the Wye Valley has been well looked after by the likes of the Davies, the Chapmans and the Lockleys, whose events continue to attract good support.
As we now move forward in the 21st century there are inevitably changes in the centre and what members expect. There are still members interested in competitive events including second generation members such as Jeremy Hawke entering his late Father’s MGs (K3 and J2), as well as members entering more recent MGs including the MGF and later MGTF. Our current Chairman Jim Lott actively competes in his late 1980s MG Metros.
This article was written originally for the Main Club’s Anniversary Year Book by Edward Kirkland.