by Dennis Greenslade
VW Specialist, 34 year old Nigel Allen, is another Cornishman to win the prestigious Crackington Cup. He is married to Scottish born Fiona, who has lived in Cornwall from the age of four months, and they have “two future trials drivers”, Scott aged 11 and Craig aged 9. Nigel who is an expert welder was originally involved with car restorations or repairing crashed cars, prior to concentrating on fibreglass fabrication. It was the building of a kit car from scratch using a VW Beetle chassis that led him to concentrate most of his activities with Volkswagens. Indeed by the age of 15 there were no less than three Beetles parked in his parents garden! His skills in dealing with fibreglass were developed when building an all fibreglass body Rochdale using on that occasion a Ford Popular chassis.
Whilst Nigel has always had a passing interest in motor sport it was involvement in the maintenance of Graham Brasier’s 1303 trial’s prepared Beetle that prompted him to build his own car to compete in classic reliability trials. However the development of his Crackington Cup winning car was still some eight years away when Nigel first navigated for Graham on the Camel Classic. They had a very poor result as the car was really set up for production car trials, Graham having campaigned the 2005cc Type 1 single carburettored engine Beetle in the RAC production car trials championship. Some alterations were required – but -precisely what ?There was a steep learning curve with constant alterations being made, particularly to the suspension. Ultimately after an indifferent result following a trial in the Westcountry the “bull was taken by the horns” and a 1976cc twin carburettored Type 4 engine was installed. That car went on to win a Triple and the MCC’s Baddeley Award in I998. Also, during this period and prior to competing himself, Nigel was maintaining my own Crackington Cup and multiple triple award winning Beetle. Evidence, for sure, that when he built his own Volkswagen that success was virtually assured.
This commenced when he bought an ex-customer’s 1969 1300 Beetle for £400. It was completely stripped with a body off restoration and altered to double jointed rear suspension to provide additional ground clearance. Nigel agrees with me that whether such a conversion provides additional grip is an argumentative point – I have tended to prefer the swing axle arrangement but Giles, whose Beetle Nigel also prepares and which has also won a triple award now intends to stay with the double jointed set up. Modifications were also made to the front suspension – dropping the wheel spindles thereby raising the car but still retaining suppleness – an idea which he readily admits he copied from ex Beetle driver lan Facey. Because Nigel intends to principally compete in class 6 he fitted a 1976cc type 4 engine – “bullet proof plus reliability” – to give Graham Brasier and John Robilliard a run for their money.
The only significant motor sport event, other than classic trials in which Nigel has competed was when he drove my 1947 Riley Bertone in the classic tour of Ireland in I998. Whilst we thoroughly enjoyed this week long regularity rally we did not achieve a good result – not due to Nigel’s driving, which was creditable, but to my navigation which on this occasion was not! Apart from that one off all Nigel’s events have been involved with the ACTC or the ASWMC championships which initially he did not take too seriously, his best result being an outright win on the 1999 Bodmin trial.
However the year 2000 was to change everything, He decided to chase both the ACTC and ASWMC championships. He mentioned that work commitments did not enable him to compete on North Devon Motor Club’s Tarka trial or Stroud and District Motor Club’s Ebworth otherwise he would have been chasing eventual winner Giles Greenslade for the ASWMC championship – Nigel eventually ended in a commendable third place.
The ACTC championship began really well. First time out on the Clee Hills, which he found easy, he gained a class win, beating seasoned campaigners like, Terry Ball, John Sargeant and lan Bates. On NDMC’s Exmoor he experienced problems on the restart line on the superb Jenny Wren section, later discovered to be caused by a float needle, but continued and still won the class. The restart just happened to be marshalled by ubiquitous Angus Stewart – my very own bete noir!! A class win on the ASWMC qualifying and local Chairman’s Trial was followed by another on the Kyrle. Nigel agreed that much of the requirement for success on the Kyrle is related to power – “an excellent day he concedes”. And so prior to the season’s break Nigel was already in the top three for the Crackington Cup and he had not competed on either the Exeter or Land’s End.
At commencement in September he quickly established his determination with a class win on the Taw and Torridge and the Exmoor Clouds, albeit with no opposition on the latter upon which he comments ” that the route card was poor, the very rough sections happen to suit a Beetle and that he was disappointed that Port Lane was reserved only for class 8″.
With five class wins under his belt and with the best eight scores counting on a depleted event championship he was in a very strong position to win the coveted trophy. Then came the Tamar when he was beaten by the 1500ce Beetle driven by Neil Allen (no relation), Nigel had by this time further raised the rear suspension of his own car. With hindsight he concedes that it was raised too high and on the Zig Zag section the left hand rear wheel dropped into a rut pulling out the driveshaft on the second hairpin. It was fixed, Nigel still gaining second in class – but Golf driver, David Haizelden, was waiting in the wings to pounce for his second Crackington Cup win.
No competition meant a class win on the all night and day Hardy but, on the Allen, Nigel again dropped to second in class being beaten by the 1835cc Type 1 engined Beetle of Mike Hobbs, who got away on the Guys Hill restart. Nigel tried 6500rpm, which didn’t work – was the pressure of the championship now getting to him ? David Haizelden, Bill Bennett and Giles Greenslade were now piling on the pressure all with class wins on the previous two events.
Nigel admits that he thought that he might have “blown it’ and contested the final round, the Camel Classic as “going out for a good days fun”‘. But as Giles has stated in the January 2001 “Championship Chat’ – “what a difference a day makes”. Nigel won the trial outright (albeit on index of performance), came third overall on points lost, a class win and with it the Crackington Cup. Need I say more ? The answer is yes, to provide a comprehensive profile of our 2000 champion, Apart from the aforementioned he has prepared and rebuilt Graham Brasier’s Okrassa specification Beetle in which Graham and I came I6th overall and won our class by more than two hours in the 2300 kilometre Millennium Monte Carlo Rally. In addition he has provided suspension modifications for Beetle drivers, Denis Johns, Trevor Johns and Hans Viertel.
He does not intend to seriously contest the ACTC Championship for 200I but might make an attempt to win “for fun”, a triple award in 2002. In the future apart from continuing in classic reliability trials Nigel would like to consider historic special stage rallying and maybe would consider entering class 8 in a Volkswagen based machine. In his nightmares he evens considers a class 8 Reliant!!
by Julia Browne
The Pouncy League was won last season by Michael Crocker and Trevor Griffiths on their Yamaha XS650 wasp outfit. My mission today was to try to find out something about the new winners and what it takes to get there…
Mike’s dad had a 350 Ariel, and a Matchless, and his grandad was of the same mindset. It was probably inevitable that the young Mike Crocker, starting on a bicycle, like many of us, aged four, would come to enjoy his motorcycles. At eighteen, Mike had an accident on his road bike and smashed his patella. Wisely, the doctors didn’t put him in plaster, opting instead to strap him into a crepe bandage, leaving him with some flexibility in the damaged joint, and the injury appeared to heal well. Although he didn’t ride for the next two years he did eventually return on a DT175 and rode several trials, culminating with a class win at the Neil Westcott Memorial Trial.
So why does a chap make the step from a not unsuccessful solo career into wrestling with a damned great outfit? For Mike Crocker it was that old knee injury indicating a small change of direction. He and his brother-in-law, John Hallett, borrowed Andy Seward’s Suzuki outfit and had a test ride. Although the test-ride wasn’t an unqualified success Mike was inspired to acquire a Yamaha XT500 and weld a Wasp chair onto it. The result was a tad unwieldy but Mike used it on a Crackington trial and had it mastered after about twelve months. Around this time he bought the Norton Wasp that Courtney Yandle now rides, and campaigned for another twelve months or so with a different passenger.
One day he saw the XS650 Wasp being presented to prospective purchasers, with Trevor Griffiths on the scene. Liking the look of the outfit and there being some doubt about whether it was actually being bought, Mike spoke to Trevor about it, saying that if it WAS for sale, it was exactly what he wanted. And he could do with a passenger, too. Well, Mike needed the outfit and a passenger, and Trevor needed a driver; a deal was done and history began to be made.
Their first trial was Littery Woods near Lifton; 3 laps of a single venue circuit of ten sections and, rather depressingly, the Wasp was behaving badly enough that they failed to climb some of the sections at all. Work on the suspension and carburation was called for – eventually having to replace both carbs (and we all know that feeling when equipment is needed and you just have to take a deep breath and pay for it!). This made some improvement and their next event was the Westcott, but now in store were some electrical problems and a run of DNFs. Changing the contact breaker for electronic ignition helped and in the second year things started to come together. The Crocker/Griffiths partnership clicked and putting his trust in a fearless Chair Man, with a machine that responded well, Mike was able to attack the sections in the manner we all know so well. Mike remembers roaring past solos on a twisty A road on one occasion, which ably demonstrates his confidence in the outfit! They rode ten trials that year, things improving and consolidating all the while.
2000 was the partnership’s third year, and Mike rode as many events as possible in order to decide which were good ones and which were less so. As they moved up the Pouncy League table they suddenly realised they were in with a shout and a final push saw them take the lead. The Neil Westcott Memorial Trial was their last event of the year, the hard-worked XS engine finishing in a cloud of blue smoke and asking for a rebuild. This has just been finished, bottom to top and Mike and Trevor are ready to attack once more.
Mike is very keen on preventative maintenance – as he said, punctures and random breakages apart, you don’t want to be doing your routine maintenance on the roadside and time spent in the garage is well spent. After each event, Trevor gets the job of washing the bike on a Monday afternoon and in return Mike cleans his gear. Then on the Wednesday they get together and spend a few hours dropping all three wheels out and grease the bearings, oil all the cables, drain the carbs and replace anything that looks a bit creaky. He once had a chain snap on a Crackington trial and it took the crankcase with it: now he uses a very heavy duty chain which will usually last all season. Rear tyres are good for two events – not three, as bitter experience once proved. The aftercare routine means that he can prepare for a Lands End in the same length of time as it takes to prepare for a Taw & Torridge.
Mike clearly gets immense enjoyment from trialling; I have seen him shin deep in mud at the end of a section, doggedly repairing a puncture, and still grinning and waving us on past when we stopped to see if he needed a hand. So how many heads and what sort of attitude do you need to be a trials champion? I still don’t know. Michael Crocker has only the one head, and he’s nothing like the antagonistic Jean-Louis Schlesser of Paris-Dakar infamy. Maybe ability and determination are all you need. I might never know…