A Maiden Marlin on the Edinburgh by Tony Branson
My first trial experiences were back in the early seventies as a bouncer in a blown MG TC. I think I have been trying to repeat the sensations ever since, the roar of the exhaust, the freezing wind in the face and the scrape of Range Rover tyres against the rear wheel arches. I tried driving a soft top Morris Minor but it seemed to break all too easily and what’s more my passenger didn’t like having the hood down. I then acquired my first DAF principally to find out how it worked. I have had a lot of trials fun in DAFs and climbed all the MCC hills although not necessarily on the same trial and I do have a mantelpiece full of medals, two of them gold, but the nearest I got to a growling exhaust was Tom Waits on the tape deck and, as for wind in the face, having the window open isn’t quite the same. The DAF’s demise was with a broken diff after climbing Abrahams on the ’97 Chase Clouds.
In June last year I bought an unfinished project, a Marlin short wheelbase Roadster. I later discovered that this had been started in Scotland in I984 by a man of the Dexion school of drilling – if you drill enough holes of variable size around the area in question something will match up. The second owner lived in Morpeth and had spent a few years being intimidated by the task. I took my friend and now wearer of the variomatic mantle, Derek Reynolds, along to help strike a deal. Derek has worked as a market trader and has the knack of persuading people to sell him things for a lot less than they originally wanted and still end up feeling he has done them a great favour. Derek did his magic and I ended up the proud owner of a potential Marlin. All the bodywork was in place, also a 1275cc engine and transmission. The wiring, steering, seats and trim were still to do, not to forget the business of registration. All this before the main task of making it trialworthy. The announcement of a change in the procedure for Kit Car registration, starting in July, was a tremendous spur to action. This change means getting “single vehicle approval” with a sort of super MOT costing £200 and no chance of retaining the donor vehicle number. The new rules have now been postponed until January I998.
I found some suitable holes in the steering column mountings and fathomed out the mysteries of the wiring loom, without much in the way of smoke or sparks, and the car made its first moves under its own power early in June. I soon discovered that the brake cylinders, which had not seen fluid for some, time were seized. Fortunately the hand brake was effective. I reckoned that a good firm emergency stop might free them. This worked up to a point in that the right offside wheel locked. This would not have been a problem if the nut holding steering wheel on had been in place. It wasn’t and in order to push really hard on the brake I pulled really hard on the wheel and it came off somewhat limiting my ability to correct the swerve to the right. Application of the handbrake left me, the Marlin and the tree shaken but undamaged. The wheel cylinders freed off in a somewhat less dramatic fashion but in doing this I discovered that the rear offside wheel moved in and out by about half an inch as the bearing was loose on the halfshaft. Despite heat, swearing and breaking a substantial puller I failed to remove the hub from the shaft, I decided that it probably wouldn’t matter for the DVLC inspection which I had booked but would have to be sorted for the MOT.
My first trip on the road was to the inspection in Newcastle. It ran reasonably well apart from some ominous clonks from the right rear hub. The inspection was made much easier by the presence of my son who had come along for the ride. It turned out that he was at college with the inspector’s daughter and everything was plain sailing from then. However the wheels of bureaucracy run slow and it was some weeks before I heard that I could retain the donor vehicle number.
In the meantime Jonathan Toulmin had kindly offered to lend me his spare axle and as I was in the area for the Cropredy festival I could pick it up. I also saw an advert in Restart for a trials kit for Marlin offered for sale by Neil Denham. It took me sometime to get in touch with him as he had moved but as luck would have it to within 20 miles of me. I soon became the proud owner of a van back axle, I4 inch wheels and a sump guard.
The MOT was the most unusual I have participated in. The garage had just received a new disc for their emission measuring computer and seemed to be having no end of trouble getting it to work. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that they didn’t need to use it for a vehicle registered in I973. After about an hour they tested the brakes, put the car up on the ramps and jiggled the suspension and gave me a certificate. They never looked at the lights or wipers, they worked any way so I’m not complaining. Trials preparation consisted of fitting the van axle, disc brakes, I4 inch wheels and the sumpguard. I also wound the torsion bars up a bit. Writing that was a lot easier and quicker than the work it describes. I made a new bracket to mount the spare wheel. I had originally planned on taking two but I was a little worried about the strength of the glassfibre rear body. Anyhow I also discovered that my sixth wheel had a low profile tyre fitted. I had considered fitting the van rear springs but felt that this was unnecessary since I didn’t have much weight in the back. This proved to be a mistake.
The journey to the start of a trial is often as exciting as the event itself. This time was no exception. I had arranged to meet Derek for lunch at the first Little Chef south of Scotch corner. I had given him a rather early ETA as he is usually a little extravagant with time. However by the time I had collected my trailer, which had been having brakes fitted, loaded it and collected my son from college in Newcastle it looked like it was going to be me that was late. Derek is nothing if not reliable and rang us on the AI to say that he had a blocked fuel line and a leaking radiator and would catch us up somewhere en route. We had a slow journey to Whaley Bridge where I had arranged to leave the trailer. We unloaded the Marlin and stuffed it full of all the things we thought we needed and set out for my mother’s. This was the longest journey the Marlin had ever done and I was a little disappointed at its lack of power caused in part by an intermittent misfire. It also boiled on the last hill on the M42 but we arrived at my mother’s house only 3 hours later than intended. We started our meal and Derek and Fred arrived with fearsome tales of rushing round Newcastle having radiators fixed, fuel lines unblocked and Derek trying to persuade someone to fit a 13″ tyre onto a I4″ rim. The good news was that the Volvo had run faultlessly all the way down.
After food and some sleep I did some minor adjustments to the plug leads, topped up the oil and water and filled Hal with paracetamol as he was now suffering with the ‘flu. We had an easy trip to Tewkesbury, announced our change of vehicle and succeeded in persuading the Scrutineers that this was a suitable vehicle to compete in the trial. I remained to be convinced and was sure that it would refuse to leave the start line at each section. Derek left a minute before us and so I kept up a steady rate hoping to catch him up before Appleby Parva. Little did I know that he was still driving around the Strensham services looking for the way out when we were on the road to Pershore.
We were reunited at Appleby and made it together to breakfast at Hatton. All too soon were at the foot of Clough Wood. The starter was being a little intermittent but otherwise all was well. Last year this proved to be the end of Derek and Fred’s trial when the camshaft turned and the distributor didn’t, shearing its drive shaft. I also bent the steering on the DAF acquiring about 2″ of toe out. We continued, converting the front tyres to slicks before we got home.
Startline, in gear, remember handbrake (never used it in the DAF) “When you’re ready” and we are away. Lots of power quite a bit of wheelspin, but controllable. Horrendous noises from underneath, sumpguard hitting rocks, engine hitting sumpguard maybe even sumpguard hitting engine back, who knows? Before we know it is “Section Ends”.
I wish I knew why it always – all right nearly always – starts to drizzle when I approach Litton Slack, except when I’ve marshalled there when a minor heat wave occurs. This year the drizzle started shortly after leaving Clough Wood and by the time we reached Litton had rendered any chance we might have had of getting anywhere in a car with no weight in the back and road type tyre pressures slightly less than zero. We saw a spirited attempt by Peter and Caroline Hart in a Marlin, failing only on the final bend. Derek aided by Fred’s bouncing nearly reached the AA boards. We made it to the start line but nothing interesting happened after that. Excelsior proved no great problem, I think the natural endorphins caused sufficient deafness to the noises from below.
Some years ago on the Sunday after an Edinburgh I went and walked up Corkscrew and since then I’ve always wanted to drive up it. My wishes didn’t seem to include a restart and, if excitement is characterised by the “fight or flight reaction”, as we approached my enthusiasm seemed to be rapidly changing from fight to flight. Unfortunately I couldn’t believe I could get the Marlin to the top. I was wrong in this respect. I also knew I wouldn’t be able to get it off the restart, wrong again. There was a third possibility I hadn’t considered, overunning the line. We left the start at some speed and accelerated round the corner. Hal suggested going high into the box which I did but then reverted into DAF driver mode and stuck my left foot hard on the leftmost pedal, which I believed to be the brake and kept the engine running with my right on the accelerator. I didn’t even take my hand off the wheel to use the handbrake. We were well out of the box before I got my self sorted out and used the proper pedals and levers. We restarted and continued to the top with the usual crunches and groans.
On the way to Old Longhill I noticed the long remembered sound of tyre on wheel arch. Great, I thought “all my memories revisited”. Then I thought “I don’t have Range Rover tyres”. We stopped at the (toilets on left) (locked by the way) and I then noticed that the transmission tunnel had developed a speed hump at the back where the rear UJ had been doing a bit of part time panel beating. Also I could see that the rear springs had become concave down instead of up and we now had rubber rear suspension (the bump stops) but I suppose what was good enough for Issigonis and Moulton would be OK for us.
The next challenge was Bamford. We were early in the field and there was little delay. Derek set out before us and the message came back that he had stopped. There seemed to be an endless delay and talk of Land Rovers suggesting that he might have broken something. It turned out that he had failed higher than ever before with clutch slip due to low revs and had difficulty in reversing down. I told him he should have used the low ratio setting.
Our turn came and I left the start line in a flurry of wheelspin. Once round the corner I put the pedal to the metal. I should perhaps mention at this point that despite his ‘flu Hal had done a little tweak at the Marquis removing the carpet on the drivers side. The extra power rocketed us to the top. The only problems were keeping my foot on the pedal and the fillings in my teeth. This was the first time I have gone up Bamford without running short of power since the days of the blown T type.
At the top, once we had calmed down, Hal got out and looked under the car. He said that there was something rather shiny at the back that was bent. I asked him whether it was leaking petrol and he said it wasn’t so we continued to Haggside. This we cleared without problems until out of the section when we were balked by a slow moving Volvo, which caused us to boil. However Derek offered us some water at the top which made up for it. At this stage we realised that both the Marlin and the Volvo could get Bronze awards, a first for each of us.
I’m sorry but I can’t remember anything about Elmore except that we cleaned it. The Deep Rake special test was performed with more attention to detail than time. Over the years I think I have got the knack of the Putwell 2 restart and after reminding myself that the Marlin had 3 pedals and a handbrake, which by now was almost vertical when on, I think we acquitted ourselves adequately.
Calton this year didn’t have the bottomless ruts into which in years gone by Triples have disappeared and we had a pleasant romp to the top. Wary of final sections we took Over Wheal with restrained caution and then parked to watch Derek. We also saw a Peugeot 205 who treated the section as a rally stage. Thence to Buxton for great celebrations with both Derek and I claiming Bronzes.
So what are my feelings on changing from the DAF to the Marlin? Both provide challenges in their own way. The Marlin is tremendous fun to drive although there is a lot of development work to do, probably as much on the driver as the car. There was enough room in the DAF to bring even the spare kitchen sink while in the Marlin we couldn’t even take the sink tidy.