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Firstly, the point has to be made that classic trials are not just for classic cars although many do take part. Classic trials are for all sorts of cars and motorbikes. What is "classic" about classic trials is the format of the events.

Today’s classic trials reflect the style that was prevalent in the 30’s where works teams from Ford, Austin, Singer, MG and others battled it out for advertising honours over long distances and the steep muddy slopes of the country. The route is used primarily to get from one slope to the next and the timing is used mainly to keep the whole event on some sort of schedule rather than as a way of penalising competitors. Many of the observed sections, which is the name given to the muddy slopes on which one’s performance is observed are the same ones which were used at that time and are still as capable of challenging modern vehicles as they were then. 

The average modern classic trial runs to about 70-100 miles on roads in between the observed sections. There are usually 14-18 Sections to each event with a variety of different surfaces to test your skills. The events are scored by markers by the side of the section, numbered from 12 at the bottom down to 1 at the top. Marks are scored by getting the front wheels past the marker. At the end of the day the driver with the lowest score is the winner. Sometimes sections will include a stop & restart test. If you remember the trauma of the hill start when you were learning to drive, this gives you some idea of this test, but now you are asked to do the same on a 1 in 4 hill on thick mud or greasy rock, without the car rolling back so much as an inch. In addition there is usually a tie deciding speed test to resolve competition between drivers who have scored the same number of penalties. Each year there are about 20-25 of these trials each organised by one of the member clubs that comprise The Association of Classic Trials Clubs (ACTC). Numbers are normally limited to between 60 and 100 competitors. About 16 of the events make up the ACTC annual championship, the two main awards in this being the ‘Wheelspin Trophy’ with points awarded for overall position and the ‘Crackington Cup’ with points awarded based on position in class.

In addition to the ‘one day’ events described above are the three Motor Cycling Club (MCC) classics. The basic format is similar but with a number of significant differences: the penalties are not graded from 12 to 1, each section is either "cleaned" or "failed"; the road mileage may be anything up to 450 miles with several sections to be tackled at night; the events being run over Friday nights and Saturdays with a typical starting time being midnight and an expected finish of 5.00pm the following day. Whereas most ‘one day’ trials have a history of less than fifty years, the MCC classics date back to before the 1st World War and are still run over substantially the same routes. Awards are based on a simple system of a ‘Gold’ for climbing all the hills, a ‘Silver’ for failing one, and a ‘Bronze’ for failing two. Those gaining a ‘Gold’ in all three events in a season receive a ‘Triple’ - the triallist’s ultimate award.

One of the main appeals of the sport is that it can be competitive on what ever level you prefer. Because the events are run over the same or very similar courses every year, the driver who does not aspire to outright victory can indulge in his or her own private battle with himself rather in the manner of reducing one’s golf handicap. I did not climb this one last year.... I can never get round that corner... I climbed that one for the first time this year.... All the observed sections have names which makes they easy to identify in the bar afterwards and to follow a sense of history. Books on pre war motorsport talk with fascination about Simms, Beggars Roost and Nailsworth Ladder, all of which are still stopping cars today. Classic trials are one of the friendliest forms of motor sport and, as sponsorship and financial gain are non-existent,s there tends to be only the best form of rivalry between competitors. It is very common to find a crew working on a car with the assistance of someone with whom they are directly competing.

Reproduced with acknowledgement to the ACTC