December 1998  Part 2



Simms, a name that strikes terror into many hearts. One of the biggest challenges to competitors on the Exeter for seventy years. It's short, steep and slippery and has cost many a gold medal in it's time.

Morgan on Simms

You can see the hump at the top as this Morgan attempts Simms in 1939.

THE HILL IS HIDDEN AWAY NEAR THE SMALL VILLAGE OF ISLINGTON ON THE EDGE OF DARTMOOR. It was first discovered in 1924 when The Light Car and Cycle Car organised a rally to tackle the alleged gradient. In those days it was known as "Simp’s", but it had become Simms by the time it was first used as a trials hill in 1928. This was when the Brighton and Hove Club plucked up the courage to include the frightening ascent in their Brighton - Beer event.

It's a pretty short section. Only 200 yards long. It doesn't look to bad from the start, a gentle climb leading to a sharp right hand bend. The real fun begins around the corner where the gradient sharply increase to a maximum of 1 in 2 . There is a real hump at the top where a gully runs across the track, just where the gradient is at it's steepest. It's essential to build up momentum if you are to crest the summit. The problem is that the sharp corner prevents a real run at the hill. For some there's the added problem of organisers putting in a re-start just before the steepest part!

The MCC first used Simms on their nineteenth Exeter Trial in 1933. Starting from Virginia Water there was a night run down to Breakfast at Exeter itself. Fingle was the first hill, then came Simms. It was a real stopper, only four three wheelers and 18 cars made clean climbs. Most of the entry having to resort to the hawser and a tow by the steam tractor.

Things got tougher and the next year only 17 cars managed a clean climb on Simms. It was certainly gaining a reputation and a special award was introduced in 1935. Called "The Simms Hill Trophy" it was awarded to every competitor who climbed Simms, provided they kept time at the checks and completed the event to Bronze Medal standard. However Simms wasn't on form and 105 cars, one three wheeled cyclecar and 12 motorcycles were awarded the new trophy.

There wasn't an Exeter in 1936. This was because up until now the event had taken place immediately after Christmas. Thus the 1935 trial was held on 27 and 28 December. Since then it has been held early in the new year. These days it's the second Friday and Saturday, but back in the 30's it was the first weekend, so the 22nd Exeter Trial took place on 1st and 2nd January 1938. This was also the first time that multiple starting points were introduced. Competitors departing from Virginia Water, Stratford-on-Avon and Penzance. The routes converged at Exeter for Breakfast and competitors went on to try their luck up observed sections at Windout, Fingle, Simms, Pin Hill (observed section and special test) and Meerhay. The trial finished at Blandford.

In 1938 the hill was made artificially easier when the bump at the top was levelled off a little. There are also references to some surface metalling being carried out. It appears that the MCC had commissioned a local contractor to fill in the worst of the pot holes. However in his enthusiasm he laid a smooth metalled surface on the bottom right hand bend. Thus allowing this to be taken at speed. He then went on to do the same on the short length about of the way up where the gradient’s at its worst.

Up until now tyres had been free and most competitors used chunky knobblies. But for 1939 they were banned and "standard" tyres had to be used. The organisers were concerned that Simms would be too difficult on standard tyres. It was included on the 1939 Exeter but was an optional climb and failing it did not incur penalty. They need not have worried. Cars were getting better all the time and the "improvements" to the surface helped a lot. 66 cars (from 130 starters) and 51 motorcycles gained the coveted Simms Hill award. It appeared that the 1938 re-surfacing was a little to successful and it was many years before Simms’ former difficulty was restored.

Bill Boddy often reported on the Exeter for "Motor Sport" There was an interesting entry in 1977 when Motor Sport journalist Clive Richardson drove Joss Sadlers Porsche 911. There were different starts on Simms according to if cars used Knobbly tyres, which Clive did even though they were very worn. Although there were a lot of failures that year the Porsche wasn't one of them, the crowd cheering as Clive blasted over the summit in a cacophony of sound. In 1981 Peter Le Couter choose right hand side of the outcrop in his Dellow.

Hillier's VW got away to a fast run, Mrs Tucker-Peake's Ford Pop and her husbands Skoda 110R both made clean climbs. All of these have local connections. Josh Saddlers wife, Sue Halkyard, was a very well known competitor in long distance and local events in her Austin Seven. Les Hillier sadly passed away a few years ago but his car is still active in trials in the hands of Murray MacDonald. As for the Tucker-Paeake family they “were” both Falcon and the MCC for many years and Adrian is currently upholding family honours in class 1.

Even after all these years the old hills still a stiff challenge. Like most sections its got a lot rougher over the years. There's also quite a camber sloping from right to left where water has eroded the surface. Opinions vary about the best path. Coming round the corner the slopes easier on the left hand side, but there are a lot of  loose stones. It's firmer over to the right where the spectators stand but the gradient increases much more markedly.

My advice - I believe in the Dudley Sterry theory that spectators don't like to stand in the mud and will choose the best surface to stand. Where their feet are is where your wheels need to be! Having said that I have only ever cleaned Simms once. I'm more of an expert on the escape road constructed by John Hayes and his road gang a few years ago!

Stuart and Andrew Cairney

Stuart and Andrew Cairney round the bottom corner in their Imp

Mike Pearson coming to a halt in 1998

Mike Pearson coming to a halt in 1998.


Don Mallin demonstrating the transmission breaking technique.

This article was originally published on The classical Gas site in December 1998 and moved here on 29 October 2000