Ben Trumble’s vivid and thrilling memories of 23 years with three different Teals, at home and abroad….
I suppose it all started in about May 1985. I was wandering around Smiths one day, trying to dilute the crushing boredom of my job as a broker in Leeds, when I saw an article in some motoring mag that had a picture of Ian Foster’s Teal at full song splashed across the middle pages. I was gripped from that moment – and continued to be gripped for the next 23 years.
I drove across to Lancashire and Ian took me for a hair-raising white-knuckle spin around the blind bends and narrow country lanes near his house. Six months or so later I had scraped together the wherewithal to send the new Teal company owner – Bob Jones – my cheque, and not long afterwards the truckload of ‘bits’ arrived at my home in Yorkshire. It took me until September 1986 to build her and to get her going. She was, it had to be said, a bit of an …acquired taste… as far as the handling went – but she was mine and within three weeks I was headed for the first of many long runs to France and the continent in a Teal.
Within a year or so Bob had started developing the aluminium body. I called over to see him at Farnworth – looked at the five or six ally bodies lined up in various stages of being built, and remember saying to him: “Christ, it looks like Castle Bromwich when they were building Spitfires!”- a somewhat ironic comment given what I fly today.
In this short time Bob had developed the Teal out of all proportion to the original,and there was a ‘something’ in the air that said it was going to be beautiful. I rolled one of the new eighteen-inch wire wheels up to an ally body and remember thinking how amazing they were going to look on – and I just had to have them!
That visit did it – I brought my ‘plastic rat’ over the next week and we ripped off that body that I’d spent so many frustrated hours and bruised knuckles to put on just eighteen months previously – and two months later I drove her back from Farnworth in ‘ally’ and had her painted locally. Once she was done I was like a Cheshire cat – she seemed the most amazing car I’d ever seen.
European Tours and Le Mans
In 1988 we did the first of three Teal European Tours that I organised through the medium of the new Newsletters done magnificently by John Elwell. For the first run we held a meeting of drivers at John’s farm and agreed the route – and a month or so later we were all meeting up at the Dover B&B for the next day’s crossing: Calais through France to Germany and the car meet at Lake Tittisee, then onwards down through Switzerland, Montreux (great afternoon by the lake), Annecy (memorable for the camping and breakfast by the lake) and then back up through France. This last leg went a bit wrong as the ‘ Squadron’ got split up into two groups of four cars and our group ended up at Le Mans where we stayed overnight. Three of us decided that we just HAD to experience going down the Mulsanne straight and we got up before breakfast at about 6am and headed up to the roundabout at the top of the straight. Down we went, flat out in line at about 100mph – that was a great few minutes – really one for the log book.
About 1989 I had become further involved with Teals when I formed a company called ‘Northern Classic Sports cars’ and built a ‘wing’ onto my place in Yorkshire so we could build and paint cars. Bob and I came to an arrangement where my small motley band of guys – Steve the sprayer and the two Johns- would take chassis/body kits from Bob and build them up to order.
We put together our first car in just four weeks – and it actually ran too! We did the Stoneleigh show and got a few orders and then Bob – like Satan – began developing the Teal Type 59. At first sight of the chassis I knew I just had to have one – so I placed my order for, I think, chassis number 2 or 3. My old Teal was painted Porsche red (by request), and sold to a friend of Bobby Knutt’s.
Bob Jones had moved to Altrincham by then and there was a real ‘buzz’ about the place- about this time I met Ian Hutchinson who was building a Teal type 35 and Ian and I have been friends ever since.
The Type 59 was a complicated build – more so than the 35s -and she took a bit of time to get fnished – but Steve did an amazing paint job on her and she was staggeringly beautiful. We worked on her all hours and when we finally wheeled her out finished it was past midnight. We decided – late or not – she was ready for her test run and I vividly remember sitting in her on my drive, thumbing the starter and listening to the burble of that Jag engine. It’s actually the same kick that I get today when I fire up the Spitfire – you sit in your own little world listening to the sound of those exhausts heating up and scanning the guages, checking Ps and Ts. That night as she shot through the village at speed she felt superb on her Dunlop racing tyres. Sadly I kept her for only about four months as she was to say the least a bit of a tight fit for two in the cockpit – my girlfriend was petite and even with her it was a bit cramped in there. I also reasoned that as I visited France about 3-4 times a year, she was not really a long-haul vehicle – unless your idea of holiday luggage was restricted to what you were actually wearing when you set off!
She went at auction, and in 1991 I built my last Teal – Dizzy 2. By this time the recession was taking hold and the bottom had fallen out of the market – and without ceremony I closed Northern Sports cars for good – but kept my Type 35, Dizzy.
The Beaujolais Run
I ran Dizzy across to Salzburg in June 1991 to try her out with the new Triumph engine layout and she went like a dream. It wasn’t long after another run to France in her that I took a call from that other Satan, Ian Hutchinson – would I like to do the Beaujolais run with him? He persuasively explained that we were to be sponsored by Dr Barnardo’s who would pay the costs (appealing here straight to the heart of a Yorkshireman) and they’d send one of their Directors with us and also a motoring journalist, Peter Cahill – it would be a hoot. So like a lemming I agreed.
I drove down to Birmingham in freezing fog on the night of the 16th November, meeting up with Ian, Peter and Eric Robson from Dr Barnardo’s, from where after a bit of a thawing out, we drove on to Dover, getting soaked on route. We stayed overnight in some small hostelry where the landlord warmed us up with hot soup and spirits (quite a lot of spirits from memory) – and dried out our flying jackets in his boiler room! We were on the 6am crossing (!) and took a leisurely drive down through France in fairly ‘iffy’ (but better than the UK’s) weather to Macon, home of the Beaujolais.
On the way we called at the old racing circuit at Rheims – this was an eerily enjoyable experience as the old track was a ‘road race’ circuit when closed in about 1960 – but the pits and grandstands were still there, covered in faded ‘Castrol’ signs and with trees and ivy growing from them – but unmistakably the old race track.
Ian and I, after a photo call for Peter, did a couple of flat out laps of the circuit – it was a great feeling, foot to the floor, blasting by the pits neck and neck I would have won too if that handbrake hadn’t stuck on… (at least that’s my excuse).
Late November in France can provide questionable weather – and it teemed down on the evening of the wine release ‘do’. Normally cars leave the vineyard at midnight and sprint for Calais and the 8am crossing – and a champagne breakfast somewhere near Margate, I think. That’s about 450 – 500 miles or so – in good weather it would have been exciting – in a Teal in torrential bouncing rain for the first 200 miles – it was near suicidal!
We’d tried to grab some sleep behind some barrels (as naturally Ian and I couldn’t have a drink at the wine release party) – but without a lot of success. Our tiredness wasn’t helped by having attended the ‘Dinner’ the previous evening and staying up until about 4 am back in the hotel talking cars with the rest of the guys. We appealed to the committee who said that we could leave 15 minutes early – 23.45 – so at least we wouldn’t be queuing in the rain to get out of the car park.
As we were about to walk out to the cars Ian said ‘If we do this right and keep up at least 70mph average we should hit Calais at 7.30 – in time for the boat.’ Saying that he set the alarm on his watch to beep at 7.30 (they were popular in those days!).
We got to the motorway and knew that despite the atrocious weather we needed to keep up a bit more than 70 mph average to get to Calais by 8 am.
Most of you know that goggles in pouring rain steam up – so they sat pushed up on my flying helmet whilst I peered through my fingers and tried to keep central the blurred rear lights of Ian’s bug as the rain bounced off the road before us. Within minutes of getting on the auto route the first of the other wine run cars started to pass us – wipers going at full thrash in the torrential rain, and I have visions of white faces caught fleetingly in the headlights looking at us as they passed – I even think I saw someone cross themselves. Of all the people in the run, we were the only ones they were sure they wouldn’t be seeing on the Calais boat.
After a couple of hundred miles we stopped for fuel – at the same time as did the Yellow Pages team. I forget what they were driving – but it had a roof, wipers and a heater – and they were amazed we’d got that far.
Peter’s bad weather gear consisted of a ‘Cruel Sea’ navy-type duffel coat, and to stop him getting totally soaked we had scrounged from somewhere a large black bin liner. We cut a hole for his head and arms, and whilst he looked like he was on his way to the tip, at least this kept some of the gallons of water off him. At a stop – about 4.30 in the morning – we went in for a coffee at a service station – and as Peter could not be prised from the car, we brought him out his cup of coffee and then the three of us stood in the half-closed station to drink ours – and actually fell asleep standing up. I have NEVER been so tired in my life. When I opened my eyes from what I had thought was a short ‘blink’ – our coffee had gone cold!
Back on the road again, and as we neared Paris it turned from peeing rain – to icy cold clear skies with frost-covered embankments. At the next stop for fuel I had frost and frozen rain on my gloves and I was so cold I had difficulty in getting my hands off the wheel. As before there were a couple of other wine run cars fuelling up and I’m not sure what my response was to the one who said: ‘I bet it’s cold in that, isn’t it?’ – but I can guarantee that it was more from the heart than polite.
Now Ian has always had the ability to drive for thousands of miles without a break – I on the other hand am human, and about 40 hours without sleep left me almost hallucinating on those last 50 miles into Calais.
We drove into the car park and there were about 100 or so out of the 150 starters waiting to get on the ferry. I can remember it like it was yesterday – as we pulled along side them – they burst into applause! We got out – stiff as hell, to shake hands and hug each other with the relief of actually making it – at which moment Ian’s alarm watch went off!
That run was quite some achievement – and we still talk about it to this day when we meet up.
France and Italy
Dizzy was pretty much on the Continent three to four times a year until 1993 – when I moved lock, stock and bug to France. The last long trip I did in her was in 2006 when I drove to Italy from Normandy – in August. It was hot – circa 40C – and she and I frankly were too bloody old to take that kind of heat. Even so we did 3000 miles in seven days – not bad for a couple of old codgers! Overall I reckoned it up once that I’d done in the order of 250,000 miles in her since 1991 – quite an achievement.
Spitfire and Teal Sale
In 2007 I did maybe a hundred miles in her, and with my Spitfire nearly complete and way over budget I rationalised that when I flew the Spit back to France I would rarely drive her – and it seemed such a shame to leave her sat there in the barn – a target for incontinent owls. Thus, prompted by the need for a new prop for the Spit, I decided on what before had always been unthinkable – I put her up for sale.
A nice lawyer fro the south of England bought her, and I know she’s gone to a good home – I just hope he gets half the enjoyment and pride out of owning her that I did.
Now as England’s newest Spitfire pilot – I’m ready to serve. But I’ll always fondly remember the guys of the Teal Owners’, Bob Jones, Bob Lewis, Compo, Roger Butcher, Bobby Knutt et al – and of course never to be forgotten – John Elwell.
That’s my bit of Teal history and I’d like to wish all the current owners many happy and safe hours of driving one of the most beautiful and head turning vehicles in Europe.
Finally, if you hear the drone of an aero engine and look up and see a pair of eliptical wings passing somewhat erratically overhead – do give a wave – you never know – it might be me!
Ben August 2008