Bob Cooke – contributor
Never again will I allow a lunatic at the wheel of the Hotchkiss…well, maybe ‘lunatic’ is a bit strong, it’s just that it’s a while since Ivor had done any off-roading and he’d never before driven anything as much fun – and as open – as Eugene. Now Eugene may be close on 50 years old but the old dog can still move; the 2.2-litre Willys engine may only be puffing out around 55 of its original 60 horses but with its stroke of nearly 4.5 inches it’s still got surprisingly muscular lowdown torque, so when Ivor saw a gap in the undergrowth and went for it, his enthusiastic flooring of the accelerator saw Eugene leaping into the bushes like a startled rabbit, leaving me hardly any time to hang on, let alone blink.
In consequence, weeks later, I’m still trying to blink fragments of shredded gorse bush out of my eyes. Resolution No 1 in consequence of this: three pairs of eye-protection goggles becomes standard equipment in Eugene’s glovebox, one for driver, one for passenger and one for anyone crazy enough to sit in the back while Ivor’s driving.
Our day out at Boxgrove Pit, near Chichester, once again proved a useful opportunity to hone some basic off-roading skills in this very basic off-roader. Ivor, for instance, more used to the comforts of Discoverys and Land Cruisers, felt decidedly concerned at the amount of crashy noise emanating from under Eugene’s plain-metal tub. I told him not to worry about it, just to slow down. He ignored me and the crashy noises continued. He also tended to rev the engine in low gear when faced with a steep climb, again being used to the soft-torque nature of modern automotive engines.
After watching him fly up one slope in a frenzied wheel-spinning gravel-churning dash with the engine revving to its limit in first, I suggested he try it again slowly, in second. I have to admit to being almost as surprised as he was when Eugene pootled up virtually on tickover.
I was also quite pleased that Eugene has a rollover bar. At the back end of the Boxgrove site is a delightfully steep and twisty little descent under the trees that I’ve dubbed ‘the carousel’. Eugene’s engine gets its (theoretical) 60-horse output courtesy of a soft 6.48-to-1 compression ratio, which has almost certainly softened even more over the years, so there isn’t much engine-braking, so steering the clumsy old beast down the carousel requires full-on braking (the brakes are pretty soft as well, being old drums all round) and even then it’s a bit of a runaway situation.
“I just need you to miss that tree,” I shouted at Ivor on the way down. “What tree?” he replied, missing it by half an inch. Well, it is dark down there under the trees, which also explains why, when exiting into the sunlight below, Ivor presumably didn’t notice how the ground fell away suddenly to the left, with the result that Eugene tipped over alarmingly. “Steer down, steer down,” I shouted, holding on for dear life. Ivor just laughed, inadvertently providing a perfect lesson in how far you can tip a Hotchkiss without falling over.
Mileage: 74,266km (46,146 miles)
Recent costs: fuel for off-roading fun
Arrived: June ‘08