First published July 2016.
1966 RAC Rally adventures – by Nigel Raeburn.
In a previous article I related the tale of Jim Clark’s participation in the 1966 RAC Rally. Now I’d like to share some of the adventures which Richard Hudson-Evans, my driver, and I enjoyed in this, my first of seven RAC Rallies.
In those days, the RAC was a real rally – 2400 miles, 63 special stages, 5 days, 3 nights with only one proper overnight stop. There were 146 starters and 63 finishers. Works entries came from Ford, BMC, Saab, Renault, Triumph, Volvo, VW, Lancia, Rootes, Opel etc.. By a late arrangement, the Sun newspaper sponsored the event, facilitating plenty of publicity, in addition to on-going support from Lombard. Publicity was guaranteed as a result of the entries for F1 World Champions Graham Hill and Jim Clark.
The start and finish were at the Excelsior Hotel, near Heathrow. Starting on Saturday morning the route headed west to Dorset and Somerset, then north through Wales for the night, I think a short stop at Oulton Park and on the next day through the Lakes and into Scotland for another night, with a breakfast stop Monday morning at Bathgate. At the end of Monday came the only overnight halt at Aviemore, Tuesday morning the crews set off south via Dumfries and through Kielder and into the Yorkshire forests, ending with a stage at Silverstone before returning to Heathrow Wednesday afternoon. A real ‘Rally of Great Britain’. The majority of the stages were on forest roads, including a 23 miler in Dovey and 15 miler in Kielder.
My driver, Richard Hudson-Evans (RHE) had previous rallied an 850 Mini with some class successes, but for this rally wanted to move up and accordingly purchased (on HP – no big budgets!) a used 998cc Mini-Cooper – a standard road car in red with black roof – registration FDU298C. This was not his yellow and well-known, through his editorship at Cars and Car Conversions Magazine, Cooper S registration 3000KV as recently pictured – that came later. Some basic preparation was undertaken but the car remained in pretty standard form as was quite normal in those times. A young chap called Will Sparrow worked on the engine and came as one of our service crew – I was to get to know him a lot better a year or so later and for ten very successful rallying years.
As we had not rallied together before, Richard and I entered the Motoring News Shunpiker Rally earlier in the year, in the 850 Mini, but had to retire early on with damaged steering on a rough white, so it was not a very helpful exercise.
So we came to the RAC – I think it was November. My event started with a panic – I lived in Bath at the time but had come up to London to stay with my mother prior to the rally – only to find I had left my Competition Licence in Bath! A very early morning drive in my Triumph Spitfire ensued to go to Bath and back to collect it prior to signing-on – not the best way to rest before a long gruelling rally!
We were part of an informal team called ‘Team 848’. This was essentially a group of young Mini enthusiasts based mainly in the Midlands. Our team-mates were John Bloxham / Richard Harper and Chris Coburn / Rodney Spokes, both in Cooper Ss and all destined for greater things in future years. As far as I recall we shared service crews – it might even have just been the one crew.
We were car number 132, so quite near the tail end of the rally, not that it mattered too much. We had some good ‘names’ seeded near us – for example Ian Harwood a bit ahead of us and David Sutton a bit behind. So off we went – taking things steadily as this was an endurance rally not a flat out speed event like it would be today. However, despite all our care we were hit with a serious problem early in the evening.
There were some stages in Dorset, an area not much used today, and we were on a stage in Puddletown forest, in the dark, when suddenly our Mini had total electrical failure – no engine, no lights, nothing. We managed to stop at the side of the track and investigate – to find that the main electrical cable running under the car from the boot-mounted battery to the front of the car had been ripped off by the rough roads and rocks hitting the underneath of the car – and it was clearly damaged beyond repair with the tools we had with us. What to do? No radios or mobile phones in those times! Well, we flagged down another competitor and amazingly they stopped and agreed to give me a lift in the back of their car to the end of the stage – such was the spirit of mutual help among the clubmen competitors on a rally like this. These days they would have risked disqualification for carrying an unauthorised passenger!
I knew our service crew were due to be at the end of the stage (roadside service being the norm in those times) and I managed to find them quite quickly and explain the exact problem. One of our service crew gathered the necessary tools, spare cable, connectors etc which fortunately we had, and set off with me to run, in the dark, the 1 or 2 miles back through the forest, against rally traffic (although by now nearly all the field had passed through), back to our car. We were quite exhausted, but the job of repairing the car did not take too long and Richard and I were soon ready to set off again.
By now, we were nearly 2 hours behind our scheduled time, but we made good progress through the following stages (luckily they were still open) and the next main control was quite a distance away at Bristol Airport and by the time we got there we were just inside our OTL time (I think it was an hour allowed) and, just, still in the rally. After all this excitement the rest of the rally was quite uneventful and the car performed with few problems.
It was a long gruelling event – from our Dorset problem Saturday evening we had to go non-stop through to Monday evening before the overnight rest halt at Aviemore. Obviously energy-saving skills were needed – sharing the driving on road sections and grabbing sleep whenever possible even if only in short bursts. At times I even slept on special stages – this was not that unusual as there was no other time for the co-drivers to get the needed rest! In those times none of the forest roads were on the OS maps so map reading was not possible – the main role for the co-driver was to concentrate on spotting the Dunlop arrows ahead which told you which way to turn at junctions – they were not easy to see or tell if it was left or right – the triangular orange Castrol arrows which were easier to read had not yet been invented (I was involved with the working group which developed them). Mostly the driver was driving on sight.
Some of the stages seemed very remote – and you really were on your own to ensure your own survival. There would be marshals at the start and finish of each stage doing the timekeeping but it was not uncommon to see no human from start to finish of say a 10 mile stage in the remoter parts of Scotland – and the only guide to which way to go was those Dunlop arrows.
There was a breakfast stop Monday morning at a big hotel at Bathgate and I can remember seeking out a hotel bathroom to have a quick bath to freshen up – you couldn’t do that these days as a non-resident as they will all be en-suite! No doubt the works teams had hotel rooms reserved for them!
Running a few cars ahead of us was a British Vita prepared Cooper S for Rauno Aaltonen’s sister Marjatta, co-driven by Carolyn Tyler. Carolyn was a driver as well as a co-driver (to Pat Moss among others) – Carolyn being one of the relatively few lady drivers to earn Motoring News points. I can recall in my tired state being cheered up at indoor main controls by queuing to book in behind young Carolyn in her pale blue overalls! These days, as Carolyn Tyler-Morris she comes each year to marshal the coffee stop control on the Tour of Cheshire along with husband Robin – and she’s still a lovely lady nearly 50 years later!
One thing which rather amused me was Richard’s insistence, as the weather got colder and more wintery as we moved into Scotland, that we would not switch on the car heater until it got really cold! He said we’d really appreciate it then! Even when it was all white with frost and ice outside he did not deem it cold enough – I’m not sure the heater ever got turned on. Maybe it helped keep us awake and alert.
I can remember just one other significant car problem – heading south through Yorkshire the exhaust came loose and the car became very noisy. The service crew adopted the traditional Mini servicing technique and the car was tipped on its side, resting on the spare wheel, so they could work on its underside to re-attach the exhaust. It works very well – who needs a jack? You just have to be careful the petrol and oil does not all run out!
Together with our earlier electrical problem it is clear the underside of our car was vulnerable on the rough forest roads – the only weak point of a standard car, it seems. No doubt fuller rally preparation would have moved the electrical cable and brake and fuel pipes inside the cabin and given greater protection and stronger mounts for the exhaust. For a near standard car our Mini had performed admirably.
So, we finished! 39th out of 63 finishers. One place in front of Jack Tordoff and three places in front of Chris Coburn. The overall winners were Bengt Soderstrom and Gunnar Palm in a works Lotus Cortina, from Harry Kallstrom and Ragnar Hakansson in a works Cooper S. Top all-British crew were Tony Fall and Mike Wood (another Tour of Cheshire marshal) in a works Cooper S in 5th place. Jimmy Bullough and Don Barrow came 26th.
Of the 6 further RAC Rallies I did, I only finished one other – although that was a very good result when Will Sparrow and I came 11th overall and won our class in 1970.
These memories tend to emphasise how rallying, especially the RAC or WRGB today, has changed – and in my view not for the better! Endurance rather than speed, near standard cars, little sponsorship nor sign-written cars, no pace notes, many private clubman entries, a few star guest entries, road-side servicing, covering the country, decent media publicity – all of this we have lost. Let’s hope historic rallying can continue to play its part in keeping the memories – and actions – alive.
PHOTO (at top)
Richard Hudson-Evans and Nigel Raeburn airborne on the 1966 RAC Rally. This photo appeared in the very first edition of the magazine Hot Car, in April 1968, of which Richard was Assistant Editor.