First published March 2016.
1968 VIP Dursley Rally – by Nigel Raeburn.
The 1968 VIP Dursley Rally holds a special place in my memories as it was the very first rally Will Sparrow and I did together, which proved to be the start of our successful ten year rallying partnership. It was to have been a Motoring News Championship event, but the foot and mouth disease outbreak had not quite ended and restrictions were still in force whereby residents of still infected areas were not allowed to compete – so the rally ran but outside the Championship. The organisers (Dursley MC&LCC) had had a difficult time planning the event, even having the use of some forests withdrawn at the last moment as the fire risk was deemed too high. In the circumstances it was a terrific effort to put on the 350 mile rally with 10 special stages (in the Forest of Dean and on Epynt mostly), 9 selectives and 10 time controls. VIP by the way was a petrol retailing company.
The rally started at Gloucester, I think at the cattle market, and we were waved off at the start banner by ‘Miss Ford Escort’. Early stages were in the Forest of Dean, then there was a short halt at Brecon, before the Epynt and Crychan stages. There was a fuel halt at Cross Hands. The selectives mainly began at 2am and formed the meat of the rally. The finish was at Llandrindod Wells. This was in early March and winter weather was still around as there were a number of incidents caused by the icy roads – we were delayed helping a crew extract themselves from their rolled car – and the Clerk of the Course reportedly rolled his new Cortina!
Will and I had a number of incidents but still managed a respectable result – a portent of our future successes. We came 18th overall and second semi-experts, out of a field of 87 starters and 35 finishers. Our incidents included the above-mentioned delay behind a rolled car, nosing into a pond, a small ‘off’ breaking the coil but managing to borrow and fit a replacement, plus the expected small wrong-slots almost inevitable in the Welsh lanes for relative novices. The car was Will’s first rally Mini 397EOE in silver with blue roof – which at this time had a 1098cc engine from a Morris 1100.
Looking through the entry list I find a number of my other future drivers although I did not know them all at that time. Andy Dawson was navigating – in 1971 he and I came 6th on the Manx in his Imp. Also navigating was Rob Lawrence (I did the MN Norwester Rally with him in his ex-works Mini JMO969D) – Rob was with his brother Derek who later became a top F3 race driver. Drivers on the entry list included Richard Hudson-Evans (I had already done the 1966 RAC with him – we finished after various car problems in a 998 Mini-Cooper – and Will had been one of our service crew which is how I got to know him) and Peter McDowell who I did the 1969 RAC with in his Escort – retired with gearbox failure after many off-road incidents!
Also on the entry list was one Russell Brookes – as a navigator! Top drivers included Colin and his brother Barrie Malkin, Tony Chappell, Alun Rees, Jeff Churchill, Nigel Rockey and down at number 35 as he had yet to make his name Chris Sclater (incidentally a cousin of Peter McDowell). Top navigators included Hywel Thomas, Martin Holmes, Norman Salt and Tony Mason. Winners of the rally were Alun Rees and Derek Tucker in a Cooper S.
Connections with the Tour of Cheshire were out too – regular ToC marshals nowadays – Cec Offley/Rob Lyall (ToC Steward) came a fine 3rd overall (Cooper S), and Terry Harrrison was navigating for Cec’s brother Mike in an Austin 1800 (Landcrab) – they came 9th overall.
So many memories from just one rally … !