First published December 2016.
FAVOURITE RALLY CARS by Nigel Raeburn.
In ‘Old Stager’ last summer, Mike Harrison interviewed ace navigator and M-Sport WRC Co-ordinator and Logistics Manager Iain Tullie – and his answer to one question rang a bell with me – his favourite rally car – and Iain came up with Dermot Carnegie’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint coupe. If I was asked the same question, I would come up with Paul Wignall’s similar car – both prepared by Kevin Savage. Interestingly as drivers neither Dermot nor Paul pick the Alfa as their favourite – I think Dermot prefers his Escort and Paul likes his Porsche 911 – even though they have both had great success in their Alfas. But clearly this Alfa impresses navigators.
I like the lovely Alfa twin-cam engine, the car’s compact size, agility and all-round competitiveness – as well as being comfortable and generally reliable (when prepared by Kevin!). It’s pretty too!
So this car would come top in my list of favourite historic rally cars – but you really cannot compare eras so I’m going to also have a favourite ‘modern’ (60s and 70s) car and favourite pre-war rally car. Only cars I have rallied in are eligible.
So the Alfa coupe comes top for historic road rallies, even though I only did three events with Paul in his, but one was the 6 day Rally of the Tests which started in Ireland (we came 2nd to Dermot and Iain), so plenty of time to get to know the car, then another RotT (came 3rd) and we won the Ilkley HRCR round.
Runner-up in my historic cars comes another Alfa, mainly because I did so many events with Geoff Breakell in his Alfa Giulia Super saloon and we had quite a bit of success, winning 6 HRCR rounds (when many of these were weekend-long events in the 1990s like the Targa, East Anglian or Illuminations) and quite a few smaller events – for example we won the historic section of the Knowldale Mini-Miglia 4 or 5 times. Mechanically the saloon is very similar to the Giulietta coupe, but it does not have the same agility – the weight distribution must be quite different and is probably heavier, it tends to extreme understeer and it’s hard to get the tail sliding – which is not a good recipe for special tests. Even the great Frank Fennell could not get his example to handle to his liking. However, on faster roads and in the lanes it is a very competitive car and in the mid-1990s when Geoff was younger we were as quick as anyone on night road rallies. The all-round disc brakes were an advanced feature for its time.
Turning now to ‘modern’ events – i.e. they were modern when I did them in the 60s and 70s, I have to choose a Mini as I am so much associated with them, and Will Sparrow’s Mini WNX700H must be the one chosen as we had a huge amount of success in 1970 and 1971, winning the RAC Championship in 1970 (with a bit of help from Will’s Group 2 Mini VNX700H), the Welsh International in 1970 (and 2nd in 1971), 4th on the Circuit of Ireland and the Manx, and winning 8 Motoring News rallies over these two years in this car. This car changed its identity a bit in these two years, starting as a normal fronted Mini-Cooper S, then sprouting a fibre-glass box on the bonnet to accommodate the Arden cross-flow head and then later acquiring a Clubman front which could accommodate the cross-flow head within the normal body shape. Although always red, the livery changed with sponsorship too, at times carrying Cars and Car Conversions magazine, Uniroyal Tyres and Thor Hammers. The fact that David Hopkins has bought the remains of the original car and given it a wonderful restoration only adds to the fact that it must be my favourite. Also, as you can see from the results, it was successful in road rallies, forest stage rallies and asphalt stage rallies – so a great all-rounder.
After some thought I’ve come up with a bit of a surprise for my second favourite modern car – and it’s the Escort Mexico in which we won the 1972 Mexico Championship. These were mainly road rallies with a bit of stage mileage – and we had very strong competition (Brookes, Pond, Dawson, Hill, Rockey etc). But these near-standard cars really impressed – they were so competitive and reliable – but quiet and comfortable too. They really showed it was not necessary to spend a fortune on a high-powered Escort in order to win – and that surprised a lot of people.
What, no Vauxhalls I hear you cry! As I rallied in them from 1971 to 1976 (Vivas, Firenzas and Magnums) you might expect one would creep in – but sadly we had so many disappointing retirements (usually back axle or maybe engine failure) that the successes were not enough to overcome that in my affections! We did have some success, winning the 1974 RAC Group One Championship and twice came close to beating Roger Clark (2nd on the Mintex and 2nd on the Jim Clark). A difficult problem was that as the ‘works’ team with DTV we were always developing the car at the same time as rallying it and this inevitably led to reliability problems – whereas the Escort brigade could just buy the latest fully developed components knowing the the might of Boreham will have thoroughly tested and developed said item.
For my favourite pre-war car there are only 3 in the running and one of those I did many more miles in than the others – so it’s an easy choice – Mike Tomlin’s 1932 Alvis 12/60 TL (a 2-seater sports car with dickey seats). I did two Le Jogs in this (including getting to and from the start and finish, a rally in itself) and it never let us down and was remarkably comfortable and adequately competitive to win medals both times. We also had a good record on the tough VSCC Measham Rally – a long winter night rally where we had the least penalties on 4 or 5 occasions. It wasn’t an easy car to drive with its centre accelerator, unusual clutch mechanism and difficult gear changes – even Mike struggles with gear changing sometimes. Of course on Le Jog the navigator has to drive the ‘driver change’ sections so that was a good challenge!
So that’s the end of my favourites. There were many other candidate cars which for one reason or other have not been chosen – for example the mighty TR7V8 of Cyril Bolton, or Cyril’s Mini-Sport Mini ‘NCK’, Phil Surtees’ even mightier Rover V8 P5B, numerous Escorts, Geoff Breakell’s Jaguar Mk2, Ian Crammond’s Mercedes 280SL or Andy Nash’s Sunbeam Tiger (on which the engine never seemed to deliver the sort of performance I expected). But I’ve made my choice! My thanks to all the drivers and to those who worked on preparing the cars for us to have a play!