RAC Servicing in 1965

First published October 2016.

SERVICING AS IT WAS IN 1965 (and how I came to spend a night in Middlesbrough Police Station!) – by Nigel Raeburn.

In 1965 I serviced on the RAC Rally.  It was not quite what modern rallyists think of as a servicing set-up with motor-homes, awnings, groundsheets and lots of spares and equipment – no, it consisted of me, my friend Tony, my Mini and a couple of spare wheels and tyres for the VW beetle we were servicing for crammed onto the back seat.  Our schedule was quite relaxed – VWs are reliable so don’t need much servicing, so we planned to meet up with our rally crew just one or two times a day.

We were servicing for Jack Frost and Robin ‘Tub’ Barlow from Cambridge, who I had got to know through Cambridge Car Club and club rallies in East Anglia, where Jack and Robin used to do reasonably well, the VW being quite suited to the many miles of white roads which those East Anglian rallies used to use.  Jack ran a VW dealership in a village outside Cambridge, so had good access to the necessary parts and preparation, but as was normal in those times the car was very standard.  Jack was probably in his 50s and a very dapper gentleman, always well-dressed as I recall.  They ran at car number 135.  I think this was the biggest rally they ever entered – as it was for many clubmen.  We were their only service crew.

The rally started and finished in London, but I only have spasmodic memories of what we did and where we went.  I can recall waiting at the roadside on the grass verge of the main road near Aberangell waiting for the rally to emerge from the Dovey forest complex – I guess this was the second day, in the morning.  It was bright and sunny – giving no warning of what lay ahead for the crews in Yorkshire.  Virtually all servicing in those times was at the roadside as organisers had not yet adopted the concept of pre-arranged service areas.  When Jack and Robin arrived I don’t think there was much to do apart from check the oil.

From there I think our next service point was to the north of the North Yorks Moors, somewhere near Guisborough, where we waited for Jack and Robin to emerge from the Yorks Moors stages – and waited and waited!  With no mobile phones or radios it was of course hard to get any information, but we got what we could from other competitors.  Eventually Jack and Robin did arrive, in an exhausted state.  I think there had been a lot of snow and ice on the high parts of the route, and the rally had been delayed and on top of the relentless ‘no-rest’ schedule (it was now the second night on the road) it was proving too much for Jack and Robin and they reluctantly decided to retire even though the car was healthy and they were within their OTL allowance.

So the four of us, in our two cars, set off to find some accommodation, as it was now nearly mid-night.  We came into Middlesbrough and had not seen any likely hotels, but came to the Police Station with its blue lamp and decided to seek their advice.  When the police on duty at the desk learned we were rally retirees they went out of their way and kindly offered us the use of their recreation (pool) room floor for the night – so that is how we came to spend the night in Middlesbrough Police Station!  In the morning the canteen was open and serving hot breakfasts, which was very welcome indeed.

We all agreed it would be a shame to return home so early, so decided to head over to the Lake District to await the return of the rally from Scotland and do a bit of spectating.  We booked into a guest house in Hawkshead, and the next day were ready to watch the rally pass through Grizedale Forest – I think it was late afternoon as it was getting dark.  Highlights were the works Healeys – Timo Makinen with Paul Easter who eventually finished second having been passed by Rauno Aaltonen and Tony Ambrose in the works Cooper S with its superior grip in the ice and snow.  The Morley brothers were driving the other works Healey.  There is a famous photo showing the dramatic scene as Aaltonen and Makinen battled it out at the height of the snowy conditions.

There were of course lots of works cars and famous drivers – cars from Saab, VW, Rootes, Ford, Rover (one driven by Roger Clark) and Triumph (Roy Fidler came a fine 5th in a 2000 and best British driver).

After watching the whole field pass through we returned to our guest house and then drove home the following day – not exactly having covered ourselves with glory but nevertheless enjoying memorable experiences which can make up an article even today!  How rallying has changed!

Link to the famous photo:


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