Jim Clark and the 1966 RAC Rally

First published June 2016.

JIM CLARK ON THE RAC RALLY – by Nigel Raeburn

The photo in last month’s Newsletter of Jim Clark’s Indy Lotus triggered memories of Jim’s participation in the 1966 RAC Rally.  That year Jim Clark / Brian Melia drove a works Lotus-Cortina while Graham Hill / Maxwell Boyd drove a works Mini-Cooper S and the presence of these two racing stars generated a lot of extra publicity for the rally.  It was also the first RAC Rally I competed in and in a tiny way I was able to add to the legend of Jim Clark.

Graham Hill never got on with the driving characteristics of a rally Mini and reputedly was only too delighted when he had to retire with mechanical failure!  In contrast, Jim Clark revelled in forest rallying and was soon setting top stage times and running close to the lead.  His enthusiasm eventually got the better of him and he had some car-damaging incidents but nevertheless he made a major impact on the event.

I was co-driving for Richard Hudson-Evans in a 998cc Mini-Cooper, and we were car number 132 – I remember this as I wrote a long article afterwards entitled ‘The Tale of Car Number 132’.  Sadly I have lost my copy of this article else I would offer it for re-publication in this Newsletter.  There were about 160 entries that year and we finished 39th out of 63 finishers.  We had a lot of adventures and I will write a separate article for a future Newsletter but for now let me focus on Jim Clark’s adventures and the small part Richard and I played in the story.

I had got to know Richard Hudson-Evans (known as RHE) when we were both competing in autocross (a popular discipline in those days) in 850 Minis.  He was a budding journalist/broadcaster who later was editor of Cars and Car Conversions magazine and certainly until quite recently he still writes in some magazines about classic car auctions.  So when we did that 1966 RAC he was keen to make his mark in the worlds of both rallying and broadcasting and journalism.

Jim Clark’s success in holding a top position over half way through the rally was hitting the headlines and while the rally was running through Scotland I can remember seeing hundreds of schoolchildren watching and waving outside their schools at the roadside to support their hero.  There were banners saying ‘Good Luck the Flying Scotsman’ and many signs of tremendous enthusiasm from the public.  However his good run came to an end eventually – after one of his first incidents I recall seeing the works Ford mechanics at a roadside service trying to straighten a very battered Cortina which had been heavily damaged all down one side.  He managed to continue at that point, but not for too long.  Into the evening and the rally had special stages in Glengap forest in what is now Dumfries and Galloway.  It was dark, and as Richard and I drove through the Glengap stage we saw two figures in rally jackets holding crash helmets and sitting on a bank at the side of the road.  It was Jim Clark and Brian Melia – no sign of the car as it was so far off the road it was out of sight!  We carried on – but Richard had seen an opportunity for a journalistic scoop!

In a village on the next road section we stopped at a red telephone box and Richard got on the phone to the BBC in London.  He was reporting Jim Clark’s retirement from the RAC Rally.  I remember having to ask some local youngsters who had gathered outside the phone box how to pronounce Kirkcudbrightshire so Richard could add where he was reporting from!

The BBC broadcast the news on the radio … ‘we have just heard from our reporter Richard Hudson-Evans’ … and that is how the rally organisers first heard that their star entrant had retired.  When we got to the next main control – I think it was in Dumfries – the organisers wanted to know how we had managed to get this scoop and how the BBC got the news before they did!

This reminds me how well BBC Radio covered the RAC Rally in those days.  The hourly news bulletins kept almost a running commentary of the progress of the rally.  Indeed the famous film ‘From Harrogate It Started’ of the 1971 RAC (still the best ever rally film) had no commentary, just extracts from the radio news bulletins (together with soundtrack by The Who and others of that era).

Incidentally, take a look at Don Barrow’s website where he has some photos of Jim Clark’s Cortina with the extensive damage from his earlier ‘off’ – and a tale about how Ford kept the Time Card on time even if the car wasn’t!  Also you can read the story of how the police helped Jim through the traffic to try to keep up to time after his problems!

Few drivers have managed to excel in both racing and rallying – in recent times Kimi Raikkonen tried but did not really make it, nor did Robert Kubica.  Further back, Vic Elford is perhaps the only one who did succeed at the top level in both – but I’m sure Jim Clark had the ability – had he done some more rallies and lived longer – less than two years after that RAC sadly he was gone.   He’s certainly not forgotten though with the Jim Clark Rally and the Jim Clark Room (soon to be Museum) in Duns keeping memories alive.

Update – sorry I forgot Stirling Moss who certainly excelled in both racing and rallying!

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