The Appeal of 1960s Rallying

First published January 2016.

THE APPEAL OF 1960s RALLYING – by Nigel Raeburn.

I was recently watching some cine film from RAC Rallies in the mid-1960s. Two things struck me compared with modern-day rallying. Firstly the variety of the cars and secondly the different driving style when driving on sight as opposed to pace notes – and in both respects I think rallying has gone backwards in its appeal.

In those mid-60s the field had a huge variety of visually and mechanically different cars – sports cars, saloons, front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, front-engined, rear-engined. For example, Minis, Cortinas, VW Beetles, Imps, Healey 3000s, Triumph 2000s, Renault R8s, Saab 96s – and of course these were all relatively standard and quite closely related to the cars you could buy from a showroom. It was clear to see how manufacturers could derive publicity benefits from rallying success and exposure and make it relevant to their customers. Today in the WRC, the VWs, Citroens and Hyundais are firstly very highly developed and sophisticated vehicles only distantly related to the road cars and secondly if it was not for the sign-writing would an onlooker be able to tell them apart – they are all basically 4WD hatchbacks and pretty similar in profile and specification.

In driving style, in modern WRC rallying the thorough recces and highly developed use of pace-notes (although I often think the co-drivers’ timing is poor when I watch in-car video – they clearly weren’t brought up on MN-style night road rallying) mean the driving is less spectacular, the grip and suspension too good and really too fast for a spectator to properly appreciate the driving skills undoubtedly being used. In older days when driving on sight or with limited use of map-reading by the co-driver and with less grip, the driving required more use of ‘pendulum’ car balancing to be able to react as the hazards unfolded – which I think brought out car handling skills and spectacle for onlookers to a much greater extent than seen today.

These musings led me to reflect on the types of cars in which I navigated in my early rallying days back in the early 60s. Few of these would be classed as ideal rally cars, but they suited the times then. My very early rallies (these were of course road rallies) with my father were in an MG Magnette (Farina type) and 850 Mini – and I also drove a few in my Messerschmitt bubble car until someone found the clause in the RAC rules which said three-wheelers were not allowed! I did some rallies with a friend in an Austin A30 (or it might have been A35 – I remember going sideways between the gateposts of a gateway in the New Forest without hitting anything!), Morris Minor Traveller and Wolseley 1500. Some other events I did in an Austin A95 Westminster and one in a Ford Popular 100E. Once into the later 60s I settled down and it was nearly always Minis of one type or other – 850, Cooper or Cooper S.

I don’t have the answer but I do think modern-day rallying (at club and national level as well as WRC) could benefit from taking some steps backwards to make it more relevant for both manufacturers and the public – maybe the successful Escort Mexico Championship of 1972 and 1973 could be revived in some form – I might write about my memories of that in a future article.

1 thought on “The Appeal of 1960s Rallying”

  1. Great and true observations from a greatly missed era. Today’s cars are basically ‘badge engineered’ projectiles, nothing more, nothing less, and as adrenaline inspiring as a jalapeno …except THAT would last longer!!

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