Jeff Whitten looks back on some ofrallying’s lightermoments ... some you may have heard, most you probably haven't!
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Seeing the light(er)
When Ford of Britain were planning their entries for the 1974 RAC Rally of Great Britain, they realised that Ford alone would not be able to supply all the funding required to mount a full-on factory team assault.
So they started casting their nets further afield until they found a company who were prepared to back the three-car assault on the event.
After much door knocking and arm twisting to try and secure funding, Colibri, manufacturers of cigarette lighters, decided to come on board as major sponsor.
Unfortunately for Ford, the sponsorship came not in cold, hard cash, but in the equivalent value of cigarette lighters!
Thousands of Colibri lighters were given out at spectator points, service parks and everywhere a crowd gathered, and partially explains why Ford promotional event prizes in the form of lighters were handed out at all sorts of promotional functions for the following couple of years.
Bigger isn’t always better
For the same event, the 1974 RAC Rally, Ford had contracted Timo Makinen to drive one of its Mk1 Escort RS1600s.
Makinen was well known for trying to individualise his particular car, endlessly chopping and changing the car’s set-up, seat position, tyre choice, gearbox ratios and more.
The Finn was used to driving on snow and ice and had spent a lot of testing time swapping around with tyre and wheel size in his belief that the car would be faster and more competitive running on 15” wheels, instead of the regular 13s, in what was expected to be a snowy event.
He was so persuasive and persistent that Ford finally gave in and allowed him to have 15” wheels on his car.
As a result, Dunlop arranged for quantities of both sizes to be available for fitting at Timo’s wish.
The trouble was that there was so much confusion at the time that at the start of one stage, Timo’s car ended up with 13” wheels on one side of the car and 15” on the other.
The story goes that the Finn didn’t realise the mistake until one of the mechanics pointed out the anomaly. It wasn’t until Roger Clark, in another team Escort, was consistently two seconds a kilometer quicker than Makinen that he finally gave in and reverted to the smaller wheel and tyre combination.
It was only then that he ate humble pie and conceded that the smaller tyre combination was, in fact, quicker.
Down to the wire
We’ve all bought cars from previous owners who have fiddled with a car’s wiring system, or have actually tried to add an accessory – a gauge, a light or a switch ourselves.
Usually we can get away with a bodged-up job. However, a car wiring system is an intricate piece of work that’s not to be taken lightly and manufacturers spend enormous amounts of time in designing and manufacturing a wiring loom to suit their particular vehicle.
Rally cars have become more and more complex over the past 50 years, thanks to the amount of electrical equipment and computerised functions required.
A typical factory rally car loom takes around 270 hours to manufacture and uses approximately 400 metres of wire.
Which is as good a reason as any to only let a competent auto electrician work on your rally car.
Despite strange rules, the Mini still won the Monte Carlo Rally, despite the French authorities making it difficult.
It’s often been said that if you hand a Frenchman a clipboard and a piece of paper you’re looking for trouble. So when the regulations for carrying the correct number of spare tyres and wheels in events such as the Monte Carlo Rally were released back in 1963, British teams were dismayed.
French scrutineers had already excluded the works BMC Minis from the results for minor lighting infringements the previous year, which allowed the big Citroen DS to win on a technicality.
The regulations for the following year also played into the Citroen’s favour – a total of four spare wheels and tyres had to be carried in the car at all times, not an easy thing considering the Mini’s meager dimensions.
But the French insisted - the requirement stood and it was up to BMC to get around the problem, and if the Citroens just happened to have a size advantage, so be it.
But the Mini’s reputation was at stake, so the works cars appeared at the start with the required number of wheels and tyres on board. Firstly, there was one spare wheel strapped to the floor under the co-drivers’ feet, while another was fitted behind his seat.
The remaining two of the four required were too big to fit in the boot between the long-range fuel tanks, so they were mounted on the roof in a roof rack that did nothing at all for the aerodynamics.
Inconvenient and ungainly it might have been, but it satisfied not only the regulations, but the clipboard-holding scrutineers as well, and the Minis went on to win!
Malcolm Wilson at the wheel of his ill-handling Audi Quattro.
Mastering the Quattro
“It was the worst handling car I ever drove.” So said Malcolm Wilson, M-Sport boss, of the Audi Sport Quattro.
“On the other hand it gave you the greatest satisfaction in trying to get the most out of it. It took me quite a while, but once I did I found it most rewarding.
“It was the sheer power, torque and response that I enjoyed the most.”
Roger Clark (right) performed a unique test prior to the World Cup Rally ... or so legend has it.
Out of breath
Long distance endurance rallies come and go, but one of the important ones, the London to Mexico Rally, that was timed to coincide with the World Cup soccer championships, was held in 1970.
Most of the major manufacturers had entered and spent a lot of time pre-event going over the route to find out the most difficult parts of the 16,000 mile route.
There were “Primes” (special stages) of up to 500 miles long, but the most difficult sections were over the Andes mountains where lack of oxygen and fatigue were two of the major hazards.
Leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that its crews were capable of lasting the distance, Ford’s director of motorsport, Stuart Turner, is said to have instructed his leading driver, Roger Clark:
“Roger, we need to find out the effects of the lack of oxygen at 14,000 feet. Find a local girl at 14,000 feet, make love and report back.”
In due course Clark’s reply came back:
“Unable to find a girl at 14,000 feet, but no problem with the oxygen as I was able to make love to 14 girls at 1000 feet.”
There may be no truth in the story, but it has been repeated so many times over the years that it has almost become folklore. And it’s always good for a laugh.
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