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Walk through the service park of any major rally today and you’ll be overwhelmed by the size and the presence of the service tender vehicles parked there. No longer do Ford Transit vans or Nissan E20s, Dodge Canters or Toyota Troop Carriers cut it in the service park – if you’re going to have service backup, you might as well go the whole hog and get the biggest and best service vehicle that you can.

There was time when servicing for a rally used to be an exciting experience that allowed the service crew not only to ensure their driver’s car was right up to scratch, but to see a bit of the country at the same time. Part of the fun of servicing was the dash from one service point to the next, arriving there just before your car came out of the stage and into service. The drive to the service point, often forty or fifty kilometers from the previous one, was more often than not a flat-out road race conducted between service crews in heavily overloaded service barges.

Today there is little, if any, fun in being part of a service team, the only part of the country you’re likely to see during an event is the main service park itself. So professional is the effort put in by the factory teams (and, increasingly, the rich privateers as well) that the only vehicle that will suffice is a big semi-trailer transporter big enough to hold two rally cars, enough spare parts and panels to re-build a further three cars, a catering nook where cordon-bleu meals can be prepared in a jiffy, and a rest area that would shame a state school sick bay.  Forget towing your rally car to an event on a rusty old 4-wheel trailer behind a manky Transit van running on secondhand tyres that came off the rally car – a pantech is the only answer. And today’s service parks are full of them. Have you noticed?

Because everything has become so homogenized and clinical, service crew members have little to look forward to after their rally car has left for the next stage. Years ago there was a mad panic when everyone tried to pack up their gear as quickly as possible, throwing it into the truck and heading off to places unknown, only to repeat this four or five times during the event. Now the wait for the mechanics between consecutive services (in the one spot, mind you) is filled with boredom. Who said modern servicing was exciting?

And speaking of high speed dashes, back in the seventies and eighties the smart factory teams not only tried to have the best-prepared cars in the event, but the best prepared and most suitable service trucks as well. Ford had their Transit vans (white, of course), the General had Kingswood panel vans (some of which were V8’s), Nissan had E20 vans and Chrysler, bless them, had Valiant station wagons. Poor misguided souls.

If you remember when servicing on major events was an art form, in the days of the famous Southern Cross Rally, for instance, you’ll remember being passed out on the open road or on some winding forest road by one of the Datsun/Nissan team’s E20 vans. Servicing on such long events meant traveling long distances between service points, so a fast, well driven service van was needed to ensure that the competitors were met at the appropriate rendezvous.

Nissan’s E20s were the biggest suitable vehicles that the company possessed, but they were painfully slow when fully loaded with spare gearboxes, panels, differentials, wheels and tyres and the like. Thanks to some thinking outside the square, Nissan raided their parts bins and replaced the gasping 4-cylinder engine with a worked Datsun 260Z engine, running triple Webers and extractors, mated to a five-speed Zed box, and on heavily uprated suspension.

Having been passed on many occasions by one of these weapons when following the ‘Cross, I can attest that they were without doubt the fastest things about. Often driven by a guy who thought he was the next George Fury, the sight and sound of one of these weapons in action was a joy to behold. And the Nissan team guys loved driving them. Compared to the stock 6-cylinder Transits and the lethargic Valiant AP6 wagons, the E20s were the envy of the service park.

Just like today, these service crews earned their money and were the best at their particular job. Yet no matter how much conditions have changed supposedly for the better, there’s no doubt that today’s service crews would swap without hesitation their wasted time at the service park. They’d much rather be on the go racing around the country to rendezvous with their team car in some remote location way out in the wilderness.

Call it progress if you like, but that’s just another case of the ‘good old days’ disappearing for good.

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