Category: <span>Tales</span>


My First Mull – The 1970 Tour of Mull

This article was written in 2001 and published in the Programme for that year’s Tour of Mull Rally.
It was the 1970 Tour of Mull, and there we were on the start line, with Bobby MacLeod about to flag us away on our first attempt at a real rally.

The plan had been hatched 12 months previously on the way home from watching the 1969 Mull rally.
“Who fancies doing the rally next year?” one of the team asked.
“Oh yea, that would be great, count me in” I naively replied, ignoring the fact that I had no rally car, no money and very little prospect of a dramatic change to those circumstances.
Undaunted by the situation, I proceeded to “talk up” the plan (assisted by Jim Kerr who was to navigate for me) during the winter of 69/70 and on into the spring. By the summer of 1970 it became clear that we had to either (a) think up an excuse for not doing the rally, or (b) do something.
As luck would have it, a friend in the local car club, wanted to dispose of a Mini he had been using for road rallies and autocross. The car had been “Rally prepared” with the addition of a roll over bar and wheel arch extensions, but as the project had now been abandoned due to marriage, the owner had sold the engine and rear sub-frame. No money changed hands so I was well chuffed with my acquisition – we were on our way.
By mid-October, after much burning of the midnight oil, the car was ready, except for a few essentials – like wheels, tyres, starter motor, dynamo, number plates, tax disc – all of which had to be swapped over from my road going Mini before we could set off to drive the car to Oban on the Saturday morning of the rally.
Once on the island we headed for our 5 star accommodation for the weekend – a very small two man tent behind the then derelict farmhouse at Sgriob’ruadh just outside Tobermory. The service crew (two guys in a Hillman Imp with a torch and a wheel brace) pitched their tent next to ours and we were all set.
At 5:39pm the flag dropped and we set off from the Main Street to the first “selective” right at the gate to our campsite at “Screwed Rhubarb”. The route went right along the Glen Gorm road and, just before reaching the castle, took a left onto a rough track round to the cottages at Ballimeanoch. That was followed by a run through a very rough Dervaig forest to Dervaig and then a “selective” over the hill road to Torloisk, before a long road section round to the short stage at Aros Park, starting at Upper Druimfin and finishing at the main Aros Park gate.
So far so good. We had made it back to Tobermory, albeit 4 minutes slower than the pace setters, but we were ready for the night-time re-start.
The rest of the rally passed in a complete blur, although I hasten to add, not the speed induced type, more the “where are we, what are we doing” variety.
We started at around midnight and it took a long, long time to get to first service at Craignure via Derviag, Calgary, Torloisk, Loch Na Keal, Gribun, Loch Scridain and Glen More. The second leg had sections that started on the public road, entered the forest and then back onto the public road again without a stop. This must have presented a real tyre-choice dilemma for those with more than one set of tyres. The final section was the reverse of the first.
Our pace notes consisted of an Ordnance Survey map with the “bad bits” marked on it. The idea was that Jim would follow the route on the map and call out “hairpin” or “jump” to warn me of approaching danger so that I could slow down. The truth is we were going so slowly anyway that any application of the brakes had to be followed by a change down to first gear to get going again. Any thoughts of venturing up into third gear were soon dismissed when we came across the signs placed along the route by the rally organisers with the words “Caution – dangerous drops to sea”.
Work had only just started on the Glen More road improvements and Craignure to Salen was still single track, so there were precious few non-competitive road sections. Every inch of road that could be was used competitively and for complete novices it was exhausting. Jim actually fell asleep coming up the “long one” and it was just impossible for me to keep up any sort of pace at all.
The retirement rate was incredible and running at the back of the field meant we saw lots of crews with the remains of their cars, broken down at the side of the road, off the road down ravines, in the middle of bogs etc. It was all just a bit too scary.
Our strategy from the word go – based mainly on fear – was to complete the route with as little drama as possible, even if it meant finishing last, and so, at about 6.30am, running last on the road, we trundled into the final control back at Tobermory. To our amazement we were not last on the result sheet. Well, not quite last. Of the 22 crews who made it to the final control without major incident, we were classified 20th – a whopping 48 minutes slower than the winner. For all but a tiny minority who actually new what they were doing, this was a rally of survival not speed (25 minutes covered the top 10 finishers).
The most popular car on the entry list was still the Mini, in various guises. A top spec Mini Cooper ‘S’ probably had about ninety horse power, while mine with a 998cc engine had half that figure. The Ford Escort Twin Cam had recently appeared on the scene with a mind boggling 120 horse power as standard. Despite having very little power the cars had an unnerving tendency to leap off the road without warning, probably because most of us used normal road tyres with standard brakes and suspension. The real enthusiasts may even have fitted hard brake linings and “uprated shocks” – how things have changed.
The most difficult part of the weekend came on the Sunday night, namely, making sure you were still inside the MacDonald arms or the Mishnish bar when the doors were locked at the official closing time of 10:00pm. Having achieved this, the next most difficult thing was getting up in time to catch the seven o’clock boat on Monday morning. We did make a vain attempt at this, but by the time we packed the tent away we were already very late and when we ran out of petrol before reaching Salen we knew we had blown it. It had only just got light when we knocked on the door at Arle farm to “borrow” some fuel. We were invited in by the lady of the house and treated to a full breakfast while her husband siphoned enough petrol from his VW Campervan to get us to Craignure.
We had packed a lot into the last 48 hours and on the way home from Oban we reflected that while the rally was the reason for being there, it had somehow been only a part of the whole adventure.
We returned to the local car club to a heroes welcome – 20th place in a major event like this sounded quite impressive.
“So you’ll be going back next year to try for the top 10?”
“Oh yea, that would be great, count me in”.

Chris Paton, Lanark, 2001



2015 Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique

By Chris Paton

The Monte-Carlo Historique is a gentle Sunday run round some nice hotels and cafes for old people in old cars, right?  Never having entered a ‘Regularity Event’ that’s what I thought it would be. When I was asked by Michael Hyrons, who is hoping to take part in the rally one day in his restored Cooper-S, if I would like to go to France to find out more about the rally, the idea sounded quite appealing. Michael contacted Alistair Vines and asked if we could tag along with him and his team in their entry in the Mini Cooper-S CRX89B. The initial plan was that this would be a fact finding mission to establish what is required to complete the course. A couple of weeks before the event Alistair asked us if we could carry some spare wheels and fuel to do remote service, and by running ahead of him on the route we could relay back road condition information. When we received the second issue of the service schedule there was an additional column with our instructions and the heading ‘Ice Car’.

A little Explanation

Some detail here about the Monte-Carlo Rally and how the Automobile Club De Monaco ran things. There were five different starting points. These included Glasgow, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Turin and Reims.  Eventually all these ‘Concentration Routes’ converged at Saint-André-les-Alpes on Saturday, 31stJanuary to take a route which would include the first Regularity Zone (ZR) en route to Monaco.  Timing was to the minute with a set time between main controls.  Once the cars reach Monaco they were fitted with a GPS tracker called a ‘Tripy’ which allowed the AC de Monaco to track where and what speed each car was doing.  Heavy penalties were applied for exceeding a speed limit and all road sections had a target time between main controls.  Between main controls there could be Regularity Zones or ZRs as they were called. The ZR was a regularity section with the aim of achieving an average speed throughout the route. The Tripy allowed ACM to calculate the average speed at several points on the route and award penalties for each point of measurement.  That meant that you could not fly through the ZR and then wait near the finish to clock in at your target time.  Penalties were awarded per 1/10th of a second early or late on a ZR section.  In all there would be 14 ZRs over the whole “Common Route”.  After they reached Monaco and had their Tripy fitted they proceeded, after a nights rest, to Valance.  Then a loop back to Valance, then back to Monaco for the final couple of sections.  [Details of the Sections and  ZRs can be seen in the Appendix below, along with links to the ZR routes, etc]
On Wednesday 28th January at 7.00hrs Michael and I set off from Lanark in Michael’s Skoda Octavia VRS which was shod with Pirelli 210 snow tyres. We had a brief stop at Alistair’s house in the Midlands to pick up six wheels and tyres and a small jerry can for spare fuel and then headed for Dover to check into the hotel.
The following morning at the P&O ferry terminal we met Alistair and co-driver Willy Cave along with Nigel and Simon who were on servicing duties. CRX89B was on the trailer ready to board the boat bound for Calais.  Michael had done all the planning and paperwork for the trip and I was to do all the driving in France. The journey from Calais to Reims was straightforward and we were checked into our hotel by late afternoon.
We awoke on Friday morning to discover a light covering of snow. We took the car off the trailer and gave it and the Land Rover Discovery service car a quick wash in preparation for applying sponsors stickers. Next we did a trial fit of the snow chains on the VRS and also on the Mini.
Car 304, a 1964 Mini Cooper S, Regn No. CRX89B in the hotel car park before going to scrutineering.
On Wednesday 28th January at 7.00hrs Michael and I set off from Lanark in Michael’s Skoda Octavia VRS which was shod with Pirelli 210 snow tyres. We had a brief stop at Alistair’s house in the Midlands to pick up six wheels and tyres and a small jerry can for spare fuel and then headed for Dover to check into the hotel.
The following morning at the P&O ferry terminal we met Alistair and co-driver Willy Cave along with Nigel and Simon who were on servicing duties. CRX89B was on the trailer ready to board the boat bound for Calais.  Michael had done all the planning and paperwork for the trip and I was to do all the driving in France. The journey from Calais to Reims was straightforward and we were checked into our hotel by late afternoon.
We awoke on Friday morning to discover a light covering of snow. We took the car off the trailer and gave it and the Land Rover Discovery service car a quick wash in preparation for applying sponsors stickers. Next we did a trial fit of the snow chains on the VRS and also on the Mini.
At 11.00hrs we were off to scrutineering in a massive building full of amazing old rally cars which made it feel like a time warp back to the 1960s. The crew signed on and dealt with the paperwork and we all helped with the last minute preparation for scrutineering. After successfully passing we had a late lunch and then a couple of hours sleep in the car.
Scrutineering at Reims 

Fri 30, Sat 31 Jan : “Reims – Le Puy-en-Velay”  (127 cars)

The concentration run from Reims to Monaco included those crews who started from Glasgow making up a total field of 127 cars.  Our car was running right at the back of the field at number 304 so our start time was 21.00hrs.  Our brief in the ice note car was to run 10/15 minutes ahead of the rally car so that we could alert the crew of any adverse weather conditions or road blockages.
The first section was from Reims via passage controls at Gueux, Vitry-le-Francois, Bar-sur-Aube to the main control at Le Puy-En-Velay. Distance 614 Km. Target time 12Hrs 14Min. In theory it should be very easy to do the 614 Km in the time allowed, but as well as the delays at the passage controls there were also fuel stops and general servicing to be done, and also the unpredictable weather to be taken into account.The route was over a mixture of what would be A,B and C roads in the UK and even well after midnight there were people standing out in every village to see and hear the cars passing through. The roads were mainly free of snow and ice, but under the watchful eye of the very experienced Willy Cave, Alistair was really having to press on to keep to the schedule.First fuel service was at Bar Sur Aub just after midnight. We waited for CRX and helped with servicing and then followed to Brion Sur Ource.  From there it was a long slog down to Autun, and after 349Km we helped with another fuel service and changed CRX onto studded tyres in preparation for the smaller roads and the higher ground we were approaching.
The route was over a mixture of what would be A,B and C roads in the UK and even well after midnight there were people standing out in every village to see and hear the cars passing through. The roads were mainly free of snow and ice, but under the watchful eye of the very experienced Willy Cave, Alistair was really having to press on to keep to the schedule.
First fuel service was at Bar Sur Aub just after midnight. We waited for CRX and helped with servicing and then followed to Brion Sur Ource.  From there it was a long slog down to Autun, and after 349Km we helped with another fuel service and changed CRX onto studded tyres in preparation for the smaller roads and the higher ground we were approaching.
From there we were following the rally car on main roads to Roanna via Digoin. As we approached Roanne the snow came on heavily. We had to stop a couple of times to help clear the build-up of snow on the lamps and the screen on CRX as Alistair was having difficulty seeing the road.
Between Roanne and Feurs the snow was so heavy that the only cars moving were rally and service cars and on the N82 a number of lorries had simply come to a halt on the main carriageway as it was too dangerous for them to continue. But we had a schedule to keep to so following CRX at speed was the only option.
Leaving Feurs we were heading into the mountains on snow covered minor roads and with another 100Km to go it started to get light.
At 08.45hr we reached the main control in Le Puy En Velay. The rally had taken over the snow covered town square and there were many interested locals watching Nigel and Simon check the car over and do a full service of fluids, tyres and fuel.  Meanwhile I was trying to grab some sleep in the VRS, but despite having been up for more than 24 hours the adrenalin in my system kept me wide awake.
The Copenhagen crews joined our route here ready to tackle the second section from  Le Puy-En-Velay via Sederon to St Andre Les Alpes. Distance 342 Km. Target time 6Hrs 53Min.
This part of the route should have been fairly easy, starting with a very long run over the N102 through Aubenas to Montelimar, but we were in fairly busy Saturday morning traffic so progress was somewhat restricted. This was one of the few opportunities we had to see some of the rally cars as we travelled in convoy with an Alpine Renault A110, a Porsche 356 SC, a Lancia Fulvia Zagato and a Simca 1100 Rallye. From Montelimar we then headed down to Nyons, then over the Col De Peyruergue to the PC at Sederon and then through Sisteron on to the N85 and the N202 to arrive in St Andre Les Alpes at 15.30hrs.

Sat 31 Jan – “St Andre les Alpes – Monaco”, Includes ZR 1    Common route for all 314 cars after their ”concentration runs”

The Turin and Barcelona crews joined the route here making a total field of 314 cars to tackle the third section which would take us to Monaco via ZR1 (the first regularity section).  Distance 138Km. Target time 3hrs 15min.
Our tasks in the ice note car was to get well ahead of CRX and drive up the mountain road to the end of ZR1 at Levens village and report back on the road and weather conditions. The ZR was 12Km long on the M19 from Saint-Jean-La-Riviere to Levens. We were able to report back that the weather was cold but dry and there was no evidence of snow or ice. These regularity sections are timed to a fraction of a second with the aim being to maintain a constant average speed for the entire route. Alistair and Willy emerged from the ZR looking very pleased at having set a time only 1.1 seconds over target, helped by the correct tyre choice.
Car 304, Alistair Vines and Willy Cave (GBR) in their 1964 Austin Mini Cooper S approaching the remote service
From there we followed CRX down the mountain and as night fell we joined the A8 to Monaco where we met Nigel and Simon at a layby just off the motorway. We managed a final service of the car here before continuing into Monte-Carlo.
The rally crews had to proceed to the Beach Hotel in Monaco to the Tripy distribution zone where the satellite tracking device would be fitted to the cars. This would allow the AC de Monaco to monitor the exact position and speed of each rally car for the rest of the event.
Nigel who had towed the trailer all night went to find the trailer park and we headed to our hotel for a very welcome meal and a comfortable room for the night.

Sun 1st Feb –  Start of Classification legs: “Monaco – Valance”    Includes ZR2, ZR3, ZR4 and ZR5

The Sunday run was from Monaco to Valence. Section one was to Gare de Clelles. Distance 381Km. Time 8hrs.  The one advantage of running at number 304 was that we did not have an early start on the Sunday morning, so at 10.00hr we set off to ZR2 to check road conditions and weather. We were able to report back to Alistair and Willy that the weather was fine and the roads were dry


Car 217, Fernandel Cosin/Martinez Huarte (ESP) in a 1970 Lancia Fulvia 1600HF
Car 233, Legros/Perquin (FRA) in a 1977 Opel Kadett GTE
We then set off on the long drive to ZR3 at Selonnet where we found a way into the middle of the ZR route to find the road covered in hard packed snow and ice. We had travelled 230Km since we left Monaco and Alistair and Willy were due to arrive at 15.00hr. We waited to make sure Nigel and Simon arrived safely at the service area and reported the road conditions to them before setting off to get ahead of CRX to be able to meet them 60 Km away at Monetier-Allemont for emergency service. The service area was on the D942 just across the A51 from Montier-Allemont about 25Km north of Sisteron.
Remote Service 
The rally car was due at 17.00hrs. Nigel and Simon arrived 20 minutes before them and as CRX approached all seemed fine but when Alistair stopped the car he announced that they had had an accident. On a narrow road behind local traffic another competing car, in an attempt to overtake, had rammed the rear left hand corner of CRX. Alistair appeared very calm under the circumstances and a quick inspection showed there was no damage to the suspension or the fuel tank. However the bumper was destroyed, the lamp lens was broken and there was considerable damage to the aluminium boot lid. Temporary repairs were made using tape and we set off in convoy towards Gare de Clelles.
As we climbed to an altitude of 1200M the snow was really coming down and the “chains compulsory” signs were on as we approached the Col de la Croix Haute. Our instruction was to take the D539 over the Col de Grimone to rendezvous with CRX at Chatillon after ZR4 (Col de Menee) in case tyres or fuel were needed before tackling ZR5. As night fell we arrived in the small village of Chatillon where we had a long wait in -5 degrees C.
When Alistair and Willy arrived no service was required and we followed them towards ZR5, but as we turned off the main road in the village of Die the snow was so heavy that there were no tyre tracks visible on the road and we wondered if the route was closed. We decided to continue and Alistair was pressing on at speed so we had to follow suit up the incredible Col de Rousset with very thick snow on the road and snow banks at least one metre high on either side. At the summit we had to bear right as Alistair took the left fork to head to ZR5 which went over the Col de Carri and the Col de l’Echarasson. We met Nigel and Simon at Saint-Nazaire-En-Royans to wait for CRX and then travelled in convoy to Valence arriving at 21.30hrs.

Mon 2nd Feb – 1st part of the Common leg: “Valance – Valance”.    Includes ZR6, ZR7, ZR8 and ZR9


Cars in the village of Saint-Pierraville waiting to start ZR6
Monday morning in Valence was cold but sunny and on paper the ‘Valence to Valence’ route looked like a fairly easy day ahead for us. The first section from Valence to Saint Agreve was a distance of 234Km and a target time of 5hrs30. We set of at 10.30hrs to make our way to the ZR6 at Saint-Pierreville to be there at least half an hour ahead of Alistair and Willy to relay back the road conditions, snow line height and weather. We arrived in the village to find that the roads were dry and there had been very little snow all the way there. After reporting back to the crew we set off to La Champ Raphael to report the conditions for ZR7 Burzet to Saint-Martial. This region appeared to have had no recent snow because despite there being a good covering at the side of the road, the roads were clear and dry.
Saint-Agreve ZR8
There was a major service at Saint-Agreve but first we had to go to ZR8 to check weather and road conditions. The ZR started at the Col du Faux and came back round towards Saint-Agreve finishing at Labatie d’Andaure. We made our way to a cross roads in the middle of the rally route to again find there was no snow or ice on the road and we actually had some spare time to watch several rally cars passing by here.   Doing Ice Notes and Remote Service is quite a lonely task as you rarely see your rally car or service crew, but just outside Saint-Agreve there was a handy car park where several crews including Nigel and Simon had set up. We had some time in hand so we met them there to enjoy a hot coffee made by Nigel in the back of the Land Rover and to compare notes with the other service crews on how well or otherwise things were going for their crew.
The next section was from Saint-Agreve to Tournon. Distance 120Km. Target time 3hrs.  We left service before Alistair and Willy arrived, and while they were in service and then tackling ZR8 we had a relatively easy run along the D533 and through Lamastre and into a junction in the middle on ZR9. Again there little or no snow to report so we returned to Lamastre to wait for Nigel and Simon to report the conditions.
Start of ZR9  Lamastre to Plats 
The start of ZR9 was right beside the service park so we were able to walk up to watch the some of the cars leaving. It was getting quite dark when Alistair and Willy arrived and after a very brief service they were off to tackle ZR9 so we followed Nigel and Simon to Tournon.
We had been bypassing the main controls to keep ahead of the rally car, but at Tournon there was time for service right beside the control. The town of Tournon was fully geared up for the passage of the rally with a main control in the town square complete with flood lit marquee, live commentary and interviews (in French) with the crews. When CRX arrived we managed to check the car over, adjust the rear brakes and change the wheels before booking into the control. From here is was a fairly easy run to arrive in Valence at 20.30Hr.

Tues 3rd Feb – 2nd part of the Common Leg: “Valence to Monaco”  Includes ZR 10, ZR 11 and ZR 12

Tuesday morning in Valence was again very cold but sunny and ahead of us was a 400Km route back to Monaco with a target time of 8Hrs.
ZR10 was a 70Km drive away and started at Saint-Nazaire le Desert. We set off 30 minutes before the rally crew to get onto the Col de Pommerol to assess the road conditions, snow line height and weather. We phoned the information back to Simon who was waiting to service the car before ZR10.
ZR11 Verclause to Eygalayes  
We then set off on a route that would take us into the middle of ZR11 at the village of Villebois-Les-Pins. The ZR started at Verclause and went over the Col du Reychasset and then the Col du Pierre Vesce and finally the Col Saint Jean to Eygalayes. After watching 20 or so cars through we set off to wait for Alistair and Willy at the end of the ZR to follow them through Sederon to service at Les Bons Enfants. From here there was a drive of 100Km on main roads to ZR12 at Puget-Theniers. For us there was no suitable access to the middle of the ZR route so our only option was to continue on the main road and then double back to the village of Gilette to wait for Alistair and Willy to emerge.  Having successfully completed ZR12 the rally crew were to meet Nigel and Simon for a major service and then on to Monaco to prepare for the forthcoming night section. Meanwhile our task was to recce the final two ZRs to report back on the road conditions.

Tues/Wed 3rd/4th Feb Final leg during the night: “Monaco to Monaco”  Includes ZR 13 and ZR 14

It was dark by the time we reached ZR13 from Luceram to Lantosque over the Col St Roch and the Col de la Porte all 26Km – all completely free from snow or ice.

ZR14 La Bollene Vesubie to Sospel

Snow falling at the top of the Col de Turini at the Leranch Col Turini Hotel
The final regularity section was ZR14 and very much the sting in the tail of the event. Starting at La Bollene Vesubie the route went up the Col du Turini and then down through Moulinet and Sospel before tackling the Col Saint Jean and then down the D54 before returning north again on the D2566 to finish just outside Sospel, 53 Km in total with a target time of 1hr 4mins 7.7secs.  There were several other ice note crews on the road when we arrived but there was no ice to report. The road was dry all the way up to Turini where there was a light flurry of snow, but on the way down to Moulinet the road was wet and below that it was dry. We reported back the conditions and having completed our ice note duties set off for Monaco arriving at 20.30hr for a welcome meal and an early night as we were planning to travel home on Wednesday morning.
Before setting off for Calais the next morning we met Nigel who could give us the excellent news that Alistair and Willy had finished 59th overall, Top Mini, Best Brit, 1st IRDC Team GB (Tyresoles Trophy) and 2nd in Class.
The week had been a real eye opener to just how difficult the rally is, especially the regularity sections where a set average speed has to be maintained throughout and which are timed to 1/10th of a second at several points along the route – penalties can be accrued at each point and at the finish.
I’ve been involved in special stage rallying for over 40 years and this was by far the greatest distance I had covered, having travelled over 3600 miles from leaving home to returning. I have to admit I’m not sure if regularity events are for me, but the Monte-Carlo Historique maintains a fairly tough schedule with little margin for error or failure and it’s certainly no tea and muffins tour for old duffers. 
Chris Paton                                                                                    
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Timetable of Sections

Concentration Legs

Wed 28 – Fri 30 Jan – “Glasgow – Reims”  
1042 kms including ferry from Calais. Only 8 cars did this section.

Fri 30 – Sat 31 Jan – “Reims – Le Puy-en-Velay”
12 hours 14 min for 614 km, includes 127 cars from Glasgow and Reims

Sat 31 Jan – “Le Puy-en-Velay – St Andre les Alpes”
6 hours 53 min for 342 kms.  Now includes those cars from Barcelona, Turin and Copenhagen

Sat 31 Jan – “St Andre les Alpes – Monaco”
3 hours 15 min for 138 kms, Common route for all 314 cars after their ”concentration runs” Includes ZR 1


Classification leg

Sun 1st Feb – “Monaco – Valance”
7h 50 to 8h for 381 kms, Includes ZR2, ZR3, ZR4 and ZR5

1st part of the Common leg

Mon 2nd Feb – “Valance – Valance”
5h 20 to 5h 30 for 233 kms, Includes Includes ZR6, ZR7, ZR8 and ZR9

  2nd part of the Common Leg

Tues 3rd Feb – “Valence – Monaco”
8h to 8h 10 for 394 kms, Includes ZR 10, ZR11 and ZR 12


Final leg – a night section

Tues/Wed 3rd/4th Feb – “Monaco – Monaco”  
4h 10 to 4h 20 for 169 kms. Includes ZR 13 and ZR 14


Back to Tales from the Past Index 


Zlatni Pyassutsi Rally 1978

This is the story of the first and only rally I have done in a communist country, and it was at the height of the Cold War to boot.  It was also one of the best, certainly the most gruelling, and superbly organised.
Chris Watham from Southampton was the driver, and yours truly occupied the hot seat.  Our car was an ex-works Group 1 Mark 1 Escort prepared by David Sutton and entered by Cal Withers, so at least we had everything going for us so far as the means of propulsion was concerned.
My memories of the event started on board a Balkan Airways Tupelov at Brussels.  I sat with Castrol’s world troubleshooter whose name I regrettably can’t remember; but he was a fine fellow who knew a lot about the world as he went through a ninety-page passport nearly every year! One of his many  briefs was to see that Castrol-sponsored motor sport events reflected well on his company, which was the reason for his trip to Bulgaria.
Take-off seemed to be a ponderous and lumbering affair, and I commented on this. “Well,” said my companion, “They’re not Rolls Royce engines are they?” He also pointed out the general configuration of the ‘plane, which I saw could be converted into a troop carrier very easily.
“Here’s your first dose of communism coming up”. This took the form of what looked like a hatchet-faced discus thrower who asked us if we wanted tea or coffee.  Svelte she was not.  I wanted coffee, my friend wanted tea.  She duly returned with a tea bag and a jar of instant coffee from which she carefully spooned some of the vile stuff into my plastic cup.  She then asked if we wanted sugar or milk, trotted off, and returned with our order.  The punch line came when she once again returned to our seats bearing a kettle of boiling water!  Oh dear.
Customs at Sofia made us feel like we were the advance guard of a British Secret Service sting operation, and the first feelings came upon us that we were in a truly alien land.
Customs at Sofia made us feel like we were the advance guard of a British Secret Service sting operation, and the first feelings came upon us that we were in a truly alien land.
Our hotel had obviously been a town house in the days when Bulgaria had an aristocracy; and the huge rooms, although a bit dowdy, had high ceilings and magnificent panelling and cornices.  When we turned on the ancient valve radio we noticed that the frequency dial was physically jammed on Radio Sofia – so the BBC World Service was right out of the question.  After dinner I went for a wander round the quiet streets near the hotel, and it wasn’t long before I realised I was being followed.  When I stopped, he stopped.  When I crossed the street, he crossed the street.   Not that there was much for me to look at, with the shops looking like they were abandoned Oxfam charity places.
The event had been attempted only once before by a British crew – by Andrew Cowan no less – but for some reason he didn’t finish. Andrew did however provide some useful feedback on what we might expect, and he gave this information to the charming Wendy Jones of The Scotsman who at that time was the leading light in running the Scottish Rally Championship. The last thing I expected from Wendy was a bagfull of Ford keyrings and a pile of old Shell, Glayva and Scottish Rally stickers! “For bribery,” explained Wendy.  “These people over there have nothing, and nonsense like this almost passes for hard currency!”  She was dead right, as we were to discover: from hailing a taxi to being served in a restaurant, the magic keyrings provided the open sesame!
Our Escort arrived a couple of days later towed behind the Range Rover service vehicle, and Chris and I purloined it right away for our recce. This turned out to be almost a rally in itself.
My job was to navigate the route and make pace notes for as many of the special stages as we could in the few days available. One of the troubles was that the road book, fortunately with a Tulip format, also had the place names in English; so I had to give myself a crash course in the Cyrillic alphabet in order to read the road signs.  This was the least of our bothers though. Believe it or not, one couldn’t drive into a filling station, fill up the tank and pay for the stuff with Zloties.  Oh no, – you had to go to the nearby town and find the place that authorised and stamped the official petrol coupons and then return to the station!  It was a time-consuming hassle; although at least we had dozens of the silly bits of paper which had been provided free by the organisers.  And was this the greatest of our trials?   No – it was hunger!
    Bulgaria is a pretty big place and is quite sparsely populated.  The area covered by the rally was extensive and included very few villages; and finding somewhere to eat proved impossible.   After twenty-four hours or so, and starting to hurt with hunger, we heard something rolling about on the back floor of the Range Rover which turned out to be a blessed tin of peaches!  But could we open the bloody thing……?!   We did of course eat cherries – thousands of them!  In communist Bulgaria a traveller was allowed to eat as much as he liked from any field or orchard, provided none was taken away, and the ubiquitous cherries were our only means of having any kind of sustenance.
    We did think once that we were about to have a proper meal, but it didn’t turn out that way.  We were at a filling station manned by a friendly old couple, and through sign language managed to indicate we were starving and needed a place to sleep.  Via their sign language in return, we understood they would be off their shift at nine o’clock and would show us the way.  This they duly did, and with a farewell wave to our new-found friends entered a tourist site that had dozens of little round two-bed huts – and a restaurant!  We rushed into the place and straight up to the counter. “ Food!” we cried, accompanied by the universal signs of being famished!  The chef shrugged his shoulders and beckoned us round the counter to show us a row of completely empty pots.  We were in despair until Chris pointed to a table with plates of leftovers which we dived on and scoffed!   I kid you not.
  As the Escort had just completed a full service, we decided it best to drive the four hundred miles from Sofia to Zlatni – just to see if any bits fell off!   We were on our way out of Sofia when it started to rain, and then the weirdest thing happened. The traffic came to halt and every driver got out of their cars to fit their windscreen wipers!   Ah, the joys of communism!
    Once out of Sofia we headed for Varna on the Black Sea.  This was the country’s main artery, and was an ordinary two-lane road without markings, and with more than its fair share of potholes.   After Varna we headed north up the Black Sea coast for Zlatni and encountered yet another feature of life in a totalitarian state.  We passed a few cars on the fairly quiet road then came up behind a convoy of eight black Zils.  The convoy was going at a reasonable speed, and we noticed as it sped through villages the people either scarpered or turned their backs on the passing entourage.  It was all a bit sinister.
    Chris thought we should try and pass the whole convoy in one go if and when we came upon a straight which was long enough – as we didn’t feel we should ‘cut them up’. A suitable straight came up quite quickly and Chris dropped into third and ‘sank the welly’.   We had barely pulled out to pass tail-end-Charlie when the driver pulled out sharply to cut us off and held up a machine pistol!   You would be quite right, dear reader, in guessing we made no further attempts to pass!   When the convoy eventually turned off, we were given a cheery smile by the rearguard driver and waved on our way. ( We learned later that the convoy contained the high officials of the Soviet embassy in Sofia who were en route to their exclusive dachas on the Black Sea – and I bet that lot didn’t have to stop and fit their wipers when it rained.  Truly, some were more equal than others).
The rally began with a race round the streets of Zlatni Pyassutsi. This was for four cars at a time, and was primarily so that the local people could see some of the fun.   It was interesting to note that there were reckoned to be over a hundred thousand spectators in a town that boasted a population of around twenty thousand.
The event proper started in the evening after the road race and was a flat-out affair from the word go.  The average speed for the road sections between the special stages I calculated as being about fifty-five miles an hour, and was just manageable on the twisty hill roads.  There were no worries about oncoming traffic, as the public roads were closed to all except competitors, (but not to local horses, carts and donkeys!).   Apart from meal stops at main controls there was absolutely no let-up for the first forty-eight hours, and we were indescribably exhausted.  The heat during the day was unbearable, and we were reduced to our underwear and crash hats for a time until our bare chests and shoulders were being rubbed raw on our Willins full harness seat belts.  The start of every stage saw throngs of people, including many pretty girls who scrabbled to kiss us and give us bunches of roses. ( Ah, would that we had had more time!)
Aching and exhausted, and with our eyeballs hanging out of our heads, we collapsed, still in our flamies, on top of our beds and slept the sleep of the dead for five blessed hours.   We came to, soaking wet, as the service boys had to drench us with cold water to wake us up!
So, it was up and at it again, and Chris was flying.  We were lying in a creditable fourth place, when, during a night section, mugsy here wrong-slotted which dropped us back into about twentieth place by the time we were back on the right route.  It was perhaps Chris’s fury that made him drive like a fiend possessed and we made up quite a few places, although I think we only managed about a notional eigth or so as we were out of time at the final control because of my mistake.  We rally folk are a forgiving lot, and there were absolutely no hard feelings, (drivers make mistakes too!)
    It was quite an event……………….
Alastair Findlay,   April 2010
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   Report by Alastair Findlay
Helsinki, Findlay,      February 17th-20th 1977
It all started at 5.30 a.m. outside the Smith residence on the Wednesday.   Five and a half hours to London, we reckoned, but in the event it took a little longer to reach David Sutton’s establishment, mainly on account of the last mile of the M1 involving a little matter of about three quarters of an hour.   To pass the time we had a chat with David ‘Chunkey Chicken’ Porter who happened to loom alongside.
A small convoy set out from Sutton’s to Heathrow, and soon Finnair Flight AY830 headed north-east over the North Sea, Denmark, Sweden and the ice bound Baltic to land in a flurry of snow at Helsinki some two and a half hours later.
We were taken to our hotel in a fleet of cars provided by Pentti Arikkala, whose kindness to the British contingent was not to stop at this thoughtful gesture.   The fabulous Kalastajatorppa Hotelli was the base not only of the overseas competitors, but of the Hankiralli administration.   Words to describe this establishment are hard to find, if only because they would have to convey an impression that will not be found in Britain for another ten years.   From the hot tiled bathroom floors to the saunas;  from the swimming pools to the simple yet breathtaking tunnel which connects the hotel buildings underground;  from the triple-locking bedroom doors to the general air of sumptuousness, all spoke of a country supporting considerable wealth, in spite of having to live under the very shadow of the U.S.S.R.   The Pound Sterling does not convert very well these days, so the cost of living was felt acutely on two fronts.   Indeed, we only had one main meal in the Kalastajatorppa which ran to about £10 a head for a one course meal.   (All right, some of us had to lay in about the reindeer, barbecued on a spit, but even so!   The coffee at over a pound a cup put the lid on things).   Anyhow, we were there for a rally—not a gourmet expedition.
And what a rally!   The annals of East Ayrshire Car Club deserve a supplement all of its own for this one.   Thirteen hundred kilometres—over six hundred of stages—narry a hint of tarmac or gravel—just snow and ice, snow and ice, snow and ice, and all compressed into an all-go event spanning Friday, Saturday and Sunday with only a four hour halt at Mikelli which was euphemistically dubbed by the organisers as “the long rest”!
Before this ordeal however, Pentti Arikkala arranged for a patch of sea just outside Helsinki to be cleared off, and provided a brace of rally Avengers and a Peugeot Estate car for practice in the weird techniques of ice racing.   The fun lasted half a day with everyone having a shot in the hot seat with Pentti for which experience alone the writer would have made the trip.   To come in on a perfect line at over 120 kph and with everything you know telling you it can’t be done and then seconds later drifting gracefully out and into the next bend was a thing of beauty.   All the British heidbangers had tuition from Pentti which perhaps explains why Ian and Andy changed their names to Gemmellquist and Smitharikka for the duration (positively ashamed they were of having mere Findlays and McHargs beside them.   Incidentally the Finns blessed Big D with the Kelvinsidian McHerg in the rally documentation.)   It was a bit of a pity that practice couldn’t have been done with the competing cars, but they were late in arriving owing to excessive ice blocking Helsinki harbour.
Ian Gemmell’s Hillman Avenger Tiger waiting in the Parc Ferme for the start of the 1977 Hanki Ralli. Alastair Findlay was the co-driver.
Documentation and scrutineering started at 8 a.m. on the Friday, but as we still had the studded tyres to collect and have fitted, it was later on in the morning by the time we had collected the required number of rubber stamps.   The first car of Timo Makkinen left the ramp at 16.01 and the British competitors in a bunch spanning the late forties to early fifties left just before 5 o’clock for the longest road section of the rally, which was all of thirty miles.
Only a hint of light remained in the cold, clear sky, as with more than a little trepidation we checked in at the first of 45 stage controls.   Crash hats on;  tighten belts;  check watches;  intercoms on;  Finnish for five, four, three, two, one, then—Aja;  No one just tittered round the first stage, but equally certainly, no one went hell for leather—there was a lot to learn, and a long long way to go.   David Lang, however, did manage to stuff it on this first stage, and after several offs in the first few stages, rolled right out of the rally on the fourth.
Gemmellquist gave Findlay his first snow-shovelling session on the second stage, about 30 yards after a brow-K-right, but between the ever helpful spectators and Andy Smith (who stopped to help on the end of a tow rope), we were away again, but down by eight minutes.   Andy and David had any makings of a grin wiped off their faces after they too savoured the  delights of struggling with a rally car embedded in a snowbank on the very next stage.   From then on, the drivers had a better idea of what they were up against, and between Findlay yelling ‘screw the nut’ and Gemmell muttering ‘shut up’, car 52 stayed on the road for at least a while longer.
Speed traps in Finland can be numbered by how many there are to the mile, and with the exception of a scale of point charges for up to 10 kph over the allowed limit, any speeding meant instant exclusion.   Ample time, however, was allowed for the short hops between stages, and the system used must surely find its way over here in time.
At the end of every stage control, the last whole minute of the flying finish time is entered in the time card book, to which is added the already printed number of minutes allowed for the following road section.   You then have to arrive within the minute calculated—with ten points a minute being added to your penalties for being late, and twenty a minute for being early.   This stops dead in its tracks any ‘road race’ between any more than the section being covered, as any time lost can never be made up later between main controls, as in this country.
The organisation and timing was an essay in perfection, and we noticed that over ninety per cent of the marshals were mature men in their late thirties and forties, who, while obviously enjoying themselves and finding time to be friendly with us ‘furiners’, still took the whole business seriously.   The end result was no protests whatsoever and a book of results (about 50 pages long) in everyone’s hands within hours of the finish. With many of the stages used also forming part of the ‘Thousand Lakes’, it meant that, even without notes on the secret route, staggering time differentials could be found amongst Finns who were able to drive from memory.   The stages envisaged in their summer aspects made one quake at the very thought of the ‘Thousand Lakes’, many being wide, sweeping, yumpy public roads where the speeds must be truly fantastic.   At least in winter, no matter what kind of shunt you had, it would be virtually an impossibility to hurt either car or crew.
Yes, we all had our bothers too, as might be expected on a rally of this magnitude.   Gemmell/Findlay had three excursions in all, the last of which was something of a disaster, in that it was the cause of our not being classified as finishers and taking the fastest overseas competitors award, which went to Peter Clarke/Phillip Boland.   The penalty system was devised in such a way as to prevent people from checking out of a stage a week after the event had finished, and demanding a time by the simple expedient of subtracting the stage ‘maximum’ from the actual time spent in the stage, and adding the figure to ‘road penalties’.   The end result for us was 1 hr 4 mins less 25 mins equals more than the 30 minutes road penalties allowed in any one half of the event.
Around this same time, Smith/McHarg had their bothers on one of the 47 kilometre stages.   Poor David was desperate for a kip and looking forward to having nothing to do with navigation for about half an hour, when out of the corner of a nearly shut eye, he saw the inevitable happening.   They were in for quite a while, but made it back into the rally within the time allowed, after some  heroic effort.
Every international rally has a flavour all its own, and this was no exception.   For instance:  a sheet was handed to the navigator in three languages at the start of SS40 to the effect that wolves had been seen in the area, and that if one ‘happened to be under the car’ to inform “absolutely of it to the organisers as wolves are protected in Finland!”   As an afterthought, they kindly suggested that in the event of a breakdown, “don’t go far from your car”.   And another thing, just before the off, a marshal would hand you some last minute warning, which was very nice of them, but was offtimes in Finnish, and by the time you had screamed “English”, you were off.   All part of the fun, and I suppose, in that obscure way, one other part of our addictive sport.
To debrief for a sentence or two, and pass on what advice we can:-
Finland is expensive, but if the organisers and the replacement sponsor of Nortti next year continue to provide the concessions of free shipping, hotel (accommodation only), and entry, it can be not too desperate on the pocket.   Studded tyres should be bought in this country, and sensible quantities of food should be taken.   (drink costs were nipped in the bud when we paid a visit to the duty free place at Heathrow).   Service should be shared as widely as possible, say over three or four crews.   Oh, and one final thing, – don’t act the optimist and put the snow shovel in the boot, or even in the back seat, – have it right beside the navigator.

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42e Rallye Monte Carlo, 1973

in Ford Escort RS1600 (DRR 111J)

   Having barely started rallying, and being daft and impulsive, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to pick up the regs for ’The Monte’ at the Royal Scottish Automobile Club in Blythswood Square when I went in there for lunch one day near the end of 1972. There wasn’t much time until the closing date for entries, so I completed it there and then and took it through to Major R. Tennant Reid together with a cheque for the horrendous sum of one hundred quid! There was so little time in fact, that Bob appended a personal note to my application via the RAC in London which said ‘for favour of stamping and urgent onward transmission to Monte Carlo‘, and sent it off by Special Delivery.
    “You’ve what!” exclaimed Isabell when I eventually arrived home. “I’ve entered for the Monte” I repeated. Quite reasonably she asked who I was going to do it with; and this had the immediate effect of making me realise just what I had taken on, and thus began weeks of planning and organisation.
    Right enough, a co-driver was the first thing on the agenda. I suspected my wonderful co-driver Frew Bryden would be unable to take the time off for it, although I asked him of course, only to receive the answer I expected. So who was to be the brave soul sitting in the hot seat? With the handicap of the passage of time I am not absolutely certain quite how I was lucky enough to avail myself of the professionalism and experience of the late Ian Muir, (who himself dearly wanted to have the Monte on his CV as it were). I think the tracking-down process was via Jimmy McInnes and John Milne.
    International rallying was different in those days, and quite unlike the rather pathetic three-day events in daylight only which we have today. They lasted a week or more and involved days and nights without sleep, and pace notes were something a privateer could only dream of. Also, being a foreign event, there was no question of having or affording my trusty service crew of Mid Bruce and Mike Banks, so everything we needed had to be stowed in the car. Big problem – and the subject of many meetings and ‘phone calls between Ian and myself which usually boiled down to weight and to what we thought we might need.
    The dining room at Barnsdale was emptied of furniture and the floor given over to laying out every conceivable thing we thought would have to be taken; but after a while it became obvious that what we had spread out just wouldn’t physically fit into the car, (in spite of a few sterling efforts), and thus began the process of starting all over again with the criteria for inclusion being not what we thought might be handy, but that which we just couldn’t do without. There was much to do, and even my entry number, 307, had to be traced out and painted onto self-adhesive white plastic on the dining room floor, as standard competition numerals weren’t allowed.
    With days to go, we were as ready as we were ever going to be; and on the eve of the adventure duly reported to the multi-storey car park near Blythswood Square for signing-on, scrutineering and parc ferme.
    The big day started dark and freezing, and I can’t remember if my shivering was because of cold or nerves! A few Glasgow friends including Robert Reid and my uncle John braved the elements to see us off, as did that wonderful stalwart of Scottish rallying – the late Ross Finlay. His advice was not to worry too much about the competition, as most of the foreign private entrants were all ‘flashing teeth and eyes and go-faster tape!’ There were only twelve starters from Glasgow – the other three hundred odd starting from nine varying places such as Stockholm, Warsaw, Paris, a few other capitals I cannot recall, and Monte Carlo itself. Among our little group was the maestro himself, the legendary Hannu Mikkola – of which more later.
    Five, four, three, two, one – the Saltire was lifted from the windscreen by Bob Reid whose parting words were, “See you in Rosie’s!” We were off……
    There were only three main controls in the UK – Scotch Corner, Watford Gap and Dover. These were easy runs with ample time, and had none of the snow around Carnwath and the Borders that I remembered seeing when I watched the Monte competitors on several occasions before. We only had a little bother, (with the twin down-draught Weber carburettors), which was sorted out in next to no time thanks to the kindness of Norman Masters of the Ford works service crew.
    Boulogne, and another freezing early morning, and the start of more serious road sections with shorter times between main controls than allowed in the UK. There were crowds in every town and village willing us to go faster, which we refrained from doing until we saw even the gendarmes urging us to ‘sink the welly’. In France, quite unlike rallying in Britain, where cars seem to be studiously ignored by the general public, but not by the police (!), we could at last let things rip a bit. I remember our first control point in a small town in northern France where we were served breakfast by the mayor who turned out to be an Englishman! He insisted we come with him to see a Norman archway which had recently been discovered in the local church; and although we were in a bit of a hurry to be off, good manners dictated we paid a visit to his pride and joy.
    The run south through France was fast but uneventful until we reached the hillier regions around Clermont Ferrand. There was one small incident however which marked out Ian as one of the countries greatest co-drivers and navigators. We were speeding along in convoy at the tail end of about eight competitors, (which included Mikkola), when Ian told me to take a left even although every other car had gone straight on. Just as with Frew, I did as I was told, but did wonder just a wee bit! I needn’t have worried, as about ten minutes later I saw them all come up in my rear-view mirror! (I learned only recently that Ian once co-drove for Stig Blomquist in an RAC Rally and learned Swedish for the event).
    In the Rallye Monte Carlo in the old days, there was only one special stage on the first leg between one’s starting point and Monaco itself, and which had to be completed before being allowed to compete on the subsequent two mountain sections for the real meat of the rally. This for us was the Col du Corobin.
    I don’t think before or since in my rallying career have I ever known such out and out fear. As I mentioned at the beginning, I was very much a learner driver, and it would be nearly two years before I was third in the championship, and had yet to master even that most basic of rally-driving skills – opposite lock! The stage started down in a valley and climbed way up above the snowline. That was bad enough – but going down the other side was nothing short of terrifying. The road was narrow, there were no crash barriers, and the drops were awesome. I was close to tears with fear, and but for Ian’s comforting words I might have stopped there and then and run home to mummy! We did have a minor prang though when I stupidly braked on an icy hairpin instead of hitting the loud pedal, and we hit the side of a spectator’s BMW; just the other side of which was a chasm, the depth of which I still don’t want to know!
    It was at the bottom of this ordeal when I first met Geraint Phillips, aka Verglas of the Motoring News – and I was in a state. Gerry saw this quivering wreck and sussed what was up: so he came over, stuck his head through the window, and in his lilting Welsh accent uttered the words I shall never forget – “You don’t want to worry about these drops boyo. Just imagine it’s a ploughed field out there!”
    We made it to Monaco, and, as arranged, Isabell flew out to Nice to meet up with us. We all stayed with a Madame d’Estrange in one of those houses built on the edge of a cliff which seemed to feature all over Monaco. (As an aside, Madame d’Estrange was very friendly with the staff of the Onassis household, and on our first morning with her we found her in tears as she had just heard that Alexander Onassis had died in a ‘plane crash. Even then, just hours after the tragedy had happened, Aristotle himself privately announced to his staff that he was sure his son had been murdered).
    A proper sleep before the first of the mountain sections was completely out of the question, and I sweated, tossed and turned all night. That made it about sixty hours without anything approaching a decent kip – but adrenalin is an amazing thing!
    We were not to know it as we were flagged off for the second section of the rally, but this Monte was to turn out to become one of the most famous in its long history.
    The trouble all started after we had completed only a few special stages, (which didn’t turn out to be so bad, because it was dark, and I couldn’t see the drops!). I also discovered that Ross Finlay was absolutely right about the boy racers as we had to pass dozens of them on the stages.
    The next main control was in the village of Burzet high in the mountains, and we drove into what can only be described as a rally circus. There were hundreds of vehicles in the square – rally cars, services wagons, spectators’ cars, tyre trucks, the press – you name it. Ian got out and went to the control point with our road book for stamping, but returned very soon after and told me the marshals weren’t signing in anybody, and there would be an announcement later. The announcement duly came in the form of a marshal who poked his head in the window of every car that bore rally plates, and saying, none too politely, – “Pour vous c’est finis!”
    While I went off to find something for us to eat, Ian tried to discover just what the hell was going on, (and thank goodness for his fluent French).
    It turned out that a few dozen of the leading cars had made it through what would have been our next stage, but then an avalanche had blocked the route. As the then leading car was French, a Renault Alpine driven by Jean Claude Androuette, co-driven by Michelle Petite, aka ‘Biche’, the organisers decided not to declare force majeure on the stage and thereby effectively put an end to our rally. (We found out not much later that the Clerk of the Course was a twenty-three year old Frenchman who had never even seen the inside of a rally car in his life!)
    We three hundred or so privateers hadn’t gone to all the time, trouble and expense to be illegally kicked out of a rally because a young Frog didn’t know the rules! Something had to be done!
    The leading light of the rebellion was a Swiss driver who turned out to be a forceful character with a command of most European languages. Our ‘council of war’ centred around a map of the south of France spread out on a car bonnet. We knew we had to stop the rally in its tracks in order to bring about a status of force majeure for the entire complement of competitors, including ‘the ones that got away’. It became apparent that we would have to block several junctions at scattered locations such that the cars still in the rally couldn’t possibly make it to their next main control in time thereby disqualifying them too. Ian and I along with about sixty other cars set off in a high-speed convoy to a junction twenty miles away with instructions to snarl up the route. The blockage we arranged was by parking about thirty cars up the road from the stage and the rest from the junction over the bridge which was the road out to the next special stage control. We sat and waited.
    We had the radio tuned to Monte Carlo, and suddenly Ian pricked up his ears. It was the news, and the first item was about competitors blocking the route of the Monte. Here were we thinking we were on a secret mission when every man and his brother knew what we were up to! It didn’t take long for the gendarmes to arrive – and arrive they did. Truckloads of them, and mob handed. They were nasty. Vary nasty indeed. The was none of your ‘good morning sir, would you mind moving your vehicle’. No – it was out with the truncheons, screaming and shouting, demanding our car keys, and generally behaving like a shower of thugs. It was scary enough to make us move.
    We then made our way down the route of the rally and came upon a long straight with a bridge in the middle of it whereupon was parked a service van with its wheels removed! We had to laugh! Other competitors and some spectators were parked with us beside the road, and we all wondered just how the gendarmes were going to sort this one out as the driver of the service truck had taken the keys out and flung them into the river along with the wheels!
    And then it happened. The most amazing bit of guts and driving skill I have ever witnessed.
    The first car down from the stage was the works Escort of Hannu Mikkola. He stopped about four hundred yards from the bridge, and we could hear the throaty snarl of the powerful engine as he stopped there, revving every few seconds, wondering what to do. Suddenly we heard the deafening roar of the RS1600 bursting into life, and with squealing tyres hurtled towards us. About a hundred yards from the bridge he flicked the car right, blasted through the roadside hedge, literally flew down onto the field several feet below, gunned the car towards the river, drove right through it in a cascade of water and noise, roared across the field on the other side, did a wall of death manoeuvre up the banking, blasted through the hedge again, off down the road, and away……! When our dropped jaws returned to normal, all we could do was clap, cheer and salute! Having seen how it could be done, many others then completed the same trick.
    The heavy-handed gendarmes soon arrived along with a handful of members of the press and some more spectators. One poor bloke was taking photographs and was immediately pounced on and had his camera ripped from him and the film torn out. Another was manhandled pretty badly. Ian sought to intervene, and for his troubles finished up with a policeman’s pistol thrust into his gut. It was the photograph of this incident that finished up on the front page of The Daily Mirror. Fame at last Ian!
    The gendarmes unceremoniously dragged the offending service van off the bridge, and the road again became clear. A little later, and a bit further down the road, the mayhem continued. In a massive field of several hundred acres we witnessed the cream of the world’s rally drivers milling around aimlessly in desperate attempts to find a way out and back onto the route. The first to try was Tony Fall in a works Datsun 240Z who blasted through the hedge quite close to where Ian and I were standing. His effort was in vain as he belly-flopped onto a banking which rose from the hedge to the road. He was right royally stuck!
    Tony pleaded with us and the others who had gathered around to get him out of his predicament; but it was Ian, who knew Tony well, who told him there was no way we were going to help him unless he used his position in the Rally Pilots Association to help us. He eventually agreed to take the position seriously and promised to help, so we dragged him onto the road and let him go. (Fortunately his Datsun was an ex-Safari car with lots of grab handles).
    Eventually we all finished up back in Monte Carlo and into one of the stormiest meetings of any kind I have ever attended. The organisers were sticking to their guns by saying we hadn’t clocked in at Burzet, (studiously failing to mention that they wouldn’t let us!) We for our part were screaming back saying that the Clerk of the Course hadn’t followed his own, and standard, rally regulations! But it was no use. We were denied further participation, and for the rest of the event became mere spectators.
    On a lighter note, two days later was the rally dinner and presentation of prizes which was held in the splendid Sporting Club d’Hiver in Casino Square. Before that event we had to of course pay a visit to the world-famous casino and lay the many one-pound bets we had been given by friends and relatives! Entrée to the best areas of the casino was smoothed by the concourrent badges which Ian and I had to wear on our lapels – and it was truly amusing laying five-franc bets with us resplendent in our dickies and Isabell in a magnificent mink stole lent to her by Madame d’Estrange, beside the seriously rich laying bets for a king’s ransom! James Bond – Eat your heart out!
    There was more. One had to arrive at the dinner venue either by car or taxi; so we had to pile into a taxi for the hundred yard journey from the casino to the winter sports club! The reason for this was so that the band could play the appropriate national anthem for the arriving competitors’ grand entrance! Now I know what royalty feels like!
    Our last day was also the festival of St. Devota, the patron saint of Monaco – and in addition to the most amazing fireworks display I had every seen, we were within five feet of one of the most beautiful things on the planet: Princess Grace. On the silver screen she is certainly lovely, but close up in the flesh she was a memory that will forever sear my mind.
Alastair with the late Ian Muir (on right) just after their ill-fated 1973 Monte Carlo Rally.
Postscript –  The long journey home was a high-speed blast which we did ‘in a oner‘, with poor Isabell sandwiched into a corner of the back seat between roll cage struts, studded tyres, crash hats, tools, and all the other paraphernalia.
    Our Monte fiasco finished up at the FIA in Paris for their adjudication, and not surprisingly they ruled in favour of the privateers. The rally organisers received a severe ticking off and were told to provide us all with free entries for the 1974 event. However, 1974 was the year of the fuel crisis – and the event never took place.
    Naive souls that we were, we presumed that we would have our free Monte in 1975 – but the organisers, with a completely straight face, told us that our free entry was only for 1974!
Do the damned Frogs ever change….!!!
Alastair Findlay,   April 2010 

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Motorsport Stories: 1960-1970’s

submitted by Peter Shankley
Lancia Stratos:
Every November four of us used to scoot down the highways and byways to watch the RAC Rally when it covered the whole country. We would watch the scrutineering in York then rush off, along with many, many others to find a nearby stage. These were the days when millions of spectators would  follow the rally, before the days of spectator stages.  On one occasion we saw the Lancia Stratos team being checked over. The rear of the car had been removed exposing the (racing) Ferrari engine with its huge drainpipe exhausts. Then the scrutineer came to the noise test, and we watched in amazement as a mechanic turned his back to the scrutineer and slipped enormous wire wool baffles into the exhausts. Engine started – all OK, then the sound deadening filters would be quickly hidden away in their service van. Later on when deep in a Yorkshire forest we heard the four cam Ferrari engine getting closer and closer. Coming towards us was the amazing engine “whistle” then the roar of the open exhausts as it passed. When it arrived it had lost the rear bodywork leaving engine exposed. All we could see in the darkness were the front lights, then the glow from the red hot multiple exhausts as it roared by – not a sound nor vision to forget.


Sandro Munari:
At one point we arrived back at the main control in York very, very early in the morning. The hotel in use was full of drivers and really tired and smelly spectators… Suddenly the inane babble began to fade as the Lancia driver Sandro Munari walked to the control area. The silence was not for him but rather his model girlfriend who walked with him looking fresh as a daisy. As she passed all you could hear was the sound of jaws (male of course) hitting the floor.


Rauno Aaltonen:
After criss crossing the country we ended up in deepest Wales at, again, the main control in an hotel. I think it was in Machynlleth or Llandrindod Wells, (it was a long time ago!!)
For some amazing reason the hotel was still open and functioning so we managed to order pots of tea and some sandwiches – all this at some ungodly hour in the morning. We were just about to tuck in when the guys at the next table leant over and asked if we could spare a sandwich – we looked up in amazement as the guys were Rauno Aaltonen and Tony Ambrose. Claim to fame – we fed a rally crew.


Stage watching:
On leaving the hotel we looked for a nearby stage, but this was when The RAC got sneaky and renamed stages with no map refs. However they named the stage after a nearby mountain so we eventually found it. We were not alone as the road leading to the stage exit was lined with abandoned cars for miles. We eventually found a space and went into the pitch black stage. It was pitch black and we had no idea how many others were there. This was the time when smoking was still PC, and as the (many) smokers took a draft of their ciggies all we could see were hundreds of red pinpricks of light – amazing.  During one particular RAC Rally there was a fuel shortage and we spent the event rushing from garage to garage being allowed only a couple of pounds worth of fuel. We arrived at a lonely welsh garage and asked how much fuel we could take – “it’s OK guys” said owner “take all you can, the tanks are nearly empty”, so we did.
On another year we were in the lake district and went to Dodd Wood, just west of Skiddaw. Dodd Wood is either up or down – very tricky. As we walked out we heard a car behind us and there was a works SAAB in bright red – as were the front brakes and most of the lower suspension. Unfortunately the only way for the SAAB to go was through a huge puddle – car vanishes in large cloud of steam then zooms off to next stage. This was the year (possibly 1973) when Barry Lee (hot rod racer) drove for Ford. He came to grief in Dodd Wood when his car overturned on a steep downhill section and slid over the edge of the road. His windscreen came away leaving the body frame to act like a huge scoop and fill the car with soil – nasty. We eventually saw Barry in his sparkly overalls waiting for a lift…
When in deepest Wales at a service halt we spoke to one of the Scottish drivers – Drew Gallagher (?) We asked how he was doing so far, but he grumbled about the fact that they have driven hundreds of miles from York to Wales but had only completed 2-3 stages – not impressed !!


Driver and self had just completed Burmah Rally and were on run home top Aberdeen. Again it was half past dark, when the Escort suddenly locked up and slid across the road. We fell out of the car and looked underneath to see what had happened…..oops, we had managed to knock off the nut on the diff thus losing all oil – eek.  After some phone calls – pre mobiles days, we got home and the next day we took the back end to bits. As you can imaging the half shafts were a lovely shade of blue from the diff to about an inch from the brakes……………….oops.
Having given up being scared witless on stages, I began my hilclimbing career. I started with a lowly 1300 Escort Sport, then an Escort RS 2000, finally the ex-Alex Graham 12175S Mini Jem.  I was never the skinniest of guys, and getting into the Mini Jem was akin to putting a banana back in its skin… Whilst all the Scottish events were fun, Rumster (south of Wick) stands out.  At that time the events were held on a holiday Monday weekend.  This meant a post event party !! on the Sunday night. Arriving in Wick on the Saturday afternoon there would be a rush for (a) getting a hot bath, then (b) hitting the bar… On the Sunday a journey down to Rumster hill. Putting on crash helmet with hangover not a good prospect. After the event there would again be a rush back to Mckays Hotel, Wick – again rush to hot water… Then the evening event would start with a meal, prize giving, then an all night rammy. One year, well past closing time there was a knocking at the door and when the owner opened the door there were two local Bobbies..eek. However given that the streets around were full of hairy racing cars all they really wanted was to show off their new Granada patrol car. After showing off the blues and two’s they left us to party on. On some(many) occasions the staff and some competitors who were a bit worse for wear would sleep where they fell. At breakfast there were a few grey faces who could barely keep down a cup of tea. Of course then there was the journey home. Bad enough in a road going saloon, but for those in really noisy cars – Harry Simpson’s Imp springs to mind, the journey must have been really, really noisy – ho hum, such is life. The really funny thing is that to the back of the Hotel was a very old sign which indicated that we were staying in what had been a Temperance Hotel.

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“How’s this for coincidence?” . . . . .…

Many years ago, very early seventies, I was spectating at a stage start somewhere in Fife.  I believe it would be a Saltire Rally as organised by St. Andrews and District CC.
A Mini Cooper “S” arrived at the stage start and duly “conked out” stubbornly refusing to restart.  Much fettling about under the bonnet finally saw the distributor cap being removed, revealing that the small fabric washer in the points set up was either sheared through or missing altogether.  Thus the car would go no further!!!
What did I have in the right hand pocket of my new shiny red “Burmah” jacket but said fabric washer.  To say the crew were delighted was putting it lightly.  New washer fitted the car fired up and away they went.
They probably did tell me their names, but I do not recall them or indeed the car number or actual stage.  If the crew are members of the VSMA, they may read this short story and recall that day in Fife, and perhaps respond to memory of mine.
Charlie Young

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The Yukon Daily News

For a period over the winter of 1968/69 I rejoiced in the title of Publisher and Proprietor of the Yukon Daily News. The rejoicing period however lasted only about a week, and then it was just plain hell of a kind I have never know before or since. It was a time in my life when I did not acquit myself well, and I behaved badly in many respects; and although I have had more than a few failures in my life littered among my few successes, my time at the Yukon Daily News must surely rank as my lowest ebb.
Even how I got into the thing is in retrospect something of a mystery. At the age of twenty-four I had no experience of newspapers, no great desire to be a press baron, no mechanical skills of any kind, and was blessed with a political naivety that makes me now blush when I think of it. It was one of those situations that I have too often had to put down to the notion that ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’.
Ken Shortt was the Proprietor when I bought the newspaper with the financial assistance of two partners, Jim Murdoch and Jim Horwood. Ken was a good and decent man and a character of fair proportions and with printer’s ink in his veins. He had been trying to run dailies, weeklies, magazines and goodness knows all what under some Yukon News title or other in an attempt to find the magic formula of what the people of the Yukon wanted combined with that all-important ingredient – profitability. It was obvious to anyone who wasn’t hell-bent on acquiring the business that the profitability just wasn’t there, as I had seen Ken on many occasions going through the mountain of mail that every newspaper seems to receive; and with a deftness that was amazing to watch, he would place the huge pile of mail on the layout desk and without opening anything, pitch the envelopes containing cheques and advertising copy to the right onto the table and everything else straight into the huge waste paper chest to the left. When I asked him ‘what about the bills’ he said ‘oh, they phone when they’re desperate’. I was there too when desperate creditors did indeed ‘phone up demanding payment only to be met with Ken’s standard line – ‘look, any more threats like that and you wont even get in the draw!’ He would then momentarily go into a paroxysm of despair then bounce back, grin, and get on with things.
I was not a worthy successor to Ken. For one thing, I was no journalist, and for another the daily scramble to keep the paper afloat financially brought out the worst in me. We started by employing a sour-faced professional editor who turned out to be interested only in his colossal pay cheque and precious little else, so it soon befell Jim Murdoch to get into the editor’s chair. He had the energy and the humour to make a go of it and was easy to work with. There were however no demarcation lines, and everyone involved just had to dive into whatever needed doing. Most of the time I seemed to be nursing recalcitrant equipment back into life; be it collator, camera, Vari-Typer or printing press; and I have forgotten the number of times I was in tears late at night trying to nurse something back into life when all I really wanted to do was to kick the living shit out of it and throw it in the Yukon River! Fun it was not.
For the main journalistic content we relied on the daily flight arriving from Vancouver on time.
Let me explain….. The ‘plane contained the daily deliveries to the Territory of the Vancouver Sun and The Province and they in turn contained the blessed articles and stories that would shortly be cut out and pasted and photographed for the off-set printing plates. It was plagiarism which hit 12 on the Richter Scale; but so long as we remembered to cut out the sources such as Reuters or AP or whatever then we were as pure as the driven snow. This may be a good time to thank those various press agencies for never suing us on those numerous occasions when in the mad panic to get the paper out we forgot to use the scissors; but maybe it just wasn’t in their hearts to crucify the only daily newspaper north of the sixtieth parallel with a circulation of under three thousand. Another who deserves thanks is Chris Van Overon of the old ‘202 Club’ who was always at the airport and brought the Sun and the Province to the News building if we were running late. (He was after all a KLM pilot before his sight let him down and started the greatest little steak-house in The North). While on the subject of saying ‘thank you’, special mention has to be made to those young boys and girls who often had to wait for far too long in the dark in 30° or 40° or 50° below, (and in real money – none o’ yer metricated Celsius nonsense) to receive their little bundle of papers for their rounds. How they put up with it I’ll never know. Bless their souls.
Others were not so understanding though, as one time Jim used the word ‘thermos’ just as I have written now, and the repercussions were frightening. Within days we received a letter from some high-powered lawyer in Ottawa threatening us with everything short of a hundred lashes and ten years in The Tower for not using a capital ‘T’ and for not having the registered name symbol thereafter. Thermos® (There, you legal lot – happy now?)
Everything comes to an end – sometimes slowly and benignly, sometimes in a frenzy. For me, the end of my stint owning the The Yukon Daily News couldn’t come fast enough as I had already lost two stones in weight and was more grey-faced and gaunt looking than I have ever been. I got out of that hell a lot poorer, but a little wiser, and headed for Alaska……and another story.
(Last February I visited the Yukon News of today, and a splendid and profitable set-up they have. I was made most welcome by the ladies in the office, and Steve Robertson, the owner today, showed me round his new press building at the bottom of Two Mile Hill. They all remembered hearing the story of me……the daft Scotsman!)
By Alastair Findlay.

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The Alpine Rally 1964

On paper this year’s Alpine looked tough; on the map it looked impossible and it seemed it would take a good crew to go home in triumph carrying one of the coveted ‘Coupes des Alpes’.

The route was divided into three stages, or Etapes: Marseille to Cannes, Cannes to Chamonix and Chamonix to Monte Carlo.  Each stage had 3 kinds of timed section: a liaison section, would be from, say, A to D and within this, from B to C might be a Selectif which would cover a difficult part of the route, timed separately and with crash hats worn.  Instead of a Selectif there might be an Epreuve, a test to be covered as fast as possible.  All rather complicated and I was glad that Pat Wright who was co-ing with me, would be having the timing job.

We arrived a few days before the start and before long rumours were rife about a nasty little col just north of Marseille.  Accordingly, we went to investigate one night.  It was 9 km long and we had 11 mins in which to do it.  When we stopped the stop watch it was showing nearly 14 mins; not a very encouraging thought for when D-day arrived.

Scrutineering was held on the Sunday and Monday in Marseille and the weather, which hadn’t been too good, did its best and we wilted in blazing sunshine.  My entry had been messed up from the start; we were running Group 1 in Class 5 but we had been accorded the number 15, amongst all the Coopers, and put down as Group 2.  This resulted in slight chaos but finally we were allotted number 22.  The rally plate for this number bore a French flag – more outcry as I refused to accept unless they replaced the tricolor with a Union Jack.  After promises that this would be done we returned to our base at Cassis. By now the cars were in Parc Fermé so it was no good thinking about all the things we should have done.  Instead, to try and relax was the best thing.

We were both glad when, late on Monday evening, we were allowed into the Parc Fermé; had a quick look to make sure that ‘Emma’ had no flat feet and soon we were leaving the glaring lights of the starting ramp, on our way to our first Selectif up the Sainte Baume.  Directly behind us was a very fast Group 2 Alfa, very well driven by a racing driver, and this car would catch us on almost every long Selectif and Epreuve.  Geoff Mabbs, running one of the Works very fast Group 2 Cortinas, would also pass.

I drove the Sainte Baume very badly and missed the bogey time by around a minute which didn’t make the idea of the dreaded Mimet Selectif (the one we had tried) very hopeful; however, strangely enough, I only missed this by 13 seconds.

Heading northwards and taking in various Selectifs and Liaison sections, some very difficult to even try to do in the time allowed because of stretched mileages, some not so hard, the hours of night flashed past and in the early dawn we had our first troubles.  Emma showed every sign of acute petrol starvation; at times we almost came to a halt.  Our nearest possible assistance was not until Bedoin where there was a Ford service crew and that was still 80 km away.  Suddenly inspired, I switched over petrol tanks and this seemed to do the trick.  At Bedoin we had our first Epreuve, a long climb of 21 km up Mt Ventoux; it was near the start of this that Pat Moss went out with engine trouble.  The view from the top is always awe-inspiring and in the early morning the banks of cloud looked like long rows of pyramids; it was very beautiful.

As the day wore on it got hotter and hotter and on one of the few easier Liaison sections we did a crafty change into shorts – much cooler.  Before the rally I had taken the precaution of making some old towels into seat covers and this stopped any sticking to the seats.

Many of the Selectifs were over small, twisting roads covered with treacherous, deep layers of loose chippings.  It was wicked stuff to drive on as it made control of the car extremely difficult.  By now the heat was really on: the sun blazed down, the tar melted and the liaison sections became very hard work as col after col came and went.  In the middle of one of the Liaisons there was an Epreuve up and down the Col de la Cayolle and on the descent I had the first indication of brake fade; there was a little there but not enough for comfort and it slowed us down considerably.  Unfortunately for us there was no let up in the cols and so little chance to let the brakes cool off and about 5 km short of the end of the Col de Valberg Selectif finishing at St Sauveur, coming on a rock tunnel, on an acute left-hander down the col, I put my foot on the brake and it went straight to the floor boards.  There wasn’t much time to think; the mountain-side was on our left, a few trees and the usual drop on our right.  I slammed Emma into 2nd, grabbed the hand brake and we proceeded to do the most perfect hand-brake turn, ending up facing the way we had just come!  Pat jumped out to slow any other traffic while I shunted backwards and forwards to get Emma facing the right way.  Miraculously we had hit nothing and just as the first Mini appeared we were ready to carry on, using only the hand brake.  Mercifully, one of the Ford service cars was at St Sauveur and in 12 minutes they changed the pads (which were red hot and down to the rivets) and bled the brakes; we pushed on furiously but were 4 minutes late at the next control.  Later in the day the exhaust tried to fall off but while Pat and I were tying this on the Ford team boys stopped and helped us.  By the time we reached Cannes that evening we hadn’t eaten even a sandwich from the time we left Marseille, 24 hours earlier.  We were both out on our feet but forced some food down then fell into bed and knew nothing more until 7.30 the next morning.

It was a depleted field that left Cannes; two of the Fords: Geoff Mabbs and Keinanen were out; of the females both Pat Moss and Anne Hall were out so now we could take advantage of the fantastic service that Fords had laid on.  The first thing was getting the exhaust dealt with, which we did shortly after leaving Cannes, after the first Epreuve of the 2nd stage, a climb that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Now we were getting the brakes bled just as frequently as needed; the Ford mechanics were marvellous and we even got some food!  In comparison to the first stage the second one was certainly not as hard, though the pattern of the roads and loose ball-bearing surfaces still continued. Alas, even a reasonably easy Liaison section can prove to have its hazards, as we found out during the late afternoon.

By now the rest of the Ford team, Henry Taylor, David Seigle-Morris and Vic Elford had closed up with us.  Generally they went past but on this particular stage none of us was hurrying and they were all behind us.

I don’t suppose we were doing more than 55 when suddenly there was a vast hole in the road, very deep and taking up nearly the full width.  Frightened that I would break the suspension and springs if I went in, I tried to swerve.  What happened then was just so quick that I really don’t know.  We clouted a bank on the left and then Emma landed my side down.  Pat was suspended above me but with her usual calm she asked if I was OK.  I think I must have been slightly stunned for things are a bit hazy.  The boys were with us in a flash; they were marvellous and so coping.  They had Emma on her four wheels in no time.  Henry spotted a farmer and yelled the magic word ‘tractor’ and ere long we were towed out.  Henry then disappeared under the car and announced that the tie rod was bent but if we turned the track in a bit we could probably make it to the next control at Orpierre, 20 km away, where just beyond it was a Ford service car.  The boys then had to push on and Pat, always superb especially in an emergency, together with the farmer, turned the track.  Finally we decided that we had done enough to get us going.

Our farmer, who had been so helpful, refused to take anything for the trouble that we had put him to and so we pressed on.  At the first right-hand bend there was the most awful bang and the steering wheel was snatched out of my hands.  We both thought that the suspension must have collapsed but though we searched under the car nothing seemed to be falling apart.  Then we saw the reason; the nearside wing which had been prised up to free the tyre had come down again.  Out with the crow bar, but no matter how much I heaved and shoved nothing happened.  This time another farmer had been standing watching; now he ambled over with two pieces of wood in his hand, went ‘tweak’ to the wing and the thing was free!  If only he had come to our rescue right away we might …..  Ah well, he didn’t.

We pushed on, with Orpierre still around 10 km away when Geoff Mabbs flashed past us, in the opposite direction, looking for us.  We couldn=t stop but I saw his brake lights going on and knew he would catch us in no time.  And then our final undoing: there was a level crossing and it was closed!  Geoff caught us here and told us everything was laid on at the service point.  We waited for at least 3 or 4 minutes before the crossing lifted then with the tyres kicking up the most hideous din, we screeched our way into the control.  We were late of course and by the time the boys had done a wonderful job of putting in a new tie rod and tracking up by eye, a further 25 minutes was added to our lateness.  However, we pressed on.  Unfortunately it was a difficult section in which to try and make up time and of course we now found ourselves up amongst all the hairy motor cars, like the Porches and the Healeys.

Our lateness didn’t increase during the rest of the stage to Chamonix but we had a nasty feeling we were 5 minutes outside the lateness allowance and this, alas, proved to be correct.  It was rather heartbreaking.  Determined, however, that we shouldn’t be out of the rally atmosphere we then followed the 3rd stage route, going to all the Liaison controls where the Ford service boys were, cooking for both the remaining team and the mechanics.  This helped to restore our spirits a little.  The bitter disappointment we felt can’t have been a fraction of that of David Seigle-Morris and Tony Nash who, with only 20 miles to go to the finish, leading the Touring Category and with a Coupe des Alpes almost in their hands, had it all snatched away; it was too cruel.

Any finisher deserved their laurels and it was marvellous to see Don and Erle Morley collecting yet another Coupe.  What a superb team they are!  What we did of the rally was very hard work but well worth while.  Now poor Emma has gone for a ‘face lift’ – happily not a very serious one.

Tish Ozanne – 1964                                             Retyped by Pat Smith in  2001

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Danger! Safety at Work

In 1957, during the Mille Miglia, two drivers and eleven spectators were killed and ended forever that truly magnificent spectacle of man and machine. By my calculations, the ban of this great race has cost the lives of many people, and my conclusion is based on the fact that, on average, two more people were killed on the same stretch of road every day of the year than lost their lives on that fateful day. Anyone therefore who was truly concerned with the saving of lives should have been moving heaven and earth to have had the Mille Miglia run every day of the year. I know this is an argument which doesn’t hold water, as a parallel road would have to have been built to accommodate the traffic for those going about their daily business: so let us imagine that if the race had been run on say, four days a year, then the people living along its route would have had three more opportunities to enjoy the spectacle and eight lives a year would have been saved. To date that would have accounted for thirty-eight lives. (I have excluded the lives of drivers likely to have been killed, as I feel sure they would rather have died in a glorious race than exist in their senile dotage in twenty-first century Britain scoffing at their grandchildren for wearing goggles while playing conkers, or slowly dying while connected to countless tubes in a hospital – but that is only my assumption).
The greater part of my life has been spent managing projects on construction sites and oil fields from the Canadian north to the deserts and islands of Arabia. During that time I had two injuries which required medical treatment, and on both occasions they were caused by what I suppose had to be referred to as safety equipment. The most serious accident was when I was nearly blinded by a piece of steel inside a massive floating-roof crude oil storage tank because my upward peripheral vision was rendered useless by the rim of the hardhat I was forced to wear (against my better judgement). I am delighted to inform my readers however that when I threw the offending hardhat at the resident ‘safety officer’ while on my way to the medic he required more stitches than I, and he thereafter ‘considered’ that a hardhat was not much use if 400 tons of steel collapsed on one’s head and that it was generally a better idea to be able to see! To this day I can do nothing but laugh when I see hardhats on the heads of motorway maintenance workers, or worse still, on the heads of workers or visitors inside a factory which has a perfectly serviceable ceiling and roof. To me, it says of such people: “I cannot think for myself. I need Nanny State to guide and watch over me because Big Brother knows best”.
But alas, the choice of whether or not to wear safety gear is no longer an option – enforced as it is by insurance companies, the HSE and the legal profession; and in all three cases has little to do with safety at work. In the case of insurance companies it is to do with being able to impose increasingly higher premiums combined with very nearly countless means of avoiding payment. In the case of the Health & Safety Executive it is to do with various things. Primarily, and the true function for which it was brought into being, is to be part of the State’s machinery designed to control every aspect of our daily lives, and, as a useful adjunct, to provide another army of payroll voters. As far as the legal profession is concerned, it is no more nor less than yet another rich seam of litigation to be exploited remorselessly.
Near Tebay in Cumberland, on the xx of xx last year, Mr xx xx was effectively killed by the Health and Safety Executive. He was working on a railway track and didn’t hear the runaway flatbed carriage bearing down on him, which resulted in his death. Ear defenders can be useful items of protective equipment – but when one is in the middle of the countryside with an ear-damaging noise occurring for a moment or two once every few hours? I think not. In the real world, where some of us still live, we would have put our fingers in our ears for the few seconds necessary and then got on with our work, leaving us aware of our surroundings for the rest of the time. Not for the HSE though. Ear defenders are mandatory for railway maintenance workers, no matter what the circumstances, and at all times. It says so in their blanket regulations. So, by forcing Mr xx to wear the fateful things, his inability to hear directly resulted in his ‘accidental’ death, or, as I believe, in his culpable homicide – by persons known.
When the HSE came into being, it had the option of acting as a guide and advisor to people exposed to risk and leaving the implementation to individuals, companies and organisations concerned, and to the common sense of individuals in any particular field. Their other option, and the one they not so much chose, as leapt at, was to produce a minefield of directives and regulations and to enlist an army of enforcers to implement them. There are countless ill-thought-out regulations, but one should suffice to show the essence of their mind-set. A regulation requires off-shore trawlers and other fishing boats to have slippery, dangerous plastic steps on their ladders as replacements for the wooden types they had always used. Did the HSE even think about this? Did they imagine for one minute that a fisherman would not himself want the safest ladder possible, and would he not have chosen slippery plastic of his own volition as a preference, given the choice? Did they even care? Only when the HSE senior and junior officials involved in formulating and enforcing this regulation (and so many others like it) are dismissed, charged with criminal recklessness, heavily fined, and imprisoned for a few years will anything be achieved as a means of forcing them to think! Pour encourager les autres.
And who, with more than two hairs for a brain, could put in a leaflet concerning the use of ladders, direct that, “the user should face the ladder before mounting”? Verily, the words ‘plot’ and ‘lost’ spring readily to mind.
Need I go on…………….?
by the late Alastair Findlay                                                   Back to top of this article

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