submitted by Peter Shankley
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.
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.
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.
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 !!