Historic Rally Car Day – January 2014

These days there’s lots of publicity about an event before it takes place, in adverts and on the “official” organiser website, and magazine and on-line reviews tend to follow to record at least some of what was actually present, but the only way you can really find out whether something will divert you for a whole day or less than an hour is to attend yourself. And so, having read for several years about the Historic Rally Car Register’s annual gathering at the Gaydon Motor Museum in January, I finally attended in 2013 and found that – perhaps not surprisingly given the timing of the meeting – the core of this event are a whole array of display stands inside the museum, publicising a vast array of rallies, most of which you will probably never have heard of, aimed at the amateur enthusiast. Some of the attendees do bring along the car they might use to compete in, or some other interesting machine, so there will be content in the car park and the display area which is well worth seeing, but by no means is this the sort of event where the display cars will keep you interested for hours at a time. It is fair to say that the 2013 event enjoyed the sort of weather which does not trouble the hard rally-ist but which is less than pleasant for the rest of us, so when the forecast suggested that in 2014, the day for the event would be bathed in winter sunshine, I did wonder if a few more cars would be extracted from their winter quarters. Certainly, as I drove down the long approach road to the museum, the front car park appeared almost full, suggesting that there were a lot of people present. However, the Rally Car display is held behind the museum, and on wandering around there – admittedly in early afternoon, so some cars may have been and gone – there were only a select few machines to enjoy.

In the hands of Andrew Cowan and Brian Coyle, the Hillman Hunter was the slightly surprise winner of the 1968 London-Sydney Marathon, and the winning car was commemorated by a rather nice Corgi model which I received as a very small boy. Given that my father owned the road going version at the time (albeit in bottom of the range trim!), I was quite proud even at a very early age of the fact that our family car was a rally winner. This display car is not the original, but a carefully created replica.

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Historic rallying lends itself to all sorts of ingenuity where people can take an old car and make something in which they can compete, regardless of the actual provenance of the car or even the model. And so some slightly surprising machines do get created. Dig a little deeper and you will find out that cars like this VW Beetle and Volvo 144 were in fact both used in rallying when they were new.

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No need to do your research on this one, though. The Vauxhall Chevette was one of those icons of rallying in the late 1970s and early 1980s, designed to try to give the all conquering Ford Escort a bloody nose, and with the rear wheel drive Ford ceasing production in 1980, Vauxhall’s timing could hardly have been better, and the Chevette notched up an impressive record with rally drivers of the day such as Pentii Arikkala driving the car to success all over the forests of Europe. To homologate the car, Vauxhall produced the requisite number of road-going HS models, a very hot hatch before we really knew what the term was, and the later HSR model.

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Closely related was the Opel Kadett, and this GT/E model was a rather nicely presented road going version.

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Of course, there were some of those Escorts present. Many of the road going cars have been turned into replica rally cars or replica Mexico and RS200 models.

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Another rally icon, whose heyday was 10 years earlier, was the Mini, and there were a few of these present as well.

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Go back to the 1950s, and it was cars like this 1955 Sunbeam Talbot 90 which was one of the machines to beat. This is the very car which won the 1955 MonteCarlo rally.

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The Vauxhall Firenza was not a car that enjoyed that much success when new, either on the road or in the forests.

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There were a few nice road cars to look at, too, and none, in my opinion, were better than this fabulous Citroen DS21. Magnifique!

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Other nice cars on show included a Mark 2 Jaguar, a Sierra Cosworth and a very original Mark 2 Escort, as well as a P5 Rover, which definitely had a “better” side.

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This very pretty Lancia Fulvia Coupe has been adapted for rallying, with a roll cage and other changes, but still looks like the lovely road car that it is. These cars were very successful in rallying in the days before Lancia went to the lengths of developing a purpose designed car, the Stratos.

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And that was it. A few nice cars and some lovely sunny weather – though the long shadows of a mid January afternoon made the sunshine a mixed blessing. Certainly not worth a trip of any distance, and indeed the only reason I went was because this was the appetiser for something far more significant the following day. The confirmed rallyist who wants to figure out in which events to enrol will probably want to attend, but for everyone else, stick to reading the reviews, imagining that they only capture a tiny subset of what was there, and wait for the season to get going for real in a few weeks.

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