By Mike Cowlam & Oliver Fall
Part one of a four part series.
Tony Fall was often described as the bright young thing of British rallying at a time when Scandinavian drivers were coming to the fore. I first met his son Oliver at Acespeed Historic Motorsport where one of his dad’s former rally cars was in for a check-up. For Oliver it was a rare chance to connect with his dad in a very real way.
Talking about Tony’s career we wondered why, despite his success as a driver, manager and businessman he has not achieved the same recognition as others from the same era such as Paddy Hopkirk or Timo Makkinen. There is no autobiography or detailed record of his career and so a few days later we agreed to collaborate on writing up the Tony Fall story using papers and photographs from the family to supplement published sources.
Tony was born in Bradford in 1940 and was classmates with David Hockney who used to doodle on the back of his exercise books. He was a talented mathematician and his ambition was to be an RAF pilot. Unfortunately, he had partial colour blindness which thwarted that ambition but he became a pilot of a completely different kind.
Tony was no stranger to driving having started at 13 in his dads Jaguar. He lived in a Cul de Sac and his dad let him drive the Jaguar up and down, propped up with pillows because he couldn’t reach the pedals. Whilst his first motoring adventures were tolerated by his Dad, his later adventures were not. At 15 he took to borrowing his Dads Rover for a quick thrash over the nearby moors. Unfortunately, one night he met his dad coming the other way and that was the end of his driving until he was 17.
Putting his dreams of flying behind him he joined Airedale and Pennine Motor club and quickly demonstrated a talent for driving. By day he worked as a salesman for Appleyard’s of Bradford selling BMC cars including Austin and Morris Mini’s.
In January 1963 after watching the Yorkshire Rally Tony was inspired to take part in his first rally using his father’s car. By 1964 he was competing in the Motoring News championship and managed to achieve a significant haul of silverware with his co-driver David Fawcett. At this time race and rally cars were pretty much as they came out of the showroom with none of the safety equipment fitted that we would expect today. In fact, after an event the cars Tony used would be washed and put back on the forecourt on Monday.
In a contemporary interview Fall said:-
“I got a job at Appleyard’s in Bradford” – an Appleyard won many rallies in Jaguars – “and I wanted to go rallying, but they wouldn’t let me use my company car. “Then Marcus Chambers, who was previously competitions manager at BMC, joined us as service manager and said I could use the demonstrator Mini Cooper.”
Talking to one of Tony’s contemporaries at the Airedale and Pennine Motor club I discovered that Tony had another use for the Appleyard’s Cooper. Driving on to the moors around Bradford, Tony would take a fellow club member armed with a shotgun. Using the roof mounted rally light, they would attract rabbits and shoot them for the pot.
1965 was the breakthrough year for Tony as he made a serious attack on the Motoring News championship with David Fawcett. His success in the championships inevitably came to the attention of the BMC competitions department. Tony credits his friend and co-driver on the Alpine, Mike Wood with securing the support of Stuart Turner.
Tony recalled the conversation was short and to the point.
“Stuart (Turner) called and said, You, will do the Alpine Rally. We will give you £200. You will take Mike Wood as your co-driver. We’ll enter the car, on the condition we don’t hear from you, speak to you or get pestered by you before we see you in Marseilles for the start,”
Tony tackled the Alpine with Mike Wood in his own car CAK 500C and recalls that £200 wasn’t nearly enough for the event and that three years later he was still paying off the costs. It was a tough snowbound rally and out of the 93 starters only 32 finished. Tony came eighth in the car and remarkably for a first-time entry was awarded a Coupe des Alpes. This was a much-coveted award made to competitors who finished the event unpenalised and meeting all the target times. The car benefitted from special parts supplied by BMC but Tony added one piece of equipment on his own initiative. Anticipating it would get hot in the car he added a small electric fan on the dash.
That was the biggest mistake I ever made. They all took the piss out of me when they saw it asking if it was for drying my nails with.
Tony had a full 65 season and he competed in 5 of the British national rallies with David Fawcett securing 4 first places and one second in the Appleyard’s supported cars. Most of his outings in 1965 achieved good results including a second in class in the Circuit of Ireland. His first BMC backed drive was in the RAC driving GRX 93B followed by the three cities rally, Munich, Vienna and Budapest in AJB 66D.
Tony was then partnered with Ron Crellin by the BMC competitions department for the European Rally Championship. His usual car was the Mini Cooper S though he contested the Welsh International in a works supplied MGB. Rod was often paired with ambitious young drivers to assess their talent and potential for a works contract.
Tony’s Appleyard cars were prepared by BRT Tuning, formed by Harry Ratcliffe a successful mini racer. He won the European Touring Car championship with the Vitafoam sponsored cars (Vitafoam manufactured foam for car seats).