Yorkshire Motorsport Hero’s Tony Fall (part three)

1969 was another full season of international events with eight different co drivers across 9 international rallies.  Tony achieved a 15th on the Safari only finishing due to his skills at bodging repairs. His Fulvia arrived at the finish with its rear axle held in by the steel cable off its winch.

The Monte Carlo saw a double DNF for the Lancia team with Fall severely crashing his Lancia Fulvia.   However, it was The Monte where Tony’s relationship with Datsun started.  Both Lancia drivers (Tony and Rauno Aaltonen) crashed very close to each other and met up at the bottom of a ravine.  It was here that Rauno told Tony that the Japanese wanted them to test out a new rally sports car.

1969 Monte

Tony recalled

At the end of the rally, we were taken to this garage in Nice which was the filthiest workshop you had ever seen – there were no official Datsun dealers in Europe at the time.  They pulled the sheets off this car and it was like looking at a streamlined Austin Heeley.  We asked them if they were serious about rallying it, they said yes and so off we went.

They tested the car across the whole of the Monte route and all went well until the final day.  Tony went into a corner a little too quickly and hit the kilometre marking stone. 

Tony remembers,

There were only a couple of corners left so I carried on to the finish of the stage.  When we stopped, I noticed the Datsun engineer was sitting higher than me.  The stone had pushed the seat up and his head hit the roof of the car and made a dent.  When he got out, I apologised and asked if he was alright.  No he said,  I see stars.

A new event for Tony was the Rally of the Inca’s with Gunner Palm, which they won in a Ford Escort.   Stuart Turner had now become Ford’s competition manager and was planning a major assault on the 1970 London to Mexico Rally.   The Rally of the Inca’s was essentially a preparation event testing the relatively new Escort over the rough tracks of South America and understanding the effect of altitude on performance.

Tony was leading the TAP rally(Portugal)  when he stopped the car at the bottom of the finishing ramp.   Henry Liddon, his co-driver walked to the time control and Tony’s wife climbed into the car to avoid the pressing crowd.  The officials insisted the car be driven onto the ramp to complete the stage so Henry climbed in and they drove on to the podium.  Three people in a car was not permitted and having been spotted by officials Tony was disqualified.  

Tony said

Lancia were not too impressed, neither was I, there was a £1200 prize which was a lot of money back then (about £18 000 today).

In 1970 Tony took part in 8 events with four different co-drivers, Henry Liddon being on codriving duty for five events.  No doubt the London to Mexico event took up most of the season planning and preparation.  However, those events very much reflected the change of direction in Tony’s driving career.  The international events started with the Rallye Monte Carlo in a Lancia (retired) and ended with the RAC in a Datsun (retired).  

The biggest event in Motorsport in 1970 was the London to Mexico rally with Jimmy Greaves, a top footballer whose playing days were coming to an end.  By 1970 he had been dropped from the Tottenham team and was aware that he would not be a part of England’s World Cup Squad for Mexico.   

Greave said later of the event:-

‘If I had realised how hard it was going to be, I doubt I could have summoned the courage to face it,’

Tony accepted Jimmy’s role was to generate the headlines and his was to get to the end of the rally in one piece.  25 000 spectators witnessed the departure of 93 cars from Wembley with Greaves’s car, number 26, the second favourite to win. 

Fall and Greaves preparing for the London to Mexico Rally

Tony said at the time,

I thought drivers like Paddy Hopkirk and Timo Makinen were stars, but for the first time in my life I was exposed to super stardom.  Almost all of Dover turned out to see us when we set off to do a 3 week recce in Europe.  At the Mont Blanc Tunnel, the appearance of Greeves stopped the traffic.

Greave’s health declined in South America suffering from vitamin deficiency due to the lack of vegetables in their diet and altitude sickness.  In addition, the dangers of driving on these roads became apparent when swerving to miss a pedestrian the pair ended up hanging over a precipice with a broken axle.  A little further and they may have perished from the drop. 

Another serious incident happened on a desolate Panamanian road. Greaves had been asleep before the screech of brakes woke him as a horse galloped in front of the car. The Escort collided with the horse at 100mph killing it instantly.

They finished in sixth place, one of only 23 cars to survive the event.  A quite remarkable result for the inexperienced footballer who should be admired for enduring the battering, the sickness and the sheer exhaustion of the event.  But the main credit should go to Tony who did the bulk of the driving and successfully kept his partner in one piece all the way to the finish.

For 1971 it was back to normal with a full programme of international events.  Mike Wood was his partner for all the events except the Ethiopian Highland Rally.  Ten events in three different cars.  The new Datsun 240Z was still being developed resulting in three retirements and one Over Time Limit (OTL).  A solid tenth place on the Monte Carlo was a good start and a win for the Datsun on the Welsh gave the 240Z its first international win. There was also a win for the Datsun 510 on the Ethiopian Highland Rally with Lofty Drews.  

Fall had to become even more entrepreneurial and in 1971 BMW’s new rally team invited him to drive on the Austrian Alpine where aboard a 2002 Ti, he finished fifth. Then, he was offered a deal for the Acropolis by a tyre company and BMW provided a car.   Fall achieved a fifth place and this led to a run in a 2002 Ti on the Olympia Rally.

1972 was another busy season of international events with Mike Wood in the 240Z which was now proving reliable and achieved solid results in five international events including a first in the South African Rally.   In the East African Safari Rally Tony took to the 240Z’s co driver’s seat when he partnered Rauno Aaltonen to sixth. 

The Datsun team brought their own mechanics and there were many instances of misunderstandings due to the interpretation challenges.  On one occasion Tony was explaining that he was very uncomfortable due to the heavy clutch.  When he arrived at the next event the team very proudly showed him a new more comfortable seat but the clutch remained unchanged.  A new relationship with Peugeot saw Tony and Mike drive in four international events and two more events in the BMW 2002Ti. 

1973 started with the Monte Carlo rally which was now part of the new World Rally Championship securing 9th place and Tony’s first WRC points.  For the African events, Rally Bandama (ret) and the East African Safari (1st) Tony partnered with Frenchman Gerard Flocon and for the Rally South Africa with Franz Boshof.    The relationship with Peugeot continued for two more events, both ending in retirements.   VW Porsche Austria entered Tony in a VW 1300 in three European events securing a tenth place and two retirements. 

But it was at the TAP Rally that Fall learnt that Opel might be contemplating a UK rally team. In 1974.  he met with Charlie Hodgeman and George Hum, the director and the marketing manager of Opel UK.   

Tony recalled,

Eventually we got a deal together whereby I set up Dealer Opel Team and Tony Fall Automotive (TFA). I would get £1.75 every time a dealer sold a new car and, depending on the overall sales, GM would double that. There were a few drawbacks in that TFA had to invoice the dealers direct and no one was keen to pay up. There was no bundle of money or cars to kick off the programme.”

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