Yorkshire Motorsport Hero’s Tony Fall (part four)

1974 marked a significant turning point for Tony as his dealings with Datsun drew to a close and he stepped up to managing the Dealer Opel Team. It was unfortunate timing as Rallies in the first quarter of 1974 were cancelled due to the fuel crisis.   The car industry was also undergoing significant change with takeovers and mergers.   Opel and Vauxhall were brought together under General Motors and they competed under different brands.  Vauxhall promoted the Chevette and Opel the Kadett.

Tony entered the Dealer Opel Team in the British Rally championship and he continued to drive with Mike Broad as his co-driver.  Other DOT drivers included Tony Pond, Rosemary Smith and Ari Vatanen.  The best result of the year was a fourth in the Welsh though two retirements were disappointing. 

Headquarters of Dealer Tea. Opel at Tong near Bradford)

In addition, DOT entered the Avon Tour of Britain for showroom cars tested on racetracks and rally stages during a 1,000-mile journey around the country.   The Tour attracted the biggest names in motorsport, including Formula One greats Graham Hill, James Hunt and Jody Scheckter and rally stars like Roger Clark, Tony Pond and Andrew Cowan. Tony (Fall) drove an Opel Commodore on the event which he completed but not particularly high in the order.

Tony also tackled the TAP Portugal Rally in an Opel Ascona entered by Team Sweden and co-driven by Robin Turvey and the East African Safari in a Peugeot 504, both resulted in retirements.  Tony Pond achieved a win on the Burmah Rally with Mike Broad in the co-driving seat.

In 1975 Tony was drawn deeper into the management aspects of the Dealer Opel Team and only managed two competitive outings.  For the Mintex Dales Rally he renewed his partnership with Mike Wood securing 17th in an Opel Kadett GTE.  Tony also drove an Opel Commodore in the British Saloon car championship at Mallory Park but didn’t finish due to a head gasket failure.  The rally team were using the Opel Kadett which were converted from left hand drive to right hand drive in a new base at Tong Park Auto’s near Bradford.  Once converted the cars were then prepared as rally cars with the shells strengthened and safety equipment fitted. 

1976 was Tony Falls last season as a professional driver before taking up team management full time.   Attempts to sign Pond and Vatanen failed and so Fall felt he had little option but to drive for the team.  He partnered with Mike Broad in the Opel Kadett as they mounted an all-out attack on the British Rally championship.  A win on the Gwynned Rally was followed by three sixth places and three retirements.   Only one non British event was tackled, the Rally du Maroc where he retired with gearbox problems.

1976 Lombard Rally

Falls personal performance was less important than the teams which proved to be a considerable and provided opportunities for many top drivers including Russell Brookes, Tony Pond, Ari Vatanen, Walter Rohrl and Brian Culcheth.   In 1981 Jimmy McRae took the new Ascona 400 to victory in the British Rally Championship.

Although DOT were successful with the Opel Kadett, General Motors decided to stop selling Opel’s in the UK to concentrate on the Vauxhall brand.   The Dealer Opel Team was disbanded and Tony was offered the position of Director of Motorsport – GM-Eurosport based in Germany.

Opel entered 2 cars for the 1980 Marlboro Safari rally, one of them – driven by Jean Pierre Nicholas and Henry Liddon secured fifth overall and the other driven by Jochi Kleint & Gunter Wanger achieved ninth.  

In 1982 Tony signed Walter Rohrl to drive for the Opel Team and embarked on one of his most difficult management challenges.  The problems started almost immediately after signing on.  Just prior to the Monte Carlo Rally Rothmans asked Rohrl to spend three days making a promotional film.  Having just returned from a recce Rohrl refused, preferring to spend the time in the Bavarian forest skiing.  Not surprisingly this caused a major rift between Rohrl, Tony and the Rothmans company who were sponsoring the team.

Despite these difficulties Röhrl won the Monte and a strong run in subsequent events meant that he was in the surprising position of potentially winning the World Championship.   Eventually it came down to the Ivory Coast Rally.   Despite the opportunity to become World Champion Rohrl did not want to go to Africa twice in a year.  He refused to practice and arrived the day before the start and left on the day it finished and this only served to grow the rift between Rorl and the team management.   By the time the RAC came round Rohrl was already World Champion and Opel had also won the European and British championships.  As a result Opel and Rothmans planned a major  PR event on the evening before the rally start.  Rohrl preferred to get a good nights sleep and refused to attend resulting in an angry exchange between Fall and Rohrl. 

Rohrl went off to bed and the next morning found that he had been replaced by Kleint. 

Said Tony at the time

 “He had this strange idea that he was employed by Opel, and that whatever arrangement we had with Rothmans had nothing to do with him.”

Tony also took the lead in the  GM Lotus Formulae which launched the careers of many F1 drivers including Coulthard, Mc Nish, Hakinnen and Barrachello.  What really ignited the series was that five of the Euroseries’ 10 rounds supported Formula One Grand Prix events.  Tony was also involved in discussions with a possible GM move into formulae One with a badge engineered car.  A Limor engine was to be placed in a Williams chassis but the negotiation’s fell through.

After ten years with Opel Tony moved from Motorsport management to the commercial world and his initial venture was to establish Opel Classics.  The company restored and maintained ex Opel competition cars and Opel Gt models.

During his time at GM Tony had the body shells prepared by Safety Devices who prepared the Ascona and Manta shells and fitted the roll cages.  In 1991 Tony persuaded German roll bar king Winfried Matter to buy the company and place him in as manager.  A year later Tony bought out Winfried to become sole owner.    Under Tony’s management the company expanded its product range and became a supplier to Land Rover as well as developing cages for race cars, touring cars and classic cars.  They also developed an interesting line in roll bars for Toyota trucks working in the oil fields of Azerbiajan

Tony also returned to his first love with Historic Rally events in a Datsun 240Z starting with the 1991 RAC National Historic Rally with co-driver Mike Kempley.  In 1995 he tackled the London-Mexico recreation event with Roy Dixon in a Volvo where he placed, fifth, one place higher than his event with Ian Greeves.  He gradually entered more and more historic events in his Datsun partnering with Yvonne Mehta and Jonathan Hall-Smith. 

Tony died in 2007 aged 67 while working on the East African Safari historic rally when he passed away in his sleep in Arusha, Tanzania

You can read all four parts of the Tony Fall story on our website http://www.classicyorkshire.co.uk. Subscribe to notifications of new stories and events.

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