50th Anniversary celebration of the 1970 London to Mexico Rally

This Weekend

Rally Date: Sunday 1st May 2022
Place: Gaydon Heritage Motor Museum
Event: WCR50+2

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary (two years late due to the Covid) the Historic Marathon Rally Group will stage a reunion for all the surviving cars, competitors and supporting teams at the British Motor Museum.

Described as the ‘longest, toughest and most ambitious rally that the world had ever known’ the Gaydon event will showcase around 21 surviving World Cup Rally cars, including the winning Ford Escort FEV 1H, car no. 18, which has been released by the Ford Heritage organisation especially for 1st May.

Other memorable cars attending will be –

  • Car 98 – Paddy Hopkirk’s Triumph PI which came in 4th overall.
  • Car 18 – The Ford Escort driven by Sobieslaw Zazarda that came in 8th o/a.
  • Car 32 – the Austin 1800 (SMO 227G) which came 11th and is the only car that finished both the London-Sydney 1968 and the WCR 1970.
  • Car 45 – Ford Escort 1300GT crewed by Doug Harris and Michael Butler – it came both 1st and last – last car to finish but 1st in its class.
  • Car 69 – a Ford Capri that did not finish but had also competed in the London-Sydney 1968.
  • Car 70 – Austin Maxi driven by Prince Michael of Kent together with its teammate car number 20.
  • Car 20 – Austin Maxi driven both cars failing to complete but still in original form.
  • Car 83 – Hillman Hunter driven by Washington James, Alun Davies and Hywel Thomas – finished a creditable 15th o/a.
  • Car 91 – the Austin 1800 called the Beauty Box driven by Jean Denton (Baroness Denton of Wakefield) Liz Crellin and Pat Wright which finished a very creditable 18th o/a.
  • Car 12 – the Citroen DS21 driven by Patrick Vanson, Olivier Turcat & Alain Leprince – finished 7th overall and won the Private Entrant trophy – 22 hrs 3 mins after the Escort.

Marathon cars are also coming from other events such as the 1968 London -Sydney; 1974 World Cup Rally, 1974 London-Sydney and various other marathon events including the infamous Paris-Peking events and there will be displays by many car clubs with relevant historical rally cars.

The event is free, but there will be the usual fee for those wishing to visit the Museum (£14.50).

The 1970 World Cup Rally had 17 special stages (Primes) that were “the longest, fastest, highest and most demanding ever laid out”. Together with the multiple border crossings, done back then with relative ease, fuel available in barrels in outlandish areas to be hand pumped into the vast fuel tanks of hungry rally cars.

South America – over 15 days there were only 4 official nights’ rest – such long drive-times between a night’s much needed sleep that would be unthinkable in this modern era, and incredible average speeds set for all the open road sections. This truly was a never-to-be-repeated event.

The event was gruelling; with 4,600 miles in Europe and 11,500 miles in South America to be covered, the tight schedules demanded a high pace be maintained in order to make each timing point with the crews also requiring oxygen whilst travelling above 15,000ft in the Andes.

The five days in Europe contained as much competitive motoring as half a dozen normal international rallies. After the warming up section through France, Germany, Austria and Hungary to Sofia – the Bulgarian capital – the curtain rose with a high-speed section from Pec to Titograd. This stage, famous in the history of rallying’s Liege-Sofia-Liege, gave newcomers a taste of the rough and dusty trails of the Yugoslav interior. Another speed section further Westward brought the drivers across Northern Italy to the famous Monza racetrack for their first brief ‘rest’ of eight hours. Then on to the testing hills above San Remo for more snow-ravaged mountain tracks running against the relentless clock.

Seasoned competitors who had been over parts of it on reconnaissance runs agreed that they had never seen anything quite so long, tough and demanding before. Next – a 20-day route on to Mexico. The route from Rio to Sao Paulo is the only ‘easy section’ in South America. The two Primes in Brazil have an additional hazard – narrow wooden bridges. One example is 100 yds long with a 3-foot gap between the planks showing the fast-flowing river underneath.

The Primes can vary from 2 – 10 hours in length and up to 16,000 ft – never achieved before. The section in the Peruvian Andes is the most sensational timed stage in the world, much of it just wide enough for one car.

Picture if you can dirt track roads strewn with fist-size boulders winding high through the Andes mountains with treacherous drops of a thousand feet into the valley below. In some places the route went into the snow line – days later the drivers would find themselves in the tropical jungle in the hinterlands of Bolivia. Many of the tortuous ‘Prime’ sections consisted of roads that would cause the average family motorist to turn back. The rally drivers would average close to 50 miles an hour over these roads and tracks.

Out of 106 starters, only 23 reached the finish. Hannu Mikkola and Gunnar Palm in the Ford Escort 1850 FEV 1H brilliantly won the event, with the British Leyland rally team of Brian Culcheth and Johnstone Sayer in the Triumph 2.5PI only 1 hrs 18 mins behind after 16,000+ miles – and the third placed Ford Escort of Rauno Aaltonen and Henry Liddon another 21 mins behind that!! In fact, 5 Ford Escort 1850s would finish in the top 8 – a tremendous achievement by the Ford team and this sparked the launch of the Ford Mexico later in November 1970.

Rosemary Smith, Alice Watson & Ginnette DeRoland finished 10th in the Works Maxi taking the Ladies prize, while the other Works Maxi finished 22nd. The Datsun 1600SSS of the Dutch team, Rob Jansson and Jacob Dik finished 21st o/a – nearly 2 days after the first car having had to virtually rebuild the car several times! To reach the finish was a massive achievement with the last car coming in only 56 hours after the first.

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