Tuesday 14 September 2021

Gavin Waugh, 1943 - 2021

Cancer has claimed yet another good man. Many of you will have heard already that Gavin Waugh passed away last week, but many more may not recognise the name. He was almost Scottish, coming from Brampton just over the Border near Carlisle, but he was well known in the North of England and the South of Scotland for his rallying exploits. However, he will be best known for securing one of the best ever rally-sponsorship deals. He drove the White Horse Whisky Hillman Avenger. That hugely successful partnership brought him to wider national and international attention.

Like most rally drivers of that generation, Gavin started rallying in a succession of Minis. The word 'succession' is used deliberately. During the late 1960s he went through quite a few bodyshells and engines in the early days of autocross and navigational rallying and even did a bit of circuit racing.

In 1970 he approached Glasgow based White Horse Distillers looking for some financial support for a planned international foray to Holland for the Tulip Rally with his Mini Cooper S. He got some cash, some stickers - and some product! Sadly the overworked Mini didn't last the pace and he retired but White Horse had made an impact on the locals and the Publicity Manager, Gordon McIntosh, took note.

On the strength of this new arrangement and with White Horse support, Gavin invested in a Hillman Avenger. Outwardly the team looked good, a Scottish built car sponsored by a Scotch Whisky company - and driven by a Scot? Somewhere along the line, the national press assumed Gavin was Scottish and the sponsors didn't abuse them of this impression. Of course Gavin's Cumbrian accent sounded pretty foreign to the more southern based national press corps so little was said.

That first Avenger was a four door saloon, but it didn't last long. On its first event, the bodyshell cracked right in the middle below the 'B' pillars. White Horse stepped in and purchased a two door Avenger GT with preparation entrusted to Mike and Jim Little in Carlisle. They were also supplied with an Avenger estate car complete with cage and spares and this was painted up in the same colour scheme as the rally car. The plan was, if the service barge didn't carry the spare that was needed, it could be taken off the estate car itself!

With Mike and Jim's help and Gavin's ability the car was competitive from the off with the late Wolverhampton based Peter Handy in the role of navigator and co-driver. Throughout the early/mid 1970s, Gavin and Peter were so highly regarded by Des O'Dell and the Chrysler Competition Department that Des was able to concentrate his efforts on works driver Colin Malkin with the Group 2 and 4 cars leaving the Group 1 class to Gavin and Peter. These were good times for Chrysler because there were quite a few hotshot Avenger Group 1 drivers around at that time including the likes of Ian Gemmell and works supported Robin Eyre Maunsell.

Gavin rewarded his sponsors with regular International and National rally class wins and overall performances but that was only part of the deal. White Horse used the team and the events to promote the brand throughout the UK, Ireland and abroad. As  a measure of how successful the marketing was the Dublin based wine & spirit merchant who stocked White Horse Whisky called the Glasgow office to ask for more 'rally stickers'!

Ahead of the 1974 Circuit of Donegal Rally thousands of Rally Team stickers had been handed out and it appeared that many of the pub managers were sticking these on the whisky bottles covering up the label. Apparently some customers thereafter used to think the whisky was counterfeit unless it had a rally team sticker on it! Any time Gavin and Peter entered such an establishment in their bright red race suits they were feted like stars.

When White Horse moved on in 1976, Gavin and Peter continued to compete until a new business venture transporting valuable cars across Europe took up too much time and Gavin retired from the sport.

Latterly Gavin concentrated on his transport business until cancer took hold. He coped well for quite a few years before a rapid deterioration and he passed away at home.

Our condolences must go out to his three boys Gary, Grant and Graeme and his wider family and to the many friends he made and knew over the years, including one young impressionable Publicity Officer at White Horse who was tasked with keeping Gavin out of trouble at rallies. These tales are not for telling here!

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