Wednesday 19 July 2023

Rally - Sixty years ago

If you thought the RSAC Scottish Rally was tough 30 years ago (see previous Blog post) it was even more of a challenge sixty years ago. The five day 1963 RSAC Scottish Rally marked the final transition from a purely navigational exercise with timed driving tests to a more speed based event with timed special stages on Forestry Commission gravel roads. Marks were still to be lost on the road sections, but the competition itself was pretty much decided on the special stages. As for the cars, they were more ‘roadworthy’ than ‘stageworthy’ as opposed to the rather more specialised machinery used nowadays.

From a Glasgow start on Monday morning the 3rd of June, the 300 mile route, which included 100 miles of forestry road sections, headed northwards to the rally’s base at Grantown on Spey. On the way, the first of 21 Special Stages was at the Rest and Be Thankful where Bob Haddow’s Jaguar E Type (rally runner-up last year) set the fastest time, only to retire on the third stage at Drummond Hill when the exhaust system was ripped off. 

Coincidentally on the 21 special stages it was only ‘the Rest’ and one of the Clashindarroch stages where the leading competitors could actually attain an average speed of 50 mph!

At the second stage at Monument Hill where the rally used a Forestry Commission stretch of gravel road for the first time two years ago, the Mini Coopers of Logan Morrison and Sandy Morrison and the MGB of Sir Peter Moon were fastest along with Andrew Cowan’s Sunbeam Rapier.

And how’s this for a change of route? At the Balblair stage on Tuesday, the official in charge took the competitor’s Roadbook, deleted the stage instructions and told the crews to follow the arrows! I wonder if the organisers will try that this weekend?

On Wednesday, one of the drivers, Hamish Wilson in his Sunbeam Rapier commented: “I’m getting the hang of this special stage lark now – I can now get the car into overdrive third!” Explain that to the younger generation.

Andrew Cowan also had an anxious moment when he arrived “full tilt” at the end of the Drumtochty stage only to find that the rally official had forgotten to fully open the gate. The Sunbeam ripped the gate off its hinges losing its door handle in the process. It could have been worse though, thank goodness for to-day’s more ‘professional’ amateur Marshals, eh?

Wednesday was actually a short day which allowed the crews, supporters and officials to have a bit of a bit of a ‘hooley’ in Grantown that night. Good job breathalysers were not introduced until 1967, eh?

On Thursday there was trouble in the Glenlivet stage where a badly placed ‘No Entry’ sign at a fork in the road caused havoc with many competitors going the wrong way. Apparently it was quite easy to miss this one as the faster cars were doing “in excess of 50 mph at this point!” The mind boggles, but worse befell Bobby Parkes when one of the spoked wire wheels on his Austin Healey 3000 collapsed and the car finished the test on the brake drum as the wheel bounded off into the bondocks.

Cowan was lucky in the Leanachan test at Spean Bridge when the Sunbeam plunged off the road and over the rocks. He was lucky, the car survived and he quickly regained the road but John La Trobe was less fortunate when he holed the radiator on his Rapier when it plunged off the road. Oddly enough fastest through here was Ian Woodside – in an Austin Healey Sprite!

On the following Clunes test, a certain Bill Dryden burst two tyres on his ‘works’ Vauxhall Victor VX 4/90 but his brother Dennis in the sister car waited for him at the end of the stage and helped him change wheels. Also in puncture trouble in a private VX  4/90 was one Jimmy McInnes Esq, erstwhile storyteller and later in his career, Ingliston motor racing commentator.

Logan Morrison’s Mini didn’t make it.

The final day on Friday was less stressful – for some.  Northern Ireland’s Derek Boyd and Reg McSpadden missed a Control in Aberfoyle and had to dash back when halfway to Glasgow.  That error cost them dear, dropping them from 3rd and 4th to 5th and 6th overall although it did McInnes no end of good. His fourth place finish and top Vauxhall earned him a ‘handsome’ cheque from Vauxhall.

Of the 55 starters, just 39 crews and their somewhat battered cars made it back to the finish. 


1, A W Cowan/D Thompson (Sunbeam Rapier) 125 Pts

2, R A Clark/H Patton (Mini Cooper) 133

3, H Wilson/R Wilson (Sunbeam Rapier) 177

4, J W McInnes/A McInnes (Vauxhall VX 4.90) 195

5, D D Boyd/B Crawford (Mini Cooper) 223

6, J R McSpadden (Volkswagen 1500) 248

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