Sunday 1 October 2023

Rally - Adventurous times

With the closed road 2023 Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally about to hit the tarmac in two weeks time, things were very different 50 years ago.

In 1972, just three years after its inception, the rally was included as a round of the Scottish Rally Championship for the first time. Sponsored by Shell Petroleum I was there ‘officially’ with my new boss, Bill Houston, Shell’s publicity and PR manager, but I travelled up with a chap called Jonathan Osborne. He was a journalist with the Scottish magazine ‘Motor World’ but also did some PR work for Shell and so I was tasked with ’assisting’ him.

It was a good match. He was an avid bird watcher so the apprentice got to drive whilst he scanned the skyline and called out all the various birds he spotted. On Mull, he almost wrenched his neck counting the number of buzzards he saw sitting on fence posts and telegraph poles. The other good match-making point was the car was being crewed by two pipe smokers and when it stopped and the car doors were opened, a grey fug spewed from the interior with marshals thinking the car was on fire. It also ensured that no-one else wanted a lift in the ‘official’ Press transport!

The job was to try and interview competitors at Passage Controls and at the end of accessible selective or stage finishes for quotes which were suitable for printing in subsequent press releases and reports. Exciting times.

The 1972 event was also a counter in the Motoring News Road Rally Championship so the 100 car entry had attracted all the top clubmen and women from down south plus half an entry’s worth of Scottish crews, mostly contesting this new format Scottish championship round.

The other big surprise that year was the crew in the winning car. Alan Conley and Crawford Dunn in the Clan Crusader finished almost four minutes clear of the Ford Escort RS1600 of James Rae and Mike Malcolm. Powered by a 998cc engine, the works prepared fibreglass, half ton wedge literally flew round Mull seemingly spending more time in the air than on the tar. Few thought it would finish let alone win.

It was no fluke, Andy Dawson and John Foden had finished second on the 1972 Manx Rally in a Clan Crusader making its competition debut a few weeks earlier. In second place on that other island was the Ford Escort RS1600 of a certain Roger Clark and Jim Porter!

Back on Mull, Donald Heggie and George Dean finished third in the Ford Escort TC having led at one point on the Saturday afternoon but dropped back as night fell. In fourth place were Rosemary Smith and Pauline Gullick in another RS1600, but the most memorable thing here was the intoxicating and very pleasant fragrance which wafted along in the car’s wake. Unlike the fug which enveloped the gentlemen of the ‘Press’ carriage, when the ladies wound down their windows to chat, the rich smell of hot brakes, clutches and rubber was somewhat neutralised by the rather more pleasant and exotic perfume.

Invented in 1921, the French perfumiers had perfected their Chanel No.5 recipe to such an extent It was able to overpower the hot, pungent aromas of hard working rally cars. It was a helluva difference and a most welcome change compared to the nauseating whiff of sweaty bloke crews assaulting the nostrils!

Back to the rally. Stuart Brown and Ian Muir were fifth in their Cooper S despite the regular occurrence of the sun visor dropping down after every yump and obscuring the driver’s vision. There was no magic tape or tie-wraps back then! The BMW of Ron and David Smith was sixth while John Price and Mervyn Gerrish were a commendable seventh in the Alpine which had been hastily rebuilt after its Manx Rally roll.

Pre rally favourite Harold Morley retired with head gasket failure, Bob Jeffs punctured a tyre and slid off the road while Paul Faulkner and Martin Holmes who were down to enter did not take part. Apparently Paul felt the expense was not worth it, a disappointment for roving World Rally Championship co-driver and professional scribe Martin Holmes who had wanted to visit this new and notorious rallying outpost.

1972 Top Ten Results

1, Alan Conley/Crawford Dunn (Clan Crusader)

2, James Rae/Mike Malcolm (Ford Escort RS1600)

3, Donald Heggie/George Dean (Ford Escort TC)

4, Rosemary Smith/Pauline Gullick (Ford Escort RS1600)

5, Stuart Brown/Ian Muir (Mini Cooper S)

6, Ronald Smith/David Smith (BMW 2002)

7, John Price/Mervyn Gerrish (Alpine 1600)

8, John Burton/Brian Rowland (Ford Capri 3000)

9, Dave Stewart/Alan Murray (Ford Escort TC)

10, Alastair Kesson/Tom Baillie (Ford Escort RS1600)

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