Saturday 20 January 2024

Rally - Phone home

Whilst working on the second book in the series ‘The Scottish Rally Championship’ this wee wallet sized leaflet was discovered buried deep in the files.

Way back in the late 1980s into the 1990s Scotphone Communications were awfy good to the Scottish Rally Championship. They provided the Championship Co-ordinator with a mobile telephone with which to conduct his weekly business of ‘Motoring News’ rally and race reporting duties as well as Rally Championship duties around Scotland. It was also useful for a wee bit of press and PR work on behalf of Scotphone as well.

The first phone they supplied was so big it had a built-in handle. It was the size of a large shoebox and should have come with wheels not just a carry handle. It was about as heavy as a car battery with the handset on top. Coverage was pretty limited back then and it would only work in the larger centres of population.

But the following year they supplied a Nokia Talkman, not quite pocket-sized with its full size handset, but altogether a more practical and portable alternative to the small coffin which was hefted about the previous year. It still weighed fully 2 kgs but that was half the weight of the previous monster and it came in its own wee shoulder bag with a zipped flap to enable ‘quick’ access to the handset. Just the business, eh?

It was so advanced Nokia had to provide a Guide to its use and functions and that included the wee ‘Quick Guide’ pictured here.

Another recollection. In the early days of mobile phones, radio and TV stations would not accept interviews or reports over a mobile phone because the quality of the sound and the reliability of the signal were suspect. That meant that journalists and reporters were still reliant on a landline or BT’s big red roadside boxes. Naturally some of the more unscrupulous reporters would ignore such instruction if they felt they had a good signal! Surely not?

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Thursday 11 January 2024

Rally - Rallycall

Remember these? … If you don’t know what they are, then ask your parents – or your grandparents!

These are typical of the A5 advertising ‘flyers’ enclosed with rallypacks and programmes, event regulations and final instructions, or handed out at rallies way back in the days before the internet was little more than an electronic smudge of stoor on the distant horizon.

But to many rally followers they provided an antidote to the withdrawal symptoms suffered by those who couldn’t be there in person!

Tuesday 9 January 2024

Rally - The protection business

It’s not just cars, vans and trucks that are benefitting from new construction materials and manufacturing techniques, the accessory firms are at it too – with prices to match!

Brian James Trailers has just announced a new lightweight enclosed trailer. Their new Race Transporter 7 (RT7) is some 200kg lighter than the equivalent-sized Race Transporter 6 (RT6), providing a higher load capacity to carry heavier vehicles.

The weight limit for towing in the UK is still just 3.5 tonnes (3500 kg), including the trailer, so every little helps.

The new trailer is available in tri-axle or twin-axle mode with extra height versions available as an optional upgrade, too.

Prices start from £25,500 plus VAT, and the largest models with all options selected are close to £40,000.

The RT7 boasts an industry-first electric actuator with wireless remote control that operates the rear door and tilt bed, and removes the need for manual handling.

The trailer features bright LED lighting, including the rear, front and side, and side-mounted reversing lights. Automatic rear loading lights come on when the back door opens. The standard specification includes all this, plus full-length interior strip lighting. The interior lighting can be switched to be powered from the onboard 12V battery or the tow vehicle.

The onboard battery powers the rear door actuator, electric tilt-bed actuator, electric winch and the interior lighting. All of which is standard equipment. The battery comes with a charger, Bluetooth connectivity to view the current charge from your phone and a visible LED indicator to ensure that battery charge levels are always known.

A new electric winch with synthetic rope and wireless operation is lighter and less damaging to hands and bodywork than traditional steel wire. The winch can also be upgraded to a 9,500lb version as a factory-fit upgrade.

The new trailer will make its debut at the Autosport International Show at the NEC from the 11th to the 14th January if you want to see it for yourself.

Sunday 7 January 2024

Hugh Steel, 1950-2023

The year 2023 ended on a deeply sad note with the news that Hugh (Shug, Shooey, Uncle Shooey) Steel lost his long fight with cancer. That means the sport of rallying in Scotland will be quieter in the years to come, much quieter.

Truth be told, folk would hear him long before they saw him. If it wasn’t the laughter it was the insults. Forget kind words and bonhomie, no one was safe from his caustic wit. Even greeting close friends was accompanied by some insult or in Scottish terms a ‘slagging’ before the banter was engaged. In fact if you weren’t insulted, you felt insulted for being left out!

Of course that was all a front. Although he would never admit to it, there was a kind heart and generous nature lurking behind that bold fa├žade and many, many competitors, crews and rally fans will be only too well aware of that side of this larger than life personality.

When it came to driving rally cars, he would be the first to admit publicly that everyone else was rubbish (or words to that effect!) but to be perfectly honest, it was entirely unlikely that he would ever threaten a rally podium.

Of course he knew that only too well within himself but would never admit it publicly. Nope, according to the bold Hugh, he was the guy who nurtured the talent of a young and impressionable Colin McRae and later Alister and also took some credit for Jim’s early success when he provided servicing back-up on the senior McRae’s early rallying forays! Modesty was not one of his attributes.

A stalwart of Coltness Car Club, Hugh helped out many young aspiring rally drivers offering advice to the likes of Robbie Head and Neale Dougan in the early days – whether they wanted it or not.

In fact, he was a plumber, heating engineer and hotelier before a stint as a garage proprietor with the Autofit premises in Stonehouse becoming a boisterous, banterous haven for club members and local rally fans all willing to be slagged-off to within an inch of their lives.

Behind the bluster there was indeed intelligence and mechanical skills and the many rally cars he built, maintained and repaired will bear testimony to that.

Hugh never doubted his talent. He was a competent, consistent midfield runner but could have improved on that if he had contested more events more often, but that’s not what rallying was about for Hugh. It was for fun, a break from business, a chance to banter with like minded folks. Throughout his driving career since 1981 he had a succession of 1600 and 2 litre Ford Escort Mk2s although it has been said that he only had one set of number plates!

Of course, that’s not quite true, but when he first received his diagnosis, he responded in typical fashion. He replaced the Escort/s with a Subaru Impreza for a final few flings through the forests and around the Berwickshire and Isle of Mull roads.

Perhaps fittingly his final rally outing was the McRae Rally Challenge at Knockhill in 2022 but the car broke down. At that point the air turned blue, not from oil smoke but from the cursing and swearing that emanated from the driving seat. Naturally, back in the service park, gales of laughter flowed like the Knockhill weather and onlookers could be forgiven for thinking that he had been leading the rally at the time and would have won had it not been for a mechanical malfunction. Yet another potential victory snatched from his grasp through no fault of his own!!

Goodnight sweetcheeks, you will be sorely missed.

Condolences to Jannette, David and Susan, his wider family and his legions of pals, friends and insultees.

His funeral service will take place on Wednesday, January 10th at South Lanarkshire Crematorium, 31 Sydes Brae, Blantyre, G72 0TL at 15.00hrs, thereafter all are invited to Strathaven Golf Club for a celebration of his life.