18 Jun: Lookback to SRC 1980

The 1980 Border Counties Rally, as published in the SRC Newsletter …

Comments about the Esso Border Counties ranged from the good to the bad, and from the nice to the ugly. In fact, I’ve never heard such diverse opinions about the same event. For example, one English crew took me aside after the event and said it was the best event they had ever done whilst one of the Scottish crews said it was the worst, and they wouldn’t be back next year. However, the route amendment did leave a little to the imagination, but it just proves that a navigator is not a sack of potatoes as it gave them something to do to justify their keep.

The Big Yin was back this year with yet another navigator, after giving his wife Sandra her first ever competition run alongside her husband last year, but Jim Fullwood is no newcomer to this caper. He was quite a successful clubby driver when he was just a boy (ex-works Model T with hand cut wooden rims). Even so, Jim looked a shade apprehensive at the Start and he was the first to admit that the prospect of sitting beside someone as quick as Drew after a long lay-off was just a little worrisome.

With a National permit for the first time on the Border Counties and points in the Chevette Cup at stake, the Big Yin drove faultlessly, the only thing to mar his rapid progress being punctures, but this was to affect most crews.

The punctures happened mostly on the first stage, a run through Elibank, which after the recent Scottish Rally was still in terrific condition – until two weeks before the Counties when heavy logging operations reduced parts of the road to prehistoric landscapes. In a  fit of conscience the contractors tried to repair the broken terrain. Their efforts are to be praised but the results were frightful with great lumps of scenery, boulders and bits of mountain pressed into the morass, reminiscent of ‘The Sea of Tranquility’ – on the moon!

There was no chance of running this stage a second time which left the competitors with only 55 miles of Stages but a hell of a nice touch was displayed by the organisers who had a message on the Board at the end of the rally informing all crews that there would be a refund for reduced mileage. A well intentioned thought appreciated by most folk.

With the Big Yin rocketing away into an ever increasing lead, one might be forgiven for thinking that nothing of note was happening behind him – wrong! With all the top Esso/BTRDA Championship lads up in the Tweed Valley and a good smattering of our own local drivers, the top twenty was a constantly changing and extremely tight knit group. However, the Scots managed to do rather better this year with 3 crews in the top ten as opposed to only 2 last year.

After years of mishaps and mayhem, if Ken Wood had only managed to finish this rally, it would have been his best result ever on his ‘home ‘event. Not only did he finish, but he restored faith in Big Rumbly by coming home 4th, after a day-long tussle with Chris Lord who was 5th in the car which won this event last year.

At the start of the last stage, Ken was a scant few seconds ahead of Chris, but as had been happening all day, wind-up merchant Chris was claiming that he had been doing better than Woody. Now, as you all know, we are a pretty fair bunch in this part of the world and we never tell lies, especially to fellow competitors in rival equipes, but down in Englandshire, this practice is rife. Ken wasn’t too sure of his position whereas Chris knew he couldn’t catch him, although he was hoping that he might just goad him into a minor indiscretion on the final stage – sheer gamesmanship.

So … just fort the sheer hell of it, picture yourself in Peter Brown’s seat at the start of the last stage ….

Looking over the transmission  tunnel, Kenny is encased in oil and mud spattered overalls after a day long battle to keep the Beast in one piece. The indecision is apparent on his face. Is Lordy telling the truth, or is it bullshit? After all, this is Border country and although Big Rumbly might not have the sophisticated suspension of a Mk2 Escort, it does have about 250 spine tingling, thunder making horses under the TR7 bonnet now with V8 power, but then again it has been chucking out an awfy lot of oil during the day. Oh, what the hell, just lift the flag off the windscreen and see what happens.

The flag is whipped away, but nothing happens. Big Rumbly sits there motionless just for a fraction of a second until the demented spinning wheels suddenly find grip, followed immediately by the big shove in the midriff as the Beast instructs you to sit well back. Holy rip! All that power, all that bonnet and a stupid wee strip of glass through which to try and spot the road ahead. One mile into the stage and there’s an awfy quick wide open hairpin – to hell with the steering, use the throttle – magic! The big bellowing Beastie unleashes itself on the next 4 miles leaping and biting, scrabbling and scraping, throttle grabbing, brake stomping stuff as the Flying Finish boards hurtle backwards past the windows. A quick glance across the cockpit sees steam rising off a sweat fevered brow. Second fastest on this stage and just one second quicker than a hard charging Lord. 4th overall, no bad, eh?

Dom Buckley was the other Scot to get into the top ten but just as last year, he didn’t have a happy time. An electrical fault had robbed his engine of much needed juice and early punctures at the wrong times reduced him to 8th overall. However, the top Division 1 drivers were not out for points since this event was a Division 2 counter only and what an upset that turned out to be.

The most enjoyable aspect of the whole rally from my point of view was the performance of car number 70 who, completely oblivious to the rest of the Div 2 leaders romped home into 15th place overall taking maximum Div 2 points. I really felt sorry for Wilson Girvan and Robin Christie who might have been able to do something about this had they known, but car 70 was running so far back they didn’t have a clue until the Provisional Results were announced.

So who was in car 70? George Marshall had given notice of his potential when he finished 7th on the recent Coltness Stages which had a pretty good entry but nobody was expecting this sort of performance on the Counties. With co-driver Alan Ainslie, the car is a home built Chevette with a home built 2.3 SOHC engine so there’s nothing out of the ordinary here but from now on they will get a much better seeding.

It was a trouble free day for car 70, but for Dougie Riach, his event came to an end on the first stage when the crankshaft broke on his normally reliable Grp2 engine. Wilson and Robin then set about the serious business of getting maximum Div 2 points but this was not to be either. Wilson suffered time consuming punctures and a 5 minute off in Castle O’er whilst Robin had the head gasket go in the first stage plus a puncture and then on SS6, he bent the steering which gave him additional problems.

Making a late season bid for stardom was Alastair McSkimming who burst in on the above battle and split the performances of Christie and Girvan to score his best result of the year. When the Sunbeam stays together, ‘Mad Mentul’ McSkimming is well worth watching but spectators should always stand well back when they see him coming.

Tom Clark’s day out came to a sad end on SS4 when the car hit a rock on a left hander, spinning the steering wheel out of his grip with the result that the car slid off. There was very little damage but by the time that the crew had extricated the car from the clag they were well and truly out of time. Jimmy Fleming was none too happy either with the Chevette refusing to pull cleanly under 6000 revs and he also suffered from the almost obligatory punctures.

Tony Janetta started the day on Dunlops but after changing to GoodYears he found either, that the car handled better, or that he handled the car better, while Robert Miller’s rally was ruined by two time consuming punctures costing him 5 minutes plus he wasn’t too happy with his start number as he was catching cars on the early stages before punctures intervened.

Lindsay Walton had an enjoyable day out despite two punctures and one spin whilst Tom Davis was another to change tyre brand, this time from GoodYears to Dunlop, and found that the M&S were much better on his woefully underpowered Toyota. Kenny Crombie’s only complaint during the day centred around his navigator, when in SS5, Alistair warned Kenny that there was a hole marked ‘Caution!’ in the Roadbook. Unfortunately, while he was trying to plot exactly where it was – Kenny found it for him! The resultant erratic approach to the corner was sorted out without any damage to the car but they were further cheered up when they passed Hugh Munro’s car in the last stage which was parked on 3 wheels after a half shaft failed. Anthony Gorzkowski had a good outing in his Avenger and despite almost running out of petrol and wrong slotting, thoroughly enjoyed himself whilst the last information  Sheet to be handed in came from Ian McRae who punctured, holed his petrol tank and then lost a couple of minutes in Glentress when over exuberance got the better of him and he slightly damaged the ‘K’ registered Sunbeam.

And finally, the quote of the month came from Mrs Jeanette Wood, Kenny’s wife, who said after the rally: “I always thought that Ken was ‘Big Rumbly’ – not the car!”

(As published in Issue No7 – 1980 SRC Newsletter)