Alistair Smith, 1951 – 2022
Another shock for Scottish rallying. Alistair Smith passed away last week after a short illness. He had been on a family holiday last November and fell ill shortly after returning home. Diagnosed with a brain tumour, nothing could be done.
Alistair was a long time member of Scottish Sporting Car Club and a stalwart of Scottish national rallying from the mid 1970s to the end of the 1990s and briefly appeared back on the scene when his son Steven came of age to drive in 2006. He would have been the first to admit he was no headline grabber, he was there for the sport, the challenge and the fun and seemed to enjoy building rally cars as much as driving them.
He worked in the family business which dealt in the wholesale and commercial supply of carpet underlay, so engineering and car building were not natural choices. However, it was a love of cars and a desire to go rallying that led to his first foray into the forests.
With wife Mary navigating their Ford Escort Mk1 on the 1975 Arbroath Stages Rally, they won their class first time out and were awarded a prize for the best improvement on seeding. Alistair could have been excused for thinking rallying was a dawdle and there was nothing to it!
His participation didn’t start to get serious until 1980 when he registered for Division 2 of the Esso Scottish Rally Championship although only a couple of events were tackled that year with new co-driver, Charles Turner. His Arbroath outing didn’t go quite to plan when a conrod snapped but he did score a finish on the Andrews Heat for Hire Rally in Argyll. His 26th overall placing was enough to earn him 4 points in the Championship.
The following year he ended the season 28th overall in the national championship and 4th in the 1301-1600cc class. With a 2 litre engine in the car for 1982 he finished 5th overall in Division 2 and was placed 7th in the over 2 litre class which combined both Division 1 and 2 drivers.
That meant he was now classed as a Division 1 driver and several changes of co-driver ensued which included primarily Gordon Hastie and Alistair Reid. The competition now got a whole lot stiffer. Even so, he finished the 1983 season 20th overall in the Championship standings – one place behind a chap called Andrew Wood!
Things took a step back in 1984 and 1985 as he picked and chose events depending on budget and time available, as more time was being spent on the business, and he took more time out in 1986 and ’87.
In 1988 and ’89 he was back for a few outings in an RS2000. With only 3 events under his belt in ’88 he finished 33rd in the end of season championship points table and followed that with 32nd place in ’89 just behind the likes of Donald Milne, George Marshall and Mike Horne.
Even though he was keeping fast company, another time-out was called due to house and family building!
Even so, he still managed to spend many hours in the garage. A Ford Cosworth was obviously the way to go but given his commitments and sensible approach to responsibilities and budgets, such an option was out of the question. “I couldn’t even afford the engine let alone a whole car,” recalled Alastair
So he built his own contender, from a Ford Sierra XR 4×4. Over a three year period he went through a variety of at least three 2.8 and 2.9 V6 engines, one of which was the result of a deal done in a layby with a van near Otterburn in the dark and early hours of a morning, and another sourced from a ‘one-owner’ car – in this case, the one owner was the Strathclyde Police Traffic department!
With Russell Fair now in the hot seat he managed two finishes in 1994, 37th on the Weldex and 23rd on the end of season Weir Toyota. Progress of a sort but ’95 proved better. He was 11th on the Snowman Rally behind 5 Cosworths, 2 Audis and a Metro 6R4 amongst others. And surely his career best rally result was earned on the Valentine Rally with his first top ten finish, 7th overall. A four minute off in Glashan on the Weldex dropped him to 23rd but he finished 8th on the Perth Scottish National Rally.
At the end of 1996, he called it a day with 15th on the RSAC National and 17th overall on the season ending Rally Alno in Ayr. He was teamed up with a new co-driver for that one, a chap called Ian McEwen, and Ian’s introduction went thus, according to Alistair: “It was Ian’s first Pace Note event so I gave him some ‘In-Car Manx’ video tapes just to get him into the swing of using the notes!” Car prep was one thing, co-driver prep obviously another.
By this time, son Steven was karting so rallying took a back seat to kart racing, or rather, senior’s rallying took a back seat. He was building a Peugeot 205 for the Peugeot Challenge. Sixteen year old Steven’s rallying baptism was co-driving for his Dad in the Peugeot on the 2004 Galloway Hills where they finished 67th overall, and might well have made the top 50 but for an ‘off’ in Stage 2.
That was it till 2006 when Alistair and Russell entered the McRae Stages in the Peugeot just to make sure it was ready for Steven when he passed his test. They finished 64th o/a and 12th in a very ‘hot’ class – only 26 seconds behind a chap called Euan Thorburn!
Thereafter, Alistair’s ‘free’ time was spent under the bonnet or underneath Steven’s various Peugeots and Escorts as he pursued his own rallying activities and that’s the final image that many of us will have. Alistair in his element and in his ovies, serious when called for, but otherwise grinning from ear to ear and enjoying the whole atmosphere round the rally and the banter with other crews.
He wasn’t an extrovert or a show-off. He made friends easily and was excellent company when the fever of competition had died down. The term ‘proper gent’ has been used on these pages very sparingly in the past, and Alistair was indeed a ‘proper gent’.
He will be sorely missed by Mary and sons Steven and Andrew, their family and friends, and Alistair’s wider circle of rally friends and acquaintances. Our condolences to them all.
Tuesday 1st March, 3pm at South Lanarkshire Crematorium, Sydes Brae, Blantyre G72 0TL